Humble arts

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“One of my favorite subjects for painting thus far was captured on the Brule River,” the bishop said of “Ever Green.” “Since our winter has been so long, this image speaks to the determination of the tree that seems to be hanging on for dear life. Who will outlast the other, the snow or the tree? Sometimes it may feel like the snow, but we know it’s going to be the tree.”
“One of my favorite subjects for painting thus far was captured on the Brule River,” the bishop said of “Ever Green.” “Since our winter has been so long, this image speaks to the determination of the tree that seems to be hanging on for dear life. Who will outlast the other, the snow or the tree? Sometimes it may feel like the snow, but we know it’s going to be the tree.”

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald Staff

Rusty cars, weathered woodsheds and vintage barns glow in the impressionist art of P. Brophy, an oil painter from Bayfield better known by another name.

“From early on, I’ve enjoyed painting landscapes,” the artist said. “My first oil was of a seascape, which I painted when I was 14 years old. I never had formal training in oils, but always had a natural inclination to use this medium. Unlike painting in watercolors, it allows the artist the opportunity to make mistakes and to correct them, which I so often do.”

“Brophy” is the artist name chosen by Bishop Peter Christensen. It’s the surname of his father’s family, which was changed to Christensen after his grandfather died and his dad was adopted by his new stepfather.

Using the old name was a way to immortalize it, he said, plus much of his artistic talent comes from that side of the family.

“I think most people know that I am an artist,” added the bishop. “They have seen part of the triptych used as the art for both our capital campaign logo and video this past year … I’m not sure, however, how many people know that I also like to paint in oils.”
This snowy, seemingly endless winter has been a blessing for Bishop Christensen. On winter Mondays, he takes brush in hand to capture the essence of a venerable building or rustic landscape. He’s completed 12 paintings this season, most of them featuring his favorite subject matter – “simply put, anything old.”

“There seems to be an inherent dignity in things that are built with integrity,” he explained. “They pass well the test of time. There’s a beauty in things that might otherwise be considered passé or beyond their utilitarian value. I like to capture these things, I guess you could say immortalize them, so they won.t be lost to the next generation.”

Turn-of-the-century homes and barns, hay bales, farms scenes and outbuildings feature prominently in his current crop of paintings.

He admires Russian Impressionism, and his personal style – broad brushstrokes, bold colors, varying textures and the depiction of humble subjects – reflects that aesthetic.

He finds beauty, and meaning, all around.

“As anyone who lives in our beautiful diocese knows, we are not hard-pressed for inspiring subject matter to put down on canvas,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I drive often with a camera in the car. If there’s a subject that captures my attention, and if I’m not racing to the next event, I’ll pull over and take photos.”

In his art, the bishop tells the story of each scene, but he also strives to convey a deeper meaning. He finds his art complements his ministry in two ways – it keeps him grounded and allows him to share that beauty with others.

“There are a lot of things that come my way that don’t seem to have an immediate resolution or even apparent conclusion,” he said.

“I like a project that has a beginning, middle and end, and painting offers me that sense of fruitful use of time and accomplishment.

“I also think it’s important to see beauty,” Bishop Christensen continued, “in things that might otherwise be passed by. For example, when we are able to spend quality time with the elderly, it is then that we begin to see the good, the treasure, which dwells within.

“Our value comes not simply from what we are able to do in life,” he added, “but in the relationship we have with others around us. I think my art helps to allow one to reflect on this truth in a less direct way.”

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