Welcome to the February Webzine for Artists Work B.e.n.c.h.

Welcome to the e-magazine/blog for Artists' Work B.e.n.c.h., the Inland Empire's Christian fine arts organization! We hope you will find this to be a useful, enjoyable and worthwhile resource. Here are the newest items in the blog. Just click on the titles to go to the articles:

The Cafe for February- Interesting links and ideas to get you creating

Tell Them About It!- Help us get the word out about Work B.e.n.c.h.

Psalms Project- Our First Submission!

Treasured Bond--February's Poetry Corner

Artists Profile: Chris Schlarb

Christian Songwriters' Showcase

February Happenings: Arts Events in the Inland Empire

Vincent van Gogh: Misunderstood Missionary

How to Host a Work B.e.n.c.h. Book Club

The Dagger Project: Using Art to Reach People for Jesus

Master Class: Labanotation--Getting your dance down on paper

Fine Arts Bible Study #4

So, brew a cup of coffee, herbal tea, or whatever you like, and stay a while. This page will be updated monthly with new articles and interviews. Enjoy!
You are part of a growing group.

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So, what is Artists' Work B.e.n.c.h? This is a place for Christian artists in the Inland Empire of Southern California to mix, network, relax, share, and learn. What types of Christian artists?
1. Visual arts (sculpture, painting, glass blowing, etc.)
2. Dance (performing, choreography, etc. )
3. Music (playing, writing, learning, singing, etc.)
4. Creative writing (poetry, stories, etc.)
5. Drama/theater (acting, playwriting, directing, etc.)
6. ??????

Artists Work B.e.n.c.h. is for Christian artists: simply, people who are Christians and who are also artists. Some Christian artists make art exclusively for Christians, but many use their talents in secular ways as well (writing screenplays for television, jingles, playing in a philharmonic orchestra, acting in a community theater, displaying their paintings in a gallery, etc.) All are welcome here.

Christians follow the Creator of the Universe, and therefore should be the most creative people in the world. The church has historically been the patron of great artists. Hildegard, the writer of the very first opera, was a nun. Michelangelo, Donatello, Edward Hicks, and many others made art for church and used church subjects.

But, today, Christian art is not considered "forward" or "interesting" in many circles. This reputation is well-deserved in most cases. Christian art has become a punchline. In our own little way we hope to change some of that perception.

What does Artist's Work B.e.n.c.h. stand for?
B=BUILD new Christian artists, ministries, avenues.
E=ENCOURAGE Christian artists to use their talents.
N=NETWORK with Christian artists, churches.
C=COORDINATE opportunities for Christian artists to use/exhibit their talents.
H=HELP Christian artists and help churches utilize artists.

This group is for people who fit one or more of these categories:
1.) Just starting out
2.)Being used mightily for God
4.)Seasoned professional
6.) Talented amateur
7.)Wanting to learn/improve
8.)Not sure if God can use your talent
9.)Good enough to teach others
10.)Wondering if your talent (flower arranging, calligraphy, photography, etc.) even qualifies as art.

Christian artists--unite! Let's be creative, interesting, and forward thinking enough to lead the artistic world, while still making quality pieces that reflect our worldview.

The Cafe for February

Looking for more ideas to help you get creative? Below are links, videos, and some ideas to help you get over the “blank canvas” or “blank piece of paper” effect. Note: all links to outside the Artists Work B.e.n.c.h. Webzine will open in a new window.

The birthstone for February is amethyst, the flower is the violet or iris.

To learn how to make violets from rouched ribbon, click here.

February is: Black History Month, American Heart Month, National Grapefruit Month and National Cherry Month.

Super Bowl XLIII- February 1st

Clowns Service at Holy Trinity Church in Dalston, East London- February 1st. This annual festival is held in memory of Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837), who was said to be the greatest clown of all time. For more information, click here.

Groundhog Day- February 2nd. For the official Groundhog Day website, click here.

Candlemas-February 2nd (or 15th on Julian calendar)-
Candlemas is 40 days after Christmas, and it is celebrated as the day when Mary’s 40-day purification after the birth of Jesus (according to the Mosaic Law) was over. For more information, click here.

“The Day the Music Died”-February 3rd.This year marks the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper. For an in-depth interpretation of Don McLean's song "American Pie", click here.

Western Monarch Day-February 4th. This is a day to celebrate these majestic and beautiful butterflies. Learn more about them by clicking here.

Charles Dickens Day and/or Laura Ingalls Wilder Day-February 7th.
Read more about the London of Charles Dickens here.

This site has links for recipes, crafts, historical sites, biography, and more. Inside of Laura’s Bible, she had a reference sheet so she could find verses that pertained to her daily living. On the sheet, she had the following references:

*In facing a crisis read 46 Psalm
*When discouraged " 23 & 24 "
*Lonely or fearful " 27 "
*Planning budget " St. Luke chapter 19
*To live successfully with others read Romans, chapter 12
*Sick or in pain read 91 Psalm
*When you travel carry with you 121 Psalm
*When very weary read Matthew 11:28 & 30 and Romans 8:31 to 39
*When things are going from bad to worse 2 Timothy 3d
*When friends go back on you hold to I Corinthians 13th
*For inward peace the 14th chapter of St. John
*To avoid misfortune Matthew 7:24 to 27
*For record for what trust in God can do Hebrews 11
*If you are having to put up a fight -- the end of Ephesians
*When you have sinned read I John 3:1 to 21
And make Psalm 51 your prayer

Thomas Edison’s birthday-February 11th

Abraham Lincoln’s birthday- February 12th

Valentine's Day- February 14th

Susan B. Anthony’s birthday- February 15th. For more information about her, click here.

