Icons clearly belong in the category of religious art. An icon is painted. It is a pictorial representation. The paintings are of religious figures and religious stories from Scripture. The works in this exhibition are hung in the Centre for Theology and Ministry art gallery in the same way as any other art exhibition. These icons are religious art.
And yet the church community that embraces the heritage of icons says things about this art that are not said about other religious art. There is a tradition of saying that icons are written, giving a suggestion that icons have the status of a religious document. Some of us are not too precious about this point because the Greek word for ‘paint’ is the same as the word for ‘write’.
Another term in iconography that is gaining currency is to speak of icons as ‘liturgical art’. This term is helpful because it gives emphasis to the prayerful purpose of icons. Within the ‘writing’ analogy, icons are to art what a prayer book is to all other literature. They seem more at home in a liturgical space than in an art gallery. Having said that, it should also be true that icons, like prayer, are able to find a home in every place. All literature and visual art may provoke prayer. The claim of the icon is that prayer is its primary purpose. It is liturgical.
Over forty members of the Uniting Church Icon Schools have been active during 2016. Nearly a quarter of these have been writing their first icon. Many of our artists have years of experience in iconography and other art forms. The sharing of their skills has served to produce the rich diversity of styles and techniques alive in our schools.
One skill that has developed in recent years is gilding, the application of gold. A modern German technique (Kölner Instacoll System) produces a highly reflective result that enables further decoration on the gold surface. Some examples can be seen in this exhibition.
Rob Gallacher is the founder of the Icon Schools, 21 years ago. We have bathed in the reflected glory of the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) awarded to Rob this June for his service to the Uniting Church and religious art education.