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On my living room wall you’ll see the painting, A Drawing In, by Peggy Shopen. It’s a pastel look across a tree-shaded lawn to a house that is tucked behind two large tree trunks in the middle distance. Though the artist is a good friend, and I’ve admired her work, I had not had such a sense of personal encounter with a piece until seeing this. I felt a spontaneous, non-analytical sort of ‘bonding’ with the painting.
How much of my response had to do with the fact that this particular house is one I’ve known intimately as a place of warm, human, Catholic fellowship and ‘culture building’? This home and the artist are ‘devoted to the service of fellow men,’ but does the painting reveal that to the viewer who does not know them? These questions intrigue me, though I don’t think I can answer them definitively.
The painting would, I think, bring viewers to a higher understanding of beauty, because it clearly portrays its subject – a simple, unassuming house – as a thing that is beautiful, that is seen with a deep appreciation of its interior, or hidden goodness, and as worthy of the work of an artist. Certainly, the painting points to the universal value of the home as a safe haven, and also to the value of the natural setting in which the house sits cradled and which forms an antechamber that seems to be bigger than the wood-enclosed rooms of the actual structure. This is so much entwined, for me, with my personal awareness that the artist really does perceive this tree-embraced ‘front room’ as an extension of her home, but I believe any viewer would sense this.
Because the natural beauty around the house so predominates, you could say the artist has placed the work of God-as-artist deliberately in a position of precedence over even her most-cherished personal sphere.
I love the way the sense of ‘interior’ and ‘exterior’ keep changing in this painting. The interior is the house, protecting an ‘inside’ from the elements, but it is also the deep-and-beckoning, almost spherical negative, open space framed by tree trunks that suggests the artists’ soul and calls to mine. The exterior is the outdoor world, but then is also the mere structural combination of old wood and fading paint that suggests the mortality, or temporary nature of such passing things as houses, possessions, and bodies.
This artist is a painter and iconographer, not a ‘word person,’ yet her painting’s title is another delight for me – an extra, poetic gift to me in a brief, three-word verbal enigma. “A Drawing In” plays on all the elements I’ve discussed in the painting – the ‘drawing in’ of friends and family to the shelter and joys of home life, and the artists’ literal drawing of ‘in’ – as the interior of her soul glimpsed inside a humble structure by those with eyes to see.
So, I offer these observations with joy, because writing this has helped me to see both my dear painting and my dear friend more richly.