A Diary on the Margins of Things

Petrică Bistran

image: Coup, Petrică Bistran

Sunday 6 December 2020, her name was Lorena

Today my sister would have been 29. She died fourteen years ago at 14 from a brain tumour. She died at home and I wasn’t there with her. When the news of her death reached me, I experienced a strangely absurd sense of freedom. I couldn’t cry. She can dream no more and grow old no more. She will not have to find a purpose for her life. Where God comes from must be the land of just being where he feeds on little children who just are without having to become anything at all. Nothing made any sense, but death was real and the only sure consequence of life. My little, only sister was dead, and suddenly I must live two lives at the same time, perhaps a fuller life which was not about responsibility and didn’t feel burdensome or terrifying, but surprisingly liberating and empowering. Her death was giving me permission to make the most of my life. 

Petrică Bistran
Petrică Bistran, in studio

Fourteen years later, I’m starting this diary in her memory, and ashamed of my many failures, I must ask again the questions that have somehow complicated my life, in the hope to find not some straight, easy answers, but a sense of direction that becomes again as clear as a line drawn from birth to death.

Some mornings are truly beautiful. Nothing moves. The day’s slow, even, lilac light fills the dark world with promises of sight

Petrică Bistran

Monday 7 December 2020, violent rain, a sense of ending

So here I am. The winter of my unrest. I’m 35 years old, an artist, and a priest in the Church of England. My wife has metastatic cancer. I work part-time for a couple of churches in London, am buried in debts, and am no longer able to continue my art studies at Camberwell College of Arts. I’m on Universal Credit, anxious, confused, and finding that the job that would be good for me, in the middle of a pandemic, looks more and more unlikely. Oh God, it sounds worse when I put it like this in writing.

Yet, the fusion of all these unhappy circumstances, at this point in my life, has given me more time to paint than I could’ve ever asked for! But this is not what I asked for. I asked for something else, a more logical place, a more reasonable solution to my increasingly overwhelming desire to paint. I don’t want to call this intense creative drive ‘insane’, but, considering my personal narrative, any rational being could see it for what it is. 

There’s a theological distinction that I like between being ordained and having a job as a priest. I have no problems with being ordained. I have a problem with finding a job. Of course, I’m ‘a responsible and hard-working person’ (no gaps in my employment history, see my CV!), but what I want is to be able to make art and make a living at the same time (who wouldn’t?). My part-time job allows me to make some art for now, which is great. But this luxury, sooner or later, will come to an end because, ironically, yeah, I’m poor. Oh God, I’m sick, is it really all about economics?

Thursday 10 December 2020, blocked sky, minimum light

Some mornings are truly beautiful. Nothing moves. The day’s slow, even, lilac light fills the dark world with promises of sight. A Winter’s Promise, and not much else to see. Reading in bed for the most generous part of the morning. Making some coffee mixed with sweet prayers. Then painting for half a day, before the last traces of the indifferent light dissolve, before I remember a hundred tasteless tasks to finish before too late. Why can’t we be the keeper of our own time? We give away that which is truly ours in the hope to return to who we want to be. We strive to be free, forgetting that, by necessity, we were born free.

Petricã Bistran
A sense of place

They say that our ancestors venerated the sacred white wolf, but my feeling is that my tribe’s guide was the dirty wild boar. It’s funny, but I grew up – always between the wild and the tame – with stories of the boar and thinking that this savagely sophisticated ‘warrior’ animal – fearsome and reckless – will be the last survivor of any given apocalyptic scenario. Their population is dwindling in my native Romania today, but the spirit that once filled my imagination with the impossible is still thriving in my memory. I once saw a wild boar jumping through the woods, and it was glorious.

My grandparents learned from the old, wise trees how to be in the land, and lived through the flames and icy turns of the seasons as if entering and exiting the presence of God – everything was alive, and everything meant something

Sunday 13 December 2020, unreliable light, the best fogs in a long time

When God ‘calls’ you, he doesn’t always make it easy for you. There’s no voice from heaven telling you who you are or what career you should choose. There’s no angel handing you a ‘vocation’ with your name on it. Not in my case, anyway. God is slow – I suppose he’s got an eternity on his hands – and God is subtle – I suppose he’s a contemplative lover. 

