An Exploration of Spirituality and Morality based on the sermons of Pastor Lennett J. Anderson

In 2005 Christopher Webb executed a performance piece titled, “Sermons”. The work included 22 pieces along with 6 performance pieces. The following is an article that appeared in the Halifax Daily News in July of 2005:

“A VISUAL SERMON” -  By Shauntay Grant / The Daily News (Halifax, NS)

Halifax visual artist Christopher Webb takes us to church with his new exhibit Sermons. The show is a provocative look at religion and spirituality, featuring a series of oil paintings based on the sermons of Webb’s friend Rev. Lennett J. Anderson, Senior Pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Upper Hammonds Plains.

Webb says the show’s concept grew from his own personal questions around spirituality. I stopped by his studio earlier this week to talk about the project:

HFX: You mentioned that you struggle with religion and the concept of God as a presence in our daily lives. Is Sermons a means for you to probe the existence of God?

Webb: It was initially. And that was probably my own naïveté, coming into it thinking, “I will paint and answers will come to me. I’ll have it figured out and I’ll tell everyone all the answers.” But I’ve sort of let go of the concept of ‘Does God exist or not?’  Where I’ve ventured is more about, ‘Where does God exist?’

HFX: And how is this manifested in your work?

Webb: The one thing you’ll notice is atmosphere, almost in every image. I recently spend time in Peru. While hiking the Inca Trail, depending on what side of these mountains you were on, it could be lush (and) tropical, or freezing cold. But it was always fascinating because you could see clouds forming off of the mountain. And as you would walk, at the top of the mountain you’d see this trickle of water coming down, and a few hours later you’d see the waterfall. You saw where the waterfall was created. You saw where the clouds came from. And all I could think of was: ‘If God exists, here’s the creation right here.’ So (with this piece) I really tried to focus on atmosphere.

HFX: Do you have a favourite painting?

Webb: This one (sums up the show perfectly) for me. (It’s based on) 2nd Timothy — (Pastor) Lennett gets a little tangential during this sermon (laughs). He went on this thing (saying): “Sometimes you question if God exists! You’re looking around for God, looking for a sign.” And Pastor Lennett gave this scripture quote from the Old Testament. He said: “And God said ‘By night I will be a pillar of fire and by day I will be a pillar of cloud.’ So I just had this image of a understated cloud. I put a strip of brown at the bottom that is reminiscent of land. And I also put a strip of metal, which is representative of the spiritual element. Composition wise, it says all I want to say in this 16×16-inch piece. It’s one of those images that I find has a meditative contemplative feel to it. It’s very simple. I think it summed up the sermon better than any painting in here has.

HFX: How has this show helped you grow as an artist?

Webb: What I found is that through the exercise of coming in and painting every day for six months in a row — and essentially opening up an office space for painting — suddenly I’m a much more fulfilled person.  I think some artists spend their lifetime creating work that they think will sell, creating work for other people. And it’s not any less valuable. But I really wanted to spend time creating something that I wanted to create. Before I was painting images that I thought would sell. The big stretch (with the Sermons exhibit) is that I’m painting images I’m drawn to.

Sermons opens tonight at Pier 21 Historic Site. The show will performances by the Emmanuel Baptist Church Choir and gospel pianist Marko Simmonds, as well as special spoken word interpretations of select sermons by Will Njoku, John Dunsworth, Shauntay Grant and Rev. Lennett Anderson.