Ah Rising!

Ah Rising!

Gallery Hours: Monday: 11:30AM-1PM | Tuesday: 10AM-12:30PM | Wednesday: 1-3PM | Thursday: 10AM-12:30PM

My name is Erie Chapman.  I am a Baptist minister, a graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity School, a lawyer, healthcare executive-and, an artist.  In each of my career roles, art has traveled along, sometimes in the background, sometimes in the fore.  I am now in a season where art is in the foreground and my experiences of faith and religious scholarship are bound up in it.  The exhibit you will be seeing, “Ah Rising” is very much a work in progress.  It should be viewed as something “not yet there” but, hopefully, on its way.  As is sometimes the case with artists, the first move-the creation of the artwork-allows for a secondary effect, an understanding of what is, below the surface, inspiring the artist’s creativity.  In my case with this exhibit, the creative spark comes from the personal need to reimagine God, especially God’s messianic persona.  Who is the new messiah that seems to me to waiting in the wings, ready to bring the fresh wind of divine presence to humankind?  In the case of this exhibit that divine, messianic “person” is female.  Her name is Ah.

Another recurrence in the practice of artists is the impulse to explore that which we do not know-that which is mystery, that which draws us into unknown territories in search of revelation or experience.  And this is the situation in which I find myself creatively-exploring a manifestation of divinity very much different from the one I heard preached in my youth.
Feeding my creative direction in this exhibition is a vision that occurred during a near-drowning experience in my youth.  It was a vision of God personified as a woman. In the vision, the woman instructs me that God is Beauty and that I must honor that and quest for it.   Subsequently, I have tried through art to capture the divinity in human beings-particularly women-by photographing people of every background, race and orientation.  A number of the images in this exhibit are of European women but my larger oeuvre includes images of Black and Asian women-from young adults to the elderly.
While I am a heterosexual WASP who grew up in what is often referred to as a privileged social context, there were complicating relationships in my life that sensitized me and opened me up to the realities of others.  Two of those relationships were very close to home.  My younger sister was born with dwarfism.  I spent my childhood fighting boys who made fun of her.  My younger brother is gay and I have defended him as well-to our father.  Over the years, these two relationships and numerous others helped foster in me a religious and intellectual hunger that led me to Vanderbilt Divinity School and subsequently ordination.  The church where I was ordained, Glendale Baptist was thrown out of the Southern Baptist convention due to our two women pastors, one of whom identifies as lesbian.  The products of my artistic output share some of the same traits as my theology-love of the divine, love of humanity in all its variety, and seeking new (to me) paths to understanding.  For me, art is more a path than a destination.  More a question than a statement, more a hint than a full story.
Although I have two postgraduate degrees (law and theology), taught at Vanderbilt for two years, and went a little over halfway toward a PhD at Vandy, my artistic pursuits are not academic.  Instead, they are a very personal expression of one man in pursuit of the experience understanding of  beauty, which I define as divinity made manifest.

Other Artistic Endeavors

I have been a full time photo-artist, film maker, composer and poet for more than ten years meaning that I integrate all four of these disciplines in my work (one of my books of poetry and photography is Woman as Beauty. Over the past ten years I have created and produced two, award-winning feature films and three short films,) The first of these is called Who Loves Judas (also performed as a play).  It addresses the hypocrisy of betrayal in contemporary America.  The second is “Alex Dreaming” in which Minton Sparks co-starred.

Exhibit Dedication

I was running Baptist Hospital full time while going to Divinity School full time.  So when I showed up in a coat and tie no one sat near me.  After a class on the first day a black woman who had been in the same class said to me,  “So, are you one of those anal retentive white guys with your coat & tie?”  Michelle Jackson and I became great friends and continued to be after she married her partner, Lillian.  A few weeks after graduation Michelle died suddenly.  She was 38.  I set up a Scholarship Fund in her honor at the Divinity School (it still exists) and I am dedicating this exhibit to Michelle, a gay black woman who looked like my opposite but was, instead, my sister.

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