Listening Through the Cross
Associate professor of art Phil Irish is participating in a reimagined Lenten tradition.
3 min. read
March 29, 2022

The season of Lent, although one of sorrow and spiritual longing, is also a time of fervent inspiration for Phil Irish.

“As an artist of faith, I love how studio practice and prayer practice fit together,” he says. “There’s a lot of listening that happens in the studio because you’re seeking meaning. When you do that prayerfully, you hear what the artwork and the Spirit are telling you. A rich season like Lent is perfect for this.”

In early March, Irish, in collaboration with alumnus Nathan Stretch, debuted a piece for Crossings Toronto, an outdoor exhibition and walking tour through contemporary interpretations of The Stations of the Cross. Irish and Stretch’s station depicts the moment where Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross. Interestingly, neither Simon nor the cross is depicted.

The idea of a public invitation to respond imaginatively to the gospel narrative is beautiful, and I’m pumped to see how people will respond to it.

“[Simon] steps in and imitates Jesus through this ordeal. I believe this is what we’re also called to do for others,” he explains. “When we go through hardships as well, there’s a kind of solidarity Jesus enacts toward us and that we receive from him. To show this imitation, I painted several people from different walks of life and [Stretch] made a video of them collapsing and then straightening back up, almost like puppets.”

Irish’s worldview undoubtedly plays a role in his work. However, not everything he creates is overtly faith-based. Contributing to Crossings, then, was unique and invigorating.

“I don’t focus on explicitly Christian work all the time, so when I come to something like this, it’s with a lot of passion and energy. The idea of a public invitation to respond imaginatively to the gospel narrative is beautiful, and I’m pumped to see how people will respond to it.”

Irish is grateful to be at Redeemer, where the integration of spirituality and creativity is championed.

“I teach a course at Redeemer called Faith and Art. One of the writers we look at is Madeleine L’Engle, who says wonderful things about how creativity pointed her back to God when her faith was struggling. I find it exciting that these aspects of finding meaning point to each other. I’m continually encouraged to be a maker of things that are honest, wake us up and serve what God is already doing in the world.”

Crossings Toronto will be on display at several central Toronto locations until April 14, 2022. Learn more by visiting crossingstoronto.com.

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