1. I loved this article and the work is lovely…thank you.

    1. Thank you for this article – most inspiring. Please may the BRITISH ASSOCIATION OF ICONOGRAPHERS” include 3 samples of Julia’s work in their Review plus the last paragraph of her interview as this would inspire readers and members of the Association in their icon painting. We would give full acknowledgement as to where this is taken from and may even lead others to subscribe to your valuable web-site.
      Look forward to hearing from you.
      Commending our Association to your prayer.

      Sister Esther

      1. Sister Esther, I don’t mind if you use three icons and the last paragraph, if you don’t mind including a link to my website http://www.ikonographics.net.

  2. […] For the last few years our daughter Julia Bridget Hayes has been an ikonographer living in Athens, Greece. Now she has been interviewed by the Orthodox Arts Journal, and explains in her own words how she came to be an ikonographer, and what her work is like An Interview with Iconographer Julia Bridget Hayes – Orthodox Arts Journal: […]

  3. Hierodeacon Parthenios

    Relevant to the questions being raised in the very last paragraph of the interview:

    “We have, therefore, to run counter to mass prejudice, and we must make the holy journey to the heart of the sacred symbols. And we must certainly not disdain them, for they are the descendants and bear the mark of the divine stamps. They are the manifest images of unspeakable and marvelous sights.”

    — St Dionysios the Areopagite, Letter 9, To Titus the Hierarch

    1. Julia

      Forgive me for the delay in responding. I’m very ill at the moment. I will respond when I’m able.

    2. Julia Hayes

      We have to be very careful of applying quotes of Areopagite writings (and other Fathers) that mention “image” and “symbol” to the to the icon, especially when as in the case of this quote he is not talking about icons. To make matters more confusing is the fact that the fathers often use the word “symbol” when they are talking about “signs” and there is a huge difference between the two. A symbol is univocal and refers directly and uniquely to the other object revealing what it is is essence. The bread and wine of the Holy Eucharist are a symbol of the Body and Blood of Christ in that they truly are the Body and Blood of Christ. The Cross on the other hand is a sign. It doesn’t have a univocal meaning but means different things to different people in different circumstances. For the Christian it signifies Christ’s crucifixion, for a non Christian is may just be a decoration. And even if a Christian sees a cross in the context of a maths equation he knows that it is a plus sign and not the Cross of Christ. If we say, for example, that Christ’s red tunic symbolises divinity then red can only be used in that context and no other person (or thing) can be depicted wearing red. The notion of colour symbolism is a western phenomenon that has unfortunately infiltrated into the modern “theology” of the icon. It is completely foreign and contrary to the patristic and Byzantine understanding of the icon. And let us not forget that the 82nd canon of the council of Trullo forbade symbolism.

      If we want to understand the Orthodox theology of the icon and the rationale behind the byzantine manner of painting the starting point and criterion has to be the Fathers and Councils who defended and defined what the icon is and the iconography that developed in the period after the iconoclastic controversy. Anything that comes before or after has to be in agreement with them to be Orthodox.

      Unfortunately today the “theology” of the icon that dominates in the Orthodox Church is based on a Western understanding of what an image is and how it functions and even the writings of the Fathers are mistakenly interpreted based on these assumptions. Ironically it is based on the same neo-platonic foundation that the iconoclasts used against the icon. The Areopagite writings were highly influential on the Western aesthetics and understanding of the image, but not on the Orthodox understanding of the icon. In the West the image is not a thing in itself but a medium that conveys meanings, ideas, feelings etc it is a symbol that reveals the essence. It answers the question, “What does it mean? This is the complete opposite of the Patristic/Byzantine understanding of the icon. The icon quite simply *shows* the external form of the person depicted. It does not reveal his sanctity, his transfiguration or some otherworldly reality. It simply shows (but does not describe) the person. When a byzantine saw an icon he wouldn’t ask “what does it mean?” but “who is it?”, “what is it?”. It is Christ, it is Peter, it is the nativity. This blunt reality of the byzantine icon is very difficult if not almost impossible for western minds to comprehend so they keep trying to create hidden layers of meaning that aren’t there.

      The modern theology of the icon was created in opposition to western art but is founded on the neoplatonic and romantic assumptions of Western art . The Byzantine icon did not develop in opposition to Western art, and therefore needs to be understood in its own terms.

      1. Julia, first I want to say that I appreciate your work very much, your icons are beautiful and lively and there is much warmth in the execution. I was happy to see them and read your interview for OAJ. I have to say though that a few of your pronouncements, especially those regarding Ouspenski and Kontoglou and this last comment to the quote by St Dionysios the Areopagite are difficult for some of us to understand.

