**This is a guest post from my dear friend, Brady Quarles. He was recently asked to produce a couple illustrations for a four-part blog series on Advent for my church, Emmaus. The blog series features an illustration, a poem, and a prose, all focused on different aspects of the theme of Advent. You can see the first post here. Brady’s description of his creative process was just too long to post there, and just to good to not post anywhere, so here it is, featured on this quiet little corner of the internet. Enjoy.**
My immediate thought when hearing the theme of this first week of advent was “distant.” People far from God, longing to be brought near. Enemies and haters of God, who aren’t even aware of the extent of their own depravity. It was our state before being reconciled to God, and an awful, unnerving state to to dwell on.
I wanted to convey visual distance in the piece, and choose to set the piece in an old building, looking down long corridors. I did a few experiments to see how I could create distance in a drawing of an old building. I liked the drawings, but it needed more.
I’ve been reading The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot and felt the tone of his poem was similar to what I was envisioning. For example, the first lines of the the first section, “I. The Burial of the Dead” reads:
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Eliot’s use of enjambment, starting a thought with one word at the end of a line and then immediately stopping, was unnerving.
Typically, the artist tries to create pleasant movement within a piece. The Great Wave by Hokusai is a great example. When I see this piece, my eye looks first at the right side of the picture, then follows the boats and the waves down to the bottom middle of the piece, and then the great wave leads my eye up and around. Finally, I see Mount Fuji in the distance. It’s a pleasant, smooth movement.
I wanted the opposite for my piece. Much like The Wasteland, I wanted to interrupt the audience. I found this photo (I think it’s an abandoned mental health care facility in Germany or something) and I loved the awkward composition and movement. My eye looks down hallway on the right, but doesn’t have anywhere to go. It just back tracks, gets bottlenecked at bottom of the picture, and then moves up and down the staircase. I used this photo as the foundation of my piece, and essentially made two different scenes. The right 1/4 of the piece and the left 3/4s could be their own pieces, but sticking them together creates an uncomfortable composition.
I’ve been reading C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce and love the picture Lewis paints of Hell. It’s not fire and brimstone, but a unfathomably giant city, which never stops growing. The people in the city have each other, but are so depraved that it’s impossible for them to get along for long. Sin forces them away from community, and they continually seek out isolation. In the end they have a lonely city, with millions of miles of empty buildings separating everyone.
I wanted to create a similar human element in my piece. I drew the woman on the right from a photo by a Polish photographer I like who goes by Corpus Vertebrae, and the woman on the left is from a painting I can’t remember the name of, by an artist whose name I also can’t remember.
Finally, I wanted to reference the spiritual forces at work behind this human scene. The image of the serpent (this one drawn from an old book of scientific illustrations) has long been used in Christian artwork to represent Satan, and is a clear reference to the proto-evangelium, that the coming savior will crush the head of the serpent. And lastly the eye at the top of the stair, representing God’s omniscience and sovereignty.