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)






Friday, August 7, 2020

Works in Progress

Copyright © Edward Riojas

In spite of what’s been going on in the world and in spite of little ‘hiccups’ with family matters, I am still very much at work. The Lord has blessed me with a mountain of work, along with projects that continually materialize.

A quick glance at my “tote board” may give the impression that I’m way over my head where work is concerned, but I am well accustomed to dealing with slow-moving church councils and the occasional project that temporarily gets shelved. Several projects are waiting for congregational approval, so my attention has switched to other projects.

I’m currently finishing up a book project and I’m starting to tinker with a second. Behind that are perhaps three other book projects. If those aren’t enough, some folks are kind enough to urge and nudge and poke me to resurrect a book project of my own on Christian symbolism.

I am still doing design work for Ecclesiastical Sewing. The most recent projects have been interesting, including the replication of a mesoamerican motif.

While all those things are cooking on various burners, I’m also taking time to work on an non-commissioned piece that had been swimming around in my head and is only now coming to fruition. This project, however, is a creative dessert – a lot of other things must necessarily be cleared off my plate before I can fully enjoy it. I’m not quite ready to give sneak peeks just yet, but I will say that both I – and it – will get carried away.

And now that you’ve heard it, it’s time for me to get back to work on the mountain.





Friday, July 31, 2020

The Artist And Other Vocations

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Some may have noticed that my posts have become a bit irregular. Normally, I'm a creature of habit and follow a rather ordered life. But life is not always ordered.

I am still certainly creating sacred art and I am still hammering away at the mountain of work before me. I have, however, other vocations. One of them is that of son.

I looked through my handbook of life and could not find anywhere the chapter on cancer and aging mothers. I suspect, though, that I will be able to write a detailed chapter on the subject when all is said and done.

My mother was in a select group of society who were not dealt a good hand when all gathered at a table to play this game of pandemic. Contrary to what our governor declared, we were NOT all in this together. Those who were just short of diagnosis had to wait. Those who were in the middle of treatment had to wait. Only those relative few with a virus were given preferential treatment. But cancer doesn't care. Or wait.

Now I am in the midst of finally helping my Mom through the seemingly countless hoops that come before radiation therapy can begin. My job; my vocation as son is to give her support. My vocation now is to give her smiles when I am hurting inside. My job is to get her to appointments that must first give her pain before she has a chance to feel better. My job is to be the rock that my late father would have been. My job sucks, but it is MY job, and I will do it to the best of my ability. This is what the Good Lord is calling me to do.

So please forgive me if my other vocation of sacred artist is not always in the front seat; forgive me if the posts are infrequent or are not so "happy-clappy;" forgive me if it seems I am being lazy. Please pray that I faithfully perform my vocations - all of them - to the best of my ability.

Friday, July 17, 2020

“Ode to the Age of Innocence”

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Among the many casualties of the Covid-19 pandemic was the cancellation of ArtPrize 2020. Just when artists had gotten used to the every-other-year format and had ignored the inconsequential in-between event, a dumb virus unleashed wholesale paranoia on just about every county fair, concert, and festival in the land. The event which drew hundreds of thousands of visitors to sidewalks and venues was doomed months before its mid-September start date. Social distancing simply could not handle those kinds of numbers.

To be fair, babysitting my piece for days on end was a sure way to come down with some kind of illness. It sometimes seemed as if I inherited the flue, cholera, typhus, and schistosomiasis all at once. Visitors like to get up close and personal with art and artists, and handshakes come with the territory. So do germs.

"Ode to the Age of Innocence."
Edward Riojas. 2020. Oil on panel.
Unfortunately, some of us artists put considerable time into our pieces, and this year was no exception. Finished pieces might be accepted in a future ArtPrize, but careful wording of the cancellation announcement gave no such certainty. Hence, I feel obliged to give a digital unveiling of my entry, “Ode to the Age of Innocence.”

