When I first came across the concept of an icon I must say that I was more than skeptical about it. Years later, a friend of mine presented me with one which I displayed on a wall in my living room. One the one hand, there was something incredibly appealing in this form of art. One the other, something that scared me a bit. Now, I love icons and I am so pleased that in this interview Darek will tell you more about his passion for icons.
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Episode 2 - The one where Darek tells us about icons.
Why have you become interested in icons?
I started to be interested in the icon in college. I met a professor who knew the subject of the Christian East very well, and the icon is associated with the East. In addition, I was interested in painting myself, because my mother is an art restorer and there were always a lot of oil paints, turpentine and paintings at home. In addition, I noticed that the icon represents Christian theology with the use of colours, shapes and visual forms suitable for our pictorial era. I devoted my master's thesis to Trinitarian theology presented in the famous icon of Rublev.
You know, I'm a priest now, a professor at the university, but even in the usual teaching in the parish, the icon helps me whenever a complicated dogmatic formulas have to be expressed with words.
What are the aesthetic/technical rules that define the icon? How are icons different from other forms of paintings?
The icon uses a specific language of symbols, strictly subordinated to theology. It can be said that everything in the icon is symbolic. The board on which the icon is painted evokes the symbolism of the paradise tree and the cross tree on which Christ died. The canvas glued on the board resembles the scarf that Jesus offered to King Abgar of Edessa, who recovered thanks to it. This is a legend not known very well in the West. Hence, each icon has healing powers. Then you apply 12 layers of chalk-glue mortar to honour the 12 Apostles. Each layer must dry for at least 1 day. There is a special set of ritual prayers for each activity.
A board prepared this way is the background. Then you stick gold flakes that symbolize the divinity in which the holy figure is immersed. Then layers are painted, starting from the darkest to the lighter ones, just like God did, when he created the world from darkness and light came into existence, Icons are usually painted with natural materials, pigments made of earth, minerals, rocks. The binder (medium) is made of mass wine and chicken egg yolks.
The classic icon represents tempera painting, this technique is rarely used today, it is characteristic for the Middle Ages and survived mainly in the Byzantine East. In addition, the icon is subject to Church law: no one can paint icons in a different way. It all distinguishes the icon from other forms of painting.
What makes icons so popular even among people who do not identify with Christianity?
Spirituality. In the technical world, people miss a certain spiritual depth, meaning. They do not understand, and often do not like Christianity. They do not fully engage in any religion (Buddhism, Christianity, Islam), and at the same time they see some attractive elements in each. For such people, icons are just as attractive as a Buddha statuette or Islamic arabesques. Many people "sense" their spiritual character, different from their technical and economic reality. Spirituality, depth, sense, mystery - it all attracts us, that's how we are constructed. We have a desire to be connected to something greater than just working, giving birth, eating, excreting, holidaying and ending in the grave. We feel that the icon is communicating to us that there is something more above this surface of visible reality.
What is your favourite icon?
“Anastasis”. This is the icon of Christ's Descent to the Abyss and Resurrection at the same time. It is an icon which, through an image, shows to the world the conviction that ultimately Life, Goodness, Truth, Beauty and Love win. It embodies Christ. Everything we miss.
Written by Agnieszka Kansy