Lauren Tilden’s artwork emphasizes “Imago Dei”

Lauren TIlden. Portrait and Landscape Artist

Several art students gathered in room A-72 of the PAC at 4:30 p.m. on April 4 to listen in on the lecture by American portrait and landscape artist Lauren Tilden, who drove 15 hours with her husband, children, parents and in-laws from southern New Jersey to be at Union.

“I chose that title [Imado Dei] because in the process of painting I am always asking the question, “What does it mean to be made in the image of God, and how should that impact art-making?” she said.

She pointed out that everyone has seen portraits of people that seem to miss the soul of the subject. Turning to her PowerPoint slides, she went through examples of portraits that showed a polished, perfect image of alongside a sensitive, candid portrait that was a bit blurry but full of emotion.

“Many people think that when you are doing a portrait, you have to emphasize the eyes, the nose, the mouth, but if you overwork it, you kind of kill it. You take the life right out of it,” she said. “You can actually leave those areas blurry.”

Her interest in painting children or people that seemed more vulnerable stemmed from what she sensed was a culture that was no longer valuing life and a society that was forgetting that we are all image bearers.

This idea fueled her most recent project, the Emmanuel Nine Portrait Project. It started with the mass shooting in Charleston, SC on June 17th of 2015  at the Emmanuel church during a prayer meeting. Nine people were murdered.

Tilden wanted to do something to show her support toward the issue for the families of those who died.

“I could paint a portrait one of the loved ones and donate it to the family, but then I would need eight other artists to do this as well,” she said. “So I called two of my fellow artist friends and ran the idea by them and they loved it. We began brainstorming how to make this work.”

There were so many times where she thought she would not be able to pull it off because of problems contacting the family members, getting photographs and working with small, low-resolution images. For some of the artists, it was just emotionally draining for them to work on the images. Others thought of the project in a more sacred way.

One of the nine artists, Catherine Prescott, was interviewed about her experience painting Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney, and Tilden loved her response to how she felt about the project.

“It’s knowing the details that help you become devoted to the subject and encourages the precision required to depict the subject well,” Tilden said, quoting Prescott. “As a character in John Updike’s pictures of this remarked, ‘…precision is where passion begins…’ And that’s what you have to get to if you are wanting to do a good painting. You come to love the person through the act of painting and attending to those details. I’m pretty sure that this is the case with God. That we are His best paintings. I get a little glimpse of what steadfast love is like when I am working on the details of a painting.”

Some of Tilden’s artwork hanging in the art gallery depicts people and landscapes from where she comes from. She uses her friends, children and even dabbles in recreating biblical depictions, such as Jairus’ daughter.

She received her M.F.A. in 2006 from the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts. She also won three grants from the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation for emerging figurative artists and is currently represented in both Nashville and Philadelphia.

Her exhibit will be open from April 4 to August 18.