Ellen Schroeder Thesis

Ellen Schroeder Thesis

My Soul Magnifies features two series of works exploring the concept of recollection of the spiritual in the natural and cultural world.  The series from this past fall semester, I focused on a lived experience of nature– the gazing of a dew drop on a morning walk.  Yet the images are more than a recording of the condensation that occurs on a cool summer morning.  These visual images of the recollection cannot escape the unseen filters of my mind and experiences of my life.  In particular, my paintings are seen through the lens of the writings of Annie Dillard, Henry David Thoreau, and Barbara Stafford.  The work takes on elements of large and small simultaneously much like these authors unite the vastness of a universe to the microscopic parts of nature.  As I continued my oil paintings and sculptures of dew drops, another unseen filter emerged—though this time it was an art historical lens.  By painting each in a different style like a French landscape, a Dutch interior scene, or an American Regionalist landscape, I made connections not only between art historical movements, but also between social and cultural differences.  In all this work, experiences and images become so woven together that they often cannot be separated, just as mental structures become so intertwined with nature that it is easy to forget the lens through which we view our world.

In my second series from this spring semester, I investigated the accuracy of these dew drop recollections and if I could represent a more “true” recollection—where images are rid of the mental and cultural filters in order to see only the spiritual.  Through my research of Thomas Merton and readings on my budding meditation practice, I discovered that true recollection happens, not by getting rid of physical and mental structures, but when we see through the lens of simplified common-place.  This can happen in the mundane places of everyday life, if one practices seeing in a different way every single day.  My tondo paintings of the sunrise represent my own spiritual awakening to this concept.  I photographed the gradual letting-in of light at a specific time (7:30am), over a period of 30 days—from January 22 through February 20.  Through this process of documenting outside the Commons Apartments on Xavier’s campus for 30 days and painting those sunrises organically with the sky in the center, I experienced moments of peace that did indeed transcend the physical. In comparing these 30 paintings to one large, geometric, “ideal” sunrise image from the coast of Boston, MA, I also found that awakening is often not one grand event, but also a daily process full of moments of awareness.  These paintings, by using the metaphor of a sunrise, magnify these moments of true recollection.

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