Planet Pluto discovered- February 18th- Feeling insignificant? Do you get the idea that your talents aren’t appreciated? You probably know about the controversy about Pluto’s planet status. The fact is that whether we call Pluto a planet, a dwarf planet, a rock, a floating ginger snap, or a teacup, it actually doesn’t change one single thing about Pluto at all. You can rest in that knowledge! To learn more about Pluto, click here.

George Washington’s birthday- February 22nd

Mardi Gras- February 24th. The video below is from the 150th anniversary of Mardi Gras in 2006.

Ash Wednesday- February 25th

Other Interesting Links and Things

Ben Glenn is "The Chalk Guy". As a child he was diagnosed with dyslexia, but he got inspired to pursue art at an Athletes in Action meeting. Now he travels to schools and churches as a motivational speaker and chalk artist.

In honor of Valentine's Day and National Heart Month, we have two interesting hearts for you to peruse.

Above is Laurel True’s mosaic heart at Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco, across from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Laurel True has made several community art pieces, including a sandbox for a playground, park benches, planters, and wall murals. You can read more about her and see a gallery of her work here.

The poster above can be downloaded from The Plow by clicking here. The link is a website made by two advertising execs who are also Christians. In their own words, “The Plow wants to see the Church give glory to God through art. We are working to build a discussion about how design is being used, and how good theology and soft hearts towards God can help make dynamic design that both teaches and challenges. We want to see the church be attractional in the way Christ is attractional, and call people to repentance the way Christ called people to repentance…”

Arabic Christian worship
This is a clip of a worship song being sung at the Arabic Christian Church, on the corner of 30th Street and Waterman Avenue in San Bernardino. While the roots of the music are clearly from Arabic culture, it’s wonderful to hear how this community lifts up praises to the true and living God.

GO San Bernardino
This isn’t especially arts-oriented, per se, but it reflects how one local congregation, Community Bible Church, is tackling the problems in their city and publicizing their efforts through the creative use of video.

A creative use of dance and percussion by a youth troupe at Iglesia Camino de Santidad in Ontario. The song is “Lord, You Are Good” in Spanish (and “panderista” is, of course, Spanish for “tambourine player”).

Sculpting the Impossible: Solid Renditions of Visual Illusions
And, just for kicks, we think you might enjoy this fascinating article from Scientific American about artists who create really functional sculptures of some seemingly impossible optical illusions. To read the article and see the photo gallery, click here.

Tell Them About It!

Artists Work B.e.n.c.h. is only as strong as its people. There is no official membership roll, but there are people who are actively participating as “members” by going to songwriter showcases, creating art for the Psalms Project, keeping up with the webzine, reading the bookclub selection, going to an event posted on the Happenings page, and many other things.

Scenario 1: You are at your church’s worship rehearsal and, during a break, you talk to some of your bandmates about Artists Work B.e.n.c.h. The people seem interested.

Scenario 2: You want to start a drama ministry at your church, and you approach your pastor with the idea. You want to give your pastor more information about the type of art that Christians are involved in.

Scenario 3: You are at a concert or a museum and you strike up a conversation with a stranger about Christian art. You find out your new compadre is also a Christian interested in the arts.

What do scenarios 1, 2, and 3 have in common? The answer: your next step.
Introducing Artists Work B.e.n.c.h. calling cards! Below you will find an image with eight business card sized “calling cards” about Artists Work B.e.n.c.h. on them. If everyone involved in Work B.e.n.c.h. printed out just one page of these and passed them on to eight other interested parties, this group will grow and become stronger. We are only as strong as our members. Even though we don’t have official membership, we can only do activities that our members will participate in.

Do you want a dance concert where area choreographers show off their choreography? We can’t do it unless we get choreographers involved in Artists Work B.e.n.c.h.
Do you want a gallery show where area Christian artists show off their paintings and sculptures? We can’t do it unless we get painters and sculptors involved in Artists Work B.e.n.c.h.

Do you want more concerts? More theater productions? More classes and workshops? More bookclub discussion locations? More, more more?
Obviously, we cannot have those things unless we have people involved in Work B.e.n.c.h. who have those talents.

And the only way we will get more people involved is to tell more people about it.
So, your assignment for the month of February is to tell eight people about Artists Work B.e.n.c.h. who would be potentially interested. If you think about it, you can probably name eight people right now who go to your church or work with you or live in your neighborhood.

Click on image to make larger. Then print page. Page will print slightly smaller than a letter-sized 8 ½ X 11 piece of paper. Then, cut the cards out and give them to interested people.

Note: So there is no misunderstasnding, remember that these are for people interested in Christian arts. Priority one is to tell the lost about Jesus, but if a person knows about Jesus, tell him or her about Artists Work B.e.n.c.h!

Psalms Project Submission- Psalm 125

Artists Work B.e.n.c.h. has a Psalms project where Christian artists around the Inland Empire are encouraged to make works that reflect a Psalm in the Bible. If we get enough entries, we can have a gallery show or production night (depending on the genres of entries we get). If you are a choreographer, make a dance. If you are songwriter, write a song. If you are a painter…well, you get the idea.

The first entry turned in for the Artists Work B.e.n.c.h. Psalms project is Psalm 125 by Christie Jenkins.

It is taken from the first 2 verses of the psalm:

They that trust in the LORD shall be as mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth for ever.
As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the LORD is round about his people from henceforth even for ever.