I dislike the idea of a journey because it involves all the clichés of the heroic journey (the call, the supernatural aid, the threshold, challenges, helpers, revelation, atonement, return, etc.), and I’m not the hero here, but everything seems to be a journey (life, faith, career). I suppose clichés are some kind of flowers of truth that grow on the roadside of our travelling through life. When God calls you, you start moving, and when you move, you cover ground, and one day you may see that the ground under your feet is holy. And then it’s up to you to dig or plant or rest your head on a rock.

My Ro village in winter

Monday 14 December 2020, new moon, muted stars pulsating dimly in the cloud-crowded sky

I wanted to become a priest because it felt right. It felt good and useful and related to things everlasting. I want to be an artist because it feels right. It feels good and noble and lasting.

But why would God call anyone to a double vocation, two com-missions equal in love, sacrifice and value? In other words, how does one choose between two rival goods? It’s one thing to have a so-called ‘ordinary job’ (all jobs are immensely valuable!) alongside your creative practice, but something quite different to try and bring together two equally big jobs.

Maybe I shouldn’t think like this. Life is one. And anyway the whole idea of being ‘called by God’ is complicated. But I think about being realistic. And I think of others and don’t know how they made it. But what does ‘make it’ even mean? Fra Angelico (friar and painter), Sister Gertrude Morgan (preacher, musician, poet, artist), Corita Kent (religious sister, designer, artist, educator), Fr Jack Hanlon (priest and painter). They somehow illustrate for me a world, in all its complexity, of possibilities where being who you are and doing what you do are one and the same thing.

Maybe God doesn’t ‘call us.’ We call ourselves into being something and he ‘grants it’ for us. But then how and why do we decide to be this or that? One thing is clear: when I worked full-time for the Church, there was practically very little time for making art. The privilege of serving others was my only sacred duty. Making art was a dream that dissipated through the cracks of my daily clerical tasks. My stretched cassock tearing in places…

Petrică Bistran
Red ecology

Thursday 17 December 2020, noisy winter birds, reading T.S. Eliot for Advent, and a Zoom poetry group

Art takes time. Ministry takes time. Being an artist demands all your courage, energy and love. Being a priest demands the same. Artmaking is exhausting, yet deeply rewarding. Priesting is the same. Looking after a church comes with management duties, social responsibilities, pastoral care and leadership. Having a studio comes with empty walls where something good may appear slowly over time. My painting practice is solitude. Ministry is about people and mission. Art hasn’t got a mission, it just is. Faith wants to conquer all. But art, whether high or simply craft, challenging or merely entertaining, is just there. Even the best of art, the kind that changes us and the way we assimilate the world, it just is. If only being a priest could feel like that.

I want to make art that means something. But will I ever be able to bring painting and ministry together creatively in any relevant and viable way? An agonizing question, sometimes! There’s a conflict somewhere, somehow. Maybe if I were a writer, it would fit better with my priestly vocation, which, after all, is all ‘words’ about the Word. But painting is a category of its own – the silence of sight – non-verbal, almost anti-logia, for if I could say in words what I can only show in pictures, I wouldn’t have to paint at all.

I work on a painting until it becomes part of what we’re all part of, that mysterious act of the fact of being in the world

Sunday 20 December 2020, Carol Service in the garden of St Peter’s, dark and pale green like a night majestic 

God is in the clouds and the clouds are in my head. Everything has been formalised to the point of deformity. No one has ever written anything on art before any art was made. Stop trying too hard. Sing to the frozen trees. 

My grandparents learned from the old, wise trees how to be in the land, and lived through the flames and icy turns of the seasons as if entering and exiting the presence of God – everything was alive, and everything meant something. They lived in the North-Western Hills of Romania, in clay houses surrounded by havens of ancient forests – a much-prized hunting location for the country’s last dictator. They found their freedom but lost a good deal of the wild. My family name, a constant reminder of earth-life chatter, comes from the tributary Bistra, a small, hidden river which descends from the Black Forest of the Plopiș Mountains and ends its languid journey in my hometown. 

