Shrines by Mary Billingsley

Most people think of shrines as prominent sacred places. A shrine may be the burial place of a saint, or where he or she had lived or died, or where a heavenly apparition took place. Pilgrimages are regularly made to such places, where miraculous events also may have occurred. These shrines can be large beautifully decorated structures with paintings or sculptures depicting significant scenes, adorned with a profusion of flowers and lit by many candles.

But a shrine can be of a more modest scale. It may be a box-shaped repository in which relics of a saint are preserved; or the sacred image or a statue of Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin, or a saint in church or at home in a special place set apart for devotion.

Homemade folk shrines and roadside shrines can be found in many countries throughout the world where the devout have tucked here and there humble little reminders of their great love of God and God's great love for them.

This tradition continues in many forms today. Mary Billingsley has been working on a series of SHRINE paintings, based on the life of Christ, since 1990. Each work begins with the gathering of significant objects for a still life or "stage set" depicting an aspect of the life of Christ. Some of these "props" are obvious religious symbols while others, everyday found objects, indirectly evoke the subject and often help to draw the viewer into the painting.

A variety of dolls, owned or borrowed by the artist, become actors on the stage and assume particular roles throughout the series of paintings. The artist has made many of the props along with the architectural structures and houses used in the scenes. Very often the still-life arrangement has naturally taken on a symmetrical appearance and an almost formal presentation. For this reason the artist has chosen to call them "shrines" and has often incorporated flowers, lace, candles and other details that inspire a sense of the sacred.

This process of developing the still life is inspired by quiet reflection over pertinent passages in Scripture and a desire to convey to adults and children alike the reality of the life of Christ in today's world.

Once the three-dimensional still life is realized, a full-scale detailed line drawing is made. Not limited by a literal interpretation of the still life, the artist further develops the idea through her imagination, often inventing major areas. The finished drawing is then transferred to heavy watercolor paper and painted in gouache (opaque watercolor).

Through the joy of seeing God's hand in all of creation, and indeed in every expression of human creativity, the artist wishes to participate in unveiling God's grace which is already embedded in nature. By combining this artistic vision with significant moments in the life of Christ, the artist hopes to present to the pilgrims in the modern world the beauty of salvation history through ordinary every-day objects, and to share these visual delights with her audience.


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