Chicagoland

David Lee Csicsko: Making the saints accessible today

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
January 23, 2019

David Lee Csicsko: Making the saints accessible today

Well-known Chicago artist and lifelong Catholic David Lee Csicsko creates happy images of saints. With their bright colors, cheery round faces and objects relevant to the saints’ lives, such as roses for St. Therese of Lisieux, his images could be considered modern-day iconography.
Photo provided by David Lee Csicsko
Photo provided by David Lee Csicsko
Photo provided by David Lee Csicsko
Photo provided by David Lee Csicsko
David Lee Csicsko’s stained-glass window of St. Benedict the African at the church at 340 W. 66th St. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
David Lee Csicsko’s window featuring Sister Thea Bowman and Rosa Parks as seen in the vestibule at St. Benedict the African Church, 340 W. 66th St. He designed several windows for the church. See more photos at chicagocatholic.com/photos. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cardinal Cupich and Father Jack Wall of Catholic Extension laugh with Pope Francis at the Vatican Sept. 2, 2015, after showing him Flat Francis. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Well-known Chicago artist and lifelong Catholic David Lee Csicsko creates happy images of saints. With their bright colors, cheery round faces and objects relevant to the saints’ lives, such as roses for St. Therese of Lisieux, his images could be considered modern-day iconography.

“It’s hard to be respected when you say, ‘This is happy work,’ because no one gives happiness any credit. But it is,” Csicsko said. “It is work that was intended to just delight you and take you back to thinking about saints.” 

His saints are on display now through June at the Loyola University Museum of Art, 820 N. Michigan Ave.

Csicsko’s body of work also includes designing Christmas decorations for the White House in 2012, the stained glass windows in the chapel at the Lurie Children’s Hospital, seasonal bags for Mariano’s grocery store and mosaics at the Belmont El stop.

He also designed the Flat Francis image that Catholic Extension used in a social media campaign to welcome the pope to the United States in 2015.

In the archdiocese, Csicsko has designed windows for the parishes of St. Benedict the African, 340 W. 66th St., and St. Ailbe, 9015 S. Harper Ave. The latter is now the worship site for St. Katharine Drexel Parish, under Renew My Church.

He says he would enjoy doing more commissions for churches.

“I’ve kind of become the guy who is the bridge to bring communities together, which is a nice thing to do,” Csicsko said, recalling his commission designing stations of the cross for St. Nicholas Parish in Evanston, which wanted to reflect its Hispanic, Haitian and Caucasian parishioners in the stations. “It becomes a vocation.”

Included in the LUMA exhibition are images of the saints Csicsko did in the 1990s in black and white. At that time, he created his own “saint” for those with dyslexia.

“I was very aware of the fact that there’s a patron saint for everything. I’m dyslexic and I should have my own helper because that’s what you do with the saints, you call on them for assistance,” he said.

In his latest LUMA exhibition, he wanted to have both his work from the 1990s and today displayed together, “sort of class portraits.”

“The earlier pieces were really asking questions about saints’ behavior and what makes them interesting, what makes them compelling,” he said.

Gesturing to the new series during a recent interview at the museum, Csicsko said, “This is about looking at what’s joyful, what’s peaceful … I feel like we live in very dark times now. We need to see things that bring us joy. It’s important.”

He also wants to make saints relevant to today.

“I’m trying to keep all of this going because it’s very easy, especially in the world we live in now if someone doesn’t understand the reference you’re just out of the picture,” he said. “This is a way to make these saints feel new and fresh.”

He enjoys learning about the saints.

“It’s just something I like knowing about. For me, on St. Christopher, I was trying to think about how I could do a fun image of St. Christopher,” Csicsko said. “I thought, well basically, today he would be the patron saint of lifeguards, and I thought, ‘Let’s make him a lifeguard.’”

The saints are also useful to the church.

“The thing that’s funny about the saints is that they’re a marketing tool for the church. It really is. It’s just keeping the church active in your daily life,” he said. “All of the pictures have, hopefully, accessible symbolism so you can figure out who it is.”

“I love his work. We’ve been getting a great reception to his work,” said Natasha Ritsma, curator for LUMA. “I think his work is very accessible and playful and connects really nicely with the mission of the museum and the mission of the university.”

This latest round of saints came together in less than a year.

“I just felt passionate about it again,” Csicsko said. “I think part of it is just out of the odd times that we live in now where you just feel like everyone is so angry, everyone is complaining constantly, it just made me dig into it.”

For information about the exhibition, visit luc.edu/luma.

Topics:

  • saints
  • art

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