Utah’s governor made national news when, faced with a historic drought years in the making, dire predictions for the upcoming wildfire season and vastly depleted reservoirs, he asked his fellow citizens to pray for rain. (He did also urge land owners to let their yards and parking strips go yellow, and warned industrial and agricultural water users that they might face restrictions, but it was the supplication of divine favor that caught the national attention.) The rain was rather late in coming and when it arrived came in such a way that, in the future, we might want to be more specific in our pleas.
David Habben, illustrator, fine artist, professor, has issued his own call to prayer in an exhibition currently running at the 303 Gallery on the Brigham Young University campus. These Prayers We Offer features medium-sized works on paper in a style that has become characteristic of Habben’s fine art exhibitions — ink works made of large, varied, abstracted brushstrokes that, on sustained examination, become human forms: in this case prone, kneeling, sitting, walking figures — all in acts of prayer.
Habben says the series is “intended to bring a greater sense of awareness to our common concerns expressed in seeking connection with the divine.”
“I Hope For Many Things” may be a traditional starting point: the “figure” is in a classic position of head bowed, hands brought together in front of the chest. The relative passivity of the figure reflects the passivity and non-specificity of the title. More active is “Guide Me Home,” where liquidy legs move the figure along, one hand raised skyward, the other dropped behind as if pushing the past away. A similarly raised hand appears in “Show Me The Way,” where what we read as the face looks skyward, while the legs, shod in crisp, heeled shoes, stretch forward in an active, long gait — already moving, confident the way will be revealed. “My Tears Fall Unto Thee” is a wonderful example of the combination of techniques Habben has mastered in these works, from the seemingly effortless folded forms of the hair, to the double profile, in gray and black, to the white lines that flow across the figure and keep it from receding into flatness to to the crisp, stylized tears that drop from the supplicant’s face.
There is no prayer for rain at Gallery 303; but Habben’s “I am a Mess” might stand in for a recognition of our collective situation. Habben does include prayers for faith, prayers for comfort, prayers for understanding, the simple prayer of recognition of a confused soul — all of which express prayer as the common, individual search for understanding.
David Habben: These Prayers We Offer, Gallery 303, HFAC Building, Brigham Young University Campus, Provo, through Apr. 12
The founder of Artists of Utah and editor of its online magazine, 15 Bytes, Shawn Rossiter has undergraduate degrees in English, French and Italian Literature and studied Comparative Literature in graduate school before pursuing a career in art.