For seven years, painter Doris Colbert Kennedy has been searching for God in infinitesimally small spaces. She's read about quantum physics, from the cosmic to the gluinoscopic in scale. Guided solely by intuition, she's documented her journey in oil paint on 30 canvases that will be on display in Spirit and Memory: Contemporary Expressions of Cultural Heritage at the City Gallery. Curated by the renowned artist Jonathan Green, the show also includes work by artists Alvin Staley and Amiri Farris. Green says when creating a show, he seeks artists who demonstrate a great deal of mastery with their materials and techniques. Kennedy, Staley, and Farris have each exhibited all over the United States and have taught art at the university level. Whether their work is realism or more abstract in style, a thread of spirituality weaves through their explorations.
Kennedy describes her collection as intuitive realism. "This is a discovery of mysteries," she says. "My paintings are answers to questions about the nature of reality."
Her canvases abound with rich, multi-layered colors. Their lines move with soft grace, tremendous velocity, or sometimes a little of both. Each one took months to create. She applies paint in sweeping strokes, wipes it off, and then, once the layers dry, adds more paint. For Kennedy, returning to a painting takes effort. She has to stop and re-focus on its mindset and energy. One painting, "Edge of Coherence," transformed itself several times prior to completion. Only when each one is finished does Kennedy step back, ask its meaning, and assign a title.
Kennedy hails from Washington, D.C., where she was the artist-in-residence at Howard University, one of the nation's oldest and most esteemed black universities. In addition to Howard, she has taught at the Corcoran School of Art, American University, the Maryland College of Art and Design, and the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana. Locally, she volunteers with students at Burns Elementary, which she says is a great school. "The kids are marvelous. There's so much potential there for what I want to do."
While working on her current collection, she delved into quantum physics, reading physicist's Brian Greene's book, The Fabric of the Cosmos, and Lynn McTaggart's The Field, which explains how quantum physics works in people's lives.
For Kennedy, intuition regularly collides with the cosmos. While painting "World Sheets," she was studying string theory, trying to decide whether she agreed with its ideas. "I set the canvases on the floor and stepped back to look at them," she says. "I felt this force, like the path that swept out from space, like a string."
- Kennedy's "What are Space and Time, anyway, and can we do Without Them?", oil on canvas
When the painting debuted at the American Center for Physics in College Park, Md., an audience member at one of her talks told Kennedy she had just returned from India where she witnessed a religious ceremony of a deity being reinstalled. Part of the ceremony involved three priests, each standing at a fire. She said the bands of colored smoke rising toward the temple bore a striking resemblance to the patterns and colors in Kennedy's painting. Kennedy says she has never visited India nor studied its religious ceremonies.
Physicist Margie Morse felt a similar pang of familiarity when she saw the diptych "What Are Space and Time Really, and Can We Do Without Them?" Morse will discuss her experience with the painting in detail during an artist talk on Feb. 9.
The Rev. Ed Kosak of the Unity Church of Charleston will also be part of that discussion, representing the God part of the equation. Kennedy says she encountered Kosak through a bit of kismet. Upon first moving to Charleston, she met a woman who asked, rather spontaneously, if she was an artist and then urged her to check out the Unity Church's Sunday services so she could introduce Kennedy to two of her friends. One was a fellow artist, Elena, with whom Kennedy would become friends and share a studio space. The other was Rev. Kosak, a Unity Minister with a knack for inspiring and energizing his congregation with his Sunday sermons.
"His church is so unique," says Kennedy. "So many unique things happen. That woman I met could read my energy. It's not serendipity, it's bigger. It's a big collapse of energy, things falling into place."
In July 2012, about halfway through Kennedy's creation process, the Higgs-Boson, or God particle, was discovered. For her, it was an affirmation of God's existence.
"Once I asked what God is," says Kennedy. "The answer I received was space. I wanted to know more. I asked how is that possible? I learned that God can be space because God is everything. That's the connection I have with this work. I am at this place where God is everywhere."
Spirituality and science often appear to be opposites, but for Kennedy they interrelate. Scientific discoveries start with dreams and possibilities. For her, each canvas is a wide open possibility. A place to find herself and God, and for viewers to explore the universe and perhaps understand just a few of life's mysteries.
Doris Colbert Kennedy's artist talk, "God, Energy, and Physics: A Deeper Reality," will be held Feb. 9. Farris will speak Feb. 2, and Staley will speak Feb. 23. All talks begin at 3 p.m. Those interested in purchasing Kennedy's paintings (that are not on loan from another collection) should consult her website, doriscolbertkennedy.com.