What intrigued me most about this Psalm was the interesting juxtaposition of how mountains are used. In the first verse, people who trust in God are compared to Mt. Zion because of its stability and endurance. In the second verse, God Himself is compared to mountains because of His protection,” Jenkins said. “So, we are like a mountain, and God is like a mountain. By following Jesus, we are supposed to be more like Him every day, taking on His character, so it’s only appropriate that we can share a metaphor.”

Jenkins chose to represent the believer using a vine with branches, another metaphor, this time from the New Testament, representing the relationship between the believer and God. An
up-close viewing of the picture yields a surprise. The fruit that the branches produce bears a striking resemblance to something familiar (scroll down to see). “I made the mountain that the vine is on a lot smaller than the mountains surrounding it in the background because when I looked at pictures of Mt. Zion, it was pretty puny compared to the mountains we know and love in San Bernardino. I just figured that even though the Psalm compares people who trust in God to Mt. Zion, God is always going to be exhaustively larger than we could ever hope or envision.”

The painting is a mixed-media acrylic on canvas, with fabric, cotton yarn, and salt dough.

Psalm 125 by Christie Jenkins © 2009

Details of the vine, branches, and fruit.

Detail of the branches, fruit, and light

Detail of representation of Mt. Zion

Submission of art to the Psalms Project is both easy and casual. Once you have a piece you’d like
to submit, e-mail Todd at epistrophy@aol.com. “Submitted” artwork is simply photographed, recorded, videoed, etc. The actual artwork stays with the creator/owner and is not warehoused by Artists Work B.e.n.c.h.

To see January’s Psalms Project page, which has links to other interpretations of the Psalms (but none by people in the Inland Empire), click here.

February's Poetry Corner

Treasured Bond
By: Dorothy Kardas,Psy.D.Th.D.

Deceitful are lips which cry out
That sin does not breed moral and physical ills
That moral failings do not bring about death.
Ponder instead
Over each drop
Of His costly Blood...

Devious are lips which claim
That in pain there is not much merit and gain.
Ponder instead
Upon each drop
Of His Sacred Blood...

Deceiving are lips which utter
That being alive can dishearten thee
Deceiving are those that abhor the painful
Painful yet as gems imperishable... gainful
Lips that vainly rejoice and cheer
Displeasing lips
Dispraising the painful and gainful
Instead of praising...
Instead of pleasing the Lord...
For cunning indeed is the lore
Of children of the world
Rather guard,
Ponder upon
And at all times treasure,
The perfect treasure of His Sacred Blood.

Dorothy K. Kardas is a poet and has authored several poetry and essay books. Born July 21st, 1957 in Poland, her poems have also appearexd in several anthologies and have received several awards. Her poems have an erudite feel to them and often require the reader to use a dictionary to get the full meaning of the words. More of her poems can be found at here. This poem is published on this webpage with her permission.

To see the January, 2009 poem, click here.
To see the December, 2008 poem, click here.
To see Steve Turner's poem on the bookclub page, click here.

Artist Profile: Chris Schlarb Takes the "New Song" to Heart

Chris Schlarb, photographed by his wife Adriana

Improvisation, essentially making something up as you go along, can be the ultimate way of expressing a “new song” for a musician. For Long Beach guitarist Chris Schlarb, that kind of off-the-cuff creativity has become his bread and butter. His compositions involve traditional and modernistic methods of writing and leave plenty of room for free expression. Chris has become one of Southern California’s premier improvising musicians and producers of fringe recordings.

For the past several years, Chris has primarily focused on two recurring projects: I Heart Lung, which is usually a duo project with drummer/painter Tom Steck; and Create(!), an ensemble centered around Schlarb, bassist Orlando Greenhill and drummer Steve Richardson. He also runs the Sounds Are Active record label, which has been receiving much critical acclaim. His career has recently taken a giant leap forward with Twilight and Ghost Stories, his first official solo album. Chris took the time to tell Artists’ Work B.e.n.c.h. about the past decade or so of his unusual career, including the slow process of getting the ball rolling.

“Before Orlando, Steve and I formed Create (!) I spent a year writing songs and practicing with a trio. We played three shows in a year. Once Create (!) came together we played out from the first time we ever considered ourselves a band. It was a complete reversal and was, I think, very important for me at the time.” Greenhill had already spent some time playing in the oddball Christian folk-jazz band Havalina Rail Co. when Create(!) came together. The ensemble does not make your average CCM music, of course; most Christian radio fans would have a hard time coming to terms with their blend of quiet introspection, funk rhythms, and all-out rock-tinged improvisations.

L-R: Orlando Greenhill and Chris Schlarb of Create(!)

Schlarb loves to mix it up stylistically. “Over time, I have vacillated between composed and improvised music. Currently I enjoy performing in improvised settings and recording using a mixture of the two. I don't know that I have an overt stylistic focus on any kind of music, marketable or not. I love collaborating with artists from all different kinds of disciplines. Ultimately I am trying to create something that I find enjoyable. Hopefully listeners will agree.”

When Create(!) debuted in 2000 with Moth Nor Rust (the album title taken, obviously, from Matthew 6:19), some of the critical establishment saw a lot of promise in the band. They have lived up to, and exceeded, expectations on their subsequent albums, Patterns and A Prospect of Freedom. Often the band has been augmented with other players, including Orlando’s father Richard on keyboards, trumpeters Ian Souter and Kris Tiner, brass player Danny Levin, reeds player Lynn Johnston, and occasional DJs and MCs.

Greenhill and Schlarb like to share their passion for creative music with the younger generation. “Since 2001, Orlando Greenhill and I have been maintaining the Create (!) Workshops at parks and schools throughout Long Beach and L.A. It is important that we constantly be engaged with our communities and the youth that live in them.”