Thinking of it all, I’m homesick. Christmastime also has that effect. But these days, I feel more like a dog who needs to take his daily, aimless walk around the local park, which I guess compensates for a sense of loss. And taking in the green generosity of the river Ouzel, always at ease with the wet ring of time as it makes its way through Leighton Buzzard, fills my heart with songs of belonging. I’m a citizen of nature. I started walking in the dark. Visually, painting wraps and unwraps the world in its own language. Take a walk and see.

Night bog

Monday 21 December 2020, first quarter moon, Jupiter and Saturn crossing paths in the night sky for a rare, spectacular Christmas Star

The longest night of the year – ‘when the short day is brightest, with frost and fire’ – is here, and we must endure the will of the dark. This solstice brings with it the ‘Star of Winter’, the great conjunction of two dust-and-ice-ringed planets, long-term lessons of stubborn change and growth. You know you’ve grown up when you can play with fire. The stars shed their wet colours over the cool footprints you’ve left behind in a narrow lane. 

Discernment is a tricky business. Your imaginative desire plays a part. Things around you play a part, and voices from your past can grow too loud and confusing. The present never feels reliable and the future is only imagined. The only moments of clarity seem to belong to dreaming, and dreams are fleeting. But the stars align, God speaks, and we learn to listen. 

The church, if it is to be…

Wednesday 23 December 2020, muddy sky, the fogs reign supreme

Today was a good day. I managed to paint, and it feels great. This is what success looks like. To be able to do your work with commitment and pleasure. Recognition, admiration, commercial success, that’s all good – art is also business. But the kind of success I experience when I paint is a victory that cannot be replaced by anything else. (By the way, never trust anyone who’s rich and unhappy. They wouldn’t know how to be happy even if they were poor!) 

In the end, this is all I want: time and space. The socio-economic factors that can allow me to paint and serve a community of faith at the same time. At the end of a busy day I want to say, like God, ‘it is good,’ and find reward in what’s in front of me, the work of my hands, the labour of my love.

The way I see it now, a part-time job as a priest that could allow me to paint some of the time, unfortunately, wouldn’t pay the bills or ‘cover’ enough canvases. I want to be free and able to follow both the cloud and the pillar of fire, but in our age the desert is already mapped, the wilderness no longer vacant. The kingdom of God is urban and without Google Maps you’re pretty stuck.

Petrică Bistran
Thus spoke the prophet

Sunday 27 December 2020, rain all day, a flood of sky into the flooded fields

Is art ever democratic? There are stars and there’s a mass of pebbles floating around. Grace seems to work like money. Those who have much, more will be given to them… Opportunities seem to be rare, and those who grab them may find a way to a place of comfort, and that’s good. Others are given almost nothing. All they can rely upon is hard work, their inner grace, and the mercy of history. And sometimes that is more than enough. 

And there’s something else conceivable and reassuring. I work on a painting until it becomes part of what we’re all part of, that mysterious act of the fact of being in the world. And I’m happy with that. 

The moon was full a moon ago, and now it fills the night again with shivering light

I finished my curacy in the summer of 2019 in the beautiful parish (people and all) of St Matthew’s and St Wilfrid’s Sunderland, after which I decided to ‘risk it all’ (good job and all) by taking some time out from full-time ministry so that I might begin to establish a more tenable artistic practice alongside my priestly work. Looking back, and all things considered, I’m probably just a bad risk taker. But all the same, I started my fine art degree in painting at Camberwell, and ended up, by some amazing graces, in my current role, working with the most generous and wonderful people of St Peter’s Belsize Park and St Saviour’s Chalk Farm in London.

Poet, painter, priest (01.07.17)

Wednesday 30 December 2020, full cold moon, the last one of 2020

The moon was full a moon ago, and now it fills the night again with shivering light. The dreamy season of waiting, heavy with wasteland poetry and painterly quarters of the unvisited, revisited only on paper as in the sleep of the land, to map its awakening. What is earth’s plastic-free dream? All things transition. Space occupying space. Organic physicality misused. The lockdown ‘virtual syndrome’ may be here to stay for a while. We’ll go on, it appears, becoming more and more pixelated and physically invisible.

