Winning artists capture Pope’s message

May 24, 2016

HOUSTON — The two winners of the Archdiocese's recent art contest marking Pope Francis' Extraordinary Jubilee of the Year of Mercy will have their work displayed in the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart for the next three months. Christine West's charcoal illustration titled "His Mercy Through Mary" and Rachel Hess's painting "The Evolution of Riches" capture the theme of the contest and serve as a reminder of Pope Francis's call to offer "everyone the way of forgiveness and reconciliation."

"Both pieces have a very emotional quality to them, and I think we all felt that and appreciated that," said one of four anonymous judges. "They deal with reality of sin and heartbreak, and that was what resonated with us — human sin and failure and the redemptive power of God's love through Christ."

The two artists came to the contest from entirely different perspectives. 

Hess, a 16 year-old junior at Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart, said she was inspired by the story of the Prodigal Son and the evolutionary science chart of man. Her painting depicts the physical, emotional and spiritual evolution of the Prodigal Son as a series of shadows that capture him in the most important moments of his journey, from hubris to his fall into poverty and despair and his return to a welcoming and forgiving father.

"I kind of thought that everyone seems to carry an ego that sort of draws a wedge between you and your God," Hess said. "You almost have to allow yourself to be broken down and give up your pride before you can accept the help and love that you need from others." 

Hess, one of the youngest contestants, used a watercolor pencil incorporating rubbing alcohol and salt to create texture for her background, while the silhouettes are cut outs of painted black paper. 

Hess, who lives in the Memorial area, said art has always been part of her life, thanks to her mother Jill, who has a degree in art and was an art teacher at Duchesne before becoming dean of students there. Hess has taken art classes every year in school and currently takes a pottery class outside school. She said wants to be an art therapist and wants to study art and occupational therapy in college.

West, a resident of the Spring area, learned about the contest through her church St. Ignatius Loyola in Spring, and having recently taken up drawing again, she was eager to see what she was capable of.

"I immediately thought about women — and about how when you get to my age you've experienced a lot," said West, who is 56. "I'm saying, ‘here's what I have seen in God's mercy.'"

West said her charcoal drawing is an expression of the mercy of God through the empathy of the heart of Our Lady to the prodigal daughter and to all women who are suffering.

"All mercy is God's mercy — but it comes through Mary in the most personal, tender, empathetic way," West said. "She is Mother and very much alive for each of her children, who she knows by name. Her friendship is knowing the mercy of God. And good friends bring others to her, through prayer, the Rosary and practical direction."

The element of friendship was significant for West. The three models she used for her images are friends. 

"I needed to find people who would spiritually get the idea, then I started thinking about faces that would be beautiful faces to draw," West said.

"They all exceeded my expectations."

West studied fine arts and illustration at Carnegie Mellon University and worked as an illustrator in Detroit before she started a family. She said she was too busy raising her five sons, who range in age from 18 to 29, to continue to pursue her artistic interests until recently, when she took up drawing again. She currently takes drawing classes with live models through The Woodlands Art League.