Schlarb likes having the opportunity to stretch his creative muscles in different directions with different ensembles. “When I sit down to write and work on my own music, the goal is to create something that I, myself, would enjoy. I don't know if that goal has ever changed, although my tastes have. The nice thing about having all these different projects is that I can expand or contract my collaborative palette, which is very freeing. I think that from the beginning Create (!) was an artistic/spiritual marriage. The result of Create (!) not having a leader, however, results in a very different dynamic than most other groups. Perhaps in the early days we considered God to be the leader and none of us stepped forward to marshal the group's direction.

L-R: Tom Steck and Chris Schlarb of I Heart Lung

“With I Heart Lung, Tom Steck and I have always had a very unique musical connection. I couldn't make music like I Heart Lung without him. We share a bizarre sense of rhythm and a fractured melodic vocabulary. I think we see beauty and chaos as very complimentary elements to one another. As far as my own solo material is concerned, it is important for me to get away and focus on a completely different set of ideas and concepts. The side benefit is that my batteries are charged when I come back into the creative group setting.”

I Heart Lung has enjoyed the opportunity to tour more widely than Create(!), due in part to the smaller duo setting (although sometimes saxophonist Peter Chan or bassist Anthony Shadduck will join in). In live performances Steck and Schlarb clearly enjoy the wild interplay that occurs between them, whether it’s a relative standard like John Coltrane’s “Seraphic Light”, Schlarb’s compelling composition “Wheelchair Graduation”, or a full-on duo improvisation. The two musicians set up on separate ends of the stage as if they were two prize fighters squaring off.

Like many Christian musicians, Schlarb and his friends had some negative experiences when it came to fitting their concepts of art into church settings. When asked about the role of art and artists in the Christian faith today, Chris replied, “I used to think about this question quite a lot. I know there are communities of Christians out there who are patrons of the arts and feel that their connection to God is one that hinges upon the act of creating. That having been said, I think I have tired of evangelizing about the union of faith and art. I feel as though my time is better spent acting and thereby affecting.

“There was a time when I was very concerned with alternate forms of worship and empowering people to worship God in their own ways. I have always had a hard time listening to most of the music played in the modern American church. That having been said, the church I used to attend wanted no part of their artistic community. I scheduled a meeting with one of the associate pastors, and he said his own musical talents were unappreciated by the church. The founding members of Create (!) all attended the same church and went unused. I would say that most churches are hardly paragons for change. They are entrenched in survival and tradition. Sounds like the music industry, now that I think about it.”

Chris Schlarb performing “Twilight and Ghost Stories” in Austin, Texas, July 2008

It has been difficult for Schlarb to find a solid niche in the music business, but the past few years have been very rewarding for him, both professionally and personally. “It is possible that my first marriage was a victim of this pursuit, among other contributing factors. Certain frustrations mount when stuck behind a desk in an office. If things remain too static, I can get apathetic. That's a dangerous place to be.” Schlarb’s second wife, Adriana, has been a tremendous boon to his career, accompanying him on tours and photographing his performances.

He feels optimistic about the future of improvised music and its audience. “I have enjoyed the process of being a businessperson, and running Sounds Are Active has been a great experience for me. The kind of music that I have released and continue to release, however, is an acquired taste. There is a kind of education that needs to take place over a period of time, perhaps, to fully appreciate what is taking place. That is a lot to ask of the average listener. Conversely, there are a lot of educated, intense listeners out there, maybe more than ever.” He does caution performers to keep realistic expectations for the business. “Music itself is infinitely sustainable. Often, it is the expectations of the artist that cannot be sustained. I think the expectation of anything is a serious issue. One thing I always say is to keep your expectations low and you will always be happy. It's a strange dichotomy, but you must require both healthy amounts of confidence and a humility. I don't take one album sale or someone's attendance at a show for granted.”

For Schlarb, the acclaimed Twilight and Ghost Stories is a tale of triumph born out of misery. After his first wife left him and took their kids, he was sitting at home alone one night when a rainstorm hit Long Beach. He listened to the sound of the rain for a while, then was inspired to hook up some microphones and record it. The roughly forty-minute recording became the backdrop of Twilight, upon which he overdubbed musical ideas from himself and several dozen other sources: Greenhill, new Create(!) drummer Justice Constantine, soprano saxophonist Bhob Rainey, indie music darling Sufjan Stevens, his wife’s voice, his son’s fetal heartbeat. Accolades for the album have come from far and wide, and have even led to requests for Schlarb to recreate some of the piece in live concerts. He has performed the piece in San Francisco, Austin, TX and Athens, GA and will do two shows with special guest musicians at New York City’s hot improv club, The Stone, on the weekend of February 7th, 2009. A final show in Los Angeles will follow. “Putting these Twilight ensembles together has been a bit of a dream come true. One of my real passions is bringing different communities of musicians together, and these performances are the absolute embodiment of that. I have had the pleasure of working with many of the people who I consider the best in their field. Not a day goes by where I don't shake my head in confusion and wonder.”

Schlarb intends to keep growing as a performer, composer and producer. “I would certainly like to be a better writer. I have story ideas and things creeping around in my head that would be fun to work on eventually. Right now, however, I really want to discipline myself with music theory. I have avoided it for too long and some recent lessons with (pianist and instrument inventor) Cooper-Moore have emboldened me.” Besides upcoming recordings on Sounds Are Active and Asthmatic Kitty Records, Schlarb has recently done some impressive soundtrack work. “I recently completed a soundtrack for a video game coming out on the Nintendo Wii later this year. Although it was a new and challenging medium, I am very proud of that work.” He produced and performed in the film “40 Bands/80 Minutes”, documenting the extreme music scene in Los Angeles. He also composed for the soundtrack of “Sold: Thailand”, a new documentary on the sex trade in Southeast Asia (http://thesoldproject.com).