We live inside bricks with screen images that sink deeper into our collective memory, under the surface of what it means to be in-person, in-touch, into each other’s presence. The walls around me have started to feel like some odd-angled, however wonderful, non-functional pieces of architecture, as in a Sandra Blow painting. I’m staring at the ceiling for gifts invisible, unspoken, overlooked… Art spills over as in Amy Beach’s life and music. Her sacred music – probably too conventional for anything sacred – ends in the sun, but her piano can still shape a habitable sound of hummingbirds, meadow larks and hermit thrushes, where I’m happy to rest for a while.

The walls around me have started to feel like some odd-angled, however wonderful, non-functional pieces of architecture as in a Sandra Blow painting

Sunday 03 January 2021, a new year, same old days

I have a busy week ahead with hospital appointments, work around the house and Zoom meetings. My wife, Mirela, is starting the next stage of her treatment – she’s the bravest person I’ve ever met, as well as a fine, generous and sensitive artist. I’m praying for a speedy recovery so that, come warmer days, we’ll be able to paint in the garden again on some big, spring-filled canvases.

With being stuck indoors, I’ve been making small paintings of socks, gloves, underwear – anything close to human skin – comic and painful symbols of these wretched times of Covid. I’ve also been making paintings of small flat boxes, as if I have been living in and out of boxes – a geometry of isolation – and the only social magic to be found is either going shopping or tapping screens. Peter Halley’s neo-conceptual paintings of glowing ‘cells’, like some isolated urban spaces or prisons, look more relevant than ever.

Half remembered animal life

Monday 04 January 2021, cold rain all day

When I don’t paint, I feel empty and useless like a park bench on a rainy day. I grow anxious when I can’t draw. Art is not therapy, but there’s an energy, a feel-good factor in being creative that overcomes feelings of uselessness and anxiety. In my case, by now, there’s also a dependency on the gesture of painting and colour that help me get through the day. Art is also vice. And I need to take it daily, even just a bit. But the more you take, the more you want to make, and the more you make, the more other things become your ‘ruin’. I should stop intellectualising, even spiritualising, my need/desire/obsession for art. The truth is simple. When I don’t paint, I feel quite lost and depressed.

Wednesday 06 January 2021, Epiphany, last quarter moon, strange news all over the world

I’m not afraid to live with labels, as long as they don’t stretch like some annoying safety belts, but I don’t know what being a ‘Christian artist’ really means. A Christian who makes art, or someone who makes Christian art? And what is ‘Christian art’? I don’t know. It’s OK to place something in a context, but contexts and our viewpoints change all the time.

Somebody asked me if I pray when I paint. I said no. When I paint, I paint, and I pray better after a good day of painting. All art is religious, if it binds us together and to something greater than us: nature, history, God. Painting can have a subject, but it doesn’t need a subject. For me, spirituality, like the aesthetic experience, evades all subject matters because it’s an all-encompassing openness, an entry-point into the life of things good, beautiful and true.

The sky doesn’t have a subject, or the riverbed where movements change with the changes in the sky. They are the real things. My painting is the thing that feeds upon itself, because it wants to remain true to what it is, the material that it is made of. When I start a painting, I don’t always know where to go. But a good deal of spontaneity, intuition and material paint-behaviour can, in the end, reveal something that I’m not able to control anymore, and painting becomes itself.

I should stop intellectualising, even spiritualising, my need/desire/obsession for art. The truth is simple. When I don’t paint, I feel quite lost and depressed

Sunday 10 January 2021, oh kingdom of rain, paradise of rain, rain, rain

How do I even know if God is ‘calling’ me to make art? I don’t. Such a big sentence! I don’t know. All I know is that I feel stupid when I ask this question, and when I paint, I find a kind of joy that’s similar to grace. And following this simple joy seems to bring me ‘closer’ to God. This is easy enough, but maybe not good enough.

Petrică Bistran
What are we but a bag of bones and love

I wouldn’t even ask the question if I didn’t feel sometimes as if I were wasting my time. Roy Oxlade spent his (painting) time inviting ordinary, domestic objects into abstraction, offering a beautifully more complicated relationship between matter and space – with a certain clarity and peculiarity. But that was his professional occupation: to paint. When you don’t have a ‘legitimate’ claim on your occupation, there’s nothing more tragic than feeling you’re wasting your life.

