Capturing Mother Teresa's beauty on canvas

  • October 23, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - Dissipating fear, a beacon of hope, the wanderer, the desert breeze, showing the Messiah to the world — these are just some of the descriptions Albanian artist Ilir Fico gives to Mother Teresa, the subject of 50 of his paintings, 23 of which will be on display at St. Paul’s Basilica Oct. 30-Nov. 1.

It has been a decade since Fico has shared so many of his works on Mother Teresa in Canada. The last big exhibit was a collection of about 40 paintings at a library in Belleville, Ont. But after being invited to display them at the Vatican embassy in Washington in November last year for the anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death, and again at Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica in Ottawa, he felt a renewed call to share Mother Teresa through his abstract creations with a wider audience. And so he began approaching churches in Toronto.

“When Mr. Fico approached me and I saw some of his work I thought it would be very nice to welcome him and let the people of Toronto visit the Basilica and see his work on display, especially with the great respect and following that Mother Teresa has,” said Msgr. Bradley Massman, pastor at St. Paul’s Basilica.

Massman said it only made sense since there was an obvious connection in that both Mother Teresa and Fico are Albanian. Massman believes the church should promote fine art, culture and music and this seemed like a great opportunity.

For Fico, the craft itself began as a desire to see Mother Teresa in art.

“I need to share. Mother Teresa was always on my mind,” he said. “I used to speak with artists while I was an architect in Albania and ask ‘why don’t you work on her’ and many had cold feet because it was not allowed at the time.”

Fico decided to begin openly painting abstract work himself, using oil and acrylic, after the fall of communism in Albania. Escaping civil unrest, he came to Canada in 1999 with his wife and two kids. Six months later, he began to serve as an interpreter for Kosovar refugees in the Belleville area.

“It was there that I saw the real painting of Canada, the real salt of the earth of Canadians, the kindness to serve people, to give everything to them. It was crashing for me,” he said. “I had never ever experienced that in my life, of the care, the kindness, the intention of love and that made me think, if these people do this, this woman (Mother Teresa) in the gutters of Calcutta, in the dirt, in the extreme misery, how could she survive?

“In Albania, I grew up isolated, away from the world, with what was filtered through the... communist regime. Coming to Canada was getting the right glasses and seeing the world as it is.”

Fico said his “intellectual baptism” also helped him to see how people take things for granted, which was one inspiration behind re-creating Mother Teresa’s spirit of servitude and love.

He hopes his art will promote Mother Teresa as a model for all, especially to the younger generations in Canada. He hopes it will inspire them to reach out lovingly to those in need, as their predecessors did to him and the thousands of refugees he translated for.

Fico takes his artistic inspirations from a variety of sources such as reading about Mother Teresa’s life, reading philosophy and paying attention to current events.

“Beauty is everywhere. But for her, the beauty comes in many ways. It’s the way people get teary eyes when they speak about her, it’s the way people stand, people gesture, as if imitating her gestures.”

Fico doubts that he will stop painting Mother Teresa any time soon.

“Now the ball is rolling and nothing will stop it,” he said.

To see samples of Fico’s work, visit .

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