- An Interview with Artist Breda Catherine Ennis
Breda Catherine Ennis was born in Dublin. She now lives in Italy where she studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti, the Calcografia Nazionale, and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. For twenty-one years she has worked at the American University of Rome (where she is associate professor of fine arts and has her studio). She is considered Ireland’s leading artist in Italy and has given over forty-five exhibitions in different countries, and has works in several museums and private collections. She regularly collaborates with Vatican Radio on the analysis of paintings and church interiors in Rome, and has written for several journals including The Journal of Sacred Architecture. She has also studied the cultural patrimony of the Church at the Pontifical Gregorian University.1
How important is the Catholic faith for you and your work?
I cannot conceive of my life without the Catholic faith. It is as essential to me as life itself. I always feel the guiding hand of the Father in my life and in my art work. It would be inconceivable for me to paint without this guiding hand. Christ is the depth and luminosity of a color. The nuances of his intervention are blended into [End Page 97] the tonality of my painting palette. He is the energy in a strong brushstroke and his gentle breath hovers over the light strokes and gestures that touch the canvas. His love is the driving force behind my desire to create art. Faith is behind my determination to create something worthy of him. I know that I must always strive to create something even more worthy.
Would you say your religious faith impacts your work as an artist more unconsciously than consciously?
It is the fundamental baseline of my work. It impacts both unconsciously and consciously. I have always understood the importance of doing honest and clean work. By this I mean that the making of art is a vocation and a sacred profession. One must not permit dirt or evil to enter into the painting space. When I was commissioned to design and paint an altar and a lectern by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs—both of which are now in the newly refurbished Embassy of Ireland to the Holy See in Rome—I was incredibly moved and fearful at the same time. I remember putting my whole heart and soul into that project, to the point that I was completely exhausted, but happy, when it was finished. During the whole period of designing and making the altar I prepared myself spiritually like an artist preparing to do a sacred icon. I began to realize just what this altar represented: a place to celebrate the Eucharist, the most sacred of places.
Could you talk about the importance of the sacred in relation to art and architecture?
I think the beauty of the sacred is the only way for people to realize themselves through Christ. There are so many works of art and even new churches that seem to have lost sight both of the sacred and the concept of beauty. There is the tendency to ignore the context in which a work of art will be placed or how a church will fit into a particular environment. Artists and architects just go in and do [End Page 98] their own thing, completely ignoring what went before them. What I consider more serious is the lack of knowledge relating to how a sacred object or building should be created. There is a tendency to distribute various objects all over the place without respecting the space and the liturgy, and this leads to a fragmentation in the final space created for worship. People enter churches and immediately get confused. There is less focus on the altar. Colors and constructions are so contrasting that the worshipper is disoriented. It is difficult to focus your mind on the light of the saving God when a sacred space is so badly designed and the color is so badly put together that the end result is cheap. The worshipper comes into church to be helped, to pray...