At the other end of Europe, the contemporary Romanian artist Murivale Mureșan Vasile is also ‘wasting’ his time – the ‘grand beautiful waste,’ he calls it. He’s wasting everything on purpose because for him art means offering yourself and your gifts freely to others. That is why he plants his paintings of Christ and Friends outdoors in the snow – ‘a cathedral of poverty’ – with birds pecking on them as if knocking on heaven’s doors for grain or spring to come sooner than planned.

To have a set of answers that ‘own’ the future is to not be able to go deeper into yourself. I’m never comfortable with easy answers (maybe one or two). To be an artist is to be comfortable with doubt, to have an enquiring attitude that can be dangerous even to your own certainties. To be an artist is to act with a certain dogged trust against the unknown, and in the end be somehow able to testify to the excessively gratis nature of art in the goods you leave behind.

Monday 11 January 2021, a pleasant wind making room for sunny spells between scattered showers

Ursula K. Le Guin, the American writer, has taken me to a place inside my head where I must refuse to settle for commodified art. I’ve finally found the time to enter Earthsea, her fantasy world of unbinding. In all things art, craft is good, but useless without a breath of life. Mastery invents nothing because it knows it all. Bad art imitates (in a bad way) and trivialises; it loses the complexities of life and deprives the creative psyche of its power to ‘make earth out of water and water out of earth.’ We learn, and then we must go beyond learning (off the maps) into the weirdness of the unfamiliar.

Failure is good practice, but not always, and certainly not forever. Avoid anything that declares the end from the beginning – that would be God’s business. Inside art there’s a numinous gate into the created order of all things, but not without chance, chaos or costly ventures. Magic is real because God lives in all possible universes. The way to that placeis your commitment to trial and error, practice and gain, again and again.

Are you an artist? There’s only one way to find out. Make art! And your path will emerge as you walk it. 

Thursday 14 January 2021, the winter sun is a magical looser, mist all day

Today was a bad day. My work coach called this morning to ask about my job search: It’s going badly… The fog outside has been so heavy and thick lately – sleep is a gift for the dying. In winter I think better with a pillow under my head. Later, in the afternoon, I came across one of those online floating brainy quotes from Thomas Aquinas, and found a measure of hope again: ‘Better to illuminate than merely to shine, to deliver to others contemplated truths than merely to contemplate.’

Wild boar jumping through the woods

Sunday 17 January 2021, heavy winds pushing against the houses, the trees, the sky

In one tutorial last year, during summer term at Camberwell, my art tutor, Juan Bolivar, said to me: ‘Don’t try to define yourself by what you are not. Embrace paradox, metaphor and contradiction. And don’t worry about what you are not and will not be, but only where you are and what your artistic will is.’

I just want to paint. Then paint. I wanna paint big and small, forward and beyond the frame, into the empty space of a neglected field. I want to be figurative, abstract, real, surreal, light, dark, serious, comic, spiritual, trivial… I wanna paint simple, complicated, sad, sublime, banal, irrational and natural like rain dripping off treetops, after a rainy day, of course. I want to paint as if life depends on it, like activating some reproductive system without which life cannot continue.

There’s a struggle, something dark, I’ve been told, in my work, like some ambiguous landscape under threat. I suppose it comes naturally. God doesn’t just speak light into being, he also holds the dark. I don’t claim that there are any spiritual values in my work, or that it is invested with some big emotional qualities. But I do think of the prophet who saw the built-in darkness of creation and was not afraid to give it a voice.

Somebody asked me if I pray when I paint. I said no. When I paint, I paint, and I pray better after a good day of painting. All art is religious, if it binds us together and to something greater than us: nature, history, God

Monday 18 January 2021, rain, rain, rain, we need more words for rain

Why do I want to paint? I think it’s because I want to be faced with life. I want to stop and look, to be still and see. We don’t consider the flatness of things enough. I want to be faced with something whilst silence takes over, and painting does that. Painting is this life-like stained surface of a burial cloth stretched over a dead structure – coloured mud that wraps itself around things and gives you the places of life as if you’ve just been there. That’s why I want to paint.

Painting is humble, fragile, historically problematic, but enduring and endearing. It’s primitive, instant, intimate and direct. Painting is one of the first interesting gestures of the first humans groping into the dark to leave behind proof of our ability to communicate beyond the immediate and necessary. There’s a direct link from the cave paintings of prehistory, through the gold around the Virgin’s head, to the paintings of sedimentation of the Danish artist Per Kirkeby. We build on ruins for ruins that hold us together. I’m talking about culture and the meaning of history.

