A priest-painter who's "not afraid to push the envelope"

He’s attracting a lot of attention as he opens a new show near Boston.

From the Boston Globe:

John Frederick Arens is a cutting-edge artist.

His Allston studio is stuffed from floor to ceiling with paintings of every size. Stacks of small, colorful abstracts jostle for space in the shadow of a 6-foot blue mammoth. An unfinished sketch of a bodhisattva in prayer teeters on a leaning pile of seascapes. His newest series, scattered amongst the chaos, features oversized, colored-in interpretations of ancient European cave art.

“He’s not afraid to push the envelope,’’ longtime friend and studio neighbor Marilyn A. Lasek said of Arens. “He’s never satisfied, and he never gets in a rut. Sometimes you go to his studio and you wonder how many artists are using it, because there’s so many directions.’’

With that kind of reputation, Arens will have to forgive those who are surprised to learn that the avant-garde artiste with an interest in ancient and Eastern cultures is also a Catholic priest.

But Arens, who lives in Needham and is a teacher and chaplain at St. Sebastian’s School in his hometown, doesn’t see a conflict between two identities.

“Someone said, ‘You don’t paint a lot of religious paintings, you’re a priest,’ ’’ said Arens. “But, in fact, everything I paint is religious.’’

“Painting is a spiritual exercise,’’ Arens said. “If you believe in God, if you believe in the creation of all of it, and us as a part of it, that’s part of your experience when you go to a place, or see people. You’re experiencing that creative energy. And painting, in some ways, is trying to communicate that spiritual experience.’’

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