Winter of 2016 through Spring of 2017

Featured images from the two-part Inaugural Group Exhibition of the First Free Sanctuary Series . Featuring work by Joel Sheesley, Sergio Gomez, Marilynn Derwenskus, Nolan W. McCants, Michael Bullard, and Dan Addington.

Artist: Sergio Gomez
Title: Balance
Medium: acrylic on canvas

“Gomez’ use of the human figure grounds his work in the depth of human concerns; his art has our shared plight of suffering, of searching, and of triumph at its center. In Gomez’s work the use of multiple textures, visible seams, dripping paint, vibrant colors and brushstrokes honors corporality, as his evocative figures celebrate personhood and the world in which we dwell. Yet Gomez’s works also act like modern icons opening windows and doors into the depths of Spirit, where death never has the last word and the sacred beckons. In his passionate and passion-making art Sergio Gomez tells a community’s story, raises a cry of pain, mediates a vision of hope, and points with care and reverence toward that eternal Other whose love the very beauty of these works brings into relationship with a thankful world.” – Cecilia González-Andrieu Ph.D. Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA Bridge to Wonder: Art as a Gospel of Beauty, Baylor University Press, 2012

Says Sergio, “My artwork reflects my personal concern to understanding the cycles of life and my spiritual awareness throughout that journey. This has been my lifelong pursuit, to understand life’s intricate relationships with this world and the one above.”

Artist: Sergio Gomez
Title: Spirit of Peace
Medium: acrylic and charcoal on paper and canvas

Sergio Gomez is a Mexican-American artist who grew up in Mexico City before his family emigrated to the US.  He is currently the Director of Exhibitions at the Zhou B. Art Center in Bridgeport, Chicago and is also on the Art/Design faculty at South Suburban College. As a curator, Sergio has curated over 100 exhibitions in the US and abroad including “The National Self-Portrait Exhibition”, “Get Real: New Figurative Realism in Chicago” “CelebrARTE”, “Chicago’s Twelve”, “Chicago’s Twelve at Garfield Park Conservatory”, “I AM American Traveling Exhibition

Joel Sheesley

Many of artist Joel Sheesley’s paintings bear witness to a sacramental reality by bringing different levels of reality, the ordinary and extraordinary, into close proximity. His puddle paintings, in particular, are excellent examples of a ‘sacramental way of seeing.’  Looking at these paintings, we peer down at the puddles in the cracked earth and at the same time see the reflection of the sky and trees above us.  The puddles themselves reference eyeholes, as if we could see through the ground.  Sheesley combines ‘looking at’ and ‘looking beyond’ into a single action.  As Sheesley observes: “because of the precedent of the Incarnation, people and objects in the visible world can be imbued with symbolic meaning.”

Joel Sheesley

Joel Sheesley is a painter and Professor of Art at Wheaton College, where he serves as Department Chair. He is currently working with culture and nature and their intersection in landscape. Joel has exhibited his work both nationally and internationally.

Marilyn Derwenskus

The images in Derwenskus’ paintings emerge from her life experiences, particularly from when both she and her husband seemed situated on the fragile line between life and death. Her husband (now deceased) struggled with multiple sclerosis for many years while Derwenskus survived heart surgery. Her life has been blessed with three children and hundreds of painting students whom she nurtured, particularly during travels in Italy.

Marilyn Derwenskus

The Art of Living addresses the beauty of life, itself. Derwenskus painted some of her students in Italy combined with black lines drawing over gold leaf of figures from Ghiberti’s magnificent Baptistery doors in Florence. She likes contrasting “then” and “now”, which raises questions for the viewer to ponder. The geometry of windows, doors, ladders are intentionally juxtaposed with organically drawn forms. Technically, the painting began with pourings and no plans for how it would look when complete. It took nearly a year to determine what visual elements to include. The circle reminds us that life goes on…

Derwenskus’ trained in the late fifties – the era of abstract expressionism launched her development as an artist and as an educator. Later, during MFA studies, Derwenskus encountered post-modernism that challenged the search for ideas and the power of communication through art. Derwenskus taught art for 20 years as a tenured painting professor at Ball State University, Muncie, IN and for 25 years at various Michigan colleges and art centers. She continues to devote considerable attention to personal studio work and exhibitions.