Chris’ schedule is seemingly relentless. “I have a number of different jobs and projects ongoing at any time. In addition to working on production, recording, performing and composing I also still run Sounds Are Active and have to manage my own touring and performance schedule. It seems like I am usually bouncing between emails, audio work, minor web stuff, writing, practicing and picking up and dropping off my kids at school. Honestly, I have yet to get into a solid work routine. I'm hoping that materializes sometime soon.”

Chris Schlarb: http://www.chrisschlarb.com/
I Heart Lung: http://www.iheartlung.com/
Sounds Are Active Records: http://www.soundsareactive.com/

To read about other contemporary Christians working in the arts, click on the links below.

John "Drumbo" French

Lynn Yoder

Nick Metcalf

Christian Songwriters' Showcase

We have spent a lot of time in this webzine talking about the monthly Christian Songwriters’ Showcase that Artists’ Work B.e.n.c.h. hosts in Highland on the fourth Saturday of each month. For those of you who haven’t made it out to a show yet, here’s a summary of the fun we had at the January Showcase.

The vivacious, young Jillian Elizabeth belted out several original and worshipful tunes at the Showcase, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar. This was one of her first performances outside of leading worship, but her nerves quickly subsided as the Holy Spirit took over. For Jillian, songwriting is "just a way to get all my jumbled emotions out," she said. "I started kind of writing a few years back, but more recently became more serious about it." In addition to playing the guitar, Jillian can play some piano. Her main influences are Bethany Dillon, Jimmy Needham, and "any worship leaders," she says. Jillian attended the Songwriters' Showcase in October to see her friends the Chittys, and got roped in... uh, "encouraged" to play her own tunes for the January Showcase. We hope she will come back and delight us again with her music in a future performance.

Justin Reid played acoustic guitar, sang, and shared his heart with the crowd between the songs. An alumnus of the youth program at San Bernardino Community Church, Justin is a native of Canada and spent some time in Maine before returning to Southern California. He is a member of Altered!, a traveling worship ministry that visits churches around the Inland Empire and beyond. Not only is he our favorite barista, he is now building a new web design business to help support his musical endeavors. He is a funny, charming young man with a huge dose of talent. The music he performed at the showcase was warm, honest and showed a seeker’s heart.

L-R: Klutz, Mic Applegate and Mark Anthony

Mark Anthony sang and played rhythm guitar while his bandmates – Klutz on 12-string guitar, Mic on percussion, and Steve on harmonica— played praise music at the January showcase. Mark has been writing songs since he learned how to write. "I remember having a pad and pencil in my hands even before I started kindergarten," he says, "so maybe it (writing songs) was inevitable." In addition to playing guitar and singing, Mark can play drums/percussion, and even dabbles in a little theater. His main musical influences are David Mullen and Chris Tomlin. His music is catchy yet cerebral, and displays a passion for serving Christ with love and dedication. He can be contacted at http://www.myspace.com/acousticlixpixandkix, and you can download a sample of his music from his Myspace page. Also, see the “Happenings” page in this issue of Artists’ Work B.e.n.c.h. for his upcoming gigs!

L-R: Jesse Manzano, Scott Gordin, Chip Gumienny

The Scott Gordin Band – Scott on vocals and guitar, Chip Gumienny on percussion, and Jesse Manzano on bass – finished up the evening by playing several catchy worship tunes. Their own style is more rock-and-roll than the acoustic set-up allowed for the showcase, so they rounded out their set with some tunes written by other artists, but the majority of the songs they played were original. Their album “Make Me a Worshiper” is one of the better releases we’ve heard lately, and the title track could find a home in just about any church’s worship set. For more info, check them out on Myspace at http://www.myspace.com/scottgordinband.

The next Christian Songwriters Showcase will be on Saturday, February 28th at 4:30 PM. The Showcase is held at GFE Coffee in the Albertsons Plaza, corner of Baseline and Boulder in Highland. We are still putting together the artist roster for this month, but it should be another barn-burning night of good music. For directions and other info, contact Todd Jenkins at (909) 863-1000 or epistrophy@aol.com.

We are always in need of artists for upcoming monthly showcases, so please contact Todd if you are interested in performing. We will sign you up to perform a half-hour set of all original music. Due to room and noise constraints, we prefer as small a setup as possible; one musician with an instrument is best, but we can accommodate three or four (no drum kits, only hand percussion).

For more arts events in February, click here.

February Happenings

To view Happenings for August 2009, click here.

This page has arts events happening in the Inland Empire.

Drama- Anna in the Tropics

February 1, and February 6-8 the Riverside Community Players are performing Nilo Cruz’ Anna in the Tropics. This play won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003. It is set in 1929 in a Florida cigar factory, which employed “lectors” to educate and entertain their employees. Controversy arises when a new lector enters the factory and reads to the workers from Anna Karenina by Tolstoy. Tickets for the play are $15, and both evening and matinee performances are available. For more information, check out the website at http://www.riversidecommunityplayers.org/. To get to the Playhouse, take the 91 freeway and exit at 14th street. Head northwest for ½ mile until you come to the intersection of 14th and Magnolia. Go straight through the intersection and you will see the Riverside Community Players marquee about 100 feet ahead.

Drama- Lifehouse Theater

For ticket information, directions, or audition information, go to the Lifehouse website at http://www.lifehousetheater.com/ or call 909-335-3037, and dial 0 for general information.

