Faithful artists gathered this week at St. Mary’s Seminary Retreat Center high above Santa Barbara to engage in the centuries-old practice of icon writing, an art form that mixes spiritual engagement and painting.
“The act of working on an icon is an act of prayer,” said Edward Beckett, workshop coordinator and chairman of the Icon Guild of Southern California.
Beckett, from Altadena, said the artists were in their fifth day of the weeklong Icon Guild of Southern California Prosopon Workshop. They’ve been working late into the evenings to ensure they would finish their recreations of traditional Christian depictions of holy figures.
“We start at 8 a.m. with breakfast, and we have the ability to work as long as we want,” Beckett said. “The past three nights I’ve gotten to bed at midnight.”
Although the paintings are not original, Beckett said they incorporate the icon writer’s — called so because of the interpretive quality of the practice — personal journey throughout the process.
Master iconographer Dmitryi Andreyev of the Prosopon School of Iconology and Iconography is the workshop instructor. His father, Vladislev Andrejev, started the school and holds similar events across the United States, as well as in their native Russia and other places abroad.
“Our school is not really structured,” Andreyev said. “Rather, it’s more of a school of thought.”
Iconography is a huge part of the artistic canon in Russia, according to Andreyev.
“This culture of iconography is really prominent in Russia, even in the secular world,” he said. “It’s how artists interpret religious life.”
For Andreyev, who said he wasn’t religious early in his life, iconography was attractive because of its connection with something larger.
“At some point, the art became a discipline in which I can practice what I believe, practice a mystical union with God,” he said.
Although this workshop was designed for intermediate to advanced students, the Icon Guild of Southern California holds other events open to people of all skill levels.
“We say to start all you need is a willingness of heart,” Beckett said.