WHAT IS AN ICON?
Traditional and modern icons are sometimes described as “windows to heaven.” Instead of reaching out to an icon and trying to grasp its meaning, it is best to stand peacefully before it and let the meaning come to us. An icon is a “showing forth of God,” and after some time spent in contemplation, we may feel that it meets us in quite a special way. Rather than stimulating the senses and the emotions, an icon is meant to exert a calming influence, allowing the viewer to
step free for a moment from all the concerns of everyday life.
Icons are not photographs; they are paintings that invite you to meet God through events that happened and people who lived long ago. They are not painted as you might actually see somebody, or something, but use symbols and colors to tell you important truths about God and his relationship to us.
A traditional icon is usually painted on wood although other materials can be used. In an icon, the central figure is always the largest. Other people are smaller. In this way the painter tells you who the most important person is in the story.
The smaller figures and images on the icon are there to tell the story. They are also there to remind us that we do not travel on our own to God but are surrounded by other people who are making the same journey, and who are our companions on the way. The figures in icons stare out at us. They throw no shadows. They stand in the eternal realm and, if they do come to meet us, it is to take us back with them into that realm. The many elements of rhythm, color, composition and harmony lead us into the stillness of contemplation.
ABOUT THE ART
Icons are constructed in a way that contain several elements that are intended to draw the viewer away from the ordinary towards another, more spiritual level of understanding.
As early as the 8th century, St. John Damascenus claimed that “images speak.” He said “that they open the heart and awaken the intellect” (Didron 1965). It can be said that icons can be used as a form of prayer and meditation. To study iconography is to begin to “read” the meanings of the images, their content and subject rather than their form.
ALL ABOUT THE EXHIBIT:
This show comes with a collection of traditional icons made at monastery workshops in the years since a measure of religious freedom returned to Russia. They are sprinkled in with her work so you can see the influences for yourself.
Mila’s art features classic iconic symbolism including eyes that probe the viewers and elements of rhythm, color, composition and harmony that lead one into the stillness of contemplation. As you experience the art, notice the color and symbolism that inspire and inform her artwork.
Eyes – in classical icons the eyes are exaggerated and more luminous than they are in life. In Mila’s art, eyes, the window of the soul, often dominate.
Blue – the color of the sky. In traditional icons blue symbolizes heaven.
Gold – Mila uses gold leaf, with its lustrous glow. Traditional icon writers do, as well. Gold, a precious element, makes all light warm.
Red – Mila’s reds, deep and rich, symbolize passion.
Texture – Mila’s process starts with special, high-quality plywood from a Swedish manufacturer. She adds layers of gesso as a ground and builds up texture with pastes, fabric, and thick paints.
Surface Light – Mila lavishes love on her surfaces. She often uses special metallic paints. They glitter in strong light, glow in softer light.
Cut-outs – Sometimes Mila plunges a saw blade right through her pieces and cuts out spirals, crosses and other shapes. They invite the viewer to look within the piece. “We all have something inside,” she says, “the spiritual feeling. We’re all on a spiritual journey.” Sometimes looking at art, and within art, can take a viewer miles down that road.
Stones – Many of the stones implanted in Mila’s work are a special, fossil-rich limestone, that is common where she lives. “Stone is timeless and carries the memories of the ages.”