        The distinctions you make between concepts like “sign” and “symbol” seem difficult to follow and I struggle to understand where you get them from, especially when you say that one means the other in the Fathers at certain places that seem to disagree with your point. It seems also when you attribute an arbitrary or relativistic meaning to a cross rather than what you call ‘univocity’ that such an interpretation does not hold. A cross always has the same meaning at its base which is its very form, that is a union of a vertical and a horizontal line forming a central point, all subsequent meanings derive from this. In Christianity, the fullness of this symbol was revealed, that is the union of heaven and earth through the death of the incarnate Logos.

        In my own research, I have found that the Byzantines were in fact quite interested in meaning and they even believed the material used to create an object participated in its meaning. I have written an article in which I quote many Byzantine poets relating the meaning of steatite which they called the “spotless stone” to icons of the Mother of God. There are also poems where the green color of the stone is used to make elaborate references to the Mother of God as a meadow out of which plants grow.

        It is difficult to understand what you mean when stating that icons only “show” the external form of a saint and do not reveal the sanctity or do not have meaning in them. It seems like the iconographic convention of the halo is there precisely to show the holiness of the person depicted. And there are so many iconographic conventions that obviously have meaning, especially when we are aware that they are not simply a showing of a person or an event. For example, Christ never wore a Roman clavus. He or the Apostles didn’t carry a book or a scroll with them. Martyrs never walked around with crosses in their hands. It seems even more difficult to say that festal icons don’t have meaning and are just a “showing” of an event. I am certain the Byzantines knew that St-Paul was not at the Ascension or Pentecost or that there was not an old bearded man with a crown in the door during Pentecost. These inclusions in icons not only produce a “what?” but also produce a “why?”. Why is St-Paul in those icons? Why does Cosmos have scrolls in a cloth? It seems normal that the Byzantines didn’t go about “explaining” icons the way we do simply because they knew what they meant, it was the internal language of their culture. They knew it in a very deep, implicit and possibly non-discursive way, the same way we don’t have to explain a hand-shake or a necktie or an emoji icon because these are internal parts of our own culture. We just use them without asking questions. But to say that a hand-shake or an emoji “have no meaning” does not seem reasonable.

        Everything in Creation has meaning, has a “logos”, has a reason for its existence or else it would not exist. This this is my reading of St-Maximos… It is possible that that the “reason” is implicit or unknown, or some people may even give erroneous or limited explanations of that meaning does, but this does not imply that meaning is not there.

        Of course we both agree that Byzantine icon did not develop in opposition to Western art. Yet despite this, we do live in the context of Western art and so we cannot pretend to live in 8th century Constantinople. That is we can agree with the Fathers of the icons and also see that other formulations can be added when the need arises. Orthodoxy did not develop in opposition to Arianism, to Nestorianism, to Iconoclasm or any other challenge to itself, but once that challenge happened it had to explicitly answer it and that answer became an integral part of its external definitions. That is what “modern theology of icons” does, it answers the challenge of western/modern visions of art which viewed icons as primitive and naïvely misunderstood reproductions of visual reality. Because Western art has been so pervasive since the 17th century, The visual and iconological cues of icons are no longer the internal language of our culture. To approach them today, we NEED to start by attempting to point to their meanings, defend their style, their pictorial rules. Do we do it perfectly? No. Can we be corrected? Yes. Are there a large number of silly things said in the process? Certainly. It seems that attempting to brush modern theology of icons aside for a “pure” rediscovery of so called Patristic understanding is impossible and is rather akin to Evangelicals who ignore their own innovations with a call to Biblical purity.

        I understand you want to emphasize “encounter”, a direct experience of a person through their image, I get it and there is definitely value in such an approach. Icons include this element. But what is difficult is that your point is formulated on an attack on meaning in icons, and this shows that once again we are opposing phenomenological approach of the icon to a structuralism approach (two modern visions of epistemology). We are playing out the same meaning war that has plagued the modern world for the last centuries. And in the end this is what is most difficult, that what could be a worthwhile emphasis on some particular aspects of the icon ends up creating heated resistance by the need oppose it to others.

  4. Helen Couvaras

    Such exquisite work – a most interesting interview.

  5. John Curran

    Try as I might, I cannot mix any color approaching the blue you obtain using only black and white. Are there particular black and white pigments you use and recommend?

    Thank you for your help, and for sharing your incredible work!


    1. Julia Hayes

      John, the black and white will only appear as blue in contrast with warm tones. If you just mix black and white on a white background, it will appear grey, but once you start painting the warmer tones, it will appear blue! It’s like magic! It should work with any black, but I use iron oxide black.

  6. […] An Interview With Iconographer Julia Bridget Hayes […]

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