Fascinated by the vastness of galaxies and the minutia of a seed pod, painter Linnea Spransy has been discovering her identity as an artist in the context of the Kingdom of God.
During a time where many thought painter Linnea Spransy thrived as an artist, she grappled with one of the darkest seasons of her life. In 1999, halfway through her first year of graduate school at Yale University, she suddenly realized the only way to move forward in her life was to relinquish control of it altogether. Previously driven to satisfy others with her work, she became engrossed in a battle of defining her worth apart from her performance as an artist.
“For the first time, I couldn’t please anyone, least of all myself,” Spransy said, describing the pressures and challenges that come with studying at Yale. “Those moments of suffering or piercing difficulty are actually moments of incredible opportunity when God is speaking to you.”
During spring break of that year, Spransy says God brought her to an epiphany and revitalized her sense of worth. Her family, friends, and professors were awed by her transformation.
“I finally recognized that if I never painted again, if I never did another spectacular thing again in my life, I was worthwhile,” Spransy said. Soon after, she began to explore what her work should be about. “I was like a completely different human being making artwork. I literally left it all behind. I thrashed around in my studio dealing with colossal issues, trying to contend with them with really laughable tools like Sharpies and scissors.”
She began to draw inspiration from subjects such as quantum physics, time theory, and science fiction, all the while studying the Bible diligently. She found herself fascinated with the concept of God as eternal and unchangeable, yet moved by the prayers of humans. Though she does not claim to fully understand such vast concepts, she attempts to imitate and convey them with her art.
Putting aside her previously dark and confused work, Spransy says God began to reveal a new method of painting to her. Before she began her paintings, she plotted out some simple, elegant movements based on a mathematical equation. With the rules in place, elaborate systems and grid-like images began to emerge on her larger-than-life canvases. She eventually introduced paint spills into her pieces, representing chaos that the systems both react to and encapsulate.
“I’m interested in the power of limits to create freedom or surprise,” Spransy said, likening the concept to the life of following God’s ways. “I want to see, from the midst of knowing so much, that I can still be surprised. I want to make work about some of the more fascinating and unsolvable mysteries of who God is and what it means to be alive, more or less, when we scratch down to the fiber of the universe.”
A shining light
In the summer of 2005, Spransy moved to Kansas City, Missouri, to help plant a church and residential community known as the Boiler Room (www.kcboilerroom.com). With an abiding love for community instilled in her by her parents, she bought a house and invited several other women to live there. As is evidenced by the stacks of plates and dinnerware next to her large dining room table, community remains central to Linnea’s life.
In summer 2009, Spransy spearheaded the effort to invite local artists to come together at a studio on the fourth floor of the renovated urban warehouse the Boiler Room occupies. The community of artists, now a reality, operates under the name The Monarch Studios. Eight artists have studios there, including three that actually live in the space. Though still in its first year of existence, Spransy says the studio is a thriving place where Christians and non-Christians alike can share in both art and life.
“We want to be able to walk the line where we’re being salt and light, having one hand firmly gripped by the body of Christ and the other hand reaching out to the world,” Spransy said.
Spransy also leads an “artists collective” through the Boiler Room, which is essentially a simple church. As a whole, the group focuses on rhythms of prayer, community, and reaching out to others. They meet weekly to study the Word, pray, eat, and share with one another.
“We’re intended to be these little communities, but not without permeable boundaries,” Spransy said. Alluding to the concept Jesus shared about being a city on a hill, she challenges herself and those around her to be consistent in every part of their lives. “We’re not supposed to hide any part of ourselves. That kind of integrity meets an incredible craving in our generation.”
Finding home and forward motion
Having grown up in a Christian family that encourages creativity, Spransy believes that a healthy church body should make room for every kind of artist. She feels that art can catalyze celebration, worship, awe, warning, and even prophecy in a body of believers.
“All these things can find their expression and are intended to be embraced and celebrated by the Church,” Spransy said. “My subject matter has germinated in questions of theology and God. I would say that I’m free to make the bold work that I do because I’m part of a really strong, embracing, beautiful body.”
In the past year, Spransy said she has grown in her boldness as an artist. She feels her work has been transformative for her as she has pushed herself to create things that scare her or that she does not even like in the end.
“I feel like the systems have found a new vitality,” Spransy said. “Until now, I’ve let the systems drive everything. Now, even though I’m still scripting everything out, I feel there’s a lot more of my voice in things.”
As she continues to advance her career, Spransy seeks to make work that is full of life and innovation. She also takes joy in spurring on those around her to do the same.
“Honestly, I am full-to-overflowing,” she said. “I feel so tremendously blessed and grateful for what I get to do with my time and that I get to pursue these ideas and love what I do so much. I get to be a part of this community where people love each other. We have this idea that if the Kingdom of God grows in our hearts, we can change the world.”
Linnea has a repertoire of exhibits in places as far and wide as China and as nearby as local Kansas City galleries. Learn more about her work and upcoming exhibits and view her portfolio online at www.linneagabriella.com.
Photos by Emily Lodigensky and Linnea Spransy