Beauty awakens the soul to act. Dante

Daniel Callis III: Saints & Clowns

 ArtWay Visual Meditation 5 March 2023

Daniel Callis III: Saints & Clowns

Traces of the Contemplative Way

by Elizabeth Khorey

Casting Nets Exhibition: The Art of Daniel Callis III

Viewing abstract art, and specifically Dan Callis’ collection of sculptures in Casting Nets called Saints & Clowns, seems a wordless experience of intimations, hints and glimpses, more felt then understood. As an invisible pulse of invocation, I quietly follow and move with it.

Dan’s work arrives like a symphonic annunciation, streaming ancient stories told in post-modern voice. A spectrum of full-bodied colors and patterns mingle with darker chords splashed across soaring flags and forms. I see tiny mirrors effervescent with eye-catching lure. I see blossoms, crosses, hooks, threads woven intimately by hand. All mementos as familiar as kin and yet, frontier as horizon. The three sublime sculptures stir with quirky presence that recollect long-ago credos and prophetic personages that help to ground my soul.

Saints & Clowns in their immediacy and eccentricity seem to resonate their name-sakes. Meandering wheeled icons advocate traces of the contemplative way. Brown-robed brother, archetypal crone, cloistered clown, contemporary wisdom sage may still have something to say in this age.

Poet Rainer Maria Rilke poetically penned of St Francis as ‘the clear one...the most inward and loving of all...with wonder and goodwill… and delight in the Earth.The poet called this sagely Friar a nightingale, a metaphoric symbol in classical Turkish poetry for a worshipper’s love for God. Callis’ St Francis towers in height as if to beseech the wind and the world to sing along with his nocturnal hymns of love and praise.

St Teresa (of Ávila, see image at the top) stands attentive, smaller in stature yet vast in soul. She showed the novice the labyrinth of interiority where Ineffable Love resides and opened eternality through prayer and vision. Callis’ caricature of her resembles satellite dishes and antennas on the roof tops of our ordinary castles.

The abstraction, flush with whimsicality, disarms us enough to decipher the unassuming solemnity of the silent witness as it stands. Abstraction garners fresh vision through metaphor and mimics to see what may be yet unseen. What new seeds of contemplation might be cast upon the soil of this age with just one cyclical breath-prayer uttered by Br Merton? Unitive love woven together with purer action just may dial down exaggerated distinctions while drawing out kinship; namely what we share in common. Merton’s own prayer adopted into our own breathing rhythms might expand this commonality:

Thou-in-Me / I-in-Thee / Thou-in-them / They-in-me

I am alone / Thou are alone / The Father and I are one.

Marked by ecstasies, stigmata and robed humility, by implication these wheeled icons seem to assert that as long as I remain muddled about the intrinsic holiness of all created things and detached from God in prayer, I abstract my own human flourishing and dwarf God’s fullest intentions for humanity.

Tacit in its witness, Callis’ art, like a skilled spiritual director, meets us, casts us in uncharted waters of contemplation and coaxes life wherever it may be sensed. Questions emerge to articulate the heart, curate a conversation, and launch a quest for ways the Eternal One might be at play on earth. With art that preaches alongside birds and holy fools, we gather bits of wisdom to shape a livable faith in God through prayer and weave into all our public spheres, embodied intonations of our dearest Lord Jesus’ love for the world.


Dan Callis III,

St Teresa, 29”x55”x29”, mixed media, 2019

St Francis, 36"x102"x36", mixed media, 2019

Br Merton, 28"x77"x28", mixed media, 2019

Daniel Callis is a Los Angeles, CA, USA, based artist and educator who works in a variety of media and visual traditions exploring the poetics of materials and process. His work is inspired by liturgy, theology, art history, literature and the observation of contemporary culture. In addition to his individual studio practice, Callis has collaborated extensively, including partnering with individuals with physical and developmental disabilities, a biologist in Baja, Mexico, a sociologist in Las Vegas, a theologian from Duke Divinity School (Durham, NC), a poet from Orange County California and a performance artist / puppeteer from Rhode Island. USA. His latest collaborations involve a rug artisan in Tetouan, Morocco and a multi-artist response to the music of American Composer, Morten Lauridsen. He currently teaches at Biola University (La Mirada, CA, USA), where he is a professor of drawing, painting and transdisciplinary studies. Web page:

Elizabeth Khorey is an Anglican Priest, teacher, spiritual director, creator and curator of sacred environments of worship gatherings and retreats. She lives in Southern California and is completing her doctorate in spiritual formation at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (South Hamilton, MA, USA).



