The Heart of A Catholic Artist

By Martinho Correia

For as long as I remember, I have drawn. My mother still has drawings of mine from kindergarten. Like many others of my generation, I copied comics in order to learn how to draw. Growing up I really wanted to be a comic book artist and in high school my friends and I created our own comic book featuring Canadian superheroes of our own creation.

However, my father was a Portuguese immigrant to Canada with a grade three education and so, as a first generation Canadian, it was very important that my siblings and I be well educated. This meant studying at University, ideally law or medicine. I enrolled and completed a couple of years of pre-med sciences but my heart was never in it. The margins of my notebooks were filled with sketches of professors, classmates and superheroes.

One day, my mother noticed this and said, “Why don’t you take an art course?” I soon after enrolled full-time in the Fine Art Faculty at the University of Calgary. I graduated in 1990 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting.

The thing is, like most contemporary art schools, training was limited and instead the focus was on one’s originality and expressing oneself. I had some excellent teachers including John Hall, a noted Canadian still-life painter, as well as art educator Dr. Larry Cromwell.

“Most of my time during and after my art degree was spent trying to figure out the methods of the masters, in other words trying to rediscover 500 years of painting techniques alone, without a teacher, on the western prairies of Canada.”

My Path To Florence

In 1992 I happened to be in Toronto visiting relatives on the same weekend that Michael John Angel was giving a series of lectures on the art and practice of representational painting. Angel’s life work was to resurrect the practices of the great 19th Century academies. He himself studied with the great Italian portrait painter Pietro Annigoni.

Tour the Angel Academy of Art, Florence, with maestro Michael John Angel

Angel ran a school in Toronto which I attended that summer. Later I visited him at his Florence studio and committed to studying in Florence at some point. Meanwhile I had returned to school in 1993 to complete a Bachelor of Education in Art Education at the University of British Colombia. The next several years I taught junior high school art for the Calgary Catholic School Board.

In 2000 I took a leave of absence from teaching in order to study at the Angel Academy of Art in Florence. After two years I decided to resign my teaching position continue to study in Florence. After I completed my training I was given a teaching position and continue to teach workshops there.

In 2010 I completed a Masters in Architecture, Sacred Art and Liturgy  at The European  University/Pontifical Athenaeum, ‘Regina Apostolorum’ in Rome. Architects, priests and theologians put the program together to train artists and architects to take part in the New Evangelization.

I continue to seek out new training, workshops and teachers. Most recently I studied with Odd Nerdrum at his studio in Norway and David Kassan in Dublin.

Finding the Richness of Catholic Tradition

As a child growing up post Vatican II my catechesis was disastrous.  Despite attending church regularly, studying in Catholic schools and  receiving all the sacraments, I had no idea of the depth of the Catholic faith. This ‘Regina Apostolorum program opened me up to the richness of the Catholic tradition and laid out a path in which I could take my painting. I am interested in continuing the Catholic and Western traditions of painting, philosophy and theology and passing them on to students and other artists. I would hope to take part in a new Renaissance in which we rediscover these traditions so shamelessly ignored since the advent of Modernism.

I had always been more interested in Caravaggio than Jackson Pollock. I find abstraction generally rather boring and self expression as practiced by many “artists” rather banal. My love of representational art began with the comic book artists I admired as a youth and continued as I discovered their roots in mid 20th century illustration and its direct connection to the great masters of the past.

Today’s Cult of the Boring Artist

Representational art is not dead. In fact there are hundreds, if not thousands of artists working in the tradition producing fantastic and beautiful work from countries across the globe. In order to understand the suppression of representational art in the West, we need to look at the broader political and ideological forces at work.

I believe the lack of widespread promotion of the art form is part of a larger ideological battle that promotes a very specific anti-Western and, more specifically, anti-Christian worldview. This is not as crazy as it seems. It is pretty common knowledge that the CIA funded the Abstract art movement in the USA. World Wars I and II quite handily removed the old world order and their traditions. 

In terms of art, traditional western artists expressed the subject matter of the piece. Today, artists express ‘themselves.’ In such a paradigm, since the vast majority of people are quite boring, the only interesting artwork is that which pushes every possible boundary and challenges any tradition that is left. 

As a result the focus becomes as much about personality of the artists as the about the art work. Often the artist is promoted with the work being secondary.

Where Have All the Artists Gone?

Though they have been few, there have been realist artists active throughout the 20th century. In Italy, it was Pietro Annigoni in Florence who accepted students who worked with him in the traditional studio method. In America R.H. Ives Gammil continued the academic tradition. Since the 1990’s with the founding of several schools in Florence a large group of international students have found a place to study these traditional methods. The Florence Academy, Charles Cecil Studios and The Angel Academy have all produced students who have then taken this training to their home countries around the world.

Comments from students and instructors about the Angel Academy of Art

These art students tend to be either younger, 15 – 25,  or older, 50 plus. Most people in between are busy working on careers. The exception is in the short workshops which we teach where we tend to see all ages.

Where to Find the Art

An annual conference called TRAC gathers artists, teachers and others connected with the world of representational art. An excellent magazine which focuses on traditional and contemporary realist art is Fine Art Connoisseur.

For those who wish to know more and find great art, the best place to look is the Art Renewal Center.   It is the largest online museum for traditional art. It features hundreds of contemporary realists along side historical greats. Every year it holds an online salon in which thousands of artists apply for a number of prizes. In addition it hands out scholarships to promising young students in order they may continue their studies.

Two galleries in the real world who carry artists I like are John Pence in San Francisco and Arcadia in New York.

Will The Church Support The Art?

There is not a big market for traditional painting within the current Catholic culture. I would love to see a renewal of this aspect of the Catholic faith. Unfortunately felt banners still rule the days in many churches!

The Orthodox however, continue to decorate their churches with art and there is no reason we cannot.  There are big projects that come along but they seem to be few and far between. Most of these are in the United States.

“Cardinal Ratzinger’s book, The Spirit of the Liturgy was the source for many of the ideas presented at the 2010 ‘Regina Apostolorum’ in Rome and training was focused on the great Catholic traditions in art and theology.” (Painting: Anastasis by Martinho Correia, Collection of Cardinal Piacenza in the Vatican).

”Over the last 100 years our culture has turned its back on the great tradition of Western Painting and in the process almost lost 800 years of painting training and practice. As a result, none of our public institutions teach traditional painting.” Martinho Correia

“IN THE NEW DEMOCRATIC WEST, MAN NO LONGER NEEDS GOD TO SAVE HIM; MAN NOW SAVES HIMSELF. Science is the new religion, relativism the moral code. The only art form that can really be promoted by such a culture are ordinary sculptures of geometrical forms and abstract painting (because they are truly non-threatening) or art works that are a form of self-expression. Since everyone is absolutely equal in all ways, whatever one person produces has the same value as anyone else.”

“I DON’T THINK WE CAN UNDERESTIMATE THE RESOURCE OF THE INTERNET, which has allowed these new schools of representational art to become known and has helped spread traditional training to those who otherwise could not find a teacher or a school to help them.”

“FROM WHAT I CAN SEE THE LARGER ART WORLD IS IGNORING US; that’s fine as we are building our own art world to directly challenge this old order. We are the new avant-garde.”

“IT COMES DOWN TO FAITH AND MONEY. While we live in a time of great wealth and prosperity our faith has dwindled. Our “advanced culture” is unable to match anything done in the Renaissance or Baroque.”

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