Friday, November 20, 2020

“From My Walls To Yours”

Copyright © Edward Riojas

The walls of my house simply can’t handle any more artwork. Neither can the closets, with artwork stacked sometimes ten deep with blankets to protect them, nor can my art rooms, with artwork peeking from behind other artwork like Russian nesting dolls. I needn’t mention the five cases filled with newspaper illustrations from another life, and I don’t need to bring to mind countless other images that have been all but forgotten. Every nook and cranny of my house is filled with artwork, and I need to declutter -- if that word even applies.

Most everyone knows that I sell giclĂ©e prints of original pieces, but not everyone knows that many of the originals themselves are for sale. I do realize that there is an inherent sticker shock associated with original artwork, but keep in mind that weeks and months of work went into each piece and as I’ve been told many times, “The workman is due his wages.” Whether or not you can afford a Riojas original, here’s your chance to peruse pieces that are languishing on my walls. Perhaps one of them will beg to be on your wall...

“Gospel Processional Crucifix” Approximately 81” tall, with base. $15,000. This non-commissioned piece was the focus of an earlier blog post. The black walnut staff springs from its VDMA base, and the bronze corpus [of my own design] hangs on a black walnut cross, which is supported by an image of the Church and the four Gospel writers.



“Saint Michael Contending [With the Devil Over the Body of Moses]” 28.8” x 40.5” Framed. $10,000. This piece was recently returned to me after a long stay at the Fort Wayne seminary. It’s weird and wonderful and packed with theology. And it’s for sale.


“Archangel Gabriel” 18” x 28” Framed. $3,000. This piece was also returned from Fort Wayne. In case you can’t see from the online photo, the piece is composed entirely of miniscule dots. I created “stippled” illustrations ages ago, but carpal tunnel syndrome is indeed a thing and I thought it wise to back off of the physically-demanding technique, saving it for very special pieces like this one.


“Archangel Michael” 34” x 49” Framed. $5,000. This piece is an old friend, and is a visual reminder of those who do the will of God perfectly, while protecting us from the evils of this broken world.


“Ambrei as Potamiaena” 48” x 84” Unframed. While depicting a martyred saint from the early Church, I can also see this hanging in an entry foyer or some other calm, but dignified space. This pleasant piece currently commands the "Pirate Room" in my house. See what I mean about clutter?


“Precious in the Sight of the Lord” 31” x 37” Framed. $5,000. Unlike ‘Potamiaena,’ this is the sort of image that takes some getting used to. While comforting, the image is somewhat better suited to sympathy cards instead of residential walls. That being said, it confesses mightily, whether in the home or on the wall of a Christian institution.


“O That My Words Were Written” 37” x 70” Framed. $10,000. The words of Holy Scripture are enough, and are sometimes sufficient as a painting. Although he was arguably the most pitiable of men by the world’s standards, the comforting words of Job point to a greater reality that, by Faith, was already Job’s – and it is ours, as well.


“Two Men Went Up To Pray” 24” x 48” Unframed. $5,000. This is one of several pieces which I was simply compelled to paint. The focus of the painting is neither the proud pharisee in the center of the piece, nor the cowering publican in the shadows. Rather, the point of the piece is a shrouded Figure ascending the stairs, Whose outstretched, pierced hand, touches the shoulder of the penitent.


“Under Slottet Bron” 156” x 96” Framed. $20,000. Not every piece I create is considered “sacred.” I occasionally make things that are intended for the simple enjoyment of the viewer. Those pieces are, however, handled with the same high standards which are expected of any God-given vocation. This piece is so large that its carved frame has been disassembled and is in various locations of my home [and barn]. The unframed painting itself hogs one entire 11-foot wall of our living room. To be frank, I would love to see this in a beer hall or in a Scandinavian environment or, as some have suggested, as a rather large headboard.

If you are interested in any of these pieces, OR any of the prints that I offer, please email me at edriojasartist@gmail.com



Friday, November 6, 2020

“The Chancel: A Foretaste”

A proposed chancel


Copyright © Edward Riojas

It is perhaps fitting that this, the second of several related posts, follows on the heal of All Saints Day. But more on that later.

