An area of storytelling that I know very limited amount about is the realm of painting. In my experience, it seems like a hefty task to be able to depict the meaning behind most paintings, at least when an untrained eye is gazing upon it. The collaboration between painting and faith can be extensively difficult because depicting with words is already difficult, but the purpose of life through colors on a canvas is simply a task that I cannot wrap my mind around. Luckily for us, we have people such as Makoto Fujimura to do just that, depict the foundation of our life, the four gospels, in the form of paintings.
A quick background is in order before we dive into his work called “The Four Gospel Frontispieces”. Fujimura’s style is a fusion between fine arts and abstract expressionism, combined with the Nihonga, the traditional Japanese art, and Kacho-ga, or bird-and-flower painting tradition. In 2014, Fujimura was awarded the ‘2014 Religion and the Arts’ award, an award given to artist, performer, critic, curator, or scholar that has made significant contributions to the understanding of the relationship between art and religion. To summarize, he is exactly the type of storyteller/artist that A Short Story hopes to highlight through this blog.
Contrary to what the title of this series of paintings might portray, there are actually five paintings in the series. The titles are:
– Charis-Kairos (The Tears of Christ)
Charis (Grace) Kairos (Time), takes the methods I developed for my Soliloquiesseries which exhibited my large scale works with Modernist master Georges Rouault’s paintings. Taking Rouault’s indelible images as a cue, I decided to start with a dark background, to illumine the darkness with prismatic colors. I write in the introduction to the Four Gospels‘ project by Crossway:
“I painted the five large-scale images that illuminate this volume, The Four Holy Gospels, using water-based Nihonga materials (Japanese style painting), with my focus on the tears of Christ (John 11) – tears shed for the atrocities of the past century and for our present darkness.”
– Matthew – Consider the Lilies
“Consider the Lilies is done with over sixty layers of finely pulverizes precious minerals (azurite and malachite), oyster shell white, and painted with sumi ink that has been cured for over a century, as well as gold and platinum powders, mixed with Hide glue (Japanese Sanzenbon, which is no longer being made), to adhere the minerals onto a hand-pulled Japanese paper. The painting depicts Easter lilies, with triumvirate flowers opening up, but with the suggestion that even these common lilies are transformed into a post-Resurrection, generative reality.”
“Water Flames series depict the way in which flames not only consumes, but ultimately sanctify. These works recall the visual language of the apocalyptic, moody paintings of the American artist Mark Rothko (1903-1970) – using Japanese vermillion, gold, platinum powders and cochineal (made from India’s dye made from an cochineal insect). The work moves our gaze upward, even as we stand in the ever-expanding Ground Zero conditions of the world.”
– Luke – Prodigal God
in Luke 15, is taken’s from my pastor Timothy Keller’s book, Prodigal God. The visual complexity of the work depicts my own inner struggle between legalism of religion (the elder brother) and the “recklessly spendthrift” nature of the Father’s love in the story. In the art world and culture in which we celebrate the wayward, but not having the language to bring the lost (myself included at times) back home, these series of works probe deeply into the tension that exist within my heart to love deeply – in spite of the legalism and the waywardness that prevails in the wider culture.”
– John – In the Beginning
“This work visually echoes the “Charis-Kairos” cover piece in the same way that the beginning of the Gospel of John echoes the beginning of Genesis. The first chapter of the Gospel of John speaks not only about the origin of all creation in Jesus, but also about the mystery behind creation. Art needs to inhabit such mysteries – to open us up to the generative reality of the deeper questions that lie behind our questions.”
Due to my lack of knowledge, I am not going to even attempt to break down these masterpieces created by Makoto Fujimura, but I will ask that you may recognize the bridge that Fujimura is attempting to gap with his artwork. Art is all about interpretation, and these pieces of art are full of it, whether you are consciously or subconsciously thinking about them. Fujimura has loads to say outside the realm of his paintings, so be sure to check out what he has to say.
Continue searching for the beauty and glory in all things. Art is transformative and just like our creator, we are supposed to be creating. To seperate art and religion is to say we do not resemble the creative qualities of God. Keep creating, keep telling stories, keep seeking our deeper purposed within this grand narrative.