The art of the living word

“I sketched the first drafts for three days straight while listening to the ‘Messiah’ on a cassette recorder,” Timothy R. Botts said about his calligraphic “word pictures.” Each picture interprets Handel’s “Messiah,” a musical retelling of Scripture, one passage at a time.
An exhibit displaying 24 select originals from “Messiah” alongside commentary from Botts has been hanging in the BGC Museum lobby’s Sacred Arts Gallery since Nov. 6 and will remain on display until April 12.
The exhibit begins with a word picture entitled “Comfort Ye My People” which quotes Isaiah 40:1-2, the scripture that opens Handel’s “Messiah.” This word picture reads, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people saith your God speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished that her iniquity is pardoned.” Grammatically, this phrase reads as a stream of thought, but the juxtaposition of different artistic styles serves to accentuate each component and the passage’s meaning as a whole. Words such as calm, pastel, inviting and hopeful describe the feelings evoked by this piece.
In the adjacent description, Botts comments, “Because of my interest in making words look like their meanings, I naturally related to Handel’s picturesque music. The decision to use the horizontal format worked especially well here with the exceptionally long, drawn-out notes of the tenor.”
From a rose-colored, womb-shaped retelling of “Emannuel, God with us” (Isaiah 7:14) to a dark, jagged, blood streaked representation of “and by His stripes” juxtaposed against a delicate green “we are healed” on white (Isaiah 53:5), Botts used combination of colors, textures and several historic styles of the English alphabet to capture the text’s essence.
At the Messiah Reception, a live display held in November, Botts sketched a new word picture while accompanied by a live excerpt from the first act of the “Messiah,” based upon prophecies which invite the promised Savior.
“Making word pictures is my way of meditating on Scripture because I am a visual learner and need to be using my hands to stay engaged,” Botts said. “When I make a word picture, in a way I am listening to God’s Word and then translating it; afterwards, my prayer to him is what I got out of it. God understands that we need to see him through creation, and then through Jesus — I also think that is the gift of the artist.”
The accompaniment for the live art showing was arranged by College Church’s pastor of music and worship Dave Bullock. Bullock played violin alongside the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music’s senior hornist Corin Droullard, junior soprano saxophonist Austin Alianiello and junior violinist and singer Claudia Finsaas.
“I like how we took something like Handel’s “Messiah,” which is typically showcasing musicians and vocalists, and made it the backdrop for a painting,” Finsaas said. She added, “It gave us the ability to improvise and even join in with the audience’s appreciation.”
“I am glad that the artistic ability came out in (Timothy Botts) and not in me,” said Richard Botts, the artist’s father, who was an honored guest at the Messiah Reception.
He added, “This takes a lot of pressure. Here he is, surrounded by all his beautiful paintings, and people are here expecting him to create something greater.”
Botts got his start in the first grade when an art teacher noticed his artistic giftedness and recommended that he take private art lessons during weekends. This teacher mentored Botts from grade school through high school and then recommended that his parents send him to the best art school they could afford. Botts studied at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg where he fell in love with calligraphy and earned a BFA in graphic design.
Afterwards, Botts studied oriental art in Japan for three years. When he returned to the States, Botts worked as a graphic designer for Tyndale Publishers, where he designed over 600 books. He retired in October 2012 after 40 years. When he was working at Tyndale, Botts’ personal journal of Scriptural word pictures was discovered and his first book, “Doorposts,” was published. Next he published “The Holy Bible: Botts Illustrated Edition,” “Portraits of the Word,” “Bound for Glory” and “Psalms.” Botts’ work has been exhibited in Obernei, France, the Washington National Cathedral and Newberry Library, Chicago.

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