Artist Sue Kemnitz of Elko New Market used to work smaller. She often did little 8-by-8-inch watercolors. However, that changed when her former pastor, the Rev. Jon Russell of Plymouth Covenant Church, approached her about painting live during a service about five years ago.
"There was just something in it that I saw that seemed to me very spontaneous," he said of her work. "It just came from a different place."
She agreed, and while she admits it was nerve-racking at first, the process has changed the way she paints. "It was so big and different," she said. "That's what really led to larger canvasses and color."
Kemnitz's bold, vibrant pieces are currently on display at the Lakeville Area Arts Center through Jan. 30.
Kemnitz now does a live painting every couple of months. "I do feel like they are a form of intercession" or "releasing God over communities," she said. "It's my belief that we need more of God released over communities."
With only about an hour to paint, Kemnitz generally fingerpaints a scene using quick-drying acrylics. She often works on a canvas painted black, so that the dark background ends up outlining the scene.
"It's just amazing to watch it as it unfolds," said Laurie VanGelder, a fellow congregation member at NewDay Church of Elko New Market and New Prague, who owns several of Kemnitz's pieces. "It always just moves my heart. They are always just so joyful. They carry a lot of life. It touches other people in the room, too.
"Every time I've seen her paint in the context of worship," Russell said, "whatever she does seems to touch at least one person. I've never not seen that happen."
Kemnitz, also a graphic designer who designs banners for churches, cites her faith often when discussing her work. In one of the paintings, "Interlude," she incorporated harp strings. In another, she points out a feathery silver figure -- "a hidden angel," she said. Another, a realistic painting depicting children jumping, "has a lot of meaning to me," she said, "because that is how I think we should be worshipping: happy, joyful."
For many of her large, bold, abstract pieces, Kemnitz creates subtle texture using modeling paste and layers that with color. "It allows the colors underneath to shine through," she said. "I love working in layers and building in layers and feeling that depth. I want [the viewer] to feel that there is more."
In one of the pieces, Kemnitz pointed out cliff-like formations. When she painted it, she and her husband had been exploring land to purchase along the south shore of Lake Superior. Recently, they closed on a piece of property -- a bit of shoreline with a sea cave where they plan to build a small place with a studio.
"When I painted it, it was kind of pie-in-the-sky," she said. "What you focus on, with His blessing, will come to pass."
Always a person of faith, Kemnitz said she has been emboldened to talk about it more in recent years. When she was young, she said, "We went to church every week, but we didn't talk about it in between."
"He's gotten so much bad press over the years," she said, "I just want the world to know how outstandingly good He is."
Kemnitz dreams of eventually getting her work into hospitals. "I do think it brings light, and I do think it brings power, and I do think it brings healing," she said.
"That's not me. That's all the Lord."
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.