>On a teaching trip to China in 2006, artist Grace Carol Bomer instructed students in mixed media techniques at the country’s third largest university. This might not be so unusual except that Carol is a Christian and her work is, in her own words, “blatantly biblical.”
Carol is a member of Covenant Reformed Church (PCA) in Asheville, NC. Her mixed media paintings literally incorporate word and image, as she paints images on paper backgrounds—such as blueprints—that include text. Some of her work is in encaustics, a technique in which she melts beeswax and adds paint pigment before applying it to the painting.
Through the integration of words and images, Carol’s work testifies to the Word and the Image: Christ, the Word made Flesh.
“There is an inter-connectedness between words and images,” writes Carol. “Dorothy Sayers said, ‘…for man is so made that he has no way to think except in pictures.’ Thus I often juxtapose image and text to create connections and metaphors that may not be predictable or seen immediately. But the image becomes the subtext that interacts with its foundational text and allows the viewer to consider story, a story that is transcendent and eternally relevant, and that reveals One who is both Word and Image.”
The titles of Carol’s paintings are straight from scripture, text in her work often quotes scripture, and the content of her work is scriptural.
That is why it is surprising that, in God’s providence, she was one of three artists invited to China by the printmaking department of the Luxan Fine Arts Academy, a university with over 3,000 art students.
“It was an amazing opportunity,” says Carol. “The amazing thing is that they let me show my biblically based paintings.”
When they first arrived, Carol and the other visitors were given a tour of the printmaking department and treated to a Chinese dinner of delicacies such as duck tongue and tree fungus. The instructors taught for three days, with their lectures videotaped for use by the entire student body.
Carol’s PowerPoint presentation included examples of her biblically based work. She spoke about her integration of words and images, and explained several of her paintings.
“I used my images to explain the gospel!” says Carol. “Images that dealt with Christ as the Seed, Christ as the One who came into darkness like a fulcrum from heaven rending the veil, and Christ as the Living Word.”
She explains that Christ as the Living Word is the theme of her Global City Babel series, which centers on God as the Word made flesh and the Creator of language.
“This God will take into account every word we speak,” she says. “He lived among us and came to ‘Purify our lips that we may serve Him shoulder to shoulder’ (Zephaniah 3:9).”
Each of the paintings in the Global City Babel series includes an appropriated image of Pieter Bruegel’s Tower of Babel (1567). Carol explains that this image represents the “anti-foundational” postmodernism of contemporary culture, which promotes relativistic language where the meanings of words become mere social constructs.
“The mystery of Word becoming Image will always have its reference in Christ,” she says, “who is not only the transcendent Logos, but also the Word Incarnate and the Creator of language, who communicates through language to bring His global image bearers into community.”
“When God poured out His Spirit at Pentecost, thousands of people—each speaking in his own tongue—understood each other,” she continues. “The Old Testament prophet, Joel, prophesied this amazing reversal of Babel.”
At one point while Carol was explaining her paintings, her translator said, “That is too Christian for me to translate.” But much of what Carol said was communicated to the students, and she was able to convey some important truths. She relates one specific experience: “I showed them a Rembrandt etching and told them, ‘Like the great Dutch artist Rembrandt, I want my work to point to the Word of God, who is Christ.’”
Before Carol left her home in Asheville, NC, to travel to China, she picked up a bird band from the floor of her studio. She had been impressed with Suzanne U. Clark’s poem, “Banding,” and had been incorporating bird bands into an encaustic image that was part of a series called, “The Nets of God.” She put the band in her pocket as a reminder of God’s omnipresent power and care.
“Wherever I go in His world,” she says, “I am ‘banded’ and ‘known intimately in the mind of One who flies,’” referring to the text of the poem.
Carol saw “The Nets of God” theme inadvertently repeated when she chose a man’s head from images in a Chinese newspaper during her class in mixed media.
“As I cut around the man’s head I had glued to my support,” she says, “a bird shape appeared behind him, confirming to me the poem about bird banding and my theme of God’s sovereignty.”
In addition to the extraordinary opportunity to share her words and images with Chinese students, Carol has been offered more stateside venues to exhibit and speak about her theme of Christ as the Living Word.
Since 2006 she has had increasing opportunities to showcase her art and communicate the gospel. Current information regarding her shows and speaking engagements can be found at her website.
“The people of our culture are longing for transcendence,” she says, “but transcendence or seeking to reach God on their own terms, and not God’s terms. Babel is in the heart of every man.”
In her painting, her speaking, and her instruction, Carol focuses on glorifying God. Her website (http://www.carolbomer.com/) and her studio in the Ashville River Arts District are called “Soli Deo Gloria” to reflect that desire.
“My faith and my Reformed biblical perspective, the authority of the Scriptures, inspire my work and life for the glory of God,” she says. “I am only a vessel and a servant. I have the freedom to paint wonder and imagination, the mystery that points to Christ (Col. 1:15ff). I want my work to be relevant culturally, but to be founded not on the wisdom of men but the power of God!”
The above post is an edited version of my article that appeared in the June 21, 2006 issue of Christian Renewal.
© Glenda Mathes 2006, 2010