SINGAPORE – For one week in early October, a leisurely walk through St Clare Hall at Church of St Mary of the Angels will take you through the visual representation of the life journeys of more than 25 artists from Heartspace@StMary’s.

The “Faith, Art, Life” Exhibition of Paintings is held in conjunction with the parish’s 40th anniversary celebrations. Proceeds from the sale of artworks will go to the parish maintenance funds.

Who are these artists, most of whom have no formal art training? What inspired them to produce these artworks? Two of them share their journey with us.

Iconography is a source of inspiration for Colin Tan, who observed that in an earlier age, old and sacred masterpieces were used to visually convey God’s Word to illiterate believers. The paintings spoke to them then, and even today, he finds those same masterpieces moving him where words have failed to. That is why Colin has created his own ‘icons’ to depict his Catholic faith. “Some people pray with words, but I am able to express more freely through painting. I express my faith through drawing.”

•“Hail Mary Full of Grace” (photo) is dedicated to the Novena, which Colin attributes to his re-conversion after many years as a “backslider Catholic”.

•“Pieta (Sorrow)” (photo) depicts the pale sadness and holy acceptance of Jesus’ passion by Mary, his mother. Colin drew inspiration from the demise of some friends and family members in recent years, saying: “Sorrow is not being able to appreciate the physical presence of these good people. But there is also joy in knowing that they are in a better place and away from the daily drain of earthly suffering.”

Margaret Tan joined Heartspace earlier this year as “a timid, blur, inexperienced painter”. But drawn “by the grace of my ever-loving God of surprises” to discover a new channel of expression, she decided to join this exhibition. She attributes this faith journey to God, who planted a spirit of exploration and adventure in her. Margaret shares two paintings that portray her journey:

• “Loving Obedience” (photo) was inspired by an image of Jesus in a prayer book on Padre Pio. The length of time she spent gazing upon that image has contributed to an intimate, grace-filled prayer experience.

• Beauty of the Cross” (photo) “It is only through prayer that one is able to see the hidden treasure in the Cross and gain the ability to transcend daily trials.”

Heartspace is an art therapy ministry that seeks to enhance the mental, emotional and spiritual well-being of individuals through creative self-expression in a group setting. There is no restriction on religious persuasion and the studio has had Buddhists and Hindus participate with the group in some way. In the last three years, over 150 people have been through the studio and over 40 have exhibited their creations with the group.

The Exhibition reflects the artists’ testimonies about beauty in art. It is also an attempt to live out the call of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor, then Pope John Paul II, to be “heralds of and witnesses of hope for humanity”.

Pope John Paul II had written about the special vocation of the artist: “In producing a work, artists express themselves to the point where their work becomes a unique disclosure of their own being. …Art offers both a new dimension and an exceptional mode of expression for spiritual growth. Through his works, the artist speaks to others and communicates with them”.

Pope Benedict XVI also affirmed the Church’s friendship with the world of art and referred to artists as custodians of beauty who “form the sensitivity of souls and nourish the passion for all that which is an authentic expression of the human genius and a reflection of divine beauty”.

Says Joanna Tan, Heartspace founder and resident professional therapist, “As an artist and counsellor, I’ve seen how art can be a medium to express and restore the human spirit. We have witnessed how this sacred space has helped in healing. Here, we use our creative energy to help people face their struggles and come to terms with a spirit of acceptance or resolution”.

Father John-Paul, parish priest of St Mary of the Angels, says: “Heartspace and its ministry must essentially remain a private and small space. Like a heart in the human body, it remains hidden but is silently beating to give life to the whole body. But that said, it has, and can reach out to share the good news of the creative power of healing.”

“Faith, Art and Life” Exhibition of Paintings, 3-10 October at St Clare Hall. Check out for more information.

By Diane Chai

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