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Q&A: Elizabeth Zelasko on creating the Denver Catholic triptych, ‘Through the Kerygma’

The beautiful artwork that adorns the latest and the last two covers of the Denver Catholic tell a story; namely, your story. In the beginning, we were created out of love and then captured by sin. For freedom we were rescued by Jesus Christ, whose love flows over us like a river. Now, we are called to respond in full to this gift of salvation we’ve been given and embark on a mission to transform the world. 

The Denver Catholic commissioned local artist Elizabeth Zelasko to create the last three covers for the magazine, which when put side-by-side form a triptych, titled “Through the Kerygma.” Zelasko worked closely with Kevin Greaney, Executive Director of Marketing and Communications for the archdiocese, to conceptualize the artwork and create it over these past few months, and the results are nothing short of stunning. 

We sat down with Zelasko to get an inside look at her background as an artist and what it was like for her to work on this triptych for the Denver Catholic. 

How did you get started in art and how long have you been doing it professionally? 
I grew up around art. My mother and uncle are both professional artists and so it was always encouraged. Art always gave me great joy and purpose so I knew I wanted to pursue it at a young age. I won various awards throughout my education. Growing up in New Jersey so close to New York City it was an obvious choice for college! I made it into the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, but quickly realized the school was lacking something that I was desperately wanting – traditional instruction. That’s when I left SVA to study Russian Orthodox Iconography at the Prosopon School of Iconology.    

What medium do you primarily work in when creating art?
I enjoy traditional mediums like acrylic, oil, graphite and watercolor paints. Learning how to work with egg tempera – the ground pigment and egg emulsion used in traditional icons – was a whole new world for me. It’s basically what we used before the relatively recent inventions of paint in a tube and art stores! Traditional religious icons are usually done in egg tempura. Today it’s a bit of an anachronism to work with this process, but my experience helped me land a job with the Denver Art Museum creating a replica 14th century Italian icon by Casentino, which will be on display in their European wing.

How did you create the triptych series for the Denver Catholic?
I used a program called Procreate on my iPad. Digital art and I have never gotten along until I found this program! It feels very much like drawing with an actual pencil or paintbrush. And with a project as collaborative as this, with frequent review, feedback and changes, it was a vital tool. The digital format lets me change things with ease and move the images around in ways that I would never be able to do with real paint. I would have had to scrap the whole image several times over if it was a painting!

What was your creative process like for this particular project?
There were several phone calls and a hand full of initial concept sketches. Kevin had a broad idea of what the images would entail and how the story was going to pan out. As an artist, when you are listing to a client’s ideas it is very much like reading a book. You can SEE the images in your head! This project was collaborative between Kevin and me. We each brought more and more meaning and theology into the piece as we talked it through. Being self-employed, it’s seldom that I get to collaborate with other people in this way. Working on the triptych has been a really fabulous experience. Although there is a ton of traditional imagery in the work, there are also many new things to feast on visually. For instance, you won’t ever find an icon of the earth with a big fiery snake trying to devour it! When you’re coming up with new imagery that involves ancient theology, one has to tread lightly and do a lot of cross examining. I was excited to take on that challenge and I am very proud of the work in the end. 

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(Click to enlarge)

What was your favorite part about working on these covers?
Just knowing that this work is getting into the hands of faithful, local, Catholics – I can’t think of anything more desirable as a Catholic artist. It’s not going into a museum, but rather a significantly more important space – peoples’ homes… This is so much more important. Children are seeing this work! I have already received emails of drawings by kids mimicking the Earth and that big snake! God has given me a gift for art, and I am literally giving it back to Him and the Church. To make visible what has been invisible to us is a great task. I think that’s a huge responsibility and a huge honor. 

What do you hope people take away from seeing these covers?
The beauty of Christ has so many facets – He is often way more beautiful than we think. We can get stuck looking at just one of these facets and start to think, “this is all there is!” We can become boxed in by our limited knowledge of God. I really hope that people can enter into the beauty of Christ and the Church just a little bit more when they see this image…that they can experience the beauty of Christ in a deeper way, or a new way, and find themselves in the story.

Aaron Lambert
Aaron Lambert
Aaron is the former Managing Editor for the Denver Catholic.

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