‘After the Masters’: Lenten exhibit at La Jolla Presbyterian Church seeks to shed new light on the Gospels

The pieces in Karen Sangren's "After the Masters" exhibit at La Jolla Presbyterian Church are mixed-media images.
(Courtesy of Karen Sangren)

Artist Karen Sangren hopes “After the Masters: The Four Gospels in Collage,” her Lenten-themed exhibition currently on display in the La Jolla Presbyterian Church Gallery, will literally shed light on her biblical approach to art.

With flashlight in hand, she explained each of the exhibit’s 39 pieces, pointing out the layers of metallic pen added to images of works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and others among portions of decorative papers and other images.

Sangren said the collection of “sacred art collages” follows the form of transformative art, in which the secondary works (Sangren’s pieces) use originals with new expression, meaning or message.

“I’m reinterpreting their art,” she said. “It’s a privilege to be able to work with these pieces.”

The collection — part of a larger series of 50 — began during the COVID-19-related isolation of 2020, when “there was just nothing to do,” Sangren said.

The Point Loma resident, who chaired the Department of Art and Design at Point Loma Nazarene University until her retirement in 2017, concurrently created pieces in hand-built clay forms. “I was a potter for years,” she said.

With pottery studios closed in 2020, Sangren turned to “where my art career had begun: 2D design theory.”

While cleaning her garage, Sangren found a 1957 coffee table book on da Vinci and thought, “I can do something with these pictures.”

She began tearing out pages from the book and “started thinking about how I could take certain images and mix them across the various subject matters that da Vinci did.”

Sangren created mixed-media works using the printed images, colored pencils, specialty papers and metallic pen to tell the story of the Gospels, adding images from Michelangelo and others she found.

“I absolutely loved to be able to see what the pencil could do on that wonderful old paper from 1957,” she said.

Sangren encourages visitors to her exhibit to shine their cellphone flashlight on each piece to note the layering and metallic pen work.

Some pieces incorporate rice paper or imagery of European churches or East Indian art, Sangren said, while others include images of works by Marc Chagall and Pablo Picasso.

Sangren said she hopes exhibit visitors will review and relearn the Gospel stories. “We’ve come to the point where this is so common to us. We say, ‘Oh, that’s a pretty picture’ and walk by without really reading the narrative.”

“After the Masters” is La Jolla Presbyterian’s second professional art exhibit of the season, Sangren said. It is sponsored by the church’s Artist Series program, for which Sangren is part of the leadership team.

“After the Masters: The Four Gospels in Collage” runs through Sunday, April 10, at the church gallery, 7715 Draper Ave. Hours are 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Sundays, 10 a.m. to noon Mondays, 9 to 11 a.m. Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to noon Fridays and 8 to 10 a.m. Saturdays. Admission is free. ◆