A deep respect for
Kurt Wenner first encountered religious masterpieces in a college art history class through small reproductions in books and low-resolution lecture slides. If it were not for seeing the centuries of full-scale sacred works of art in Rome, Italy, he never would have understood the transformative impact they have.
The reverence passers-by had for religious images was tangible, and noisy public spaces would become hushed as an audience enveloped the work. The onlookers concentrated on the image and watched the artistic process with quiet devotion.
Some of Wenner’s earliest large-scale oil paintings began as works of pavement art. He started by taping canvas to the pavement and using his handmade pastels to create a well-known image for the public. Then, when the weather was no longer favorable to being outdoors, he stretched his canvases in his studio, adhered the pastels with glue, and transformed the images into beautiful oil paintings.
Wenner used the same technique for original images as well. This process gave him the training he needed to produce original, large-scale oil murals directly on canvas or plaster. The skill of working on a large-scale opened the door to more sizeable commissions.
Over the years he designed and executed many works, among them is an entire church in Puglia (southern Italy) and a massive church ceiling consisting of more than 6,000 square feet (560 square meters) at Lake Como in northern Italy. Working on scaffolding high above the ground gave Wenner a heartfelt appreciation for the works of past centuries.
As one always interested and fascinated by art history and the evolution of images, he noted that over the centuries, artists created sacred imagery to appeal to an audience of their own time. Because few could read, it was essential to respect the iconography of the past while finding a fresh approach to the familiar imagery.
Wenner believes the message of sacred images continues through time to reach out to us. To create this kind of work, he finds it essential to contemplate the essence of the message being conveyed until he can form a direct vision of the artwork. He never uses models for sacred art compositions as he feels it is inappropriate to do so.
Wenner is a rare artist who carries on the practice of traditional Christian imagery. While lecturing on his work and leading tour groups for the Smithsonian in Rome, Italy he’s often asked why saints are portrayed at times with beautiful clothing. Or, why they are painted as more attractive than they were thought to have been. He explains classical imagery uses beauty and richness to express the spiritual wealth of the subject. Adding, the Church believes holy spaces embellished with precious materials, paintings, and sculptures serve to impart a visual experience of the infinite wealth of divine grace to all who enter.
Wenner continues to combine pastel and oil paint when creating some of his work. He finds that the oil paint brings a particular luminosity to the pastels applied over it. In the image below the face of St. Peter has a special quality that exceeds what can be achieved solely with pastels.
When starting a new work Wenner always begins with a drawing of the composition. Next, he executes the portraits and then finishes the remaining parts of the picture. He feels this process is particularly essential with sacred art, but has taken to applying it across all of his work.
Wenner is grateful to go to his studio each day and work on projects that are challenging. Sacred art images are dear to his heart as they reach back for centuries and pull and idea into the present moment. From his research into geometry and classicism, he knows all too well how ideas are forgotten and lost to time. He finds the long hours it takes to bring new works to life are very meaningful, especially in the field of sacred art.