Speaking about the Mural St. Peter and St. Paul’s Embrace of Peace
by Jason Antiquera
Father Jason is a Filipino Columban priest assigned in Korea
I am generally not so enthusiastic about explaining my artworks. I would rather have the artwork speak for itself to those gazing on it because I feel that words are not enough and, even if they were, they are limited. In this article, however, I’d like to talk about the process, my intended symbolism and my short reflection on the mural that I painted on the entrance door of the Martyrs Chapel of Columban Formation House and Lay Mission Center in Seoul. The painting is entitled St. Peter and St. Paul’s Embrace of Peace.
The idea of a “painting” on the door of a chapel was initiated and requested by the Columban Formation House. The goal was to transform the door’s bare look so that it is distinguished as a chapel’s door. The request was a big challenge to me in many ways: the door size and its metal surface, the subject, type of materials to use and my readiness do this kind of artwork. Honestly, I felt overwhelmed when I was requested; however, I took it as a challenge for Art Ministry. My confidence lies in the strong belief that God has put this talent in me to serve others so though I felt inadequate; I trusted God would guide me.
The first task was about what subject to paint. The process of choosing a subject was tough since I had to decide it myself instead of receiving any instruction. I immediately thought of two human figures, since most of my arts are portraitures and human figures, the moment I saw the the double-door entrance of the chapel. If I were to paint human figures, the next question then was “Who these figures should be?” After getting suggestions from fellow Columbans, one encouraged me to follow my heart; a good advice.
So, as a result, I have chosen Saints Peter and Paul as deemed suitable figures. On the surface level, the two of them seemed unlikely figures for a Columban. Usually, the saints I often encounter in many of the Society’s places are those of St. Patrick, St. Isidore, Mary and, not forgetting, St. Columban. In terms of a possible twosome to fit the two doors, its got to be our founders, Bishop Edward Galvin and Father John Blowick. How then did these foremost apostles and missionaries come into my sight? Any art that I do has to have, from a lesser to greater degree, personal connection with me and, in this case, it’s the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, which is June 29, the day of my diaconate ordination in 2014. It has found deeper meaning, relevance and significance upon realizing that it is on the same feast when, in 1918, the Society was canonically recognized as a missionary society by Bishop O’Dea of Galway, Ireland. Such decision to choose the two apostles led to more research, which opened my eyes to countless artworks by various artists about these two prominent apostolic-missionary figures in the Church.
The entire mural, from its images to its colors, is rich with symbolism that I intended to convey certain messages. However, they are not replacement to the artwork itself and to the meanings that it may draw out of the viewers. Firstly, Saints Peter and Paul’s Embrace of Peace has been interpreted many times and in different ways by various artists in Christian arts, where Peter and Paul greeted each other with a Holy Kiss of Peace, which is an early Christians’ expression of love and peace. Apostle Paul, in some of his epistles, has instructed Christians to “Greet each other with the holy kiss of peace (Romans 16:16)”. Later on, this expression, which was derived from Hebrew’s Shalom Aleikheim (May peace be upon you), has turned into the ‘Sign of Peace’ in the Mass.
Secondly, I painted all colors to represent Church’s liturgical colors for all seasons. They also convey various cultural and religious virtues such as courage and martyrdom for red, passion and zeal for purple, warmth and light for yellow and orange, and life, hope and serenity for green and blue. Thirdly, Peter and Paul’s face touching each other but their eyes do not meet. This symbolizes the relationship of the two apostles, one a fisherman and the other a Roman citizen, whose opinions on faith, Gospel and Church were often different. However, their embrace embodies unity and acceptance in differences.
Lastly, the act of people entering into and coming out of the chapel through the door mural itself. We usually relate to art by gazing in front of it. However, the mural of Saints Peter and Paul invites us from a level of appreciation to the level of entering into the art itself and participate with Peter and Paul; it’s entering into the space of prayer, peace and love, and to participate in the shared mission of Peter and Paul, whom Christ called and sent to “preach the Gospel to all nations.”
The mural got completed seven months later since the first day of its work in July 1, 2020. When I look at it now, I relate to it beyond the symbolism I intended. I can’t look at it without remembering, aside from the back pain, my various feelings and experiences during the period of its making. In the middle of the pandemic, I kept painting either I was sad or happy, anxious or calm, annoyed or pleased, lonely or joyful, bored or excited; I kept brushing as I mourn over the death of three great Columbans (Pat Murphy, Kevin O’Rourke, Frank Ferry) in the Korea Region that year as the painting progressed. While painting in solitude, I was not only deeply aware but got also confronted with what was happening in the world, in the Society and in myself. I found deeper meaning and personal connection with it. So, the artwork, I would say, can speak on its own to different viewers in different ways in different times. I remember a nun who, upon seeing it, said, “It looks like a male counterpart of the visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. An art professor I know once reminded me, “The worst thing you could do to art is to explain it.” Let art speak the way God speaks to us. With that, as you gaze upon any artwork, I leave you with a quote from a Croatian artist, “Art speaks its own language: heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul.”