In Erica Grimm-Vance’s paintings, the human figure swims in a sea of Being: each gesture, each pose is richly evocative of the ancient but neglected idea of the unity of body and soul. Both her exquisite rendering of the figure and her encaustic technique (employing melted wax) bring a sense of warmth and affirmation to these works. But if Grimm-Vance sees creation as good, she also understands it as subject to sin and mortality. Her figures know suffering, limitation, longing. So it is no surprise that her muse is Simone Weil, the French mystic who wrote so compellingly about the spirituality of “affliction.” These are images that take up residence in your heart…and stay there.
Some of Grimm-Vance’s work is featured in Image issue 31.
Erica Grimm-Vance lives in Vancouver, British Columbia with her husband Craig and children Daniel and Amadea, and coordinates the art department at Trinity Western University. She has gallery representation across Canada; has had over 20 solo exhibitions; and is in numerous private and public collections, including the Vatican Art Collection, Canada Council Art Bank, and the Richmond Art Gallery. Last year she was the Distinguished Nash Lecturer at the University of Regina; the first Prize recipient of the Imago National Juried Art Competition, for her work, “Only Say the Word;” was honored as the Distinguished Alumnae from the University of Regina; and is currently working on a series of 16 larger-than-life-size female saints, for Seabury Western Theological Seminary, Chicago, Il.
Embodiment has been the theme of my work for almost twenty years. All we know is mediated through the body, and as such, it is the central site of meaning. Simone Weil used the platonic word metaxu to describe anything that could be a bridge or mediation between us and God. The created order, including the human body, is a barrier and at the same time, it is a way through. The figures in most of my work echo Weil’s insistence on our bodily fragility. “Our flesh is fragile…our soul is vulnerable…Our social personality is exposed to every hazard.” But it is precisely this intimate fragility that connects us at the core of our being to the cross of Christ.
The figures in most of my images are contrasted with silent planes of steel and gold, which heighten the corporeal, fragile, reading of the figure. In recent years, the discovery of material has been exhilarating. Materials carry meaning. Gold, steel, wax, ash, and lead are all ripe with metaphoric meanings ranging from precious to toxic. Weil would see both the human body and these materials as Metaxu, bridges between us and God. Hence, both the body and materials are potential sites of transcendence.
Only Say the Word is part of a larger series of arcing figures. The figure negotiates the transition between steel and gessoed plane in an upward resurrectional trajectory. The feet are firmly planted in the silent plane of steel and the figure arcs forward. This is an image of resurrection that does not gloss over the pain of Good Friday. In particular the disjointed shoulder socket identified some of the bodily effects of the crucifixion. The new heaven is witnessed to without sentimentalizing the pain of this present earth. The title is from the Roman Eucharistic liturgy, the words “only say the Word” are completed by the phrase “…and we shall be healed.” This drawing is not covered with wax, the intimacy of graphite on gessoed board is covered with a clear, matte top coat to maintain archival standards.