As an art museum curator, what I enjoy most about my work are the artists—watching them work in their studios, talking to them about the creative process and writing about the effect that their work has on me. The gratuity of devoting hours, weeks, months and years to make something so insignificant and weak as a painting, which has no explicit purpose in this efficient and practical world, continues to surprise me.
And yet, it is in this gratuitous, insignificant and impractical space that you can experience God’s grace in unexpected ways.
Paul Affanato’s small but powerful project, Beautifully Broken, on view in the fellowship hall at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (CRPC), offers that space for grace. Affanato is an active member of CRPC and part of its facilities team, a person who attends church on Sundays and staff meetings during the week.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1971, Affanato moved to Fort Lauderdale when he was ten years old. From an early age, art and music were an important part of his life. In fact, art and music provided emotional stability and spiritual meaning to a life marked with broken relationships, addiction and insecurity.
Raised in the Roman Catholic Church, Affanato had little to do with Christianity. Like so many others, he believed that it was judgmental and hypocritical; something for the “good” people that had nothing to offer those who knew they were not “good.” Affanato’s spiritual journey was felt through art, music and the writings of Rumi, a 13th century Sufi mystic.
But things changed when Affanato was introduced to Pastor Tullian Tchividjian who, at that time, had recently planted New City Presbyterian Church west of Fort Lauderdale. Through Pastor Tullian, Affanato came to believe in the gospel. There, he experienced the love that faith in Christ produces.
This internal peace enabled Affanato to fight addictions and rebuild relationships. It also freed his art, which began to reflect that “deeper magic” to which C.S. Lewis refers in The Chronicles of Narnia: that Christ is with us, in our pain and in our art.
The modern artist Edvard Munch once said, “Art comes from joy and pain, but mostly from pain.” Art emerges from our suffering in one form or another, on a daily basis. This suffering and pain enables art to offer something more. It bears witness to hope, produces a life-giving experience of grace and creates space for us to breathe.
Beautifully Broken reveals a space to breathe. Affanato’s love for and desire to make art did not change when he came to faith in Christ; instead, his art began to reflect the realization that Christ was there with him in pain and suffering.
Affanato’s paintings make use of everything and anything at hand, from graphite, oil, acrylic, watercolor, pastel, magazine clippings and found objects. He paints on scavenged scraps of plywood. Each piece is different, possessing a distinctive character to which he responds. The grain, the knots, and the scars become a fundamental part of each painting. Affanato transforms the imperfections and wounds of each surface into something that is dynamic, expressive and imaginary. Beautifully Broken reflects the transformation that comes from Christ and his crucifixion. It is because of this that Christ is able to identify with suffering, pain, and brokenness.
Of the six works that make up the installation, “Temptation” may be the most dramatic. This monumental plank, which leans against a cove created by the stained glass windows, features Christ’s face in the upper left-hand corner, a face pushed in, crushed by the pressure of fallen creation that he entered, yet a face that creates faith and gives life to us. Affanato’s work shows Christ in the chaos, in the pain and suffering, in the swirling of paint and the gnarls and knots of the plywood. Affanato’s work offers a visual experience of Christ’s incarnation and his redemption of humanity and creation in and through it for you and for me.
What makes an artist? Making a living by selling your art? Holding undergraduate and graduate art degrees? Calling yourself an artist? Perhaps behaving like an artist? An artist is someone who lives daily in art’s imaginative space and whose life in some way depends on making art.
When Paul invited me to his home six months ago to see his work, I was surprised. His garage was a working studio, stuffed with plywood boards, paints, brushes, magazine clippings, objects salvaged from garage sales and rows of finished and unfinished paintings leaned up against the wall or on makeshift tables.
Although I knew Paul as the guy who moves chairs and fixes broken stuff at CRPC, that night in his garage studio showed me someone else: an artist.
The Fellowship Hall is open on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings and by appointment. Email Daniel A. Siedell ([email protected]) to set up an appointment to see Beautifully Broken.