by Summer Mengarelli
For the Wanderers
Rebecca Munshaw describes her paintings as “abstract atmospheric art,” and works with acrylic on canvas, which she stretches herself over the frames she builds. In creating art, she focuses on a Greek phrase: To Pneuma ths Eirhnhs, which translates into the idea of a “spirit of peace.” She said, “I like blessing people with my art. I try to focus all my work on having this spirit of peace. When people do art, a lot of it is emotional expression, but I have found that there’s not enough work that helps you just feel peaceful — art that gives a feeling of rest. I think it’s important that there is not just angry art. I mean, I think that’s good art, especially for the people making it, but when people see my art, I want them to be able to walk into the space and feel like it’s going to be okay, and to feel at peace, and to remember that there is hope.”
However, Becca did not begin her creative journey working with the dreamy, colorful canvasses for which she is now known. She said that when she first came to Greenville, she thought that she was a realist painter, “painting sailboats on the ocean and stuff.” She experienced a creative crisis in her first independent studio class, when she presented her work and was asked why she had chosen her style and subjects. Moreover, she was criticized for her choice to paint on large canvasses. Becca explained, “I ended up crying in front of the class because I couldn’t explain my work; I didn’t have a reason for what I did. Critique of your art tears at you. From then on, I decided that I just had to do something different, and so I played with color, because I love color. That’s what I did. I sat down and started painting, just swirls of color. And I proved them wrong about not being able to paint on large canvases. Now they just tell me to paint bigger.”
Though criticism is difficult to receive, Becca described this experience with the art department as something which has allowed her to become the artist she is today. She said, “Sometimes you need to be pushed, critiqued and challenged so that you can get past your wall and really explore a new creativity that you didn’t know you were able to do. You need people to critique you out of love. A critique should be done by people who care for you, or else it tears down more than helps build up and create something good and new. The professors have encouraged, pushed and guided me to where I am today.”
Since then, Becca has grown in her talent for creating a sense of peace through atmospheric paintings. When asked to describe her philosophy on the value of art, Becca said, “It’s something that reflects or speaks into our culture. So artists can have an impact, if they choose to: It’s deciding, ‘What do I think our world needs to hear?’ And then it’s putting a face to that through art. I think that the world needs more hope, and more love in the agape sense.” Becca went on to describe the Hebrew word hesed, which conveys an idea of loyal love: of an active, everlasting, and undeserved love. She summarized, “It’s the love that leaves you feeling ‘wow.’”
Becca credited her mother and grandmother for inspiring her art. She said that her mother taught her how to paint as she was growing up, and then she described her grandmother as an incredible woman — a talented painter and pianist, and someone who could speak ten languages. Becca said, “It’s one of the ways I try to honor her, through my painting.” She also spoke on how two books in particular have influenced her art: Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon and Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle, both of which she recommends to anyone, artist or otherwise. She quoted L’Engle, “If the work comes to the artist and says, ‘Here I am, serve me,’ then the job of the artist, great or small, is to serve.”
Becca said that this idea has impacted her understanding of how faith and art go hand-in-hand, and how she views creating art as an act of worship and service. She said that painting is “a time where I get to use God’s gifts that he has given me. It’s a time where it’s me and God, and if something turns out great, then I thank God for it; and if something fails, then I grow from it and I learn new things.” Through creating beautifully serene, colorful atmospheres, Becca is able to commune with God while shaping a space for others to experience hope, as well. She says, “I paint for people who are wandering, and in their wanderings I hope they can find peace.”
Rhiannon Callahan creates through photography, painting, and mixed media, but she focused primarily on painting for her senior show. While she has been doing photography for seven years, she has only recently pursued painting. When asked about her purpose in creating art, Rhiannon sighed and began, “Art’s huge. It’s important for me because it’s a way to connect with people and to have a conversation about our imperfections.” She argued that we are created to create, and that it is good and right to make art, even if it is messy or flawed.
Rhiannon’s senior project was a series of nude female portraits. Throughout the creation of this project, she asked each woman her favorite flower and incorporated the flowers into the background of the paintings. Through the imagery of flowers, which die in the winter and grow back in the spring, she hoped to convey that women are resilient and able to flourish through hardships. She said, “I do nudes and a lot of people see it as a problem, but for me it’s more about viewing women that are strong and courageous. People being offended by it is okay, because it doesn’t mean something is wrong with the art, but that it’s something that they’re working through.”
She mentioned how Christ utilized offense throughout his ministry — the religious community was often offended by Christ’s actions, yet nonetheless his ministry was beautiful and life-giving. She also listed Milk and Honey, a book of poetry by Rupi Kaur, as a work that shaped her project. Rhiannon had already begun work on the portraits when she read the book, but its themes of female strength and recovery helped solidify the message she wanted to convey. She said, “It’s not crude — it’s beautiful and empowering.
Because she is much more experienced in photography, she was hesitant to choose painting as the medium for her senior project; however, the art faculty encouraged her to be challenged by the experience. She said, “They inspire us and push us to always grow and do better. At the same time, the department is a safe space where I am encouraged to not shy away from projects and ideas, or from voicing my opinions. It is the only place I feel welcomed to be myself. It feels like a home away from home and I am blessed to have such a giving and loving faculty in the art department.”
Rhiannon views color as an essential component in her paintings, so many of her influences are known for their use of color. She talked about how both Georgia O’Keeffe and Frida Kahlo have informed her use of color in her paintings. The very first painting she mimicked was a desert landscape by O’Keeffe that featured flowers and clouds, and her work continues to be shaped by these artists’ treatment of form and color. Rhiannon also listed as influences the contemporary artists Andrew Salgado and Martine Johanna, both of whom may be found on Instagram (@andrew.salgado.artist and @martinejohanna).
Describing what her art means to her, she said, “It’s gotten me through all my hard times. Even if it’s not specifically Christian art, it’s worshipping God through making things that he’s made me able to do. I feel him when I’m making art. So many people put pressure on knowing what God is doing with you or through your art, but I’m like, ‘Well it’s none of your business, but it’s one of the most important things in my life.’” She mentioned that a couple of years ago, someone complained that the art in the Dining Commons is not “Christian” enough.“I think people are afraid of the ugly bare bones of life,” she said.“Some people are too worried about looks, and how art or other things appear on the surface. But the warriors who aren’t afraid to show who they are — bruises, sins, and all — and to admit it and be cleansed of it, that seems more Christian to me than a Caucasian blue-eyed painting of Jesus getting hung in the DC.”
In painting vividly colorful portraits of beautiful, strong women, Rhiannon hopes to encourage vulnerability in her audiences. She said, “I hope my work conveys to people that it’s okay to be honest and vulnerable and to show the sides of yourself that you keep hidden. I feel really vulnerable when I make art, and I hope people look at that and know that it’s okay to feel that way. I just hope people feel sincerity, and that they’re convicted pursue it for themselves. A lot of my purpose is to help people know that they’re not alone if they’re afraid to admit things that they’re going through. It’s okay to feel this way, whether joyful or sad or whatever emotion they are experiencing.”