Joyous 'Journal' of Pilgrimage; Monk Shows 50 Works from 1999 Walk from Milan to Rome.(ARTS)(ART)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 26, 2002 | Go to article overview

Joyous 'Journal' of Pilgrimage; Monk Shows 50 Works from 1999 Walk from Milan to Rome.(ARTS)(ART)


Byline: Joanna Shaw-Eagle, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Rev. Jerome Tupa was no ordinary pilgrim when he walked the devotional 1,700-year-old route from Milan to Rome. Along the way, he created some 300 works in oil, watercolor, pen, ink and pencil to convey the intensity of his religious experience during a 1999 sabbatical. Fortunately, the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center is showing 50 of these extraordinary works in an exhibit titled "The Road to Rome: A Modern Pilgrimage," through May 7.

The 61-year-old Benedictine monk and professor of French at St. John's Abbey/University in Collegeville, Minn., recorded his personal journey of the spirit in brilliantly colored, heaving buildings and delicately limned landscapes. He says he felt an intense energy and spirituality in the ancient shrines and holy sites whose "ungraspable though tangible spiritual presence" he endeavored to convey.

To accomplish this, Father Tupa - almost surprisingly - set his buildings in simulated motion. The cathedrals of Florence and Lucca seem to swing and sway, the onion domes of Padua's Santa Giustina church energetically stretch across the canvas, and the curved buildings surrounding Udine's "Palazzo Piazza" threaten to gobble up the central fountain.

The artist bends buildings and trees in works such as "Milan: San Ambrosia" and curves buildings around inner courtyards in "Rome: Teatro di Marcello." He uses fluid, moving patterns of color, shape and texture to depict these venerated places, making them physical expressions of the flux and tensions of the spiritual search.

Father Tupa began his "Road to Rome" journey in Milan, already a major Christian center in the early fourth century and the place where Emperor Constantine issued the pivotal 313 edict that granted Christianity the status of a "tolerated religion" within the Roman Empire. (St. Ambrose, the city's bishop at the time, determinedly pushed the cause with works on theology and ethics that greatly influenced the thought of the church.)

Father Tupa pictures the basilica in "San Ambrosia" as a bright pink-and-orange arched-and-tiled structure. A palm tree arches up at right to meet the stretching towers above. The building looks as though it could slide down and off the canvas.

The monk has always combined his religion with his art. In 1999, he showed "An Uncommon Mission," a series on Catholic religious centers in California, throughout that state. "Painting, like spirituality, is liberating," he firmly believes. "Both are expressions of one's distinct and deeper relationships with the world - and with God."

His works are direct expressions of this, especially his painting of the Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore (built in the 14th and 15th centuries in Florence, the legendary Tuscan city once ruled by the powerful Medici family). "In Florence, there's a tremendous, constant exposure to some of the noblest religious themes and values found in Western culture," Father Tupa writes.

Perhaps it was this inspiration that resulted in one of his most intense and successful images, "Florence: The Duomo. …

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