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Aldrich, Lynn - VM - Alexandra Davison

Lynn Aldrich: Discovery in a Tar Pit

Treasures in Darkness, Old and New

by Alexandra Jean Davison

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. 

Psalm 19:1 ESV

Throughout history mankind has looked to the stars in awe for guidance, meaning and transcendence. When medieval scholars studied the stars, they believed that the nature of the cosmos and all of life’s forms and essences held intrinsic meaning. The pursuit of astronomy was to better apprehend one’s purpose. The unity of experience and reason served the soul to better worship Creator God. Today the modern era’s philosophical revolution has largely replaced “the heavens” with “space” and scientists now prioritize utility rather than meaning. Yet artist Lynn Aldrich is exploring ancient ideas within new discoveries in the stars.

Lynn Aldrich is a contemporary American artist who chooses common, everyday objects and transforms their purpose to explore questions about life, humanity, and God. Her sculptures, installations, and wall art range between playful and serious conversations through the lens of her Christian faith. Rather than working with one material or art form in a classic series, Aldrich has spent the last 30 years grounding her artistic approach by returning to universal questions and themes.

All images in this meditation are part of one object of 22 x 58 x 58 inches, showing different holes with views of a medieval rose window. These views also play a striking reminder of the stars and galaxies in the heavens. In her description for Discovery in a Tar Pit, Aldrich states,

This sculpture is from a series of works inspired by Rose Windows, the round stone openings filled with stained glass in medieval cathedrals. They might be compared to our contemporary telescopic lenses focused on the cosmos, a quest for knowledge and understanding of creation and human relationship as to its meaning. In the heart of Los Angeles primeval tar bubbles to the surface – sites where archeologists dig deep to learn of our ancient past. It is made from tar felt layers, and deep inside, the viewer “discovers” the glowing remains of a Rose Window, painted on plastic sheets. Could it be that millennia from now the preserved ruins of a Rose Window might be unearthed in such a dark pit, telling us of an age when humans celebrated God as creator and sustainer of the universe?  

Aldrich developed the idea for Discovery in a Tar Pit in part from her work in 2008 when she collaborated with California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, CA, USA) astrophysicists, who obtained infrared images from the Spitzer Orbiting Telescope. The infrared telescope could see past the dust clouds to the stars beyond and obtained new information that did not exist previously. Because the images were infrared, scientists chose colors by reading the chemical elements, which resulted in the vibrant colors in Aldrich’s images. Aldrich’s work with Cal Tech resulted in a room-sized installation and exhibition in 2008 called ‘Pilgrimage through the Wormhole’.

Although Aldrich creates site-specific installations, she will re-use materials within a new framework, especially if she had other ideas and questions that her work prompted her to explore. She describes her approach as “a low-tech inventor to make discoveries,” as she explores, edits, and explains concepts and ideas that inspire her. Aldrich has often meditated on Matthew 13:52 that says, “And Jesus said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure new things and old.”’ Aldrich delights in the word given to Jesus’ disciples that we bring forth the kingdom of God in layers of old and new that reveal a deep accumulation of truth that is memorable, strong, and beautiful.

Aldrich discovered more layers for her work in the medieval stained glass Rose Windows in the monumental stone darkness of Chartres Cathedral. She states,

A circular Rose Window seemed like an oculus opening to rotating galaxies of color and reminded me of the splendor of contemporary galactic images from deep space…. I was contemplating some of the losses and harmful actions of both the ancient and contemporary Church. It is a kind of lamentation but still hints at sublime transcendence. As in other works from this series, the shapes of the Rose Window insets are conflated with the shapes of spinning suns and rotating galaxies.

Discovery in a Tar Pit was part of the Rose Window series in 2015, but she has since changed and added to the sculpture. One scripture that came to her when she worked on the piece was Psalm 103:4, “Who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.”

It is rare to view images of the heavens by looking down, but this physical posture requires us to slowly move around the work in a contemplative position. In today’s hurried culture when the night sky is largely eclipsed by artificial lights and dark sky sanctuaries are rare, perhaps we too need to bow our heads to glimpse treasures in darkness, old and new.


Lynn Aldrich: Discovery in a Tar Pit2021, tar felt sheets, acrylic sheets, oil point, enamel, lights, 22 x 58 x 58 inches. Courtesy of the artist, © Lynn Aldrich.

Lynn Aldrich is a Los Angeles, CA, USA, based artist who makes sculpture, wall constructions and installations, often using purchased consumer products. Her work is inspired by nature, art history, literature, theology, and the observation of contemporary culture. She has exhibited widely, with recent shows at Art Affairs gallery, Amsterdam, and DENK gallery, Los Angeles. Her works are in numerous notable collections such as MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art), Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Museum, the Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR, and the Calder Foundation, NYC. In 2014 she received a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Alexandra Jean Davison is the director for Culture Care, a ministry department of Artists in Christian Testimony International (A.C.T. Intl.,). Her Culture Care blog and work equips churches to show Christ in hospitable explorations in faith, imagination, and artistry. She received a M.Div in Apologetics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina. She then went on to receive a M.Litt in Theology, Imagination and the Arts at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland. She lives in Houston, Texas, USA. For more information, see

ArtWay Visual Meditation 6 June 2021