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What continues to draw Romanian-born Lansing artist Ingrid Blixt back to the bygone era of Byzantine art?
“It takes the visible and passes it through to the invisible. It takes your prayers, petitions and thoughts from this world and takes them to God — the invisible world we don’t see,” she explained. “All art has a certain function, even if it’s just aesthetic, but this is a vehicle for your emotions and prayers.”
Byzantine artwork is the chief artistic product of the Eastern Roman Empire and is recognizable for its heavy use of silver and gold leaf. The crushed metal made the works highly reflective, adorning them with an especially stoic appearance — certainly helping with the godly impression the artists intended to leave.
Blixt’s creations take on a daunting task of adapting an ancient aesthetic— dating back several centuries before her birth.
But for her, it doesn’t register as a fool’s errand to attempt to push the elder art form’s boundaries another step beyond.
“I’m trying to show with my art that the same sacredness that manifested itself in those early times is still happening now — we just perceive it differently,” Blixt said. “It’s my life’s work to continue its tradition.”
In her youthful days in Baia Mare, a Romanian city in Transylvania, Ingrid Blixt spent her time exploring the local churches. Blixt came of age under Romania’s Communist regime, a secular government that heavily suppressed the Eastern European Orthodox Catholic Church.
“During Communism, everything was covered up. When I was baptized, it was done secretly. It wasn’t at the church, it was at the priest’s house. You couldn’t really express your faith,” Blixt said. “You’d hear about people disappearing. I didn’t know what was happening.”
Blixt had the pleasure of experiencing Transylvania’s breathtaking Gothic architecture firsthand.
The stringent political climate couldn’t prevent Blixt’s enchantment with the archaic Byzantine art she found within the various empty church halls.
The silver and gold-leaf-encrusted pieces were adorned with handwritten inscriptions calling on God to help the writer and their loved ones.
Though the writing was technically vandalism, the heartfelt anonymous messages left behind had a lasting impact on the young artist. For Blixt, it only added to the power of the art, rather than detracting from it.
“While the monasteries were abolished, anybody still had access. Under the beautiful murals there’d be messages that said ‘help me God, save my life, save my marriage,’” Blixt said. “It was interesting that through their faith and petitions they were ruining the art, but it wasn’t done with bad intentions.”
After the fall of the Communist regime during Romania’s revolution, Blixt’s passion for the Byzantine era was able to grow freely. She enrolled in art school, setting off on a path to become a jack of all visual trades.
“The revolution came when I was a child, in ’89,” Blixt said. “It was scary, but we were protected. Our parents kept us calm, I felt safe even though the situation was not safe at all. There were tanks and armed people in the streets, but we felt OK.”
College was a diverse and enjoyable experience for Blixt. It offered her an opportunity to visit the United States via a class trip to Traverse City.
Blixt was taken aback by what she saw as a seemingly universal carefree attitude among the people she met — compared to the more subdued and serious attitude of her fellow Eastern Europeans.
“It was nothing like Europe. I didn’t realize everybody was on vacation. Everybody was happy, I was like ‘oh, my gosh! What is happening here? Why is everybody so happy?’” Blixt said. “The one that thing really surprised me is everybody’s sense of humor. Everybody seemed to be funny.”
The decision to move to the United States permanently was difficult. Blixt received mixed feelings from her peers from a cultural animosity against America in general.
“I understand how people feel in Europe. They kind of have a bad view of the United States. There was a building hatred. You get blamed for leaving your country, they say you should stick it out with everybody else,” Blixt said.
The culture shock initially had Blixt creating work that seemed to emphasize the clash between the two worlds in which she had lived.
But after spending more than a decade stateside, Blixt said her work began drawing attention to what makes people similar, rather than different.
In her work Blixt seems to effortlessly channel her memories of the old Romanian churches. Her pieces call upon the classical tenents of what defines a work of Byzantine art, primarily through the heavy use of silver and gold leaf. The effect gives her paintings an ornate look, as if they belong to a church of Blixt’s own creation.
A strong sample of Blixt’s work is viewable in her latest gallery at East Arbor Architecture, “Open Journey.” Blixt uses a stark and extensive color comibanation of black, white, blue and gray.
But the work curated in “Open Journey” was not created with a specific theme in mind, rather the works were collected later by Blixt.
“When I was working, I didn’t think about how the exhibit was going to look like as a whole. I picked the colors based on what speaks to me,” Blixt explained. “It was nothing really planned.”
“Open Journey” also touches upon the larger theological themes that tie Blixt’s body of work together with the Byzantine artists of the past.
“We are all on a dynamic journey.
Even established faiths are not stagnant,” Blixt said. “We cannot be stuck in our ways, our beliefs, everything always changes. The journey means constant change. We have to remember that.”
“Open Journey,” by Ingrid Blixt
Trough May 31 Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
East Arbor Architecture 405 Grove St., East Lansing, Free, www.ingridblixt.com