In the realm of creative art, everything is available, all disciplines, all time past and future, all means and forms of communication and expression. But I have chosen painting as a holder of things because I’m quite happy on the margins of things.

Thursday 21 January 2021, wet dark chilly day, Storm Christoph in retreat

Children have a simplicity that comes directly from God. It is a simplicity that can sustain life at its most direct point of contact – innocence – with the world.

When I was at Art School Oradea, Romania (2000-2004), in my teens, there was a time when I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Life had laid down for me a straight path and it was all clear and promising – I knew that I was going to be an artist – until the day I met God. He has a way of complicating things for me – I never thought I would ever become a priest! We talked about the ‘Renaissance Man’ – the big narratives of our spiritual and intellectual enquiries into life, beauty and truth – and it was sleek, and it was sweet, because back then art was also ‘acting’ like a god, jealous and all-consuming, yet life-giving and generous.

Back then I also naïvely felt the need to justify my life through some epic, all-changing religious experience, not always realising that, without any effort, the divine is very much present in the everyday. In fact, the goodness of the everyday is an amazing gift, the ordinary full of hints of transcendence and the dream to come. Later, I had to learn that misplaced innocence is painfully long-lasting. No wonder, then, that I need to return to Gothic art every winter to rediscover that angels truly live among us.

I somehow still believe that there are too many dreams and not enough dreamers. The Christian faith is not just about ethics, discipline and doctrine: it is first and foremost a setting out – ‘come follow me’ – a terrific invitation, ‘an adventure which makes Gandalf’s invitation to the hobbits look very tame, indeed,’ as I remember the Dominican friar Timothy Radcliffe once saying. When we lose our sense of adventure, our wonder as we stand at the gates of life, and we give up on our struggle to find our home inside the meaning of life, there’s nowhere else to go.

The light halls of the hidden mountain

Sunday 24 January 2021, frosty cold, the air goddess’s parade

Craft is careful love. Unicorns are born out of love. Creation is loving madness. Dragons are fearless. In craft you retain your place as the maker. In creation you must become a redeemer to regain your place at the heart of your creation, because your art wants to deny you, even if it bears your name and fingerprints.

I once saw a wild boar jumping through the woods, and it was glorious.

Art comes into being when we interact with each other and ‘the other’, be it material or not. When I hold a book in my hands, I am comforted for lost time – somebody knew how to use their time. The imagined and the unremembered might be kinder than what we had to learn to remember. I must say, I’m in good company reading the first print issue – so stylish and fresh – of MONK, which I discovered recently – a real place devoted to the treasures of the spiritual imagination.

My painting is a process that keeps me beginning again and again. My painting process is in constant fluctuation and reliant upon curiosity. Sometimes I work too much on a painting – I don’t know when to stop – and it dies at my probing hands. But I feel that, overall, what I’m looking for is a kind of habitat – an ecology of space – of deep clay and mosses where life is born, and a place at the end of history, where nothing needs any justification or appraisal. I suppose it’s somehow all rooted in this instinct of natural violence against death, a necessity of being. Also, the personal experience of having lived in far too many places, none of which I could ever fully call home… Painting is home.

Monday 25 January 2021, snow, my beloved snow, a house of dancing water jewels 

I never think of art as being religious, neutral or against religion, theologically speaking. What passes as art, made in this world, springs from the very first act of creation, the process by which all things visible and invisible came into being. All art is deeply rooted in the force of life established long before what we have come to call organized society, religion or the art gallery. So I think I would hang Serrano’s ‘Piss Christ’ in a cathedral.

At its best, religion, like art, opens up the imagination only with its ‘undogmatic dogmas’. God is best explored in poetry. Sacred icons or more modern illustrations of the Salvation Story, in Christian terms, can still be part of the community of faith, as a means of encountering the divine. But art continues to find new ways to attend and adhere to the heart of things, without always serving an immediate or specific purpose, whether political, religious or personal.

Trying to express something of life, or God, that even the holiest of books struggle to capture is a coming closer to truth than we imagine. What I want from art is a sense of life so that, in the words of Jasper Johns, ‘the final statement has to be not a statement. It has to be what you can’t avoid. A sense of life.’

