Images of religious art – Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic – are usually associated with the origins and early growth of these world religions.

Christian artists in the early centuries of the Common Era produced themes and imagery to inspire spiritual awareness. The most repeated themes were scenes of Jesus and the life of Jesus.

With the emergence of the Renaissance Era, art devoted to Christianity would become less of a prominent subject as artists devoted their talents to the more profitable secular works.

The most successful Christian art today can be defined as modern and abstract with contemporary themes left to personal interpretation.

Claiming a space in that genre are three artists from the same family, who express their deep religious affiliation with imposing works inspired not only by scripture, but conceptualized through devotional experiences.

Award-winning Alvin Staley refers to his family of artists as “Team Staley,” including wife Bretta and daughter Kizzi.

He includes Biblical references in his work, noting “I would have to say that I invest emotionally in my work by remembering the One for whom I am creating this artwork.”

Staley references Colossians 3:17, a verse included in the writings of Paul to the early Christians as the apostle encourages various assemblies to strive to emulate Christ through compassion, humility, patience and forgiveness.

In Staley’s work titled “Romans 12:1-3 #2,” the male figure is dominant and centered, sitting in a simple chair, hands clasped, still in his humility. He has for a background an equally simple, lace-covered table. Behind that is a wall heavy with award-winning art and ribbons.

Also hanging on the background wall of this piece are head and shoulder paintings of a subject in a plain white T-shirt, tinted purple as are the chairs’ cushions and the generous sleeves of the centered subject.

Symbolism is everywhere to be examined in light of the title which, again, is scripture. Here Paul is urging the newly converted Christians to ensure that their everyday, ordinary lives are placed before God as an offering. Paul further instructs readers to live in grace.

Staley says his art is about closely aligning himself with his Christian beliefs.

“I hope that I have been bringing my imagination into the captivity of Christ Jesus, so that what I express, and what I create will flow as if it is from the mind of Christ.”

Alvin and Bretta Staley have devoted the last 40 years to the arts and art education.

While husband and wife are in tandem in their religious beliefs, Alvin’s observations of Bretta’s work are that she has entered a phase of remarkable creativity.

Bretta Staley calls one of her assemblages “The Cosmic Christ.” This work is a vivid and compelling representation of Christ as he is being crucified, wounded, head bowed, body bleeding. His cross is presented as a batik fixture, with soft otherworldly reds, pinks and blue contrasting with dark details offsetting the figure and the blended coloring.

The traditional loin cloth, usually depicted in crucifixion, is replaced by a fabric, tied, bunched and gracefully hanging from his side. A vertical pattern of his blood decorates the top half of the cloth, which is edged with rows of round metallic pieces the color of silver.

Bretta Staley says that the meaning of cosmic must be present when approaching this assemblage, both to appreciate the work and where her imagination led her to venture in expression. The cross is cosmic.

“Jesus Christ was born of flesh, lived in the world, created the world and by His power, He sustains the world. Jesus Christ is the Cosmic Christ, for He is the God, creator and sustainer of the cosmos,” she said.

Bretta Staley’s Biblical reference is John 1:1-14, the last verse which says, “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”

The New Testament is central to her work, “to share the Gospel and provide an oasis of visual refreshment to all that partake of the exhibition.”

However, as Alvin Staley noted, Bretta Staley’s current quest also includes self-discovery. After years of committing much of her creative energy to her vocation as an art educator, this new plane is about her individuality as an artist.

“I make art to satisfy my desire of self-expression. Subsequently, this creative quest allows me to use unique innovative abilities in an expressive, distinctive and inventive manner,” she said.

Bretta Staley’s career was focused on inspiring art through education.

“Our art students knew us as ‘Team Staley.’ Our high school students garnered top artistic awards at district, state, national and international levels. We were teachers who not only taught art but practiced our craft as well,” she said. Now her craft is her focus.

Kizzi Staley Gibson, the Staleys’ daughter, not surprisingly, followed in her parents footsteps as an art educator, having obtained a doctorate while dividing her time between teaching and honing her own talents.

Communication is foremost in Gibson’s work. She references its importance often when describing her pieces.

“The main purpose of my artwork is communication. Every work of art I create communicates a message,” she said. And through communication? “My drive to create is rooted in my desire to visually communicate my thoughts, ideas and raw emotions in a way that is completely unstifled and authentic.”

The “Creation of the Cosmos,” mixed media and one of a series of seven, conveys the emergence of a formed sphere, as creation, through the use of colors representing brilliance and energy.

Cosmic and evolving away from the multicolored amorphous elements, the round planet, emerging, is behind dripping strands of black matter. These symbolic strands in front of the planet’s surface unsettle at the same time as the penetrating, colored patterns in the evolving sphere define the work’s complexity.

Asked collectively if they critique one another’s work and if so, how, Alvin Staley replied, “We use objective criticism to view each other’s work. That is to say, we examine the structural elements based upon sound design principles. We also critique works based upon whether the manipulation of the elements and principles are communicating the desired message.”

And that’s as far as it goes, according to Staley.

“We try to stay clear of subjective viewpoints, and simply examine the works on the basis of artistic and aesthetic merit,” he said.

The three family members are united in their Christian beliefs and see their works as offerings to the host of humanity whatever their religion and also to non-believers. Embracing that concept as they work through the tenets of their Christianity is fundamental, as expressed by Alvin Staley.

“All my life, I have felt that being an artist was a calling, and a gift from God. I’ve always believed that man cannot create, for there is but one creator, God Almighty. The very best that we as artists can do is merely try to re-create the beauty of what God has already created,” he said.

The exhibition, “A Family Affair: Staley, Staley and Gibson,” consists of 36 works, 28 two-dimensional artworks using oil on panel, oil on canvas, acrylic on canvas, colored pencils, mixed media and eight assemblages by Bretta.

The opening is Wednesday, Oct. 6, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., at the Orangeburg County Fine Arts Center, 649 Riverside Drive, Orangeburg.

The upcoming exhibition is free and open to the public until Wednesday, Nov. 24.

For additional information, call 803-536-4074.

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