Some of Joe Colonga's work on view at Santa Barbara Art Works | Photo: Courtesy

Inspired by a lifelong love of his Christian faith and music, artist Joe Colunga translates sound into something physical with his new exhibition, Blessed Assurance, which opened July 6 at Santa Barbara Art Works.

Fanny Crosby’s hymns are at the core of Colunga’s pieces. She wrote more than 8,000 hymns over the course of her lifetime at the turn of the 20th century. Just like Colunga, Crosby was also blind.

“I heard about these Christian hymns that made me feel really good inside and made me want to turn them into art,” Colunga said.

Joe Colonga with his work | Photo: Courtesy

Colunga has been at Art Works since it opened five years ago as a space for artists with disabilities to create, exhibit, and sell their work. He’s experimented with just about every medium that could be done tactilely, including ceramics, papier-mâché, armature wire, and painting. Blessed Assurance is an amalgamation of many of the skills he’s honed over the years, mixing sculpture, painting, Braille, and collage to represent biblical stories.

Unlike typical art galleries, visitors are strongly encouraged to touch the pieces, as Colunga worked with his sense of touch to create everything.

His favorite piece is a self-portrait, titled “Praise Him Praise Him.” Colunga represents himself as a paper-covered sculpture holding a wire cane. His figure stands atop a road made from ticket stubs representing Jesus’s path to redemption.

“To me, these statements which are biblically based can give me the assurance that as a believer I will be able to one day see Jesus in heaven as the first thing I visually see with my eyes,” Colunga wrote in his artist statement.

Art Works studio manager Jacob Allio has gotten to know Colunga since the program began and helped him develop his exhibition over the course of the past year.

“His art’s developed a lot…. It’s fun to see it all come together,” Allio said. “It is a process to start somewhere and then finish somewhere else.”

Colunga’s dedication ended up being worth it. On the opening night, he had already sold a few of his pieces and welcomed many visitors who praised his work.

“Oh my gosh, it feels great!” he said of getting to finally showcase his work. “I knew … it would be a lot of fun [to create], and I knew it’d be time-consuming but yet worthy of my time.”

Colunga’s pieces will remain on display and available for purchase at Art Works until September 1.


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