This piece, of course, comes from a very different facet of my work than what some are normally accustomed. It is not a sacred piece, and it is not quite illustration. This is the fourth large installment of a ‘troll’ painting.

Like my other paintings of the same genre, it is intentionally vague, while avoiding hidden agendas, allegory, and double entendres. It is unassuming. If the viewer can suspend every urge to place meaning where there is none [including nonsensical ‘White entitlement’], then the tableau opens with child-like wonderment. Even the puzzled trolls are disarming. The figures give a vague nod to the children’s book illustrations of Scandinavia, and one senses a story, but the real intent is simple to enjoy a view through a child’s eye and hearken to former days when things were more simple. And simply imaginative.

Neither I, nor anyone else could foresee the events that would transpire the past months. The fact that our senses have been assaulted on several fronts makes this piece more refreshing than it might normally be. This is where the fine arts have massive power to transport us.

‘Ode’ not only suggests a place and time in our imaginative memory, but it also draws on associated feelings. Perhaps the viewer will smile. Perhaps the viewer will think of something from a different, but pleasant, context. The greatest achievement artists can accomplish is tricking the viewer into forgetting, if only for a moment, the problems of this sorry world, and confront instead a complex illusion made with bits of paint on a flat surface.

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Giclée prints of cover art, “Ode to the Age of Innocence,” are available from the artist. Prints are signed, and domestic shipping is included for U.S. residents. Sizes/Prices for prints:
20.5” x 36” / $160
17” x 30” / $130
13.6” x 24” / $100
10.25” x 18” / $80
To order, or for more information about this print or any other that I offer, please e-mail me at edriojasartist@gmail.com




Friday, July 10, 2020

“The Axe Is Laid”


Copyright © Edward Riojas

Some of us grew up having school teachers who gave subtle hints that we shouldn’t trifle with them. You know who they were. Those particular teachers didn’t necessarily incessantly yell or haul students by the ear out of the classroom and into the scholastic netherworld or burden students with punitive tasks. Those teachers simply made sure a yard stick was visible for all to see. Perhaps they would conspicuously place it on the chalkboard’s bottom rail [even though measuring was rarely needed]. Maybe they gently laid it on their desk at the start of the day. We all knew what its presence meant, and most, if not all, students strove to keep that yardstick in its place.

A while back I was asked by Rev. Michael Holmen to create cover art for a newly released book, “The Hardening of Israel’s Heart & The Hardening of Heart in the Church.” Holmen edited the volume, which was written by Rev. Paul Hensel and translated by Floyd Brand.

Several visual concepts were fused into one simple image for the cover art, but the theme lays heavily on the scathing words of John the Forerunner:
“But when [John] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”” (Matthew 3:7-10)

Because the thrust of the book is on hardening, however, I pushed John’s visual a bit further in time. While the axe is an inanimate object, the tree begins to throw itself to the wind. Without taking in nourishment from the ground, its foliage scatters; its limbs bleach; its life wanes. This is a tree that has ignored the axe. This is a tree that strives to be something it is not. The tree’s future is foreshadowed as dropping leaves reveal a not-so-subtle skull of death.

While we may chastise, with 20/20 theological hindsight, the hardened, foolish Israelites or the wayward early Church, John’s warning is certainly for us also. We simply cannot live on our own without the life-giving waters that flow from our Savior’s side. We dare not attempt to ignore the Gospel in preference of our own supposed goodness. Our limbs will surely fail when we lift them up to the ugly persuits of man instead of the glory of our Lord. To that end, it is wise to listen carefully to the Forerunner’s admonition; to see in our mind’s eye that yardstick gently laid for all to see. The sharpened axe is indeed laid at the root of the tree.
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Giclée prints of cover art, “The Axe is Laid at the Root of the Tree,” are available from the artist. Prints are signed, and domestic shipping is included for U.S. residents. Sizes/Prices for prints:
21” x 30” / $150
17” x 24” / $120
12.7” x 18” / $80
To order, or for more information about this print or any other that I offer, please e-mail me at edriojasartist@gmail.com