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 giclée 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)






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




Friday, June 26, 2020

Things that [Ultimately] Matter

"Christ Icon."
Sizes/prices of giclée prints
can be found at edriojasartist.com

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Now is the time. If you have ever considered hanging an image of Jesus on the wall of your home, then now is the time. If you have ever thought of using memorial funds to place an image of our Savior in the sanctuary of your church, then certainly now is the time.

A few insistent voices have been urging the wholesale removal of monuments, and it doesn’t seem to matter if those monuments are in opposition to activists’ views or if they actually support the same activists’ cause – they must all come down. Ignorance is more contagious than any virus ever was, and stupidly spreads more rapidly than any pandemic ever could.

Most recently, the targets are ‘images of white supremacy’ – Jesus. This idea is at the urging of BLM activist, Shaun King. King must surely be a conflicted man, because his own mother is white. But I digress.

Iconoclasm – the destruction of icons, or images, of Christ – is as old as the hills. Long before anything seemed to matter, man has fought over whether or not it is right to have images of Jesus; whether or not it is blasphemous. More blood has been shed over images of Christ than even this sorry generation can possibly imagine. Historically, it’s been that bad.

Lutherans, however, are a feisty group. Whether it’s that inbred German stubbornness or cues taken from the blessed Reformer, Martin Luther, we have a tendency to show our mettle when things look dire.
"Crucifixion"
Sizes/prices of giclée prints can be
found at edriojasartist.com

When some insisted that it was NOT the body of Christ on the altar; when they “broke” the Host in full view to represent their theological position, Lutherans suddenly became discreet in that simple act, if only to protest the Protestants’ errant ways. When some insisted that only red wine could be used in the Sacrament of the Altar, many Lutherans instantly switched to white wine. Some churches still use that variety, exclusively. When Protestants started destroying ‘idolatrous’ sanctuary artwork, Luther blew a gasket and lambasted the moronic imbeciles.

It should not come as a surprise, therefore, that this Lutheran artist strongly suggests we up the ante and increase our display of the Only Begotten of the Father. We do not do so to increase His presence among us, for He will be where He promises. We do not do so to show our piety or supremacy in any way, for we openly acknowledge, with Paul, that we are chief among sinners and we are slaves to the Gospel. We place images of Christ Jesus simply to remind ourselves – and the whole world – that some things really DO matter.





Friday, June 19, 2020

Healing and Forgiveness

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Copyright © Edward Riojas

It’s no surprise that I have mouths on my mind. My mother was recently diagnosed with stage 3 or 4 cancer of the tongue. Also recently, one of the lectionary readings was from Isaiah 6, which describes a burning coal touching the prophet’s mouth after he had declared in verse 5, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

This passage was the basis for one of several proposed drawings for Higher Things. That was before the theme was massaged a bit, rendering the image unusable. In the drawing, a cross, stylized crossed keys, and a burning coal are fused together. It’s a strange image that, to my knowledge, has rarely – if ever – been done, and this time it only got as far as a rough drawing.

Isaiah’s account, although strange, prophetically points to something more familiar – Holy Communion. One can see the parallel between taking the burning coal from the altar and touching the prophet’s mouth, and taking the Body and Blood of Christ from the altar and placing it in the communicant’s mouth. We also echo Isaiah’s words, “...my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!,” when we repeat Simeon's “...for my eyes have seen Thy Salvation...”

During the pandemic stay-at-home order, my mother languished in her home, as medical appointment after medical appointment was postponed. The oral surgeon would have to wait. She also was not able for two and a half months to go to church. The cancer did not care.

Finally, she was able to see an oral surgeon, and finally she was able to receive Holy Communion, which drives me to a different part of Scripture. In Mark 2:9, the event of Jesus healing the paralytic comes to a head when the Savior asks, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?” Pondering my mother’s condition, I want the cure for her bodily suffering. We are told to bring everything to the Lord, including petitions for those in need, so I ask the Lord as a beggar would.

Yet there is more at stake than these inherited, rotting bodies. For that reason, there is great joy knowing that my Mom finally received forgiveness at the Lord’s Table. What is more, she received that forgiveness, of all places, on her tongue.




Friday, June 5, 2020

“But Watch Lest Foes With Base Alloy”

What I on earth have done and taught,
Guide all your life and teaching;
So shall the kingdom’s work be wrought
And honored in your preaching.
But watch lest foes with base alloy
The heav’nly treasure should destroy;
This final word I leave you.

Copyright © Edward Riojas

This illustration for Martin Luther’s final verse of “Dear Christians, One And All Rejoice” (Kloria Publishing), is a counterpart to the book’s cover illustration. There is greater meaning beneath the two pretty pictures, but because of the times, we are forced to understand it more keenly.

