Christmas Is Here: Artist Interview
If you have enjoyed the art from our Christmas worship series “Christmas Is Here” check out this interview we did with the painter:
What’s your name?
Holly Jo Welch. I like coffee so much that my kids call me “Mocha Jo.”
How long have you been connected to POP?
I remember Handt and the band when I was growing up! My family visited Prince of Peace often in the summer, although this wasn’t our home church then. College brought out my rebellious side, and I took a hiatus from all things religious for more than a decade. I wasn’t interested in what I came to perceive as rules, exclusivity, and layers of dust accumulating on a very old book. A couple of years ago, my very patient family and the folks at Prince of Peace helped me see that this story lives and breathes, and that there’s a place in it for everyone.
How did you get interested in art?
I’ve loved art since I was little. I’m told that I could sit in my room all day, coloring, without making a sound. Recently my mom showed me some of the drawings I did when I was five years old, and I was surprised to see that they were mostly religious. There were crosses, nativity scenes, even a crayon drawing of the ascension. And more angels than you can count. I haven’t thought about angels in 30+ years, but apparently they were on my mind quite a bit when I was five. Perhaps this painting is a nod to the old days.
For many, the phrase “Christmas is Here” pulls up images of Christmas trees, the manger, stars, Santa, snow. How does this art say “Christmas is Here” for you?
We want Christmas to be beautiful; we play it out in our heads with soft lighting and a holy soundtrack. And it’s good to hope for that kind of peace. But the reality of Jesus among us is so much more gritty than that. Jesus is difficult! It’s not easy to love like that, to give like that. So the people at the bottom are all misshapen. They’re joyful, for sure, and hopeful. But not perfect.
What’s up with the hearts?
I’m not sure. What do you think? It probably started with the text about Jesus baptizing with the Holy Spirit and fire. Those are passionate words. But what do they mean? What does it look like? How does this stick with us? Is it scary? In this series we talk about how Jesus is among us, here and now. It would be easy to say that hearts represent love. When we love each other, we “see the face of God,” right? But I suspect these hearts are more about life. There’s something about the verb – the beating and pulsing – of our hearts that speaks to a Jesus who is alive and working in us, right now.
What’s up with the colors?
There are only seven paint colors here. I like the stylized look of a limited palette, so I grab just a few tubes and put the rest away. I love color so much that if I had to choose from the whole spectrum with every stroke, I’d never get anywhere. They’re all so beautiful.
My favorite professor taught me that you should always cover your canvas with a single, bright, opposing color before you start your actual painting. That color will find ways to shine through the final image and give it a glow. So I coated this canvas with obnoxiously bright pink, fully intending to cover it all up. But this time that background color grabbed my attention, and infused everything. (Could that be a metaphor for lives of faith? What colors shine through us? What grabs hold?)
What will you do with this painting once the series is over?
Do you know anyone with really high ceilings who is not afraid to let their inner pink shine through? Because I would love to sell this at the New Year’s Eve silent auction. I worked in the arts for many years, and attended many workshops about the place of art in the world. What I learned there is that we too often turn to the arts to “escape” from reality, to be transported somewhere else. But art at
its best can do so much more. If we roll up our sleeves and walk into the mess of it, if we fully participate in the endless, exhilarating problem-solving that is art, then we can learn to think creatively. To live creatively. That does have the potential to evoke real change in this world.
I think that’s what the New Year’s Eve auction does. It gathers up all the different kinds of creativity that lives in the Prince of Peace family and offers it up to bring hope, and food, to people who have none. To that end, I urge everyone to find their own art, in whatever form that takes, and offer it. And I urge everyone who attends the auction to purchase generously, knowing that every penny they spend will bring life – a heartbeat – to someone else.
It can change lives. Art does that.