Exploring the Sacred
Beholding the Sacred
Brutalism in Fullerton, CA
Saint Mary’s Church, Fullerton
A sculpture of Mary blesses travelers heading East on Commonwealth Avenue. She’s set high on the exterior wall of the church bearing her namesake. She’s an imposing figure. Bold and ascending. Her arms are outstretched in blessing, surrender, and beckoning all at once.
This modern interpretation of Mary and the stations of the cross inside St. Mary’s are the work of artist Enrique de la Vega, a long time Angelino now residing in Arizona. He was a prolific artist with commissions throughout the South West. (One of my favorite statues of Saint Francis of Assisi, also by him, hangs on an exterior wall at St. Simon and Jude in Huntington Beach).
The church and its artistic installments are prime examples of Brutalism, popular from the 1950s to mid-1970s. It's a severe departure from classic art and architecture or the more tamed general mid-century aesthetic. Brutalism packs emotional baggage: blocky, soaring concrete sets the tone for an edgy and intense art experience.
Specifically, Brutalism departs from the hard outlines of classical sculpture and creates a synthesis of opacity and transparency, of volume and void, of ethereal and worldly. Modern sculpture, along with all modern art of the nineteenth century is the result of Western society’s attempt to come to terms with the burgeoning urban, industrial and secular society.
The sculpture of Mary, for instance, is imposing and bold. The details of the folds make her appear much lighter than she is. She has the features of a woman of color and seems to be ascending, but the delicate features of her face keep her grounded and approachable. She appears to emerge from a cocoon, perhaps to denote the transformation she experienced in her life as God's plan unfolded.
The Stations of the Cross inside the church, are much more stylized and beg the viewer to stop and look. They are rough, industrialized, and uncomfortable to witness. Their composition and the subject they portray is a marriage of opposites; finished and unfinished, pain and life, industry and reflection. Nonetheless, a tender host for our contemplation.
At one time there was a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe inside the church. She was taken down during one of the renovations.
Large stained glass panels throughout the church soften the building's powerful physique.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles constructed St. Mary's Church in 1971, in the middle of architectural and artistic experimentation in sacred architecture and art.
The church has undergone several enhancements through the years, including an imposing Byzantine-style icon depicting the Ascension that spans the height of the sanctuary wall, and a second icon depicting the Annunciation flanking the tabernacle. Both icons were written by Fr. Ricardo Garcia, OAR.
St. Mary's Catholic Church is located at
400 W Commonwealth Ave,
Fullerton, CA 92832