These drawings are of a hypothetical church building. They are not necessarily how a church should look, but rather are meant for the contemplation of any church and the purposes for which that church exists. This week’s installment takes a look at the chancel.

At first glance, the designs may look familiar, and I wouldn’t doubt that a similar structure can be found somewhere in Christendom. Its general shape is a quadrant of a sphere. This gives a nod to an interpretation of  Biblical description of heaven as being of equal width, length, and height. Usually this is taken to be a cube, but a sphere could assume the same dimensions, and the sphere – or orb – has always been symbolically associated with the fullness of heaven and the created cosmos.

The meaning behind the design, therefore, is to show that heaven descends here to us. Specifically, this happens in the Lord’s Supper. The idea of descending is further underscored by a figure of the living Christ, in front of an empty cross, and suspended by cables that converge downward toward the altar. The altar itself is in the center of the assumed sphere.

On the wall of the dome-like chancel is a fresco of ranks of angels in adoration. The dome, being devoid of anything besides its two-dimensional fresco, would act as an acoustic amplifier.

Altar with tiled design


Obvious omissions are pulpit, lectern, and chairs for clergy and acolytes. This follows an older design of moving the pulpit out into the sanctuary, but it also points to a greater reality: This is where Christ comes to us; this is where His real presence is manifest; this is where He IS. No one presides over the altar, nor do they serve there, but Christ alone comes down to us and serves us. This is the Divine Service.

Seats for clergy and acolytes, simple plinth-like structures just outside of the chancel proper and at the base of the arch, would accommodate seating when necessary. On one side, a simple, bisecting screen would create a confessional space.

A circular Communion rail and raised platform would fit within this sphere quadrant. There would be no carpeting, giving more punch to the acoustics. As if issuing from the altar, a path of blue inlaid tile, edged by red tile, would run the entire length of the sanctuary and into the baptistry opposite the chancel.  The patterning would suggest a flood of water and blood, connecting the sacraments of Holy Communion and Holy Baptism with the crucifixion of Christ Jesus. But there is more.

Transparent memorial blocks


The Communion rail would be in the round, but only half would be used by congregants. A gated railing would bisect the platform. The “gates” would be intentionally narrow, and would be embellished with Alpha-Omega and Chi-Rho, pointing to Christ as the only gate into heaven.

What lies beyond the gate are those whom we cannot see, but who share in the Lord’s Supper and the foretaste of the feast to come. The floor of that side of the circle would be a memorial to those who have gone before us. Names would be inscribed on transparent acrylic blocks. They would be stacked, layer upon layer, so that they could be read into near infinity. This acrylic assembly would be illuminated from below, giving light not only to those in glory, but also to the entire angelic dome. 

The words, “...together with angels, and archangels, and the whole company of heaven” would make much more sense in this sort of chancel, and we would be compelled to confess it – not just verbally, but visually, as Christ descends to His helpless children and feeds them with His own body and blood.


Friday, October 30, 2020

“Making An Entry”

Cutaway of the Baptistry


Copyright © Edward Riojas

This is the first of several posts that will be dedicated to a set of drawings in progress. The drawings are architectural in nature, though I do not claim to be an architect. The closest I can get to that vocation is claiming an older brother who IS an architect, and in admitting that I occasionally helped him with college projects. I can also claim to have learned rudimentary knowledge of blueprints when translating them into cutaway drawings during my 31-year tenure in the newspaper industry. No one has asked me to create these drawings – like a few other “odd” projects, I was simply compelled.

Originally, this post was to be called something like, “If I ran the Circus McGurkus,” but I’m sure there are countless copyrights and trademarks on such a title and, besides, the very idea was not close enough to my thoughts. Neither is this post about how church buildings should look, nor the ideal of what might have been. Rather, it’s a opportunity to contemplate what actually happens – indeed, what we confess happens – in Lutheran churches in particular.

Detail of Scriptural text mural


Of course, church buildings run the gamut from grand facades to storefronts, and if there is any truth to the adage that “the Church is not the building,” then this would be a pointless exercise. That adage, however, does not say it all and falls woefully short of describing those peculiar houses that contain both the Lord’s children and the Lord Himself.

