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Gina Hurry was a lucky little girl. She intuitively knew by the time she was 6 years old where life would land her: “I am a painter; as long as I can remember I’ve known. It’s a tangible thing that connects me to His heart.”
No one tried to talk her out of it either, as watchful parents recognized her talents early and set her in a world of nurturing, creative people that she has never wanted to leave. A significant part of that creative province settled around the church, which Hurry still considers the locus of her life and a major subject of her art.
Torn between being an artist or missionary when she was younger, Hurry had to overcome the mental block that only official missionaries were of any use to the church and artists merely peripheral.
“How could art be redemptive in itself?” she puzzled, with few books on the subject to refer to at the time.
A few decades later Hurry tends to a prosperous painting career and a busy family, but her vision extends just past, to a place where art and the church intersect and revive each other. A nebulous and undefined land to labor, it is also scarred with theological and cultural divides. Still Hurry digs up the soil, invites the neighbors and sets about planning and planting with eyes toward a future spiritual and aesthetic feast.
Celebration, separation and unity in the church are some major themes in Hurry’s work, although viewers aren’t slapped in the face with it. On the surface her paintings may appear lighthearted, childlike and décor oriented – but there’s much more. Catching a glimpse of some of her work one day, I was smitten at first with the sheer charm of one of her paintings.
Presented at face with what appears to be a formless bride or debutante with a slightly 50’s ambiance, it was a style I wouldn’t normally care for. Why can’t I stop staring at this? What’s going on here? The massive bulk of the woman’s skirt fills most of the foreground with what is either a random dishabille, or fascinatingly, exploding flowers or little doves, curious things. It seems organic and clutched in some sort of force. Her featureless head is wrapped with something; is it a tiara or a crown of thorns? Surrounding her, a field of brilliant paint orbs pushes centrifugally into darkness. This was not created merely to be attractive, by now I am absolutely certain.
“The Great Unraveling” refers to the Hebrew prophet Hosea, I later learned from an interview with the artist. Allegorical, dissolute, yet with a lovely potency, this lady in white could be a personal story or about God’s people in their state of being “undone.” Hosea’s whore/wife bore shame and stigma but received mercy and faithfulness from her husband in return. Could this painting be an expression of a promise? “For he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up” (Hosea 6:1).
Along with other Jewish and Christian artists who hew at the meat and bones beneath the surface of Bible narrative, Hurry is a visual prophet for our time. Her blog writings reveal a deep longing for intimacy with God and sorrow over lack of unity in the church and world. She believes in fighting through the “ugly stages” and enlisting beauty as an ally. The process of beauty overcomes chaos and destruction and is at least partially an antidote to the sickness of the world and a reminder of another place.
“But, there is more to good and beautiful than safe and simple,” states Gina Hurry’s website. “I have seen colors of deep grief, death and darkness – fear, loss, deep groaning and loneliness. AND, I have also seen and breathed in colors I cannot describe because of their transcendence filled with kindness, beauty and hope.”
Gina doesn’t merely toy with pretty thoughts or illustrate the Bible in an orthodox manner. She explains that as beauty brings “light into the darkness,” so we are called to help restore the church, a-la Nehemiah. Series with names like “Hope,” “Secured” and Tree of Life” are personal offerings toward that restoration.
A few images appearing to be the risen Christ, “Glorious I & II” use only the most primitive shape to suggest His humanity. Her Jesus appears to be a fusion of explosive or regrouping lights via use of heavy impasto streaks and layered paints, which feel transient and mobile. The almost-abstract Resurrection is explained as believing in “the bigger story … more than what we can see.”
Portraying Christ as the ‘Lamb of God’ has always been awkward – beggaring our imagination and resulting in some really gory and weak art through the centuries. Hurry’s “I-behold” series manages to capture the concept of a broken, weak and pathetically helpless animal, while imposing a feeling of solemnity and reverence in the scene.
Christian artists, writers and thinkers are asking us to consider what art and creation “looks” like in this era. How can we bring hope and impact the culture, and where does this fit into the Body of Christ? Are we a strategic and necessary part of ministry or relegated to the decorating department?
Quoting artist/writer Cindy West, who has no reservations over the place of art for the Bride of Christ and wedding feast: “Who besides the church – the consummate bride – would God ask artists to serve?”
Moving toward visible involvement with the church requires creating or serving in community as opposed to the constant, solitary studio life. Comparing the camaraderie of her school experience, where artists supported and encouraged each other, Hurry found nothing even close in the church, but she wanted it. She describes days of literally crying out for a different type of art community and feeling isolated in spite of a happy family and many friends.
“I don’t know what he will do with the many desires in my heart” for this community, but “I know that he is moving,” she resolutely claims.
Working out of the Birmingham area, she isn’t taking this on alone. Up to 150 members of the Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church signed on at one time or another to help craft an entity they can’t entirely describe yet are working on anyway.
So far this has included a school of fine arts and an arts ministry where Hurry volunteered for a time before training a replacement. Oak Mountain’s “REnaissance Project” aims for a return to “the church’s broader involvement and support of the arts community.” Their sincerity materialized in the form of lectures, classes and performances in virtually all art forms – from dance to videographers and spoken-word poetry.
Christian artists are invited to be more visible and work together, while secular artists are courted with invitations to outreaches and exhibits. Hurry’s personal dream is for a tangible place and buildings where artists “walk through the creative process together” with minds and skills overlapping. Potential uses: messy art-studios, galleries, stages, seminary, hosting intimate dinners, concerts, poetry readings, book clubs or whatever comes up.
Gina is certain God is behind this vision of a safe, nurturing community for incubating art in the church. He was there for her before as doors opened almost supernaturally in her career and personal life and she feels confident in her relationship with Him now. This isn’t just for Birmingham, she let me know. God is simultaneously “moving hearts of people across the globe” to meet needs of the church through the arts and moving the church to acknowledge artists.
I’m struck by Hurry’s optimism and positive expectations for the church and its artists.
“I am looking toward the banquet table,” she told me, sounding very eschatological. “This journey will be a memory of His goodness and a reflection of His faithfulness.”
It’s no surprise that this type of devotion leaves indelible marks and stamps across her work, whatever the subject.
Gina Hurry is currently showing August 2012 at dk Gallery, 25 West Park Square, Marietta, Ga.