On Spirituality and Art"

By: Yisehak F-Sellassie

Labor of love
Labor of love

I was born in 1964 in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, to my father Dejazmach Firker-Sellassie Habte-Mariam and mother, Princess Edjigayehu Asfaw-Wossen. Yet perhaps the greatest influence in my early life was my grandmother, Princess Welete-Israel Seyoum, a devout Christian who loved to paint from Biblical themes.

Some of my earliest memories are of my visits as a young boy to my grandmother's home. It was like stepping into another world; I recall one time when she was actually painting, standing on a step stool before a huge canvas. That image had left a profound impression on me. Indeed, no visitor would be left in any doubt about her love for God, which was evidenced in her serenity and devotional life, and was boldly revealed in her graceful depictions of Jesus Christ and many of the saints. There is no doubt that I have not only inherited her vision and inspiration but also share her deep love for God and His Word.

The contribution she made to the churches was very highly regarded by the Orthodox priests. Her paintings would be displayed in the bringing out of the Tabot (a symbol of the Ark of the Covenant) and in religious processions. My grandmother, who was self-taught in Art, had her own unique style of painting. Hers is a continuation of the tradition of Ethiopian heritage in art. Her awareness and blessing of my God-given talent, apparent at a very young age, was reinforced by her words of encouragement in a letter advising me: "not to forsake the work of my hands in Art." This had an influence in my decision to enroll in an art school (I eventually attended the Rhode Island School of Design, RISD.)


"In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and
He shall direct thy paths"
(Proverbs 3:6)



In each of my paintings, I am conscious of the Lord's guidance and direction. Divine inspiration played a big part in my painting, "Rahab". It was not until after I completed the composition, working the form, gesture, and colors, that the name of the piece and content of the story were revealed. In a moment of deep contemplation, the single word "Rahab'" came to light. Then, at that moment, the entire painting became alive! It had a purposeful meaning, a story, a personality. The essence of this painting is found in Psalm 51:17: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."

An earlier work, not shown here, is that of a 50' X 10' mural that was commissioned by a San Francisco church in 1997. The vision was to depict the time-zones with distinctive persons from 24 different ethnic backgrounds. It took nine months to complete, and it was during the time that my wife, Asqual, carried our daughter Edjigayehu; her birth coincided with the completion of this project. It was a representation of people from all over the world, "every nation every tribe and every tongue," portrayed as a gathering of Angels Worshipping in the Sanctuary, before the very presence and the Glory of Almighty God, wearing their national costumes.

Earthen Vessel
Earthen Vessel

"Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore, get wisdom, and with all thy getting, get understanding." (Proverbs 4:7) This guiding principle is borne out in the work seen here entitled "Earthen Vessel." It illustrates the modern day believers' quest for divine revelation by illustrating our Lord's response to the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 12:47). The background depicts the Queen of Sheba, who traveled a long and arduous journey, but returned home with a heart filled with the wisdom and love of God.

Bathsheba, the Wife of Uriah

All the elements of the Old Testament story of a lustful and murderous King David are depicted in a very different, yet no less inspired work, entitled "Bathsheba, the Wife of Uriah." Reflected in the blazing eyes of an otherwise abstract face is the plight of the victim, a faithful husband and honorable soldier, mercilessly sent to his death. Look carefully and you will see the outside of Uriah's house where he slept, rather than take advantage over his comrades, who were away at battle. In the foreground courtyard a door remains ajar, ominously pointing to the visit of the prophet Nathan, whilst an innocent lamb symbolizes the selfishness and ultimate condemnation of the king. (2 Samuel 11&12)

There are several questions that I feel every artist must keep in mind: Shall one receive for his own and not give thanks and acknowledge the Giver? Or take credit for what he has yet to understand? Indeed, does the understanding to show forth and tell actually derive from one's self? In fact, the age-old question remains: What is wisdom, and where is its dwelling place?

I must add that this project comes shortly after I received a word of prophecy from a man of God in the Church. It went like this: "You shall look at what you do and wonder: From where did it come? And the Lord says to you, it came from Him. The source is Him! Look to Him! He gives you new insight, new talent, new ability. You have wondered at times: Where is my place? The Lord says to you, the position of a court painter is vital to God. And you have wondered, where is the vitality of this work? It is important in the expression, in the symbolism, and the presentation of His Spirit. As you paint and as you design, the Spirit of the Lord shall be upon it, and the Anointing shall be upon all the work. As people gaze upon that work, they will feel the presence of the most high God. They shall see the purpose, they shall see the Anointing and they shall be changed by the Spirit of His power, by the Spirit of His Anointing. God has called you to a high office; some would denigrate it, but it is not one to be denigrated. It is to be uplifted, for your talent and ability is of the Lord! God has spoken things within your spirit and you have wondered: How, God? He will show and reveal it to you, unfold it as a scroll unfurls. And you will stand in amazement, for it was there all along. It was always there before you, but now the clarity is there."

For more samples of Yisehak’s go to: http://www.artwork.faithweb.com