As with any structure, we must first make an entry. Unlike other buildings, however, the Church has a peculiar means of ingress. In my example, the building follows suit with a integrated Baptistry.

Many get their first taste of baptistry as a separate structure when studying Italian architecture. The famous “Leaning Tower of Pisa” is but one free-standing structure associated with the Pisa Cathedral. The leaning tower is a bell tower, but there is also a free-standing Baptistry that puts many churches to shame with its scale and detail. The fact that it was constructed as a separate facade points to the importance of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

Layout of Baptistry "Garden"

In my design, several elements come together to make a point; to confess what we believe. I think the initial impression would be of a rather suppressed dome. Embellishment would be restricted to Biblical quotations of Christ Jesus confronting demons, along with exorcism language taken from the Baptismal Rite.

The space is intended to be serious and sobering. To intensify this, there are visual references to catacomb niches. While there is ample room to gather and witness a baptism, there is little room to escape our own mortality. Only an oculus window breaks the gloom with an image of the Holy Spirit.

In the center of all this gloom is yet another tomb. Three steps down into a square chamber with surrounding low platforms is actually a reconstruction of the type of tomb that could have held the body of Christ. The platforms were intended for bodies, and shallow channels for the morbid use of draining body fluids while rot ensues. This, however is not a dead end – it is a portal.

Issuing from a simple Alpha-Omega cross, water traverses one of the channels and pours into a conspicuously-low, eight-sided Baptismal font. The only way one may be baptized with this design is to symbolically sit where Christ lay or to be held by someone who does the same. In a visual double entendre, a cloth for post-baptismal wiping “lays folded to one side.” This is also a perfect opportunity to allow fragrant incense and spices to waft. 

The Font chamber

Just as one must sit where Christ was laid, so also the simple act of standing, after the sacrament is administered, confesses what we believe: That He did not remain dead, but arose to life. Dead men tell no tales, but neither do they stand. In this, we thumb our noses at Satan and death, and relish it with abandon.

The Baptismal Rite thus ended, all leave behind the confines of death and hell, and enter the place where our Lord promises to meet us – the sanctuary of the church, and the Church Eternal.



Friday, October 23, 2020

“Skirmishes and Victory”


Copyright © Edward Riojas

I was recently asked to create what is certainly the smallest sculpture I’ve done to date. Every commission I’ve tackled has had its own constraints, but this particular piece had to fit in the space 2.5” by 2.5” by 4.75”. It was to be a crucifix.

I have seen larger pectoral crucifixes, so this carved piece is on a jewel-like scale. Without engaging in a convoluted and costly cast metal alternative, I decided to use hard maple. Being somewhat delicate, I made use of a stout back and base as protection.

Protection. We often take the word for granted, and along with it those who, through their vocation, protect us. This tiny crucifix was destined for a portable Communion kit used by a military chaplain.

A last-minute decision was made to add a detail to the piece – one which would serve as a double entendre of immense importance. Using an ancient device, characters of the Greek word “NIKA” were placed around the cross. “Victory.”

In a military setting, the word has significance – an objective met; an obliterated foe; no man left behind. In this case, however, the word goes way beyond the obvious, even though it is accompanied by an image of a dying God. Whether on a smoke-filled battlefield or in a bed at a veteran’s home or in seemingly mundane civilian life, the skirmishes of this life pale in comparison to the greater battle for our souls. His death, though seen as an insignificant, foolish loss by the world, was precisely how Christ Jesus ambushed Satan and won our epic victory.




Friday, October 16, 2020

“Photoshop And That Darned Tree”

"Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil"
Jost Amman. 1587.

Copyright © Edward Riojas

No, I didn’t photoshop either of these masterful representations of the Garden of Eden. Neither is this a post about glossing over the Fall. Or sin. There is, however, a strange connection between the software application and that darned tree.

When I was younger, I misunderstood the danger of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I credit that ignorance to Satan himself, who lied to Eve in declaring that she would “be like God, knowing good and evil.” Somewhere in the stupider parts of my brain I reasoned that, once having eaten the forbidden fruit, we would know important stuff – like passwords into heaven and other classified information – which really wasn’t ours to have.

