This all started when my late wife showed me an article in the newspaper about a contest that the National Catholic Reporter was having to depict Jesus in the 21st century. Their argument was that, in the history of art, there have been many depictions of Christ yet most are western men with beards. It was time for a contest to challenge artists around the world to create an image of Jesus from the viewpoint of the new millennium.
I pondered the idea for a while, thinking of classical artists and all that they had available to create their visions of a higher being. What makes man spiritually different in this new millennium, that those who came before could not possibly conceive? Well, one could go on about the technological wonders that we have achieved: airplanes, ships, computers, machines, etc; but these things have appeared on the scene in only the last 300 years or so. We are talking about 1000 years! And surely there will be things that are invented past our time which will make our generations' achievements seem primitive in retrospect. Anyway, would a painting of Jesus working on a laptop really be an image that would inspire one to believe in something greater?
I suddenly realized that this was not going to be an easy task, but the concept challenged me to find an answer. As religion is a very personal matter, what could be universally understood? What about a ghost or a colorful aura? That had already been done. My mind continued to wander, back to a thousand years ago, when man worshiped God mostly because life was so rotten. The thought that their insignificance in the world could be of some importance to a greater power made them believe. The hope that there was a superior being that could protect them from disease and make life better gave them faith. Contrast to today where technology has improved man's situation to the point where life is generally good. The majority of us eat when we want, play when we want, and travel where we want. The whole world is at our fingertips. With the knowledge of what is around every corner and across every sea man is confident in the world and no longer fears his place in it.
But is man's existence in this new millennium really any more secure than before? It suddenly came to mind that the revolutionary moment in the past millennium was when man could see just how fragile his existence is. This was it! I dug through my old photographs and found a postcard of the Earth as viewed from the moon. As I stared at it, the insignificance of this small planet, out in the vast universe, with all of us on it, I understood the insecurity felt by those of a thousand years ago. If we are so vulnerable, yet we continue to exist, what is protecting us and why? How would one depict it? With God's message of eternal love, it was thought that a depiction of a spirit embracing our planet could be a universally understood image. It actually could say many things, though I won't go into it further; for the best art is that in which everyone sees something different without need of an explanation.
Well, the contest was in 1999 and my artistic strengths were mainly in pencil and ink. To enter one needed only a slide of the art, and I had no delusions of actually winning the contest, so I created a colored pencil and ink rendering for my submission.
The day came when the winning announcement was made. I was very disappointed. What I thought was an earnest effort to search for something completely different turned out to be a moderately modernized image of the guy with a beard. Ah well, I must say that later, when I received a complementary copy of images of the 50 finalists, it was pleasing to see that there were many unique interpretations. I guess that the contest judges thought mankind was not ready for something radically different after all. However, it was a thought provoking experience for me.
|The most entertaining part was that of the nearly 1700 entries, mine was unique enough to be mentioned in the newspaper. Here is a clipping from the Philadelphia Inquirer dated December 12, 1999. Click on it for a full page view of the article.|
Time has gone by. After dabbling in oil paints, I thought once again of my entry and what it might have looked like had it been executed in oil on canvas. The previous page is the result. In retrospect, the image depicts so much more that perhaps it is best to leave Jesus on the sidelines and, therefore, the painting is titled Heavenly Ghost.
The actual painting is 30" X 40" oil on linen. The Earth is just about 7" in diameter. When viewed from closer than 36 inches away, one can see the Spirit embracing the Earth. Farther away than that, the spirit tends to meld into the painting, making it appear to be an ordinary painting of Earth. Because of this, the painting is very difficult to photograph. After many attempts, the best photo I could aquire was digitally trimmed removing Earth and Spirit from the background. Then, the background was replaced with a darker one. Therefore, the Earth and Spirit is the painting, the background is not. With this method of editing, the representation you see on the screen is extremely close to what it would look like if one was viewing the painting in person from less than 36 inches away.
Please feel free to download a copy of this image and share it with your friends.