Nolan McCants

Nolan W. McCants, an award winning photographer and pastor, had his initial encounter with photography in his 6th grade dark room class. This is where he first “saw the light”—the beauty, symmetry and the emotion that photography evoked. This would later spark a fascination with art and culture, people and imagery within him that grows stronger every day. As an adult, he continued to connect with the fine arts community as an executive in public relations.

Well traveled, Nolan has immersed himself in diverse cultures throughout the world. His inquisitive nature and insatiable desire to touch and be touched by ethnicity and customs motivates his inspiring photography. His images stir imagination and emotions, while uncovering rich cultural treasures. His gifted “eye for the exceptional in the ordinary” captures the uniqueness of life, bringing observers of his art into the intimacy of the moment.

Nolan McCants

Nolan was born and raised in the western suburb of Chicago. Improv was a norm in his boyhood home. He was introduced to the arts through the professional music career of his late Father, Walter “Butch” McCants, an accomplished Jazz drummer. While growing up, he was captivated by his dad and some of Chicago’s most celebrated jazz musicians as they interpreted and articulated many jazz standards through their own musical talents. In his own words, “It was mesmerizing!”

Nolan McCants, Self Portrait

Says Nolan, “Artistic expression is an extraordinary gift that I consider a privilege and a blessing. To have the capacity to communicate my unique perspective and cause others to appreciate the great expanse of life and living is simply astounding. As the world grows smaller, my images will serve to introduce all to the beauty and diversity of our global neighbors.”

Michael Bullard, “Good Friday”, black and white photograph

“Originally, when composing this image, I had envisioned someone walking past the crucifix. I wanted to bring awareness to the fact that we sometimes we live out our lives without fully remembering the true significance of the sacrifice that was made; we “walk past” this wonderful gift that has been given. There was an additional element that I had not planned – the open door.”

As a self-taught photographer, Michael has spent the past six years learning how to use the camera to capture his favorite subject–the city. He often explores Chicago’s streets in search of something that is aways there but not always perceived by looking for interesting patterns, distinct colors, or unique vantage points. In his free time, Michael also pursues his passion in photography by developing his own film. He currently resides in one of his favorite Chicago neighborhoods, Rogers Park.

Dan Addington, “Sing Into Peace, 36×48, wax, tar, oil on wood

Dan Addington is an artist, curator, and owner of Addington Gallery, Chicago. His paintings have been featured in group and solo shows across the US, and are in numerous public and private collections. Dan enjoys working with students, and has served as visiting artist at universities and colleges throughout the country.

For a decade, Addington travelled throughout Europe, documenting public statuary and memorials that were, to him, meditations on mortality, history, and aspirations of human spirituality. Addington would then bring these drawings and photographs home to his Chicago studio and use them as the foundations for paintings made from many different, unusual materials – looking at his paintings, you will see wax, tar, imported upholstry fabric, sheet music and oil paint.  

Splendor, 36×31, oil, wax, tar, on wood

The organic qualities of the wood, wax, and tar in his paintings communicate a feeling of timelessness. The processes of building, weathering, eroding and layering create a history that can be traced, investigated, and experienced by the viewer. The accumulation and layering of these materials echoes Dan’s interest in history and the relationships between the stratification of cultures and the layering of memory. The paintings are meant to engage the physical body and evoke a meditational response from the viewer. Through a mixed use of painterly languages, these works explore the nature of mortality, cultural memory, and mankind’s desire to locate spiritual meaning.

In addition to his role as practicing artist, Dan has lectured and sat on panels discussing his work and the topic of Spirituality in Art at many locations including Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA), the Karitos National Conference on Art and Worship, Bethel University Conference on Work and Faith, the International Encaustic Conference in Provincetown MA, The Northwestern College Lilly Endowment Series, Judson University Chapel Series, and Concordia University.