Denver’s local 5280 Magazine recently highlighted one of the most exciting new artists I’ve seen in recent years. Jake Weidmann is no bohemian, though. He’s a deep thinker, distilling through his art concentrated amounts of psychological and anthropological insight all through a theological grid. Hearing him talk about his art up close and personal is inspiring and moving. Fellowship Denver’s Worship Arts Director, Adam Anglin (check out his new album with Edbrooke Collective), and I recently got to visit Jake in his studio, and what you see in this post are some of the shots taken from that visit. (By the way, if you want closeups of any of the art featured here, Jake has it all on his site.)
Jake is perhaps best known as one of the eleven Master Penmen in the world, being skilled and certified in the painstaking, nearly athletic craft of multi-formed calligraphy (e.g. script, off-hand flourishing, illumination, and black letter). He uses this skill to create a lot of mixed media pieces that are deep, evocative, and loaded with meaning.
In this picture, Jake is describing to Adam and me some of his intention behind this piece with two zebras being at once divisible and indivisible. He talked about the fascinating reality of why zebras, with such odd striping and coloring, survive on the savannah. To a predator’s eye, when zebras are grouped together, the herd looks like one big mass, because the stripes make it hard to distinguish one animal from another. With the connection of lines and flourishes emerging from the stripes, Jake is making a statement about humanity’s need for community in order to survive.
One of Jake’s passions is to see art and artists restored to a life-giving place from within the church. He reflects on the artists of the Old Testament, called out from among the people of God to use their art to share a prophetic message with the rest of the body. Jake’s concern, which I am coming to share, is that we in the church have aided and abetted culture’s marginalization of artists, such that we view artists more as a “ministry target” than a necessary part of the Body of Christ.
An interesting angle taken by Jake is a desire to see words themselves as capable of expressing beauty. He shared how he as a kid always struggled with the typical books for children that had words on one page, separated from the illustrations on another. Jake’s explorations involve answering the question, “What if the words were the picture?” Penmanship and calligraphy certainly are art forms that help explore the answer to this question, and we see this happening in this piece which takes an oceanic ghost story and makes the words the waves themselves.
Jake is also passionate that art and art-making lose their elitism and pride. He actually believes it detrimental to the very purpose of art for artists to play the upper-handed “see if you can figure this out” game. Jake would much prefer to see the barriers between art and apprehension diminished, if not completely torn down.
Jake is also passionate about still art’s ability to give rest to the modern, technologized, sensationalized soul. Because most art takes considerable time to make, it usually takes considerable time to reflect upon. Reflection combined with time form a very counter-cultural concoction. It flies in the face of the fast-paced life that struggles to attend for any length of time. But such art is not merely a prophetic statement against our A.D.D. tendencies; it is a comforting invitation to come and rest. In this respect, Jake sees that art has a huge ministry to offer the world.
Classifying Jake as a “Christian artist” probably comes with too much baggage. He is indeed a professional artist who engages his art-making from a Christian worldview. In this respect, he explores the perennial themes of history and humanity, all with the understanding that this is God’s story and God’s creation. However, his art can’t be classified as “Christian art” in the way that is probably most popular. Jake is not interested in cliché or superficial sentimentality. His art is appreciated by atheists and believers alike.
The common ground which Jake and I share is a love for embracing the ancient and the modern in our art making. For Jake, calligraphy and penmanship are classic styles of European antiquity, and yet his art explores the wedding of these forms with more modern media, like airbrush. For me, I’m captivated by the wordsmith-artists of old who set theology on fire in the form of poetry intended to be sung by gathered groups of Christians—old hymns—and my artistic quest over the last several years has been to explore how well the language and expression melds with modern instrumentation and song-structure. Jake and I are both exploring the perennial meta-themes of humanity—community, brokenness, grace, perseverance, love—with our ancient-modern “mixed media.” However, we’re explorers from different and complementary vantage points. I have a more direct call to minister to the church and world as a pastor with a minor in artistry, whereas Jake’s vocation is to pastor the world as a full-fledged artist.
Not every worship leader philosophizes about worship, but I do. Not every artist philosophizes about art, but Jake does. So the big question for a guy like me is asking where and how the rubber meets the road for connecting thoughtful artists like Jake to the center (not the periphery) of the local church’s life and mission. Jake and I are now on a journey together, and I’m already valuing his wisdom and insight. He will help me to avoid some missteps, some false assumptions, and even some downright stupid ideas. And as long as God sees fit to bring us together for collaborative thought, I’ll try to be faithful to share with you all that I’m learning. In the meantime, your soul would be blessed to get to know Jake Weidmann even just by perusing the work on his site.