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Miraculous Metal

The Marian Art of Benjamin Wildflower

By Jillian Ewalt

Imagine: Holographic cards of smiling white Jesus. Camouflaged military-edition New Testaments. Plastic glow-in-the-dark bottles of holy water. These are the images of Christian material culture that Ben Wildflower conjures up when speaking about his own art. “I want to make something no less monstrous,” he says, “but more true.” 

For Wildflower, a printmaking class that started as a “throwaway elective” during his final semester of undergrad is now a part-time gig. The process of carving, cutting, inking and printing required him to slow down and ask more questions about the images: “Why carve away that bit there? Will it add to the piece? Once it’s carved away, it’s gone forever.”

During the day, the Philadelphia-based artist does physical work he enjoys and is a member of an AFL-CIO trade union. In his spare time, he makes prints that challenge traditional notions of soothing and pastoral Christian imagery.

Much of Wildflower’s unconventional religious imagery stems from how certain passages of Scripture are emphasized in some traditions but completely overlooked in others. He enjoys highlighting the theme of God’s contempt for wealth and love for the impoverished. 

“I don’t want to make images of some country club God,” he says, “as if everything Jesus ever said is some subtle metaphor for invisible truths that don’t pertain to the real world we live in.” 

In 2019, the Marian Library acquired three of Wildflower’s prints including “Mary 2018,” “Magnificat” and “Miraculous Metal.” In the library’s collection of over 15,000 pieces of the most-painted woman in history, Wildflower’s work adds a new dimension.

On Marian themes in his work

“Upon encountering Mary as the picture of the church, Mary as the archetypal Christian, bringing Christ into the world, weeping at the sight of his lynching, bearing witness to his resurrection and plotting a new world in light of the defeat of death and hell, I found a model Christian I could follow without having to pretend to be God,” he says. “I see Mary as a corrective to the white savior complex [...] She’s a real historical character who let God live in her.” He adds, simply, “Mary is who I want to be in the world.”

To see more of Benjamin Wildflower’s artwork, please visit his website at benwildflower.com.  
For more information about the Marian Library's art collection, please contact Jillian Ewalt at jewalt1@udayton.edu.

MORE ARTIST INTERVIEWS

This is part of a series of conversations with artists. Others include:


— Jillian Ewalt is an associate professor and librarian for visual resources in the Marian Library.

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