About Jerome Tupa
Most art lovers only experience grand art by waiting in line at museums. They miss out on the living relationship that comes from being in a room with oil paintings on a daily basis. As a masterly painter of 50 years, Father Tupa curates a special collection of his own work for sale, so anyone who loves art can own a piece that brings energy and vitality to their space.
1 Father Tupa's career as a painter reveals him to be a man who has always sought an answer to the artist's most persistent question: How do you do something new? Or rather, how can you create a fresh vision that is as spiritually inspiring as works of the past? Always one to speak to spiritual issues, Father Tupa has actively sought out new iconography for painting.
Father Tupa's art celebrates his relationship with the world, and with God. His paintings are an invitation to partake of and share in this balanced wholeness. In this process, he fills the viewer with what he recognizes as "our deepest strivings," those of "completion, and love."
Father Jerome Tupa is a Benedictine monk, priest and professor of French at St. John's Abbey/University in Collegeville, Minnesota. He is also an artist, or more specifically, a painter.
Tupa's interest in what he calls "the magical world of art" was sparked by an art appreciation course at the University of North Dakota. Later, at Mayville State Teachers College in North Dakota, his passion grew under the tutelage of art professor Luella Raab Mundel.
Despite this early progress, Father Tupa remained unfulfilled. He adopted a "first-things-first" attitude, which resulted in taking his vows as a monk at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. The structured life at the abbey freed his spirit and gave him a sense of purpose.
In 1968, Father Tupa graduated from St. John's with a B.A. in French and a minor in Art. In the absence of vacancies in the university's art department, the abbot steered Father Tupa toward academics, and he began his studies in French at the Sorbonne in Paris. He went on to receive three degrees: License in 1972, Maitrise in 1974, and Doctorat Troisieme Cyclle (Ph. D.) in 1976.
Ultimately, this intense study of the language is what led Father Tupa back to his study of painting. His understanding of art history was informed by the French, whom he described as "rich and colorful." As soon as his dissertation was completed, he began to paint in earnest, landing his first exhibition at the Librarie St. Severin in Paris.
Eventually placed in charge of the French Studies program in the university's extension in Aix-en-Provence, he spent mornings running in the hills below Mont Saint Victoire—the setting of so many of Cezanne's paintings. Thus inspired, Father Tupa began to create mountainous landscapes filled with trees and light. At the end of the year, the paintings were exhibited in Aix and created a local stir with their uncommon American perspective.
"But it was his sabbatical year in 1987 that provided 'a whole new inspiration,'—the intense colors and ancient textures of Rome."
In 1982 Father Tupa returned to St. John's to be ordained in the priesthood and receive his Master of Divinity Degree from the School of Theology. During these years he painted what he calls "inner shapes and colors," exhibiting often in California, Texas, Arizona, Colorado, and Minnesota.
But it was his sabbatical year in 1987 that provided "a whole new inspiration,"—the intense colors and ancient textures of Rome. This prolific period produced a series of thirty-five paintings known as the Feu d'Artifices. They emerged from his meditations on the image of a couple dancing, and how this connected to the workings of the larger world." He saw the whole world as engaged in dance: "On the surface this may sound trivial, yet theologically and artistically it is vital to my understanding of how one might develop new iconography for Christians." Then, upon his return to St. John's University, he "hit a wall. Everything I painted turned to mud." Still he continued to paint the dance until his persistence resulted in a major breakthrough. "I just made a high circle on the canvas. With one gigantic stroke, I moved into abstract painting."
What followed was a series of thirty circle-based paintings entitled Sentinels of Fire. Father Tupa saw the orbs as "both soothing and healing through their intensity… where a viewer could find an overwhelming sense of peaceful calm." Not coincidentally, his first completely abstract works were initially covered as homage to the Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko. Containing figurative forms charged with sexuality and paradox, these works were born of Father Tupa's own physical, intellectual and emotional conflicts.
The orb series, a group of massive and predominantly "masculine" paintings, had its first major exhibition at the Minnesota Museum of Art in 1990. They were shown alongside paintings from the concurrent Goddess series. The Goddesses were, as Father Tupa noted, "Vulnerable, in need of healing power I had sought in the Sentinels of Fire." Inspired by Bernini's The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, they depict collapsed and bleeding female figures. These paintings explore the conflicting emotions experienced by a humanity "sorely in need of the love of God."
"The paintings and watercolors… display a remarkable mastery of color and form and a new sense of freedom in Tupa's art—an important step forward in the career of one of America's most unique artists."
Tired of the reds that had dominated his recent bleeding Goddess and Sentinels of Fire series, Father Tupa turned to a palette of grays for his next works, the Inscription series. He drew inspiration from his earlier experiences in Italy, when he spent time wandering the catacombs near Rome—underground sepulchers inscribed with elaborate graffiti. The Inscription series celebrates the rediscovery of the catacombs in 1578, and their reopening in the nineteenth century.
Following this period of spiritual broadening, Father Tupa's work exploded, both in form and in brushwork. While the Sentinels of Fire appeared primordial and molten, his new Eye of the Needle works had flickering surfaces.
After completing the Eye of the Needle series, Father Tupa immediately began another. The monumental Eclipse series reassembled "masculine" and "feminine" forms to suggest the attraction and balance of opposites. At the same time, he was also working on a series of sixty oil pastels, the Memoire series. Seeds of the Road to Rome series can be found here: the inscription of the first pastel, taken from words Father Tupa saw on a catacomb wall: Petrus et Paulus Provictore (Peter and Paul the first to overcome).
In 1991, Father Tupa began his Pilgrimage series. Unlike Road to Rome, these works were not created from a physical journey, but an emotional one that created a simple structure for the paintings: obelisks. With pointed tops and slender sides, their symbolic. center represented the presence of God. The subjects included tortoise shells with the same flowing geometric pattern that Father Tupa perceived in his own style. By the time the series ended, the work had become completely abstract.
With a commission to paint all the Californian missions, Father Tupa set out in a new artistic direction. His internal quest shifted to an exploration of the very physical presence of the missions. The California Missions and the Road to Rome series have much in common. Both involve a physical journey to individual sites, where watercolors and drawings were made in preparation for larger studio works. Both share a bright, sunny palette and flowing, bending forms.
2 In the spring of 2001, celebrated artist Jerome Tupa set out on a pilgrimage from Paris to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, sketching and painting the sacred sites along The Way of Saint James (El Camino de Santiago). The paintings and watercolors in Painting the Pilgrimage display a remarkable mastery of color and form and a new sense of freedom in Tupa's art—an important step forward in the career of one of America's most unique artists.
3 Tupa is a seeker, whose art is spiritually inspired—and spiritually inspiring. While the subjects of his paintings are rich in tradition, his art is decidedly modern and boldly original. As art critic Giancarlo Guarnieri wrote, Tupa's art "fuses ancient and modern times," conveying "an artistic, religious and human universality." The vibrant, colorful, powerful large-scale is a visual invitation for the viewer to join the pilgrimage.
"Painting, like spirituality, is liberating. Both are expressions of one's distinct and deeper relationships with the world—and with God."
—Father Jerome Tupa