Monday, February 2, 2009

INRI

Since taking up painting several years ago I've given a lot of thought to the issue of religious subjects. And while I've painted a couple of stained glass window images, I didn't regard them as overtly religious images. Several times I contemplated images depicting some aspect of the nativity of Jesus, but none of my ideas proved truly resonant, and thus strong enough to inspire a painting. I especially didn't want to create an image of Jesus that could be compared in any way to the ridiculously idealized Christian imagery of Warner Sallman, whose paintings of Jesus because the most widely distributed images of Jesus in the United States in the 1940s and 50s. Indeed, just about any Christian imagery would prove problematic given my opinions on the more zealous factions of the faith. These views I've made clear on numerous other occasions in this website. As I said in March 2007:

So, where does this leave me, possessing a higgledy-piggledy spiritual DNA, a double helix of agnosticism, Southern Baptist childhood, Episcopal adulthood, casual flirtations with Buddhism and Quakerism, as well as a fascination with some of the more ascetic and insular religious sects, including the Hassidim and the Amish? . . . Complicating the matter, I also represent that segment of the liberal populace that thinks "fundamentalist Christians," particularly those who identify with the Republican party and have tried to manipulate its agenda through groups like the Christian Coalition, are America's answer to 1930s fascism. These people - and not Islamic-based terrorist cells - are the most dangerous group in this country . . . but nothing new, given our nation's long history of breeding religious extremists.

That having been said, in the end, I jumped straight to the crucifixion, aiming for a more gothic representation without going so far as to imitate some of the more graphically violent aspects of Christian imagery from the Iberian tradition. No blood-soaked forehead and bleeding wounds here! And as usual, I had to take that narrowly focused perspective that only provides a hint of the whole. To be honest, I couldn't have painted the entire crucifixion from head to toe, let alone include the thieves flanking Jesus. Nevertheless, I think it retains a strength - a pathos - while avoiding some of the more "kitsch" elements of Protestant iconography.

While some observers might interpret this painting as a reflection of my own faith, it does not represent a devotional exercise in the way the creator of a gilded icon sees his effort as a form of worship. It's more an experiment - a monochromatic exercise in my development as a painter. Moreover, I've never been comfortable painting the human form, especially in a portrait setting, and this image in many respects falls into that category. Technical details: Sepia watercolor with pen and ink, on 5" x 7" Fabriano hot-pressed paper. (And for those of you not familiar with the meaning of "INRI": Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum . . . Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.)

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2 comments:

Resin Wicker Furniture said...

There has to be something incredible about it.

One Wink at a Time said...

Thanks Brian, that INRI thing has been plaguing me since about Jr. Hi. Always meant to look it up and never did.