Erica Grimm-Vance


Outsider Art in an Age of Irony: Beauty, Terror and the Transcendent


What does it mean to pursue a depiction of the spiritual in an age of disbelief, given the amnesia of our culture of entertainment? Ironic disaffection is the prevailing tone of the day and the cult of superficial beauty and youth, fear of death and denial of suffering dominate popular culture. A trivialization of life pervades western culture. Irony, however, does not explain mystical experiences, and it is painfully insufficient in times of crisis. After Sept 11th, a Globe and Mail headline heralded the end of irony. It is in these moments of kairos, as the theologians call them, that we find a productive intersection between faith and art. Mystical traditions, in particular, try to understand and provide words for such experiences. Influenced by Simone Weil’s pairing of beauty and affliction, my visual work has, for 20 years, attempted to bear witness, in some small way, to these transformative moments.

Grounded by Incarnational theology, this slide illustrated lecture will discuss embodiment and materiality as a means of spiritual encounter. Beauty and affliction will be explored as vehicles of God’s grace and as one alternative to the ironic stance of western culture.

I will present artwork that images the human body and holds in tension the beauty of existence with the inevitable pain of existence. This work is not sentimental, or didactic, or utopian. It is work which is infused with faith, though it generally asks questions rather than answers them. These pieces tell the truth but tell it slant, and though many contain beauty, it is beauty on the edge of terror.


Erica Grimm-Vance is the External Coordinator for the Art dept. at Trinity Western University. She has Gallery representation across Canada, has had over 20 solo exhibitions and is in numerous private and public collections, including the Vatican Art Collection, Canada Council Art Bank and the Richmond Art Gallery. She was last year the Distinguished Nash Lecturer at the University of Regina, the first Prize recipient of the Imago National Juried Art Competition, was honored as the Distinguished Alumnae from the University of Regina and is currently working on a series of 16 larger than life size female saints, for Seabury Western Theological Seminary, Chicago, Il. Erica lives in Vancouver, with her husband Craig and children Daniel and Amadea.