Experience this side of heaven has taught me differently. I now know stuff I’d rather not know. I’ve experienced things that didn’t exist in Eden, and it sucks so much. The Lord in His infinite wisdom tried to keep that sort of knowledge from us, but Adam and Eve did not heed His voice. And we are no better.

Strangely, this knowledge of good and evil cascades out of our sinful lives and ends up in unexpected places. I’ve heard stories from police officers, for example, who relate how little parts of them die with each horrible crime case they handle. We shall surely die, indeed.

Detail of "Garden of Eden"
Lucas Cranach the Elder. 1530.


Which brings me to an assignment I had ages ago while working as an artist in a press newsroom. Having expertise in Photoshop was one of the many skills at my disposal. Normally, the photo editing software was used to create cover art or to clean up otherwise unusable photos.

One day an assignment came from “the other side of the building,” where advertising and classified departments reigned. It was an extremely rare assignment. It was handed to me personally, and was done so somewhat clandestinely.

A photo was given to me to “fix.” It was an old photo that was to be paired with a present-day photo of a couple who were celebrating a landmark wedding anniversary. In the old photo, the husband stood behind the wife, who was holding a toddler. The child had to go.

From a technical perspective, the assignment was a nightmare come to life. Nixing the child was one thing, but reconstructing the various folds of clothing and rebuilding non-existent arms was another. After several hours, I somehow made a convincing image. But something horrible remained.

I felt as if I had been privy to tragedy; to heartbreak; to an unspoken history hidden under layers of years and silence. No one would suspect any of this by looking at the photo – not even if they searched pixel by pixel. But I became intimate with it all as the child’s face was erased and a striped blouse of 1950’s vintage was put in its place. Even in my own ignorance, I knew more than I cared to know.

And now you know.


 

Friday, August 28, 2020

“The Discarded Garment”

Copyright © Edward Riojas

While working on the tail end of a mountain of illustrations, one of them blindsided me.

I have for years been plowing through hundreds of Christian symbol drawings for a back burner book project. A recent visitor to my “studio” managed to put a flame under me to get the project going again, so for the past few days I’ve been tackling symbols of the patriarchs and prophets – one of the last large groups on my to-do list. And then along came Hosea.

Most of the Old Testament prophets had a lot to tell the Israelites. While they weren’t slamming the people of God for going after other gods, the wizened men were consoling the sad-sack captives that they would one day be rescued by a Savior and their captors would be pounded in the dust. So naturally many of the symbols associated with the prophets show, in some way, either the Temple, the city of Jerusalem, or some detail of either. The symbol for Hosea, however, takes a different tack.

Copyright © Edward Riojas
The prophet Hosea has for his symbol a discarded garment. At first it seemed to me a rather innocuous item. The only image of the symbol I could find was dated. It was in a book that wasn’t exactly scholarly. In fact, there was no information at all about the symbol. The drawing was of a garment nicely laid out, as if waiting for a closet hanger. The only description I did find was in another book of symbols which had no illustration of the symbol. That book explained in a simple phrase that the garment signified Israel’s discarding of the Lord. Not entirely satisfied, I went to Scripture and scoured through the prophet’s inspired words.

There isn’t anything in the book of the prophet that specifically mentions a garment. Neither does it mention a tunic, nor a frock. It mentions moths and rust, so only a slight inference is there. The idea of a discarded garment didn’t quite fit. And then I thought of Hosea’s wife.

Gomer's name alone causes us to snicker. Her waywardness, however, wipes the smile off our faces. Her part as the harlot prophetically points to Israel going after other gods. Discarding God starts to make sense.

But the symbol I found was a bit too neat and tidy. When I re-drew it as something truly discarded; as something thrown on the ground. Then what I saw hit hard. The implication of a discarded garment is that someone is very naked. Put two and two together and the prophetic picture of Gomer makes more than perfect sense.

