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Image turned thirty years old this April. As we reflect on what’s ahead, we asked fifteen visual artists and two singer-songwriters to tell us what they learned and how they changed after turning thirty. Click here for the full collection.

I entered graduate school the year I turned thirty, filled with determination and confidence. There were grand visions of accomplishments and contributions, of successes and notoriety. Nothing was going to dissuade me from my dreams. That was almost forty years ago. Now stubborn resolve has given way to uncertainty as I find myself doubting things I once took for granted. Time has a way of wearing a person down. Life has been challenging, and occasionally blatantly difficult. The mysteries and complexities of this earthly sojourn continually rattle my brain. These days I am much more comfortable with my weaknesses than with my strengths.

We all have deep stories to tell. For me, these stories emerge as assemblages. The studio has always been my refuge. It’s where I go to experiment and play, to listen and make. It’s where I struggle with my art and wrestle with God, the place where I work out my salvation. It’s where a number of years ago I consciously put on the mantle of grief. I began by mourning for the divisions in the body of Christ after experiencing devastating rejection at the hands of fellow believers. Eventually I expanded my weeping to include things I heard on the evening news, like the plight of millions caught in the crosshairs of religious and political turmoil. This grief found its way into my art.

Barry Krammes. ‘Of Departure’, 2018. Mixed-media assemblage. Photo on silk, courtesy of Grace Mears. 38 x 23 x 10 inches.

In the midst of this melancholia, my best friend committed suicide. Of Departure is a kind of tribute to one who was like a brother to me. In the end, nothing was able to keep him from departing this world. Sharing his pain, I attempted to fashion a work where viewers might contemplate their own mortality. I came to understand Of Departure as a sort of visual groaning, where words were inadequate to express the deepest longings of my weary soul. Making Of Departure was akin to an intense cleansing, forged in the furnace of life’s toughest circumstances.

Long ago I put my trust and hope in Christ. Like a desperate man, I cling to the belief that nothing can separate us from his everlasting love. And because of this belief, my ongoing grief is tempered with profound joy and gratitude. Recently, a friend used the expression “bright sadness” to describe his interactions with me. This commingling of joy and sorrow seems to characterize what I have slowly become. In God’s divine schema, and because he knew I needed a concrete image to work with, he brought unbounded joy to me in the person of my toddler grandson. As this young child makes daily discoveries with full-throttled exuberance, my sadness is mitigated. New life often brings a playful, unfiltered, surprising joy that knows no limits and vividly illustrates spiritual realities. In the end, it’s not about being the best or doing something great, but rather about the people who have left their mark on our lives, and the lives that we have touched in turn.

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The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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