Lifehouse audition schedule:
• The Hiding Place** February 5, 2009
• Peter Pan March 5, 2009
• Zorro April 16, 2009
• Little House on the Prairie June 4, 2009

Lifehouse show schedule in February:

Beauty and the Beast at Lifehouse Theater

(see contact information above)

Witness a timeless tale of true love and virtue as the beauty Rose discovers the heart within the Beast. This retelling of the well-known story emphasizes that it is not one’s outward appearance but what is inside that counts. Fun for all ages is found in this popular musical adaptation inspired by the classic French fairy tale. Friday and Saturday performances through February 15th.

Ecclesiastes: The Wisdom of King Solomon at Lifehouse Theater

(see contact information above)
A treasure trove of life’s secrets are explored as the wisdom of Ecclesiastes comes to life on stage. This unusual new stage experience promises to offer insights from and for the ages. Weekend performances, February 28 - March 15, 2009.

Drama- Peter Pan

February 1, 6, 7, and 8, Peter Pan at the Landis Performing Arts Center at 4800 Magnolia Ave in Riverside. Tickets $25-43. You can purchase tickets here: http://purchase.tickets.com/buy/TicketPurchase?orgid=26887. For more information, call 951-222-8100.

Musical Theater- Into The Woods Jr.

Through February 14th on Fridays and Saturdays-- Into the Woods Jr., a family-friendly rewrite of the acclaimed Sondheim musical, will be performed at Theater 29 at 73637 Sullivan Road in Twentynine Palms. Tickets are $8 for students, $10 for seniors, and $12 general admission. For more information and for tickets, go to http://www.theatre29.com/ or call the box office at (760) 361-4151.

Cinema- Expelled

February 8 at 6:00 PM at Magnolia Avenue Baptist Church - See Ben Stein’s acclaimed movie Expelled, a documentary about the exclusion of intelligent design from school curricula. Cost is $1 and popcorn and bottled water will also be sold. For more information, call the church office at (951) 689-5700. The church is located at 8351 Magnolia Avenue, Riverside.

Music- We Five Folk Rock Revival

February 8- We Five Folk Rock Revival will be at the Chaffey High School Gardiner Spring Auditorium at 2:30. The band We Five are best known for their 1965 hit “You Were On My Mind.” Tickets are $15. The auditorium is located at 1245 N. Euclid Ave. in Ontario, CA. For more information, call (909) 987-6456.

Dance- Sleeping Beauty

February 9 at 8:00 P.M., the ballet Sleeping Beauty will be performed by the Russian National Ballet under the direction of legendary principal dancer Sergei Radchenko at the McCallum Theater in Palm Desert. Tickets are $25-$75. The theater is located at 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. For tickets, go to the website at http://www.mccallumtheatre.com/calendar.php and click on the show you want.

Band Music- RCH Band

February 12 at 4:30 the RCH Band will be performing in concert at The River Christian Reformed Church at 459 E. Highland Ave. in Redlands. For more information contact Jill Leonard at (909) 798-2221.

Auditions for Redlands Shakespeare Festival

February 21 and 22- Auditions for the Redlands Shakespeare Festival. Auditions consist of cold readings of scenes from the three plays to presented each season. No prepared monologues are required. Auditions will be held from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, February 21, and Sunday, February 22, at Contemporary Club of Redlands, 173 S. Eureka St., Redlands, CA 92373. Redlands Shakespeare Festival is seeking 45 actors of any ethnicity, ages 16 and older, to play in the 2009 season. Performances will be held in repertory at the 6,000 seat Redlands Bowl outdoor amphitheater. For more information contact Steven Sabel, artistic director at (909) 335-7737. This year’s plays are The Tempest, Hamlet, and Measure for Measure, and the plays will be performed May 7-24 in repertory (a different play every night).

Dance-Celtic Legends

February 27-28- Pechanga in Temecula- Celtic Legends, under the direction of Riverdance’s Michael Londra, features some of the finest Irish dancers in the world. The show also features live musicians playing fiddles, pipes, accordion, whistles, and guitars. For more information, go to http://www.pechanga.com/entertainment/upcomingtheatricaldetail.asp?id=12 or call (951) 770-2507 or (909) 885-5152.

Christian Rock- Leeland

Leeland will be in concert for Beautiful Africa on March 19th at Crosspoint Church (6950 Edison Ave. in Chino). Tickets are $12 in advance, or $15 at the door. Call (909) 606-9833 for more information. Beautiful Africa is an organization that provides medical care to abandoned and HIV-affected babies in Lesotho, Africa, a country where 23% of the population has HIV/AIDS and 56% of the population lives on less than $2 a day. This concert is raising money for Beautiful Africa. Purchase tickets and learn more at http://blog.www.beautifulafrica.org/leeland/

Christian Rock- Mark Anthony Band

Guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Mark Anthony, who appeared at the January Christian Songwriters’ Showcase hosted by Artists’ Work B.e.n.c.h., has two performances in February with his band. On February 6th the group will perform at the Upper Room at Rialto Community Center, 214 N. Palm Ave. in Rialto (contact brandizzzle@aol.com for more information). And on February 25th Mark brings his unique jam-band sounds to the Cocky Bull, at 14180 Highway 295 in Victorville-(760) 241-6592.

Christian Songwriters' Showcase- February 28, sponsored by Artists Work B.e.n.c.h. For more infomation, click here.

White Iris: Vincent Van Gogh and How the Church Failed Him

March 30, 1853, marked the birthday of one of art's most tormented souls. It is little known that painting wasn't his first vocation. Before he studied art, he studied theology and served as a missionary. After he got pulled out of the field for "overzealousness", he got little support from his church. He spent many years spiraling downward, obviously still interested in Jesus but no longer interested in Christianity, until his ultimate suicide in an insane asylum. Although he was misunderstood in his generation, today his paintings sell for millions. His life is an example of the "how-not-to" manual in the way churches treat their artists.

