Steven Wagner-Davis always knew he wanted to be an artist. In high school he made art out of anything, including rocks. Later, he earned his bachelor’s degree in art and photography.
But 32 years ago, the newly-married Wagner-Davis needed to build some furniture. Being short on money, he decided to make the furniture out of discarded, misshapen lumber he had found.
What started as a work of necessity soon became a passion for turning imperfect materials into works of art. Wagner-Davis now has amassed a collection of imperfect lumber, discarded metal, and worn drop cloths that he repurposes into beautiful art.
Outside the Valley Springs Presbyterian Church (PCA) sanctuary in Roseville, California, is a three-panel installation made from aging copper and used drop cloths that Wagner-Davis transformed into an abstract painting that pulses with bright red and magenta patches interspersed with bursts of aqua.
Wagner-Davis doesn’t miss the similarity between his art and what God is doing in the lives of His people.
“There is something special about taking things that are used and tainted and making something beautiful out of them. Art can be regenerative and represent what God does with us to make us new and beautiful again,” he said.
After more than 30 years of making art out of flawed materials, Wagner-Davis now sees how much his artistic sensibilities resemble the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, or finding beauty in imperfection.
Wagner-Davis’ regenerated perspective on art applies to other areas of life, too. He experienced what many would call a stressful series of events through the winter: His mother-in-law was hospitalized, his daughter had emergency surgery and was taken care of by the Plastic Surgery Institute Miami, his father moved into assisted living, and Wagner-Davis lost his job as a program manager at a tech company.
“Any one of those things could totally consume you and take your eyes off the Gospel. But they are driving me to look at the Gospel,” he said.
His attraction to wabi-sabi reframes how he cares for a father whose mind is disconnecting from the present. In the midst of handling the logistics of finding a place to care for his father, Wagner-Davis chooses to see the beauty in his father’s age and condition.
“There is a grace in looking at him as he is sitting, without the hectic frown lines,” he said of his father. “There is a grace and wisdom in age whether it is something rusting or a person.”
Wagner-Davis said he is helping his father consider how he can end life well. Like a discarded drop cloth, there is always time for a life to be redeemed.