Christine Granger spreads the Virgin's wonder through iconography

By 
  • November 27, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - Painting is to Christine Granger as singing is to the choir. Granger, an accomplished iconographer, has spent the past 30 years capturing the divine on canvas, mostly producing icons of the Virgin Mary and child.

“I can’t sing so I have to paint and I do it in colour and I do the same thing as the Gospel songs, I hope,” Granger said. “I praise and I thank and I say through my art Christianity is a wonder and a joy and I feel in spite of everything we have something so special in being Christian. We have this joy that can never leave us.”

Granger has hosted numerous exhibits at locations such as the Ukrainian embassy, Saint Paul University in Ottawa, the University of Dayton and the Mackenzie Marcotte Gallery. Granger’s art has been published in various magazines and newspapers and in two books published by Novalis that include inspirational readings. Many of her icons have found their way into public and private collections, including the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, Ottawa Archbishop-emeritus Marcel Gervais and the chapel at La Pieta in Gatineau-Hull, Que.

She was born in Lviv, Ukraine, but emigrated with her family to Canada as a child and grew up in western Toronto. She studied at the Ontario College of Art and  the University of Ottawa and spent most of her professional life as an art consultant, an art teacher and an English professor. She and her retired husband live on a farm near Brennan’s Hill along the Gatineau River in Quebec, which was featured on CTV’s Regional Contact last year.

The calm of the countryside has shown her a life of prayer in every moment.

“It’s very conducive to meditation and to God and just to painting,” she said. “You forget about everything.”

Granger’s first experience painting icons happened in her early 20s, when she joined her mother in an art course. Her talent was evident at the time, at least to her mother, who suggested she do it more seriously.

“I didn’t and I had a family and when the kids were growing up I went back to it. I think motherhood was the impetus,” Granger said.

Her first paintings were of Mary and the child Jesus. Having grown up in the Ukrainian church, the Virgin Mary and icons were very familiar to Granger.

“I started with the Marian icons because my mother had a great devotion to Mother Mary — my mother was a big influence in my life — and so did I. I’ve always felt very close to Mary and turned to her when I had a problem. When you do that I think you always end up at the feet of Christ.”

More recently she has been working more on depicting the Gospels, such as Mary of Bethany, some of the miracles, etc.

“I haven’t done many of Christ though, because I have a problem with beards. I can’t visualize them,” Granger said with a laugh. “I still do Mary a lot.”

As Christmas approaches, Torontonians will get a chance to glimpse Granger’s divine Mother Mary through an exhibit of 75 of her best works. But she warns that many of her paintings don’t follow strict iconography.

“As far as iconography goes it’s really strict and this is not strict,” she said.

Although many of her earlier works do fall within the more traditional style of icons, which typically depict Mary as stern or sad, she soon made a point of creating paintings of the Madonna and child that are more expressive. The earliest forms of iconography, which were mostly destroyed because of a debate over whether or not artists could portray God, showed this joy too, she said.

“When you see the early ones of Mary she’s very much alive, you can almost see her laughing,” Granger said. “With Mary, what I want to present is her gentleness and her joy. We have so much suffering in the world, but when we come home and look at a painting we should get joy out of it,” she said.

The paintings, done in a variety of media, including wax, egg tempera and acrylic, use a layering technique that create texture, patterns and borders. Gold and silver are prominent, but Granger has also used a lot of reds, oranges and yellows to indicate fire, light and the divine.

“When you look at her paintings in real life they’re so beautiful it’s like a spiritual experience,” said Irene Chumak, the artist’s sister-in-law who helped organize the “Christmas Garden” exhibit which will make its first appearance in Toronto Dec. 6-20 at the KUMF Gallery. “To me it’s almost like a gift for all of us at Christmas.”

Granger’s portrayals of the Virgin Mary are diverse. Visitors to the show will be able to see a Chinese Madonna, a black Madonna, Native American influences and much more. In more recent works, she has also included animals in her religious paintings.

The Toronto exhibit will be held at the KUMF Gallery , 2118A Bloor St. W., beginning Dec. 6 at 3 p.m. For more information, call the gallery at (416) 766-6802.

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