Two exhibitions draw inspiration from religion, artists' faith backgrounds

In very different ways, Gracie Morbitzer and Cody F. Miller are asking questions about religion and faith, and, in response, making art that addresses those questions and asks the viewer to ponder them as well. Their current exhibitions offer an opportunity to do just that.

In her ongoing body of work, “The Modern Saints,” Columbus native Morbitzer, a junior Interior Design major at CCAD, is at once contemporizing and authenticating individuals canonized by the Catholic Church. In her encounters with iconography that pays tribute to the saints, Morbitzer was often left a little cold.

“They seemed so boring and sad and ancient,” Morbitzer said in an interview at a Downtown coffee shop. Interested in connecting the past with the present, Morbitzer set about painting (on pieces of wood she finds at antique stores and flea markets) Catholic saints with modern clothing and accessories, and with expressions that provide insight into their humanity. At the same time, she researched their geographical and cultural heritage, resulting in a variety of skin tones, hair colors and facial features.

“The main idea was to let people see that saints were real humans just like we are. So not only do we have the ability to be like them, but they were also just like us, and they all had very interesting different backgrounds,” Morbitzer said. “Some of them were extremely cynical people when they started out, but it didn't matter because when they found their faith they became something so much greater.”

To further personalize the work, Morbitzer would find inspiration among friends, believers and otherwise, who shared some of the same characteristics of whichever saint she was working to portray. She said the work has, and, she hopes, will continue to provide opportunities for sharing the stories of her own faith tradition.

“All I can really do is just try to be the most loving person I can be, and maybe that way, and through these paintings, I can find a way to talk to people who may have had bad experiences at different churches, or who have been rejected for what they look like or who they are,” Morbitzer said.

Cody Miller lost his father when he was two. His mother, struggling with multiple sclerosis, couldn't take care of her two sons, who eventually entered the foster system, moving from family to family. They also lived for a time with family friends who relocated from Florida to help ensure the boys had someone to look after them. Now grown, Miller is continually filtering that and other experiences in his life in which love and sacrifice were required through his own religious beliefs.

“There are things in my work that come from scripture, from Biblical stories, but most of my work that's on exhibit at Hayley Gallery is metaphor,” Miller said in an interview at a Grandview coffee shop. “It's more about themes of grace and hope, and where those things come from, what they mean. It can be as simple as paying for someone in the McDonald's drive-through, or some unexpected gift from a stranger. For me, I've had this outpouring of people loving on me, and it's sometimes hard to figure out.”

Miller has carried these concerns forward in his dealing with others and his experiences with his own children.

“My boys and I volunteer at a food pantry every week. We'll take the food to the car and the stories we hear… oh, my gosh, the stories. And it all feeds back into that idea of hope. How does a person find the wherewithal to keep at it?” Miller said. “There have definitely been times where I felt, ‘Yes, I'll pray for you but how about you pray for me, too, because you're doing a lot better job of white-knuckling it than I am.'”

Cut paper, paint, charcoal and other media provide Miller a platform to explore these notions and, perhaps, make a little sense of it both for himself and for viewers.

“I'm sure there are things that I think that would make Jesus drink Scotch straight from the flask, you know,” Miller said with a laugh. “So when I make my work and I talk about what I believe, I'm coming from a place of humility.”