A Contemporary Iconographer
By Richard Malinsky, Arts Editor
In her website, Christina Saj describes a fascination with geometric abstraction with a preference for modernism and a keen sense of historical context. Her family’s rich history in Ukrainian art and culture broadened her perspective as she searched for her own visual voice. She states, “I attempt to create a synthesis of the things I find meaningful in order to create a new ideal and a personal aesthetic representative of my own generation.”
Early study with the renowned Ukrainian iconographer Petro Cholodny the younger provided the basis for the formal and structural elements of icons and their techniques with the goal of reinterpreting spiritual and universal symbols that reflect their time. The small painting “Seraphim” set the direction.
Saj began incorporating abstracted human body forms into her compositions after accidentally finding some old x-rays. Adding a human element into a contemporary icon offered a new universal symbol unavailable to previous generations of icon painters. She states: “Viewers can now interpret these paintings in relation specifically to their to their own selves.”
The painting “Invocation” illustrates this abstract reference to the symmetry of the human body connected with a spine-like shape rising up through the center. This work is one of fifteen iconic paintings from the exhibition Paintings of Faith, Hope, and Remembrance, dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the citizens of New York who displayed great courage, resilience, and generosity in dealing with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. By reinterpreting ancient symbols and presenting them in contemporary context, she engages viewers and gives pause to contemplate the values that have shaped their spiritual conscience.
As a contemporary iconographer, Saj studies and reflects on symbols that reflect universal truths. While many of her themes are ancient, they are executed in a fresh, modern style. She is a skilled colorist and presents work that engages and delights her audience, as pictured in “Tree of Life – Eden.” Her storytelling imagery resonates across cultural and language barriers.
When Saj felt the need to stimulate new growth, she shifted her work habits based on the concept that it takes twenty days to break old habits, and twenty days to create new ones. I learned the forty-day cycle is associated with a variety of cultures and signifies a transformation, renewal, or rebirth. For Saj it resulted in Meditations—a sustained production of forty paintings in forty days that distill the essence of motifs and patterns of ceramic tiles, textures, embroidery, and lace. “Meditation 2” illustrates how she fuses the spiritual impulse with the rhythms of daily life. She comments, “Because of my Ukrainian heritage, I associate with a visual tradition rich in geometry, symbolism, and color found in intensive patterning associated with ethnic embroidery and traditional Easter egg decoration.” These influences are the framework on which she builds her pictures.
Christina Saj’s paintings are a perfect fit for decorative liturgical and public installations and her site features several. Pictured below is Six Days of Creation at the New Brunswick Seminary Chapel, New Jersey.
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