Quality is the first norm for art, but its final norm is love and truth, the enriching of human life, the deepening of our vision.


Callis, Daniel - VM - Elizabeth Khorey

 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 Visual Meditation 5 March 2023