Fr. Cristóbal Torres Iglesias, OP, a Cuban-American, is a Miami-based artist who creates iconography and other art. His work is featured in private collections and can be viewed at places such as the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., Notre Dame du Perpetuel Secours School in La Colline, Haiti, and St. Albert the Great Priory in Irving, Texas.
His iconographical work includes the painting Dominican Last Supper, the designs for the St. Rose of Lima Chapel windows at Zanmi Beni Children’s Home in Port au Prince, Haiti, and the design for the Cor Jesu Chapel icon cross at Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida.
Q: What kind of artwork do you specialize in?
A: I’m very drawn to religious, spiritual, and mythological motifs. They have always appealed to me. And I love comics and graphic novels, as well. I do a combination of iconography, sort of like holy images and things like that, and I also do graphic novel work.
Q: What do you like about those styles of artwork?
A: I think stories are very powerful and they can change your point of view. I mean Jesus used to preach with stories. And a story, when it’s coming from a place of spirit and real God-centeredness and is really animated by the Holy Spirit, it can galvanize, transform, and lead to conversion.
But the thing is there are different ways to tell stories. In our culture of storytelling it’s very words-focused, and that’s very powerful. But images can also tell stories and I think that visual art can be powerful. Particularly in the graphic novel because it’s not just a painting, it’s a sequential telling of a story that happens in comic book art and in graphic novels where you have images juxtaposed.
It’s not just pretty pictures that are next to each other, it’s also how they’re next to each other. The thing that’s unique about graphic novels and also a lot of religious icons is that you have an interplay of words and images.
Q: Can you talk about the interplay of words and images?
A: For example, if you’re looking at a Byzantine icon, you’re not only looking at an image of Mary, you’re also looking at letters that tell you who she is, so it’s giving you a theology of who Mary is for the Church and for Christians. It can also tell the story of the Incarnation and it’s telling it through the perspective of the Word made Flesh, through this woman who is also our Mother. It’s an interplay of word and image that tells a very powerful story and by looking and reading and praying, you can be transformed.
Q: What inspires your artwork?
A: I don’t mean for my work to be sort of in the strict sense Byzantine icons, but there is that influence in my work, its own sort of spiritual and artistic discipline. I try to create my work through prayer and reflection, too. I sort of look at my work as a visual-theology, kind of inviting the viewer to explore it.
Q: How do you go about starting a new project?
A: I definitely pray. I think a certain contemplative approach is needed to kind of listen interiorly to what needs to emerge and to let that guide me. I think also research is really important. One of the things I love about projects is getting to learn about new subjects, whether it’s a historical period that I was unfamiliar with or want to learn new things about, or even a new kind of calligraphy.
For me that’s part of the fun but it’s also part of getting into the spirit and the mindset of whatever it is that’s being represented. So if it’s an icon of somebody from the 13th century or something a little more modern, it’s sort of researching what was happening, what was the context, and then just getting a lot of historical data which then sort of merges with the prayer.
In the Dominicans we have a motto which was sort of coined by St. Thomas Aquinas and it says that what we do is contemplate and bear to others the fruits of contemplation. Basically, it’s the idea that our preaching, whatever form the preaching takes, whether it’s homiletics, creating art, university teaching, writing a book, or composing a piece of music, that the preaching is really mediating the Word of God.
It’s sort of mediating through created things that which is ineffable, that which is almost unknowable and yet paradoxically is made known through something created. And the only way to do that is to contemplate first, to sort of enter into a relationship with the ineffable; contemplate, be in the presence of it, let the Word be made Flesh through that contemplation like it was with Mary, and then give birth to it through whatever preaching we do.
Q: What do you want viewers to get from exploring your artwork?
A: First of all, I want to invite them into prayer which I think is what an icon first and foremost should do. It should help to mediate an encounter with the divine in some way. But I also want them to look at it with their analytical brain, and think about it in terms of their faith and in terms of how they understand God and their image of God.
And to ask questions about it, and think about what are some things that they need to look at in terms of the Church and in terms of themselves. Maybe even some social questions and things like that. But primarily I see it as a vehicle for mediating an encounter through prayer and contemplation — those are very important pieces of it for me.
To learn more about Fr. Cristóbal and to view some of his artwork, visit his website at CristobalTorresArt.com.