The Painted Soul

Michael Barfield, portrait

From my teenage years to the present, I have lived in the soul-shaping presence of the art and music of Michael Barfield, a.k.a. “the painted soul.” Michael’s creative expressions have given voice to my own journey.

Wherever I have lived, I have never been without art like his large, meticulously-colored pencil drawing which I call “morning tea.”

Michael Barfield, Morning Tea
Michael Barfield, “Morning Tea”

We have read countless books together through the years, from Lewis and Tolkien to Rookmaaker or Annie Dillard. Those discussions with Michael have been formative for my own thinking on art, music, literature, theology, and life.

Michael Barfield, Leonardo's Dilemma
Michael Barfield, “Leonardo’s Dilemma”

Works of Michael’s like “Leonardo’s Dilemma” and “Now a System So Advanced” have hung in the hallways of the History of Science Collections, and “Child’s Scarlet Christ” in my own office.

Michael Barfield, Now A System So Advanced
Michael Barfield, “Now A System So Advanced”

It seems somehow fitting that my favorite portrait of Steve Jobs appears in my office adjacent to one of Michael’s paintings, given that Michael and I were watching the 1984 Super Bowl together, drinking IBC root beer, when the famous Macintosh commercial aired. Technology and the arts has been a recurring conversation topic.

Michael Barfield, Child's Scarlet Christ
Michael Barfield, “Child’s Scarlet Christ”

As we were reading Erich Heller, The Disinherited Mind, Michael enlightened me about the artist’s challenge, in our fragmented age, of finding a common visual language capable of allowing the artist and the viewer to achieve a shared meaning in the experience of the work. Michael’s oeuvre constantly addresses this challenge through incorporation of motifs from the history of art.

Michael Barfield, Chorus from the Rock Michael Barfield, Chorus from the Rock
Michael Barfield, “Chorus from the Rock”

Michael’s art inspires me in ways similar to my other favorite painter, Georges Rouault.

Michael Barfield, two portraits
Michael Barfield, two portraits

Michael’s songs are an intricate form of musical poetry similar to that of his kindred musical spirit, Bruce Cockburn, to whom Michael introduced me back in the ’70’s.

Michael Barfield, guitar
Michael Barfield, at Kerry’s apartment long long ago

When Candace and I were married, Michael created the invitations and printed program and sang his song, Season Suite:

Michael Barfield, Owl

“Are you ready for the winter months ahead?
Are you ready for the stilling of all life?
When the first flake falls upon your hand can you look back
with a peaceful smile written on your face?
If you have this kind of confidence in mind,
no regrets in all your past?
That’s the kind of peace I find in him,
a season I know will always last.”
Michael Barfield, “Seasons Suite”

Through the years, Michael’s art has been a constant backdrop in our home. Countless visitors have had their pictures taken in front of the wolves or the owl.

Michael Barfield, Wolves Michael Barfield, Wolves

When I struggled for years to give birth to my dissertation, Michael listened attentively as my “resonator” throughout.

Since then, he regularly sends us doodles through the mail, including even a history of science pedagogical cartoon.

Michael Barfield, Mail doodle Michael Barfield, Madden doodle

To all who know him, Michael is a faithful friend, ever attentive and persevering in empathy and hope.

Michael Barfield, Old Faithful doodle

Earlier this year, Michael gave me permission to use six of his paintings as iconic signposts for my lectures in an online course:

  1. 2a. Thinking Theologically, “Owl”
  2. 9a. Dualism, “Leonardo’s Dilemma”
  3. 9b. Dilemmas of Design, “The Violin Maker”
  4. 10a. Natural Theology, “Child’s Scarlet Christ”
  5. 11a. Priest of Creation, “Now A System So Advanced”
  6. 11b. New Creation, “Chorus from the Rock”

Lectures take their point of departure from the paintings. Course lectures are also punctuated by musical interludes taken from some of Michael’s songs.

Now Michael has given me permission to share those songs here in this blog post. He is making these songs available for download at no cost. The songs presented here individually were originally conceived as album projects, with coordinated artwork and reflective essays.

  1. Season Suite
  2. Hold Onto You
    • This song portrays Michael (“A poet sings his song, it lingers on the wind…”), and his love for his wife Rhonda (“Let every step that they take, let every word they breathe, rise from their soul to draw close and hold onto you…”).
  3. Mourning Tea
    • One of Michael’s early songs, reminding me of characters painted by Georges Rouault.
  4. Bitter Wine
    • The mystery of the eucharist, as God calls us to enter into joy through suffering.
  5. Bride
    • Produced by Eric Barfield, Michael’s son.
  6. Broken Wings
  7. Carnival
    • Another “Rouault” song; I think of Rouault’s clowns.
  8. Raindrops
    • For those of us who love the rain…
  9. No Home
    • Night thoughts of a pilgrim with no home in this world.
  10. Eternal Dance
    • Glimpses of the eternal dance behind the daily grind.
  11. Sweet Mercy
    • Vignettes searching out the hidden presence of mercy, the mystery of mercy at work in the world.
  12. Photographs
    • Title song of one of Michael’s album art projects.
  13. Ashes to Dust
    • Written to process his parents’ passing only six weeks apart. Listen on Ash Wednesday.
  14. Stayed Up Late
    • What might tomorrow bring?
  15. Winter (Daybreak)
    • “Redeem the past in my remaining days…”
  16. Images in Ice
  17. Another Day in Paradise
  18. Bud
  19. Jesus Truck
  20. Mary
  21. Proverbs 3
    • A simple affirmation.
  22. Sometimes I Wonder
    • A confession of gratitude.
  23. Thank You Song
    • Another simple affirmation.
  24. Evening Prayer
    • A prayer not for escape but for transformation.
  25. Tomorrow
    • A song of longing and hope.

These paintings and songs are only a small subset of Michael’s creative compositions. Think of them as appetizers for his larger work. Digest them slowly, without haste, in appreciation. If you like them, or want more information, let him know: thepaintedsoul at gmail dot com. Or send him a tip for a coffee at his favorite coffeeshop, Picasso’s.

Michael Barfield, coffee shop

As for the larger coordinated media project, I’m hoping someday for an exhibition.

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