Vincent Willem van Gogh was born in Groot Zundert, Holland, to Anna Cornelia Carbentus and Reverend Theodorus van Gogh. His father was the pastor of a Protestant church and raised young Vincent to love Jesus. The oldest of six children, he had three sisters and two brothers. One of his brothers, Theo, would become his champion. Their uncle Vincent, called “Cent”, worked for the French art dealers Goupil & Cie. There is little information about Vincent’s childhood, but apparently it was quiet and normal. His education was sporadic and probably had little or no art in the curriculum. But in 1870, when he was 16, Vincent got a job at the Hague Gallery run by Goupil & Cie. At nineteen Vincent’s job transferred him to London while Theo, who also worked for Goupil, went to The Hague. Two years later, in 1875, Vincent went to Paris, the heart of the art world. However, Van Gogh soon lost all passion for the arts. Instead, he decided to follow in his father's footsteps and become a preacher.

Vincent, age 13

Vincent, age 19

Apparently his parents were happy with his decision to enter the ministry, since they agreed to pay for his theological education. Vincent briefly became a teacher at a Catholic boys’ school, a Bible translator, and then an assistant to a Methodist pastor. Soon, Vincent decided to devote his life as a missionary to poor miners in the Borinage, a small region of southwestern Belgium, where he ministered and evangelized in this downtrodden community.

"He (God) has sent me to preach the Gospel to the poor," Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo, in a letter dated 1876. He gave all his possessions, including most of his clothes, to the poor in that community. He cared for the miners at his own expense, even giving his bed to a poor person who slept on the floor. People who knew him at this time compared his selflessness to St. Francis of Assisi.

Although ministry and life became difficult in the Borinage, Vincent Van Gogh preached the Gospel with a passion, even to the point of entering the mines themselves to reach the miners. He wrote about his ministry to his father:

“You know how one of the roots or foundations, not only of the Gospel, but of the whole Bible, is ‘Light that rises in the darkness’. Well, who needs this most, who will be receptive to it? Experience has shown that the people who walk in the darkness, in the center of the earth, like the miners in the black coal mines, for instance, are very much impressed by the words of the Gospel, and believe them, too.”

For release from the stress of this essentially inner-city ministry, Van Gogh took up charcoal sketching. He had no proper training in art, except for his five years working at a gallery (and anyone can understand that looking at paintings is very different from painting them). After six months as a missionary, the governing body of the Dutch Reformed Church forced him to resign, citing his overzealousness and passion as the reason. Apparently he did not fit the cookie-cutter image of a “missionary” or “minister” appropriately enough for the church of his day. Still, his passion for reaching the lost in that community was evident, since he continued to minister in that community without the blessing of his church. His parents and brother Theo continued to support him as a missionary, but eventually Vincent had to admit that he could no longer minister in those destitute circumstances without the support of his church. Theo caught a glimpse of Vincent's charcoal drawings and, seeing an obvious talent, encouraged him to pursue an education in art.

Finally, at the age of 27, Vincent moved back in with his parents and took it upon himself to learn how to draw masterfully. Disillusioned by the church, Vincent rejected institutional Christianity for what he thought was true piety, which he called "the white ray of light." He was mentored by the realist painter Anton Mauve, who was also his cousin by marriage. Many of his pieces from this era depict peasant life, a reflection of his time and ministry at the Borinage. Vincent didn't forget his burden for the downtrodden, although he was spiritually disgusted with Christianity. He befriended a prostitute who already had one child out of wedlock and was currently pregnant with another. Vincent fell in love and used her as a model to practice and perfect his figure drawing skills. He once said, "I prefer painting people’s eyes to cathedrals, for there is something in the eyes that is not in the cathedral, however solemn and imposing the latter may be -- a human soul, be it that of a poor beggar or of a street walker, is more interesting to me." Eventually, Vincent moved out of his parents’ house and rented a room from a local Catholic church.

Drifting from one dogma to another, Vincent wrote at this time that God is "not dead or stuffed, but alive, urging us to love, with irresistible force." He also claimed, "Our purpose is self-reform by means of a handicraft and of intercourse with Nature -- our aim is walking with God."

Soon Vincent befriended other artists, including his contemporary Anthon van Rappard, in the province of Drenthe. He learned about the works of other contemporaries all over Europe. One of his biggest influences was a famous painter named Jean-François Millet. He studied figures and painted The Potato Eaters (below), which was a commercial failure during his lifetime, although it is now one of his more famous works. It demonstrates the dark, morose palette of colors that he favored at that stage of his life. Although his paintings were not lucrative, Vincent’s passion was even more evident. He decided he needed more art training, so he enrolled in an art academy in Antwerp.

Another piece Van Gogh painted at this time was called The Open Bible (also called Still Life with Open Bible, below). It gives some important insight into his religious leanings. Although many art historians have viewed this painting as proof that Van Gogh had abandoned the Bible – indicated, it is said, by the extinguished candle and the prominence of Emile Zola’s novel Le Joie de Vivre in the foreground – Van Gogh himself did not claim that. He said, "I told Father that in the Bible itself, maxims can be found by which we may test our convictions to see whether they are reasonable and just." His interest was in the Bible’s application to modern life: "Now take (historian Jules) Michelet and Beecher Stowe; they don’t tell you the Gospel is no longer of any value, but they show how it may be applied in our time, in this our life, by you and me, for instance." Van Gogh said that, to him, the Zola novel represented a modern version of Isaiah’s story of suffering and healing. He did not mean it to supplant the Bible but to serve as a reminder of its relevance.

