I’ve never been surprised by beauty…

an artist profile of Jodi McLaren

From time to time we try to offer something by way of a profile of one of the artists who calls saint benedict’s table home. Last summer we did feature pieces on two recording artists – Jaylene Johnson and Alana Levandoski – so this year it seemed right to highlight the work of one of our visual artists. Not that Jodi isn’t also passionate about music… the photograph below was taken on one of the Sunday evenings that she was singing and playing a bit of percussion with one of our music ensembles.


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or as long as she can remember, colour has caught the attention of Jodi McLaren. “I have always loved colour,” she commented. “I bought a badge the other day that said ‘Life is too short for beige.’” And since the age of eight Jodi has never not had some project on the go. For years, it was beadwork and needlework of one form or another; craft projects into which she would always insert a bit of her own personal touch, along with that passion for colour.

The line dividing “craft” from “art” is a notoriously hard one to define, but there is little doubt that about six years ago Jodi saw something that pretty much confirmed that she was making her way across that line. During a trip to the States, she noticed a stained glass mosaic piece that really drew her attention, but rather than deliberate about whether or not to purchase the piece, she said to herself, “I could do that.” With a broad smile, she now says, “Given all that I have spent on this art, I probably should have just bought it!”

Frankly, though, the avid crafter probably had little choice in the matter, as she’d caught a glimpse of what was to become her new medium, and whole new artistic possibilities had begun to open before her. Though her first forays into stained glass mosaics – and later into stained glass windows – were based on patterns, the passion for colour combined with a bit of creative nerve meant that Jodi quickly began to experiment with innovation.

It was the death of her partner’s son that finally fully unleashed the artist. Called “The Ascent of Adam Penner,” this was the first of Jodi’s pieces to have its beginning on a “blank slate,” and which she followed through from conception to completion in a process which took six months and a total of some forty hours of work. “That goes into a healing place,” she commented.  Echoing something that both Steve Bell and Jaylene Johnson have said about the art of songwriting, she added, “Those kinds of pieces I say are not of me, but through me.”

What is fascinating here is the degree to which Jodi understands herself to be a conduit when it comes to what she calls the more “spiritual” of her works. “Once I’ve finished them,” she commented, “I don’t have the attachment that I do to the fun stuff, which reflect more of me.” Of her more serious work she says, “It pleases me to share it,” and because “God uses me, it isn’t mine to keep.”

In the days prior to our interview, Jodi sent me a quote she had come across on Steve Bell’s website:

“The task of the artist is to sense more keenly than others the harmony of the world, the beauty and the outrage of what man has done to it and poignantly to let people know…. By means of art we see briefly a realm for which the soul begins to ache.”  (Alexander Solzhenitsynn, in a collapsed quote from Malcolm Muggeridge, The End of Christendom)

The artist’s task being that of seeing and expressing that which many of us can’t quite glimpse.  Yet Jodi grounds this quote in a most wonderful and do-able manner:

“There is a resonance inside of me: the world is not ugly. I look at my 100 year old house that others would just pass by and say, ‘I’m painting it yellow and orange.’”

“Without music and colour and art and literature, where would the world be? Maybe we have a responsibility, right?”

At one point in our conversation, she said, “It is not always fun. There is a lot of blood involved.” I initially assumed she was talking about the painful work of expressing herself artistically, and was all ready to record a great quotable quote… until I realized she was talking about the risk of cutting herself on the sharp edges of the pieces of glass!  “I don’t suffer for my art,” she commented. “I heal through my art. It takes away my stress.”

And it is not as if Jodi has ceased to be playful or passionate about the raw appeal of colour, which is why she is still quite happy to pick up a pattern from the local stained glass store, and set about working on it. It will change and move under her eyes and hands, yet if it brings a bit of peace and a sense of fun, Jodi is not locked into any earnest artistic box that would prevent her from pursuing it. She loves to share her passion, and to teach it, and she is more than willing to get friends involved and excited about making something beautiful from pieces of broken tile and cut glass.

But when that other facet of her work begins to stir – the part of her that gave rise to “the Ascent of Adam Penner” or to the wonderful communion mosaic she gifted to saint benedict’s table – she’ll follow. “Beauty,” she says, “brings us closer to God, and I’ve never been surprised by beauty, because I know it is always there.”

Jamie Howison

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