Back in the early days of the lockdown, Studio of Saint Philomena owner and award-winning artist Damien Walker was thinking of what he could contribute in terms of art to give people hope in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
“How can I, as a Catholic artist, respond in a way to give people hope and to help inspire people that we will get through this? We needed [an] image of beauty, something that can draw people in and, at the same time, something that they can contemplate and think about,” he said.
At the time, he was studying seven art works by 14th-century Italian painter Duccio di Buoninsegna, “an amazing Byzantine artist”.
“[Art was then] coming out of the process of iconography to realism. I think we can relate to it today because it still has the heavenly aspect of iconography,” he said.
He drew inspiration from the seven images, compiling and compressing them into one image.
“Looking at these seven images, I saw it, it was almost like the Holy Spirit said, right, this image needs to be done. Do it. It was a very direct call, I suppose. I had to try to figure out how to get to the end,” he said.
Mr Walker, who founded the Studio of Saint Philomena in North Canterbury in 2011, came up with an A3-sized traditional-panel sacred image entitled “Christ Victorious Over Plague and Death”, which was released on the studio’s Facebook page on April 20, 2020.
“Seeing the impact on non-believers, people of no faith, is quite amazing. At this time especially, people are searching for something. They are searching for a cure for coronavirus, but everybody is also looking for a cure for the soul,” he said.
The sacred image is teeming with symbolism. Jesus’ red robe symbolises his divinity, and his blue mantle does the same for his humanity.
The marks of his wounds remain present, but are transformed due to the victory of his love.
“I think it’s important to show Christ’s suffering, but also his glory at the same time, his humanity fully being expressed, but also showing his divinity, a blend of those, and his real compassion [for] us, of him coming down to earth as doctor and healer,” Mr Walker explained.
“His suffering, by coming down to us and encountering us where we are, is an important image to people so they can relate. Because we all, at some point, can relate to the suffering of Christ and we can draw hope,” he added.
The concept of the dragon is “a little bit like the aggressiveness of coronavirus and sin. It’s evil (the virus). And sometimes, evil is not clear to see,” he said. “I thought the smoke coming out of the mouth of the beast is the coronavirus. You can’t stop it. You can’t capture smoke. The only way you can stop the smoke is going to the heart of the flame and also, with our prayers, through the power of God interceding for us through love and compassion,” he said.
Mr Walker said an international team of theologians – whom he knew through his connections – helped him with the theology of the sacred image.
“They checked the theology to make sure it was all lining up. They were great. Between a lot of these [people], there was a great source of inspiration and clarity,” he said.
He said he had a vision of what the image would be like and let the Holy Spirit direct him to the final product.
“It’s good evangelisation. Pope Francis spoke on the importance of beauty. We can talk to someone about beauty and art. But we can also talk about the Gospel sometimes,” he said. “Sometimes, a thousand homilies can’t reach them but, when they encounter the beautiful, it strikes them. It strikes the heart. It’s an encounter of love.”