Wednesday 27 January 2021, relentless damp, slushy ground, one of those days

I keep looking for work, filling in forms, applying for jobs… Not much success, so far. I don’t have much to sell. And some questions are really embarrassing: ‘How would a good friend describe you? How would a penetrating critic describe you?’ Wow, really? I’m losing my sense of humour. Come on C of E, move on from these long-outdated psychological tricks, or whatever this is. I’m not the ideal candidate, but I work hard, and I need a job.

Sometimes priests can pursue alternative careers, but it’s not practical. I don’t know if I can be both a clergyman and a practicing artist. And I don’t know if time will tell, either. Will I eventually have to choose one over the other? I dropped a jar of elderberry jam on the kitchen floor today. Hard and cold. The fall of a civilization. Dark gold oozing over broken glass. The lucid words of Vincent van Gogh ring brutally painful in my head: ‘You can’t be at the pole and the equator at the same time. You must choose your own line, as I hope to do, and it will probably be colour…’

Chocolate theatre box

Thursday 28 January 2021, first full moon of the year

A painting is a place of stillness. Music will save us all. I speak of loss and return, how we heal over time, as if our heart is a circle, not a mountain with two peaks and a valley in the middle. When an image forms in my head, by some mysterious inner happenings, I have to pursue it, to ‘put it down’. And, of course, on paper, in words or paint, the result is always something else, and I can never make it sing.

I feel safe pushing deeper into a place of danger. I’ve learned to embrace the messy uncertainty of certain things and let it become something else, maybe something good, as it changes me in the process. Simply beautifying is not the solution. And there are no ‘conclusions’ in art, only places of rest and unrest. To arrive in a new, hopefully better place, start from somewhere different. Start by leaving behind the safety of the familiar.

Saturday 30 January 2021, put a diacritical mark on the last letter of my first name, please

Today I am no longer 35. The day is quiet and simple. I’ve only visited my sister’s grave once since her funeral in 2006. She’s gone into that banal sky above our hometown, as we once knew it together, where nothing spectacularly interesting seems to ever happen, but where a certain blinding daylight continues to feed my eyes and fill my sight with the view of a place where being and growing go on forever.

The poetics of paradox are there to save us from reductivism and intellectual self-destruction. Art invites us to go on asking the questions and struggling with the results, so that more questions may arise, and more responses are further explored. After all, what is art if not an adventure of ideas?

I am a priest, but I don’t know when or why I became an artist, and I don’t even know if I can be an artist. If I’ve learned anything it is that having a ‘purpose’ can be very deceiving. The direction of travel is important – the most important! Simply follow your joy. My direction of travel is clear and all I can hope for is grace. My work, my art, hasn’t got ups and downs, or ‘a moment’. It’s a life-long thing.

Visit to my sister’s grave

MARCH 2021 Petrică Bistran  MONK

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6 thoughts on “A Diary on the Margins of Things

  1. This is a most moving and thought provoking piece of work. I felt very emotional reading Petrica’s diary. I commend him for putting his innermost thoughts on paper and allowing us the privilege of sharing them.

    1. Thank you so much, Marie, for your kind words and commendation! I’m glad to hear that you found the diary thought provoking and even emotional. Life is beautifully complex!

  2. Thank you , Pertriča, for sharing your diary. I was thoroughly moved by your contemplation between life, devotion and art. You have given an insight of the conflict of connecting to one’s truth and the sacrifice of getting there. A beautiful meditation!

    1. That’s very kind of you, J Goldsworth! And thank so much you for your encouraging words! It’s not always easy to talk openly about our struggles, but begin honest and open, I think, can help a great deal finding a way through some of the difficulties of life, faith and art. Are you an artist?

  3. A beautiful, heartfelt, reflective essay of personal quests, hopes, dreams, set amidst the reality of living with in the current world we find ourselves in. It is both visually and orally inspiring in a touching, poignant, relevant, real way. The artwork is superb and stunning and I have enjoyed travelling through this period of time that gives way to a bonding, monumental, creative experience.

    1. Thank you so much, David, for your very generous and overwhelming comment and encouragement! I’m speechless… 🙂


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