Fresno Metropolitan Museum

Fresno, CA



An Uncommon Mission: Father Jerome Tupa and the California Missions

September 13, 1999 - November 19, 2000


Fresno Metropolitan Museum's exhibition "An Uncommon Mission: Father Jerome Tupa and the California Missions" features 21 large oil paintings and 39 watercolors, depicting in a powerful, contemporary style, California's historic Mission sites.

During the summer of 1997, Father Jerome Tupa - painter, professor of French, and a Benedictine priest from St. John's Abbey and the University of Collegeville, Minnesota (see biography below) -- was commissioned by Mervyn's California to interpret the States' twenty-one Franciscan Missions. More than any other exhibition on California Missions An Uncommon Mission gives visitors an unique look at an important element of California heritage, while reminding one of the need for their historic preservation.

Tupa's interpretation of the Missions is unique in that his paintings are neither illustrations nor historical or romantic recreations of a lost time. Instead, they are contemporary explorations of the architectural remnants of California's Spanish past by a painter who happens to be a Catholic priest. His oil paintings are dynamic representations with movement, striking color, and often abstract forms.


Jerome Tupa Biography

Jerome Tupa, a Benedictine monk, priest, professor of French and artist at St. John's Abbey/University in Collegeville, Minnesota, approaches each painting he does with a sense of wonder and adventure.

Born in Rollette, North Dakota in 1941, Tupa proclaims, "What pushes me on is that after I do a painting, I'm never quite sure that I can do another." Yet he does. His works have won international acclaim and have been displayed at the Librarie St. Severin and the Galerie des Pas Perdus, UNESCO in Paris; the Musee National de Jean Moulin in Bordeaux, the Pierre Colt Gallery in Nice; and at numerous galleries throughout the United States including the North Dakota Museum of Art in Grand Forks.

Recently, Tupa spent time in Athens and Rome, where he was inspired to create a series of drawings and watercolors called "Spiritscapes." During the summer of 1997, Tupa traveled among the various missions in California and created more than 21 watercolor paintings for the "Celebrating the State of California" bicentennial celebration. In his paintings, Tupa searches for visual ways to address spiritual ideas in a contemporary world. A central aim of his artistic expression is to stimulate a dialogue and challenge his audience through the rendering of contradictory and/or controversial ideas and imagery.

"Painting for me is part of the way of finding a balance between the ordered, sane, doctrinaire life of the monastery - where the underpinnings are actually liberating - and the need to express myself. In painting, I can be free with my feelings - with color, touch, feeling the tactility of the paint on my hands. Painting is a place to touch various parts of my psyche or other parts of my inner self that are not exposed in my daily life. Painting, like spirituality, is liberating. Both are expressions of one's distinct and deeper relationships with the world - and with God," said Tupa.

Tupa had an early interest in art, but it was not until the early 1970's, when he was working on his Doctorate in French Literature at the University of Paris, Sorbonne, that he began painting in earnest. He uses vivid colors to express joy, while his use of gold reflects the icons of the Middle Ages, when that color symbolized heaven.

Tupa feels that a piece of art should offer something unexpected; if it does not, it is lacking in strength. "A painting must stop a person and speak to him," he said. "It's a process of communication between the artist and the viewer." For Tupa, that communication is vital. "I need to get my fingers into paint," he exclaims. "I want to paint, I want to talk - if I didn't paint, I'd be breaking people's eardrums!"

"An Uncommon Mission: Father Jerome Tupa and the California Missions" travels to the San Diego Historical Society after the Fresno Metropolitan Museum exhibition, and opens in San Diego on December 1, 1999.

Text courtesy of Mervyn's California and Fresno Metropolitan Museum

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