For brother, art time is prayer time



ST. MEINRAD — Brother Michael Moran followed the same script for many years.

Recently, however, with a nudge from a friend at the Saint Meinrad Archabbey, the Connecticut artist has loosened his style. And that change has led to more personal creations that viewers can connect with in a new way.

One of Moran’s icons depicts the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, with the rear of the Saint Meinrad Church painted into the background. Another shows Gabriel’s Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is shown sitting in front of windows in one of the Spencer County archabbey’s many beautiful rooms.

Those two acrylic paintings and more are on display at the Saint Meinrad Archabbey Library Gallery until Aug. 30. In them, Moran translates the ancient art form of Eastern Christian churches into contemporary terms by painting the icons on wooden panels.

Through the creative process, he finds himself in a state of mindful focus that brings him to God. Art time is prayer time for Moran.

“All the chatter in our heads that’s always there — we’re thinking about something we have to do tomorrow or something we did yesterday — all that kind of stops for a while,” he said in a Wednesday phone interview. “And you’re completely focused on what you’re doing.”

Moran, 68, is a member of the Eastern Province of the Passionist Community. He professed his vows in 1974, and earned a master’s degree in theology at St. John’s University in 1977. His art has been exhibited since 1985 in galleries and museums, largely in Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Though he was interested in art as a child, it wasn’t until later in life that Moran studied under a veteran artist at New York’s Shelter Island. There, he honed in on the crafts of drawing and painting.

“I’ve been painting icons for about 25, 30 years,” Moran said. “I was very careful to follow, sort of the rules, if you want to put it that way.”

Previously, he’d copy existing icons, and he wouldn’t change much in them. But a fellow creative who lives at Saint Meinrad — Brother Martin Erspamer — encouraged Moran to relax and soften his strict code.

Moran rejected the idea at first, but after thinking about it, he decided to give it a shot. Now, he’s glad he did.

“This is 2019,” Moran said with a laugh. “It’s not 1419. I can be a little more contemporary.”

For the past decade or so, he has made regular trips to Saint Meinrad to meet with Erspamer for reflective and prayerful retreats.

“That was a personal thing, to say, ‘Saint Meinrad means a lot to me, so let’s place these figures in a contemporary setting,’” Moran said.

He hopes viewers use his artwork as a gateway to reflecting on themselves and their own faith.

They can look at the paintings and think that while the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the Annunciation happened more than 2,000 years ago, “in some mysterious way, it happened right in our own time,” Moran explained.

For library hours, readers can call 812-357-6401 or 800-987-7311, or visit the archabbey library’s website.

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