Peter Blackwood painted the icon that appears on the April Crosslight front cover. He is the coordinator of the Uniting Church Icon Schools, a retired UCA minister and former synod associate general secretary. We asked Peter a few questions about the cover image and his passion for painting icons.
Tell us about the icon you created for Crosslight’s cover.
It’s called Appearing of Christ to the myrrh bearers, based on the incident described in Matthew 28:9, which is traditionally called ‘Chairete’ – Greek for greeting.
The text reads ‘Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him’. (NRSV)
How was the artwork done?
It is painted in egg tempera on a pine panel 28 x 43mm.
How long did it take?
I thought about this icon over a few days, looking through my collection of icon books and trying sketches. Once I started work on the panel, it took me three days.
How long have you been painting icons?
Since 2003. I studied under Rob Gallacher, the founder of the Uniting Church Icon Schools. I have also been taught by Philip Davydov and Olga Shalamova, iconographers from St Petersburg who conduct teaching workshops in Russia, Canada, USA, Italy, and Melbourne.
What first drew your interest to painting icons?
I bought a book on painting icons by Solrunn Nes and started to dabble with acrylic. When I heard of the monthly Saturday Uniting Church Icon Schools I joined. It took a year to paint the first icon in egg tempera. (Some insist that we write icons. The Greek for ‘paint’ and ‘write’ is the same word so I am comfortable using either term.)
What keeps you doing it?
Being part of a community of artists keeps interest alive and provides mutual support and learning opportunities. When I approached retirement I was asked to help teach. That privilege and responsibility spurred me on to learn more and paint more.
How many icons you done?
Crosslight’s cover is my 101st.
Has your work been widely seen?
My icons have been exhibited at the Centre for Theology and Ministry, the Australian Catholic University, Victor Harbor and Tarrawarra Abbey. I have sold 20 works. Photos of my work have been published on the front cover of a number of editions of With Love to the World, including the current Lent/Easter edition.
Tell us a bit about the Icon Schools?
The Uniting Church Icon Schools have day classes at the Auburn Uniting Church on the first Saturday, Monday and Wednesday of each month. The classes include instruction and worship. Each class has between 12 and 15 members. At present there are six artists painting their first icons.
What sort of people get involved?
Our members are all ages, all denominations, all ranges of artistic experience, from many ethnic origins, and mostly women.
Do you teach icon painting outside the Icon Schools classes?
I have conducted painting workshops at a variety of places and produced teaching videos which you can find on YouTube.
Aren’t you something of an icon yourself in the VicTas synod?
Yes – flat, wooden and strangely stylised. You also might think I have been hanging around for centuries.