Part 1: Safe Haven Series
Hi, all! My name is Emily Zacek. I am a drawer, painter, and have a particular interest in psychology. I am fascinated by the concept that every individual’s reality is shaped by personal experiences, beliefs, and emotions which can be shared to create relationship. This has brought me to focus my work on the moods evoked by different environments and formal elements. By stirring emotions and drawing the experiences out, I seek connection. I hope these works allow viewers to see my lens of reality while interpreting the pieces through their own perspectives, seeing the similarities between us. It’s all about relationship and connection.
As I have approached artmaking in this way, I have found that nature and landscapes often evoke some form of universal understanding, connection, and experience. I find myself exploring scenes that draw out a certain responsiveness within me, then I process what experience could have led me to respond in such a way and what experiences others may have had in a similar space. With this mindset, I depict environments using gesture, texture, and formal elements, always striving for emotion to be drawn out and a connection to be shared.
My Safe Haven series is a painted collection of meaningful places and moments for my husband and I. In our most important moments together, we have been surrounded by nature’s calm and beauty. I have cherished memories tied to each of these scenes. It is my hope that what is represented within these paintings draws memories into the mind of each viewer – moments that may have been experienced in a similar space.
Part 2: Figure Drawing
I focus primarily on both painting and drawing within the visual arts, yet I approach each of these quite differently in content and form. As seen in my Safe Haven series of oil paintings, I tend to use brushstrokes and paint quality to create vibrant landscapes and interactions between figures within a scene. In this collection of figure drawings, I hope it is clear that I approach drawing materials and content differently, focusing more on the dynamism of mark making.
My first experience with chalk pastels and charcoal was in high school. I fell in love with their ability to smoothly blend. I began drawing portraits, constantly using my fingertips to smooth the colors and lines to achieve as much realism as I could; however, now I see more value in the stark lines and layering that can come from direct application of these materials.
I feel more freedom to explore and play with this approach. I can allow the charcoal and chalk to interact with the tone of the paper I choose, speaking for themselves in my drawings rather than feeling tied to the representationalism I used to strive for. The formal elements of my most recent works are much more dynamic and striking.
My formal and compositional choices contribute to the mood and message of each drawing as well. Having a minor in psychology, I have become increasingly aware of the tie between outward bodily expression and the inner workings of the human brain. The human figure is dynamic, expressive, and complex, even if in a stationary position. Using specific colors (or a lack thereof) and intentionally placing the figure on the page, different reactions and emotions are drawn out of the viewer. This dynamic connects me to each drawing, and connects viewers to them as well, achieving the relationship and connection that I strive for in my art making.
Part 3: Chapel Paintings – Gospel of John Series
In the Fall of 2021, I was hired as the Campus Chapel Visual Arts Coordinator (also referred to as the “chapel artist”) at Whitworth University. My job was to create paintings that correlated with and responded to the messages being presented at chapel services. I created these pieces bi-weekly, visually combining the messages from two weeks at a time while incorporating elements that were specified by the speakers. Due to the nature of the position, the specific artworks do not represent my usual or preferred painting style or content; however, it encouraged me to process themes from scripture in a creative and valuable new way.
This blog post covers the series of paintings from the Fall 2021 semester – the Gospel of John series.
Lord, I Believe is a piece that correlates with John 8:12-20 and John 9:1-41. Combined is the imagery of the blind man from John 9 emerging from darkness with a burst of light across his eyes. This signifies the gift of sight from Christ, “the light of the world.” In John 9:38, the man says “Lord, I believe” – the statement that gives him, and all people, new life in Christ.
Lazarus is a visual representation of John 11:1-44 and John 15:1-17. It is an image of Lazarus’s grave clothes trailing from the tomb, removed while he walked from death toward life (Jesus). The cypress tree that grows in front of the tomb has been pruned of dying branches, representative of John 15. The grave clothes and pruned branches are together abandoned on the ground as symbols of death defeated, while the healthy tree continues to grow, and Lazarus is alive beyond the painting.
