Review: The Book of Psalms Illuminated
This truly beautiful book explores the deeply felt human spirituality of the Psalms of the Bible through a wealth of richly coloured watercolour paintings of the Australian landscape. It is not a book to read, but something that you fold open to apprehend, like a visual feast, that responds to this ancient collection of poems and songs that have sustained the Jewish and Christian communities through the ages. This magnificent publication is the achievement of Newcastle based artist Fiona Pfennigwerth who has spent the last six years, travelling, reading, listening, and painting to complete this unique manuscript of visual meditations.
In choosing to work in watercolours she has found a medium that is technically exacting but gives results that are fresh, vibrant and seem to shine off the page. There are over 250 finely detailed watercolours that record this journey of spiritual delight in the Australian landscape. These travels include the Kimberley, central Australia, The Grampians, Tasmania, and then finally the more familiar horizons of the Hunter Valley. Each illustration provides a snatch of time, or a moment of visual insight, that helps us read the text more deeply. The artist seems to slow down time by giving us a record of her looking and watching the texture of the hills, the animals, birds, feathers, rocks, streams, the rustle of the leaves, and shift in the clouds across a distant blue horizon.
Fiona Pfennigwerth is a contemplative who prays with her eyes wide open. She is a person of deep spirituality and passion who is in love with the way art can evoke God’s praise and strengthen our faith and deepen our understanding. This book is a sumptuous record of her attempt to locate the spirituality of the Psalms in the place and time, that we actually inhabit, rather than in the distant past. It proves to be a gift that enlivens the imagination of faith, and invites us to see God alive in a creation that we recognise, and in turn care for. ‘O taste and SEE that the Lord is good; blessed is the one, who takes refuge in God.’ Psalm 34:8.
The Book of Psalms Illuminated is available here. The recommended price is $60.
Rev. Dr Rod Pattenden is an artist, art historian and minister of the Adamstown Uniting Church.