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Icon painters seek to revamp ancient practice

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://lifestyle.xin.msn.com/en/beauty-fashion/icon-painters-seek-to-revamp-ancient-practice Updated: Tuesday, 04 December 2012 13:50 | By Agence France-Presse
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 6, 2012

      Updated: Tuesday, 04 December 2012 13:50 | By Agence France-Presse

      Icon painters seek to revamp ancient practice

      With brighter hues and bolder brushstrokes, Orthodox icon painters are
      looking to breathe new life into the ancient art of depicting saints,
      angels and biblical scenes, lest its rigid rules see it consigned to

      A dozen church painters from European countries like Greece and Serbia
      but also from the United States recently gathered in Romania to
      experiment with adding modern touches to Byzantine iconography without
      angering the conservative Orthodox Church.

      "I don't want to attack them," US painting professor Anthony Salzman
      said of churchgoers, "but I don't want to bore them either".

      "Tradition died in the 16th or 17th century, now we are resurrecting it,
      we are learning what its limits are," he added at the event in
      Mogosoaia, on the outskirts of Bucharest.

      Icons, which are displayed in churches, monasteries and homes, play a
      key role in the Orthodox faith, whose faithful kiss them and expect
      miracles and cures.

      The practice is subject to strict canons, with church rules dictating
      what the painters can and cannot do.

      Some of today's painters think that sticking to the rules will bury
      rather than perpetuate icon-making, which is why they are playing around
      with new styles.

      Some are making the figures more abstract, the faces less sombre or the
      colours more vivid.

      "Innovation keeps tradition alive, otherwise just copying the past is
      not functioning," said Georgios Kordis, the head of the Eikona group
      (http://eikona.ws/) that organised the event.

      "There are many things that you can introduce - the quality of lines,
      the colour, the composition," he said.

      Sitting in front of his easel, in the impressive 18th-century Mogosoaia
      Palace, the Greek professor of Orthodox theology carefully paints halos
      around the heads of three saints that are coming alive on the wooden board.

      Behind him, several young nuns are carefully taking notes, hoping to
      transpose what they see to their own works.

      "I started painting icons some months ago but I want to get better,"
      Mother Mihaela said.

      Like her, many Romanian nuns but also fine arts students feel
      increasingly drawn to painting icons either to express their faith or to
      earn some money in a country where nearly 90 percent of inhabitants
      declare themselves as Orthodox.

      But several painters present said their works were sometimes met with
      hostility by church dignitaries or believers who thought them to be "too

      "Painting is dynamic, you have to be bold," insisted Grigore Popescu, a
      Romanian icon painter and restorer whose works adorn dozens of churches
      and monasteries in Romania but also in France and Germany.

      Young or old, the artists said they were seeking the middle road that
      allows icons to keep pace with the changing world all while satisfying
      the Church's demands.

      "We cannot run too far ahead of the Church but we cannot leave it where
      it is either," said Salzman, the US painting professor, who embraced
      Orthodoxy and was ordained priest a few years ago.

      "People think differently, so we have to speak to them differently or
      they would not understand."

      Todor Mitrovic, a professor at the Fine Arts Academy in Belgrade, said
      he was "obsessed with finding the balance between tradition and innovation".

      "The Church is afraid to lose it (tradition) but it cannot put it in
      chains. To keep it alive, you have to let artists explore," he said.

      One of his students, Slavica Mihailova from Macedonia, said that
      bringing in modern elements such as different colours does not
      necessarily mean straying from tradition.

      "Continuing to make copies is as if you had nothing to say. You have to
      put something of yourself in an icon."

      "Icons are the visual proof of our faith, they make believers feel that
      Christ and the saints are present," Kordis said.

      "If icons don't stir any emotion, Christians will have no dialogue with
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