ARTWAY – In the Art & Poetry section we posted five sculptures by Liviu Mocan with five poems by Jill Peláez Baumgaertner. See and read here

ARTWAY – In the Art & Music section we posted Sons of Korah’s song about Isaiah 53. They write: “We almost never diverge from the Psalms with our compositions but there was one part of the Bible that we could not resist. Isaiah 53, sometimes called ‘the servant song,’ is the perfect accompaniment to the psalms.” Watch and listen here 

ARTWAY – There are eleven Word and Image Bible studies on the ArtWay website. They are much used. During this Lent, take a look at the Bible study based on Matthew 21:1-11 and The Entry into Jerusalem by Giotto di Bondone. Read here

ARTWAY – This time with the correct link: materials for Lent and Easter you can find here.

CALVIN SEERVELD ON PLAYFULNESS – Kirby Laing Centre New Podcast Episode: Playfulness, Ageing, and Receiving God's 'Hugs' in Creation with Calvin Seerveld. “God wants us to be playful and have some really holy fun in God’s world.” In this episode we have a conversation with Calvin Seerveld who served as Professor Emeritus in Aesthetics at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto for many years. Now in his 93rd year of life, it was a privilege for us to hear his thoughts on a variety of subjects such as art, God’s call on us to be playful in creation, ageing, reading the Bible, and receiving and embracing the ‘hugs’ God gives his children through the creation. Listen here

HOW THE ARTS EXPAND OUR IMAGINATION – In this English L’Abri podcast author and professor Mary McCampbell discusses how the arts expand our imaginations and, in so doing, embolden our ability to love our neighbors as ourselves. Listen here

THE PROBLEM OF PAINTING CHRIST – Recording of Lecture, Vancouver School of Theology. The challenge of painting Christ is a uniquely complex one. How does one paint a figure who is fully human and fully divine in a meaningful way?  In this lecture, Dr. Chloë Reddaway explores some of the extra-ordinary artistic responses with which Italian painters in the Renaissance met this challenge, and takes a fresh look at well-known paintings of Christ, discovering how surprising and deeply ‘strange’ they can be. By confounding expectations and defamiliarising subject matter, the ambiguity and mystery of these paintings disturbs viewers’ expectations and reconnects them with the extraordinary mystery of the Incarnation. Listen here

THE LAST SUPPER BY DIRC BOUTS – New Video on The Last Supper by Dirc Bouts published in CODART Canon Video Series. In 1464 the Confraternity of the Holy Sacrament commissioned Bouts to paint a large altarpiece for their chapel in St Peter´s Church in Leuven. The painter used several new and ingenious techniques to engage the viewer in the story. This five-minute video shows how Bouts managed to depict the narrative of the Last Supper in an entirely new way and why this altarpiece was chosen as one of the hundred masterpieces of Dutch and Flemish art.

ARTIST RESIDENCY TO EXPLORE ECOLOGYThe Parsonage, a gallery run by Aaron Rosen, is proud to partner with Digital Printmaker to offer the only artist residency in Maine devoted to exploring ecology. Artists have the opportunity to spend two weeks in autumn or spring in Searsport, one of the most beautiful areas of the Maine coast. Applications for the spring and autumn session are due March 10 and July 1, respectively. Learn more + apply. 

MARY MAGDALENE: A VISUAL HISTORY – New book by Diane Apostolos-Cappadona. Publisher: Bloomsbury. From faithful apostle and seductress to feminist icon, Mary Magdalene's many complex roles in Christian history have fascinated us for 2000 years. Illustrated in full colour, this visual history reveals how images and presentations have created a Mary who is often far different from the real woman, the first witness of the Resurrection in the gospels, or even from her appearances in the works of the Church Fathers. Beginning with the earliest sources, uncover who the real Mary was, and what she meant in her own time, before embarking on a fast-paced tour of Magdalene's depictions in great works of art, forgotten masterpieces and contemporary visual culture.

THE PASSION IN ANCASTER - 2 March – 24 March, Redeemer Art Gallery, Redeemer University,  777 Garner Road East, Ancaster ON: The Passion. Through incorporations of painting, sculpture, video, digital print, drawing and collage, this exhibition brings together ten contemporary artists to reflect deeply on sections of the Biblical passion narratives. In tandem with Jesus’ suffering, their work repeatedly gives voice to human suffering in contemporary life. How does Jesus’ suffering meet our own? How might we be called to participate in Christ’s suffering? How does the cross become the marker of God’s solidarity with humanity in all that we go through, including abandonment, accusation, pain and death? The Passion fuels our own compassion and the understanding that, in unity of love, we suffer together. Mo – Fr, 8.30 – 16.30 h.

For more exhibitions, lectures, conferences etc., click here

ArtWay is a website with resources for congregations and individuals concerned about linking art and faith.


Other recent meditations:
- March 2023: Christopher Gonzales-Aden: The Holding
- February 2023: Andrei Mironov: Healing of the Blind Man
- February 2023: Rembrandt: Jeremiah Lamenting
- January 2023: Andrew Vessey: Canticle for Assisi

For more Visual Meditations, see under Artists