Jesus of Nazareth, The King is a painting of Jesus’s crown of thorns casting the shadow of a crown of royalty. It is in reference to John 18:33-40 and John 19:19-30, John’s description of Christ’s crucifixion. The crowns are symbolic of Jesus’s reign through his suffering. The text on this piece refers to the inscription that Pilate, the governor of Judea and presider over the crucifixion, instructed to be above Jesus on the cross (John 19:19).
Rabboni is a Jewish title of respect for a master or teacher, specifically one of spiritual insight. This is what Mary called Jesus when he approached her after his resurrection. In John 20:1-18, Jesus approaches Mary in the garden, gently calling her name and proving his resurrection with his pierced hand. The back of Mary’s head is in the foreground of this piece so that the viewer may be welcomed into the scene, being approached by Jesus in a similar gentle way. In contrast to the other paintings in this series, I intentionally left sketches revealed in this piece and used thinner washes of paint. The purpose is to represent a simpler and less dramatic scene, signifying God’s presence in simple moments, not only in what’s flashy.
Part 4: Chapel Paintings – Exodus Series
During the Spring of 2022, I have continued my position as Campus Chapel Visual Arts Coordinator. The themes for the Spring chapel services have come from the book of Exodus. The first painting in the series, If it Weren’t for Your Mama, is representative of Exodus 2:1-10. Here, Pharoah’s daughter is opening the woven basket that contains baby Moses while his birth mother watches from the distance.
To capture themes from Exodus chapters 3 and 4, I painted I AM – an abstract depiction of the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses. Within this piece, my goal was to reveal God’s name, nature, and promises. Using text, I wanted to communicate God’s empowerment of ordinary people for divine purposes through God’s interaction with Moses in chapter 4.
The Exodus and Deliverance depicts scenes from Exodus 12, 14, and 15. On the left of the canvas are three important parts of the Passover: a doorframe painted with lambs’ blood, a stack of unleavened bread, and a row of homes being passed by the angel of death. These elements can be found in Exodus 12. The scene on the right side of the painting illustrates Moses parting the Red Sea. This pivotal scene is representative of the Israelites’ deliverance from Egypt’s oppression.
Exodus 16 follows the Israelite’s escape from Egypt and shows God’s provision and grace, giving them manna in the form of coriander-like dew on the grass regardless of their disobedience and doubt. In this same passage, God emphasizes the importance of rest and observing the Sabbath. With the goal of creating a contemporary scene with these elements in mind, I painted a person resting in grass with coriander flowers. Surrounding the figure, I paraphrased Exodus 16 and 20, writing, “The Lord has given you the Sabbath. Everyone has just as much as they need. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. The Lord blessed the Sabbath and made it holy.”
In praying and processing about what I would paint for the chapel’s Easter message, I felt God clearly pushing me toward a tribute to Ukraine. It would be foolish not to reflect on Jesus’s death and resurrection in the context of Ukraine’s pain during this time. I know that I, along with many other students and faculty, have been desperately grieving for our brothers and sisters suffering so deeply during this war. It felt necessary to paint with this in mind.
This piece reflects on the Easter message of Christ’s victory over death while also interpreting it as a metaphor for hope in Ukraine in the midst of all this death and sorrow. Sun beams extend beyond the storm clouds in the sky, reflecting the colors of Ukraine’s flag. I painted this piece on Good Friday, realizing the relationship between this day – when Christ’s followers wept for the death of his body – and the death being experienced in Ukraine. I wanted Easter to be a day of rejoicing over Christ’s resurrection and hoping for God’s intervention in Ukraine.
To conclude the Exodus series, I painted I AM Therefore You Are. In Exodus 19 and 24, God is seen by Aaron and Moses in a cloud covering a mountaintop. With this imagery in mind, I painted a sky of clouds that look peaceful and powerful. The text reflects God’s name, “I AM,” from the beginning of the series while also including the aspect of personal transformation through God’s glory and freedom: “Therefore you are.”