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Creative gifts, spirituality shine in icon painter’s art

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.ctpost.com/entertainment/article/Creative-gifts-spirituality-shine-in-icon-4769165.php Creative gifts, spirituality shine in icon painterÆs art
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 28, 2013
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      Creative gifts, spirituality shine in icon painter�s art
      Phyllis A.S. Boros
      Published 6:19 pm, Wednesday, August 28, 2013

      Some artists find inspiration in the beauty of a spectacular sunset or
      in the sweet smile of a child.

      Some, like Dhimitri Cika, find it in prayer and the Bible.

      The Albanian-born Cika, who specializes in Byzantine-style art and
      iconography, is seeking much inspiration these days as he undertakes one
      of the most demanding projects of his career: covering the vast stark
      white interior walls and altar of Easton's St. Dimitrie Romanian
      Orthodox Church
      with magnificently ornate icons.

      He has completed 10 so far of varying sizes -- with 41 more to go. Begun
      about six months ago, the entire project is expected to take up to three
      years to complete. (The public is invited to view his progress next
      weekend during the church's annual festival.)

      "It's the Bible in pictures," explained the Rev. George Coca
      assistant pastor, during a recent visit. "That's the simplest way to
      explain what he's doing."

      On this day, in a scene that called to mind Michelangelo working on the
      Sistine Chapel, Cika worked from scaffolding high above the pews
      assembled in the nave.

      He was placing trim around the completed icons, the most prominent being
      a 24-foot long depiction of the Last Supper, which, according to
      Christian belief, took place on the eve of Christ's crucifixion.

      Coca explained that by tradition, the interior of Orthodox churches are
      covered with icons depicting Christ's life from the Annunciation to the
      Blessed Virgin Mary, birth and baptism to the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

      All those themes will be reflected at St. Dimitrie's; the project is
      being funded by individual church patrons.

      The artist, who lives in Worcester, Mass., graduated from the Arts
      in Tirana, Albania, and subsequently worked as an artist at institutes
      in Athens; and studied Byzantine art and iconography in Thessaloniki,
      Greece, Tirana and Korce, Albania. His last commissioned project was at
      St. Mary's Assumption Albanian Church
      in Worcester.

      After climbing down the scaffolding with great agility, Cika described
      himself, in English, as "very spiritual," relying on praying and fasting
      (as is the tradition with iconographers) when seeking an understanding
      of the task ahead.

      The assistant pastor said it was probably more than fate that brought
      the painter to Easton. After Cika learned that St. Dimitrie's
      congregation had built a new spacious church in Easton -- having sold
      its former church and tiny parking lot on Bridgeport's Clinton Avenue a
      few years ago -- he drove from Worcester to the Easton facility on a lark.

      "I, too, am named Dimitrie," he said, adding that he wanted to create
      the icons in a church named after his patron saint. He was also drawn to
      the project because the new expansive church and its public rooms are
      done in a Byzantine style so that "architecture and art match."

      Coca pointed out that the artist was chosen as one of four candidates
      for the commission. ("There are probably a lot more iconographers around
      than you might think," he said, laughing. "Especially in Europe, where
      many specialize in restoration work.")

      After meeting with the church's icon project committee -- and submitting
      a portfolio of sketches -- Cika was chosen.

      Each iconographer has a style of his own and an affinity for one of the
      traditional "schools" of thinking: Slavonic (including Russian and
      Bulgarian), Greek and Macedonian. Cika said he is most attracted to the
      Macedonian school.

      Working in his "atelier" (workshop studio) in Worcester, Cika explained
      that he first cuts a piece of canvas exactly to his specifications,
      depending on the dimension of the icon at hand. He then applies gesso (a
      white primer and sealer) onto the canvas. From a small sketch, he
      creates a larger sketch in charcoal on the canvas, and when satisfied
      applies the paint.

      The icons and decorative trim are all done in this fashion. When he has
      a good number of completed canvases, he heads for Easton, where he
      permanently affixes each painting and trim to the walls, using an
      art-world equivalent of Super Glue. (Last week he was aided by church
      parishioner Joseph Pusztay in the task.) Each canvas is covered with
      several layers of varnish so that it can easily be cleaned.

      His palette comprises "traditional Byzantine colors," describing them as
      sky blue, orange, red, brown and gold. For halos and other striking
      accents, he uses gold leaf.

      Asked about his personal style, the artist's response was to the point:

      "I paint from the heart," he said.


      St. Dimitrie's annual food and cultural festival takes place Friday,
      Sept. 6, from 5 to 9 p.m.; Saturday Sept. 7 from noon to 9 p.m.; and
      Sunday, Sept. 8, from noon to 5 p.m. Admission and parking are free.

      In addition to tours of the church, highlights will include ethnic
      dancing, amusement rides and activities for children. Food specialties,
      made on-site by members of the church, will include lamb, fish and
      chicken entrees, as well as stuffed cabbage, spinach and leek pita,
      pastries and sweet breads. Indoor and outdoor dining will be offered.

      St. Dimitrie Orthodox Church is at 504 Sport Hill Road in Easton. Tours
      of the church and food festival: Friday-Sunday, Sept. 6-8. Free
      admission and parking. 203-268-8237;

      pasboros@...; Twitter: @PhyllisASBoros

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