WHEN Brisbane artist Dianne Minnaar was commissioned to paint the Stations of the Cross six years ago, she did not know it would set her on a deeply spiritual journey and forge unexpected friendships.
The extraordinary artwork, inside the Sacred Heart Church, Samford, on Brisbane’s outskirts, is rich in symbolism, based on “fragments” that Mrs Minnaar said represented “our broken lives made whole through Christ’s redeeming work on the cross”.
“It challenged me in every way. Because I went into the studio for 16 months, every day, and I was confronted with subject matter that tore deep into my heart,” she said.
“And it just changed my life. I’d never actively engaged in the Stations of the Cross before, having an evangelical upbringing, so this was a new journey for me.”
The design and style of the work is inspired by and retains the essence of ancient Byzantine icons, but with a contemporary interpretation.
In 2013, Mrs Minnaar was in Florence visiting churches and seeking inspiration for artwork when she received an email asking if she was interested in undertaking the project, in collaboration with parishioner/architect Grahame Shelley, who was leading a refurbishment of the Sacred Heart Church.
“I was overwhelmed. It was a task I’d always longed to do artwork in churches,” she said.
“I just wanted to climb on the plane and get home.”
Today, groups of visitors from all over the world come to visit the church, to view the Stations of the Cross, and appreciate other church treasures, including a baptismal font carved from local granite, and an altar fashioned from solid recycled spotted gum bridge timber.
The Stations of the Cross in the north-east corner of the body of the church capture the eye.
The unique artwork is rich in symbolism, painted on a collection of 1.2m-tall hoop pine kneelers stripped from the old church pews.
Each panel was made by bracing two kneelers together in the same way early icon panels were braced in the third and fourth century.
The worn panel edges, cracks and nail holes were all deliberately retained to symbolise the wounds and suffering of Christ.
In a further link to the past, torn fragments of the old printed Stations of the Cross were collaged into the texture of the 14 panels.
Viewed together in series, the outline of the hills surrounding the Samford Valley can be seen in the upper background.
Another set of hills in the lower background represent the hills of Jerusalem.
Mrs Minnaar said the idea of “fragments” was key to understanding the artwork.
“I really want to bring across in my work – fragments, the forgotten, and the beauty that can come from the forgotten,” she said.
“In terms of the kneelers being re-used, the old stations being reused, the people who come in here who really are forgotten … and I want my work to make a difference in that way.
“(It’s) not only for people to incorporate forgotten elements but to bring the forgotten to a place that they can realise their significance and their worth in Christ.”
Through her art, Mrs Minnaar said she had been drawn closer to her faith.
“Totally, yes,” she said.
“I’ve learnt to pray before I work. You can’t just go into the studio, pick up your brushes, mix your paint and get on with the day.
“You realise that prayer goes before any of this sort of work. You can’t do it on your own strength.”
Even the colours are highly symbolic – white symbolises Christ’s purity, the earth tones – Christ’s humanity, the 18-carat gold – His divinity and the wood grain speaks of the cross.
Mrs Minnaar said she felt “very vulnerable” during the time she worked on the sacred artwork.
“I actually got very painful hands while I was doing it for some unknown reason,” she said.
“It wasn’t that it was hard labour. But I actually think it was just something to stop me from working,” she said.
“And then that disappeared after the project was finished.”
The Stations of the Cross project has also allowed her to “share the love of Christ”, with people who come to see the artwork, explaining the story and the detail of the project.
Mrs Minnaar’s “project partner” is long-time parishioner Adrian Petrie, with whom she has forged a lasting friendship.
Mr Petrie has responded to the great interest in the Stations of the Cross and opens the church when groups come to visit.
The church stands at the entrance to the Samford Valley, proudly described in a parish brochure as the “most magnificent valley in the Southern Hemisphere”.
“It’s a good place to come,” he said, adding that he has learnt a lot about icon and narrative-style painting.
“It’s been an experience for me. And I’m learning all the time because I keep on asking Dianne.”
The Stations of the Cross recently featured in the Samford Art Trail 2019, attracting hundreds of visitors to the Sacred Heart Church to see the work and other paintings from Mrs Minnaar.
Mr Petrie said anyone wishing to arrange a visit to the Sacred Heart Church can call him on (07) 3289 3805.