The Rev. Jerome Tupa’s colorful paintings attract an appreciative crowd, often enthralled by his self-described “sensual” creations that reflect a passionate artist.
The 75-year-old’s artworks are on display at St. Benedict’s Monastery’s Whitby Gift Shop in St. Joseph through the end of June.
“One of the things that I like about his landscapes are that they are kind of whimsical,” said Robert Anderson, a Sartell High School teacher. “The bright colors tap into some kind of playfulness, with this idea of space and color and motion.”
The pastor of the Church of St. Joseph is no stranger to the spotlight. Tupa’s A Journey to Rome was on display at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C., and Tupa was even featured on CBS Sunday Morning in 2003.
“Even though I’ve never been to any of these places, unfortunately, these paintings of his certainly make me want to go,” said Anderson, who graduated from St. John’s University in 1993 while his wife graduated from the College of St. Benedict in 1994.
Tupa, a St. John’s Abbey monk “approaches each painting he does with a sense of wonder and adventure,” according to the gallery’s spring show organizers.
“What pushes me on is that after I do a painting, I’m never quite sure that I can do another,” said Tupa, a Benedictine chasing his dream as a painter. “People do what they have to do, to get it done. If you don’t make the time, nothing will ever happen.”
It was not until the early 1970s when Tupa was working on his doctorate in French literature at the University of Paris that he began painting in earnest, even though he had an early interest in art, according to officials at the Whitby Gift Shop and Gallery.
“I think a lot of inspiration came from that period while I was in France,” said Tupa, whose series Feu D’artifice was hung at the Parisian headquarters of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The Road to Rome, a series of paintings and watercolors by Tupa, was featured on the long-running program CBS Sunday Morning — more than 50 paintings that retrace the steps of pilgrims on their way to Rome to pay tribute to apostles Peter and Paul.
“The importance of art for our world is it shines light on something that perhaps others would not notice,” said Tupa, who has worked out of a studio at the monastery’s carpenter shop.
Tupa uses vivid colors in his art — some of which take up entire walls — to express joy and uses words like “intimate” and “pure” to describe his creations, which often include the use of circular motion and bending buildings to keep things interesting.
“Painting, like spirituality, is liberating,” he told Whitby officials, who shared his views with the gallery/gift shop crowd at the May 7 reception. “Both are expressions of one’s distinct and deeper relationships with the world — and with God.”
The Vatican has funded some of Tupa’s work, which can earn up to $30,000 for each painting, with the proceeds benefiting the central Minnesota monastery. Target Department stores has also subsidized much of his more recent work.
“As I’ve gotten older, I feel you find the time if you feel like you want to express yourself,” said Tupa, who has won international acclaim in numerous galleries throughout the United States, in Europe and the Middle East.
After his doctorate in France, Tupa returned to St. John’s in Collegeville where he taught the Romance language to university students for more than three decades.
“He’s always been such a kind-hearted man — very humble. He was kind of a big presence on campus when I was in school at St. John’s,” said Anderson, who often corrects his students’ papers at The Local Blend, a coffee shop in St. Joseph.
“I oftentimes see him walking around the community with his old dog. … I think that’s one of the interesting things about all of the monastics here and that is they are separate in some ways but also very much a part of the community.”
The Whitby Gift Shop at St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph is open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 1 p.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
“One of the things I try to tell my students at Sartell High School is that we are really fortunate that we have such a rich art community in St. Cloud, and I think sometimes people don’t realize that,” Anderson said.
For more information about Tupa’s exhibit, which is on display until June 30, call the Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict at (320) 363-7113 or visit www.sbm.osb.org. To contact the artist, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.