The church that had rejected Vincent Van Gogh had the perfect time for intervening at this point, and could have brought him back to Christianity to make him a mighty man of God. But instead the church was silent about this man, who probably intimidated the higher-ups because of his artistic eccentricities. It was fine with them if a person was passionate about God, but only if that passion fit the proper mold.

After attending the art academy in Antwerp, Vincent moved to Paris where he met and befriended Paul Gauguin, Camille Pissarro, Claude Monet, and Emile Bernard. Gauguin and Van Gogh formed a close friendship and moved together to Arles in 1888. Van Gogh had a vision to create an artistic commune of sorts, and he felt that he and Gauguin would be the perfect people to get the idea off the ground. It was at this time that Vincent's "mental instability" seemed to grow into an illness. He suffered from seizures, psychotic attacks, and delusions. Although it is not proper to diagnose a person who has been dead for more than 100 years, after studying his letters and what contemporaries said about him, many psychologists believe that Van Gogh suffered from bipolar disorder (others believe he had a lesion in the limbic area of his brain). In one famous episode, Vincent threatened Gauguin with a knife and left the house. He returned later that day and mutilated his ear, offering it to a prostitute as a gift. While Vincent was hospitalized Gauguin left Arles quickly, shattering his friend's future plans for an artistic commune. Despite his mental instability, Van Gogh was still interested in the teachings of the Bible. Gauguin said of Vincent, "His Dutch brain was afire with the Bible." Again, the church was very “hands-off” in Vincent’s time of torment. While most churches back then and today are ill-equipped to deal with full-fledged mental illness, the cold shoulder from the church is not usually something that makes a person love Christ more.

Vincent Van Gogh then committed himself to an asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France. There he created a vast amount of paintings, although he could not paint or draw for long periods of time without suffering an attack. It was at this asylum that Van Gogh painted one of his most famous and popular works, Starry Night. He wrote to his brother that he was in "terrible need of -- shall I say the word, religion. Then I go out at night to paint the stars." Pastors and priests (Van Gogh was in heavily Catholic France at this time) would frequently visit hospitals and even prisons, but most pastors or priests wouldn’t set foot in an asylum.

Despite his obvious turmoil, Vincent remained interested in Jesus. He wrote to his brother, "Oh, I am no friend of the present Christianity, though its founder was sublime." He described Jesus as "the supreme artist, more of an artist than all others, disdaining marble and clay and color, working in the living flesh." In Van Gogh’s version of the Pieta, he depicted Mary holding the languishing adult Christ, but he depicted Jesus with his own face and red beard in Mary's arms. Van Gogh had no Messiah complex, however; he was simply acknowledging that his own sins had a hand in Jesus' death.

Two years later, Vincent left the asylum. He continued painting at an astonishing rate, finishing almost one painting each day; however, in his entire artistic career he sold only one painting, The Red Vineyard, just four months before he died. On July 27, 1890, Vincent Van Gogh, depressed, spiritually confused, and seeing his life as a horribly wasted mess, attempted suicide by shooting himself in the chest. He survived the immediate wound, but two days later he died from the results of that gunshot. Van Gogh had spent ten years seriously pursuing art as a career, and although he was unappreciated in his lifetime, he left the world with inarguably great paintings.

Vincent Van Gogh was an artist who was obviously mentally ill and unstable. His paintings have been appreciated by many in both the Christian and secular community. Van Gogh as a person, however, is a very telling example of the church's failure to connect with and use the talents of artists. Even the secular world didn’t understand Van Gogh at the time, as evidenced by the single painting he sold before his death. But the world later embraced this man’s artistry to the point that five of his paintings are placed in the top thirty most expensive paintings ever sold at auction*. Despite his obvious upbringing and his zeal as a missionary, the church of his time refused to help him as a man. The church’s idea that pastors, missionaries, and ministers needed to fit into a certain ideal eventually drove Vincent Van Gogh away from his First Love. He was quite passionate about Jesus Christ, even after he had been fired from his church and after he rejected Christianity as an organized religion.

Had the church intervened in this man's life, the tragedy of Van Gogh's end could have been re-written as a victory, and his art could be celebrated in church history as a shining example of how Christians can view the arts and deal with artists who have "difficult" temperaments. Instead, he became a tortured soul who rejected Christianity and ended up committing suicide at the age of 37. God sent an artist, and his church failed him.

How often do we see this same pattern today, the church disenfranchising or ignoring members whose creativity does not suit someone in power? In one of Van Gogh's most enduring works, Irises (at the top of this page), we see one lone white iris standing out amidst a sea of look-alike purple irises. Perhaps this is how Van Gogh saw himself among those he knew, similar yet glaringly different, as are many of the artists within our church congregations. The question is, do our churches weed out and discard the non-conformists in their gardens, or embrace their different beauty and use them to God's glory?

*How Van Gogh’s paintings place on the list of the 30 most expensive paintings, and their prices (all in American dollars and adjusted for inflation):

Portrait of Dr. Gachet (above), 4th most expensive, selling for $136.1 million
Irises, 7th most expensive, selling for $102.3 million
A Wheatfield with Cypresses, 15th most expensive, $85.1 million
Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers, 20th most expensive, $75.4 million
Peasant Woman Against a Background of Wheat, 29th most expensive, selling for 63.8 million

To read about John Newton, another important historical figure in Christian arts, click here.

To read about Christian artists who are contemporary, click on the names below.

Chris Schlarb

John French

Nick Metcalf

Lynn Yoder