While viewing Robert Puschautz’s “Madonna of the Roses,” Tyler residents may feel they have a clear symbol of their city’s connection to God’s plan.
In the painting — which is inspired by a work by William-Adolphe Bouguereau that bares the same name — red roses drawn from those in the Tyler Municipal Rose Garden spring up in full bloom from a bush that surrounds Mary and Jesus Christ.
The trees in the background are modeled from those created by American landscape painter George Inness, but might remind some of the piney woods of East Texas.
Because Puschautz, a Chicago native who now lives in Tyler, avoids using photographs to create his works, even Jesus Christ was drawn based on a model — in this case his neighbor’s sleeping baby.
“I had an idea of how I wanted the baby and then the baby would be in that position and then he would move and I’d be like ‘well, there goes that,” Puschautz said. “He ended up rolling into this position like this and that I was not intending and it ended up being perfect.
“When life changes on you, you adapt and you incorporate it into the work,” he added.
Since June of 2018, Puschautz, 30, has been creating sacred art for the Diocese of Tyler as the Stabat Mater Art Fellow of the St. Philip Institute of Catechesis and Evangelization.
“Sacred art is artwork that is intended to aid and supplement the liturgy,” he said. “It has to be based on the Bible or the lives of the saints, it’s got to be Christocentric, so it’s got to be about Jesus Christ in some form or another; and it has to encompass the entire mystery of Christ, or at least touch on the mystery of Christ.”
In his role, Pushchautz is responsible for creating eight to 10 works a year, although that can vary based on the size and scope of the project. Bishop Joseph Strickland, of Diocese of Tyler, assigns Puschautz projects.
Puschautz begins his process with research by reading theology, history and scripture, as well as finding sacred art created by the masters.
“My work is connected to this tradition of all visual art, so I don’t see myself as this sort of lone ranger, like kind of do-it-myself genius who has all the good ideas,” he said. “I think you can draw a lot from art history, and there’s this beautiful long tradition that you can draw from, people who have done things better than you.”
He will follow up his research with drawings, often using live models, mannequins and other paintings.
Once his paintings are completed, the bishop then chooses where the works go. Diocese of Tyler covers parishes in 33 counties.
Two works Puschautz is still painting that relate to the Sacred Heart likely will be sent to two of the diocese’s four Sacred Heart parishes upon completion.
Puschautz's “The Immaculate Conception” hangs inside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Tyler.
Luke Heintschel, director of communications at the St. Philip Institute, said having an in-house artist at the parish allows parishioners to feel a closer connection to the sacred art they see. He said Puschautz’s “Madonna of the Roses” was an example of a painting where people can easily relate the artwork to their own lives.
“People from Tyler can say, ‘This is our lady and the birth of Christ connected to my hometown,'” he said, later adding “I think that is a significant thing for the spiritual life of an individual is that this is not something that happened 2,000 years ago and thousands of miles away. The Catholic faith is something that’s real for me right now, right here.”
Heintschel added that Vatican II approves of the use of sacred art in parishes and that having someone who creates it for a diocese has become a bit of a rarity in the 21st century.
Puschautz said he hopes those who view his art are able to feel a spiritual connection.
“All I’m trying to do is take the gift of my faith, everything that I received from that, and point toward the mystery of God,” he said. “It’s always going to be insufficient, what I do. The reality is always greater.”