But the prophet’s warning goes beyond wayward Israel and gives stern warning to Christians when considering the thing with which we are clothed. In Holy Baptism, we are clothed with Christ’s righteousness – not our own, for we have none. If we discard that garment and abandon it for something else, then we stand truly naked before God, as did the Israelites. And that is not pretty.





Friday, August 21, 2020

“Lift High The Cross”

Copyright © Edward Riojas

It is clear that the hymn writer had a processional crucifix in mind when he penned the words to "Lift High The Cross," (LSB 837). Even the hymn’s tune, “Crucifer,” is named for the acolyte responsible for carrying the crucifix in a procession. It’s also clear that the hymnist was writing as a member of the Church Militant; as a Christian still fighting the world and its temptations this side of heaven. The words are militaristic, as in the stanza, “Led on their way by this triumphant sign, the hosts of God in conqu’ring ranks combine.”

Processional crucifixes are special pieces of liturgical art. They come in a variety of forms, but typically show the crucified Christ. While not always found in Lutheran churches, they are somewhat common, and tend to be more so in “confessional” or “high” churches. Sometimes budgets don’t allow them, and sometimes they do. Those in the pews shouldn’t, however, worry that processionals are “too Catholic.”

In my experience, processional crucifixes are used not only to process into and recess out of the sanctuary, but they are also used on special occasions during the Gospel readings, in which the Gospel is read in the midst of the congregation. It’s understood, with proper teaching, that the congregation should always face the crucifix as it enters and leaves the sanctuary. This is a sign of respect. So also is the act of bowing as it passes by. Rome has no monopoly on showing respect to the Lord – even a poor representation of Him – and Lutherans will do well to get off their duffs and bow when given the chance to confess their King.

This brings me to an unveiling of my latest piece, a very special processional crucifix. It was not commissioned by anyone. I occasionally allow myself the freedom to create something apart from a client’s wishes. In this case, the idea had been floating around in my mind for some time.

This is not the average processional crucifix, and nothing like it will be found in any church supply catalog. Every part of it was custom made by me, and, while I am more than satisfied with the results, I won’t create another identical to it. That’s not how this artist works.

The crucifix’s uniqueness flows through every component, and it is highly confessional through those same components and as a whole. The corpus – the body of Christ – is the second of three bronzes I had cast from my own wax model. The first corpus was used in a processional crucifix commissioned by First Lutheran, Boston. This corpus, however, has a different patina. A matching tabula ansata – the piece on which Pontius Pilate had an inscription written – hangs above the sculpted image of Christ.

The cross on which the corpus hangs, along with many other components of the piece, are of black walnut. Supporting the crucifix, both structurally and symbolically, is a 3-dimensional representation of the Church. The four Gospel writers have been carved into the four sides of the church's facade. Supporting this is a stout walnut staff with a steel core. If the walnut church or the staff were cut horizontally, a cross would be revealed.  In the words of one of my sons, “[I] must hate acolytes,” for carrying the whole takes more than just reverence – it takes the muscles of a young man. Then again, there is something to be said for substance and weightiness, and the same can be said of what we believe and confess.

The incredibly-heavy base into which it stands is arguably the most “Lutheran” part of the design, although any Christian denomination that clings to Holy Scripture can certainly appreciate it. It is a representation of an open Bible. The pages are oak, and the “cover” is walnut. Walnut inlay is used on the open pages in a VDMA cross design. VDMA is an acronym representing the Latin phrase, “Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum” – “the Word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Peter 1:25). The phrase was used during the Lutheran Reformation, and still serves as a sort of rallying cry among confessional Lutherans. Well, okay, perhaps the Roman crowd may take umbrage, if only out of ignorance.

Symbolically, the fact that “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23) is supported by the Church, whose Gospel always proclaims the same. This is, and always will be, immovable through the enduring Word of God, Who is, indeed, the living Christ Jesus Himself. This we will fight to proclaim, “...Till all the world adore His sacred name.”
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For those interested in purchasing this processional crucifix, or for more information, please email me at edriojasartist@gmail.com.  Because of the time and materials invested in this piece, the firm asking price is $15,000, plus shipping.

Details of the four Gospel writers from Processional Crucifix. Edward Riojas. 2020. (Copyright © Edward Riojas)