I am preparing a new post – my diary while painting Father Kolbe in 1983. I pruned it right down, but it is still a big document. So here first are a few newly discovered online photos of him; and then my old working sketches of him which I rounded up.
The diary of the creative process is interesting, because it demonstrates Father Kolbe’s impact on a circle of life. It will be published here soon.
I found this photo just now on a site called The Ever Blessed. It heads an article titled Saint Maximilian Kolbe, and loving Mary too much. The access now to online images and archives is a marvel … from the research toil and trek of 30 years ago!
An early sketch … not quite there.
This photo is one which I would like to have used for my painting. It is from “Brothers of Life”. It shows – like the top photo – his profile, forehead and bone structure. He was a spiritual soldier, a gifted inventor, and a media pioneer. He founded a global printing press on pennies from heaven, built a town called Niepekalanov – city of God – and travelled as a missionary for several years in Japan. Working with Buddhist and Shinto sages, he grew the beard. The Franciscans are clean shaven, but are allowed to grow a beard on missions abroad.
I don’t have the order the sketches were done in, but I think this was an early one too. Getting warmer! Working with him was a conversation.
Another one … feeling my way towards. I had at the most half a dozen old snap shots in two library books. The contact develops day by day, with the imagination’s antennae.
Here is Bruce Heitz painting St Max Kolbe – copyright 2003 by KolbeNet. I like this portrait! Beautiful. It speaks … and the artist looks up, and outward; the brush, the touch, the coming to life. They were having a chat, and someone came in.
This sketch “connects” to the painting I was nearly ready to do. When I worked as a portraitist, there came a point during sittings – live or from photographs/research – which I called “the connection”. Something altered in the space between us. Something came down, entered and cohered. From that moment I knew the painting – whatever the difficulties – had taken over and would do itself. It came to meet. The subconscious gets the message, and delivers. It is a spark of love, and then the labour.
Drawn up into a dark cave whose glory drop by drop the rain through aeons carved, as stalagmite to stalactite my soul evolves from floor to point of meeting. Let us draw time, draw together this space. My flame drinks wick; in watered rock my mirrored twin appears ...
I may have quoted this in my earlier post Drawings of Timothy West at the Red Hedgehog, but it serves here as well.
As he loved her so much, here is a copy of a Botticelli Mother of Christ, done when I was about seven years old. As children we enter the temple of the blessed, and are not constrained.
After Maximilian Kolbe’s return to Poland, he worked ever harder at his press and newspaper circulation, though suffering from TB. The Nazis arrested him because he refused to collaborate, and sent him to Auschwitz. At a random roll-call to the starvation bunker, he stepped forward and offered himself in place of a younger man who had a family. The guard agreed. In the starvation bunker, Kolbe helped hundreds of persons to die in a state of grace. He uplifted them, and kept them singing. Everybody could hear it. Weeks later, he was the only one remaining alive, and he was put to death. The man he saved, survived the camp and told the tale.
You can see Kolbe’s portrait behind them.
This, and the drawings that follow, were jotted down in a small notepad, on a visit to The Universe headquarters in Farringdon. They found the photos for me. Kolbe was quite well documented, as it was the year after his canonization.
On bike. Father Kolbe is recognised as one of the community of Saints, not only for the way he died, but for the way he inspired and uplifted others all his life, and continues to do so; and for his spiritual depth. Intellectually, he was a “renaissance man”, a polymath. As an inventor, he was practical and “hands-on”. So strong is his spirit, that his physical frame was a passing show. Thus he continues to work within us, and to counsel.
… and a drawing …
… and the painting. I shall get this professionally photographed, so that the detail around the Miraculous Medal and his rosary is clear. Another photo of it is in my earlier post (15 June) Portrait Gallery One: Father Kolbe, Princess Alice & Others.
When I painted the rosary beads, it felt like a little galaxy:
“I would like to paint the reverse side of the Miraculous Medal – the “M” and the two hearts – very delicately above his right shoulder, as Kolbe is a Knight to Our Lady. In an odd way, the rosary is his “sword”, especially the angles of the crucifix and the medal, which give “body” to his disappearing left arm. He helped me place them, and the beads, which can float around them like a galaxy of angels. I was astonished how well it turned out.
“My original concept of him had more of a smile – the smiling face of God – but there is here the merest hint of a smile, as martyrdom and realism is in his face, and this is how he emerged. I shall be able to soften the lines from nose to mouth, just a little, in the coming weeks. His hand has become a gardener’s hand, rather like Father Alan’s. From a distance it is strong, but close up the draughtsmanship is weak, especially the little finger. The form of this hand relies on the effect of light on it. It is supposed to be a completely unassuming hand, such as St Francis might have had. I left in a fortuitous shadow of stigmata. I emphasized the pleats and folds of his habit beneath the girdle, and did a little bit to the creases at his left elbow … and was enjoying Beethoven very much.”
from journal, November 1983
Painting Maximilian Kolbe was my initiation to a way which began to break ground a few years later. My writings at that time, note a threshold, a watershed from which a river flows.
“Prayer is not better when it gives consolation, but rather when it exacts greater fidelity to return to what you’re doing.”
“God gives us this white ladder and wills that we use it, to scale the heights to come into his presence. This is only poetic imagery: the reality is incomparably more beautiful.”
“To arouse that love for the Immaculata, therefore, by enkindling it in one’s own heart, to communicate this fire to those who live close to us, to set on fire with this love all souls and each one in particular—those who live now and those who will live in the future, to make this flame burst forth ever more intensely and without restrictions in ourselves and all over the earth: such is our purpose. Everything else is just a means.”
St Maximilian Kolbe 1894-1941
My adventure invites fellow travellers. I am a poet, an artist and a seer. I welcome conversation among the PHILO SOFIA, the lovers of wisdom.
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