Odorifous: TJ Walsh

This is the first of Odorifous (ó · der · í · fuss) another new ongoing series at Strong Odors. Each week I’ll be posting an interview with an artist, illustrator, musician, explorer or some other type of person from a variety of interests/backgrounds that I find interesting in some way. Each individual will answer the same set of questions and I really look forward to seeing each person’s unique answers.

TJ Walsh is a Philadelphia designer who does most of his professional work for non-profit organizations. I discovered him on Twitter while searching for “art” and “faith” one day. His work stood out immediately. I love how his personal work in particular represents his faith and/or spiritual emotion without becoming religious/cliche/obvious.

I really appreciate his candor in the interview and I’m happy to kick this series off with his responses.

Tell us one of your favorite odors.

This is certainly an appropriate question for this site, isn’t it? For me the smell of rain and the time right before and right after it rains is a favorite of mine.

What is it about that particular smell?

This smell reminds me of life at its purest. Rain sustains, washes and cleanses, renews and even destroys. It’s a representation of Christ to me. Christ’s blood daily sustaining, washing, cleaning, renewing creation. To me the smell of rain is the smell of renewed life.

What experience makes you feel alive?

Of course, the experience of creating makes me feel alive. But more than that, feeling God’s presence and movement in my life and through my space makes me feel the most alive. It’s an experience—a feeling—that I seek everyday. If I’m aware and ask him to allow me to experience his movement daily, I’ll experience it for sure. And it’s a strong experience!

What fears do you have?

I think my fears are pretty much the same as any human, I would suspect. Actually, I am living my worst fear. The fear of being rejected by the one I love the most here on earth. I’m learning how to deal with that and move forward stronger than before. I fear whether or not I will ever love again. I fear hurting someone again. I fear being hurt again. I fear failure. I fear denial. But I know, while all of these fears are very real, God is with me. God loves me more than anyone ever could or ever will. And I’m learning that that is enough for me… …But even that is scary.

What have you learned about yourself over the past year?

What haven’t I learned over this past year?

This past year has quite possibly been the hardest year of my life so far. In September my marriage broke apart. I was thrown into my lowest of lows. A spiral to the bottom. In a way, death.

But God was there. Jesus was there. He’s beautiful.

It has been in and through this situation that I’ve learned more about God’s love, Jesus’ sacrifice and the Holy Spirit’s comfort than ever before. He has used people, art, creation, Scripture…anything and everything to bring me closer to himself.

I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone…but whatever experience it takes for a person like me to realize their brokenness and grow closer to becoming more like his image is a necessary one.

I’m still on a journey of healing. My wounds from this situation are still very open and raw. There are days when it seems I’ve regressed but Jesus never lets go. God is using the pain to make me stronger and more like him. Refined in the fire. Purer than ever.

The tone of my work has definitely shifted with this experience as well. I’ve had people look at a time line body of my work and ask me if I’ve recently experienced something in my life because there is (apparently) a noticeable shift in mood and tone in the past year.

Are you working on anything cool right now?

I recently finished a book that was published by the American Bible Society for Rob Beckley (PILLAR) and Provident Label Group (SONY Entertainment). The book Confessions is a companion book to PILLAR’s newest album, also titled Confessions. The book seeks to address some of the most common struggles that people go through and what God and his Scripture has to say about them. (You can learn more here and order a free copy of Confessions here) Rob Beckley approached me to do this book after receiving a copy of the book that I created for the Gospel Music Association/Dove Awards about a year ago called REFUGE.

I was also recently involved in creation/marketing and publishing of the American Bible Society’s newest Bible edition, The Poverty and Justice Bible. The Poverty and Justice Bible seeks to draw peoples attention to the issues of poverty and (in)justice and what God actually says and feels about them. This project was done along side the Bible Society’s partner World Vision. Many people (colleagues and friends) were involved in this project which included print, online and video components. My designs were incorporated across all of these mediums.

Along with all of the creative work that goes into these projects I’ve been personally painting and drawing a lot. My personal life has been in crisis this year and I’ve been turning to Scripture and then to the canvas to express what I’m feeling inside. This helps my professional work but more importantly helps me download some of the strong emotions I’m feeling to God and have a conversation with him about what I’m going through. It’s my therapy and my worship.

I’m extremely lucky that a lot of times my “professional” work intersects quite strongly with my “personal” work. They’re one in the same, really.

Do you find your creative work a spiritual experience? In what way?

The experience of creating a piece of art helps me to understand God better. When I’m creating, I’m experientially understanding God. The creative process is something that I share in common with God. It is a process that he went through and goes through in the creation of us and all we see and all that we don’t see. Creating is an act of worship and an act of solidarity between God and myself. I talk to God through my art. My art shows my feelings in some of their purest forms. Creating is the way I communicate with my creator the best.

What tunes have you been hooked on lately?

I’ve been listening a lot to the worship leading of Kim Walker-Smith and Chris Quilala. Really, anyone from Jesus Culture. I’ve also been listening to Broken Bells, Angelique Kidjo, Phil Wickham, The National, The Magnetic Fields, Tenth Avenue North, Philip Larue… this question might be the hardest.