There is no social distancing among those who approach the Lord’s Table. More importantly, there is no social distancing between the Lord Himself and those of His flock. He is not concealed by a mask, and we, because of Christ’s sacrifice, fear neither sickness nor death as we approach Him.

Hence, we bow as the crucifix processes past us. In some traditions, we bow as the Gospel – or, more properly, the Word – passes. Hence, we bow at the altar, acknowledging the very body and blood of the Lord Himself. While human reason cannot grasp this truth, we take our Lord at His Word.

Here, the words of Luther’s stanza drive home. The Reformer’s thinly-veiled warning does not directly regard Satan, but rather a more subtle foe. By context, most of us get the gist of the phrase “foes with base alloy,” but Luther paints a picture, through metallurgical terms, of those who may be counted among the  Believers, but whose beliefs are tainted by questionable and impure doctrine; those who wonder why we can’t ALL kneel at the Lord’s Table; those who ask, in eerily-familiar style, “Did He REALLY mean “This is my body?””

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Giclée prints of images from ‘Dear Christians’ are available for purchase in two formats. To order or for more information, please e-mail me at edriojasartist@gmail.com.


Sizes/prices for giclée prints of “Dear Christians: Eucharist Spread:”
30” x 19” / $140
24” x 15.2” / $110
16” x 10.1” / $75




Sizes/prices for giclée prints of “Dear Christians: Eucharist Vertical:”
18.8” x 24” / $120
12.5” x 16” / $75

“Dear Christians, One And All Rejoice,” (Kloria Publishing) is available through Concordia Publishing House and Amazon.com 



Friday, May 29, 2020

“I Am Your Rock And Castle”

To me He Said:
Stay close to Me,
I am your rock and castle.
Your ransom I Myself will be;
For you I strive and wrestle.
For I am yours, and you are Mine,
And where I am you may remain;
The foe shall not divide us.
Copyright © Edward Riojas

Parallel trains of thought ran behind this illustration in “Dear Christians One And All Rejoice” (Kloria Publishing), and a section of the “Te Deum Polyptych” I created for Our Savior Luther Church, Grand Rapids, Mich. I hit a visual roadblock with the Te Deum’s “...we therefore pray Thee to help Thy servants...,” until I was reminded how the Lord helps us through an inundation of Word and Sacraments. Even observant artists don’t always see the obvious.

Martin Luther’s stanza in ‘Dear Chrisitans’ gave me similar pause when thinking of visuals. Unlike the understated phrase in the ‘Te Deum,’ however, Luther’s verse is packed with almost too much theology to illustrate. I understood what the words meant, but I could not easily envision it.

The solution lay again, in part, with Word and Sacrament. I also appealed to the historical approach I was using throughout the book by giving a nod to ancient architecture, and by using the type of decorative embellishment Luther might have seen in his day. But the slightly over-wrought design is more than simple decoration.

The last lines of the stanza echo Christ’s analogy of ‘The Vine and branches,’ illustrating how we are inseparable from our Lord. It takes a little straining of the eyes, but behind the Host, the Vine is cruciform in shape, hinting at greater truths behind the words, “ransom” and “strive and wrestle.” The complexity of leaves and tendrils point to the whole Christian Church that is nourished by The Vine.

See how true it is that, especially in these days, The Word and Sacraments  – and our longing for them – are our rock and castle! See how by them there is abundant life that flourishes beyond the telling! See how nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!”

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Giclée prints of images from ‘Dear Christians’ are available for purchase in two formats. To order or for more information, please e-mail me at edriojasartist@gmail.com.

Sizes/prices for giclée prints of “Dear Christians: Chalice Spread:”
30” x 19” / $140
24” x 15.2” / $110
16” x 10.1” / $75



Sizes/prices for giclée prints of “Dear Christians: Chalice Vertical:”
18.8” x 24” / $120
12.5” x 16” / $75

“Dear Christians, One And All Rejoice,” (Kloria Publishing) is available through Concordia Publishing House and Amazon.com 






Friday, May 22, 2020

“Now To My Father I Depart”


Now to My Father I depart,
From earth to heav’n ascending,
And, heav’nly wisdom to impart,
The Holy Spirit sending;
In trouble He will comfort you
And teach you always to be true
And into truth shall guide you.

Copyright © Edward Riojas

I chose to showcase this illustration on the day after Ascension Day for obvious reasons. It was created for the book, “Dear Christians, One And All Rejoice” (Kloria Publishing), and illustrates a stanza written by Martin Luther.

Luther’s words condensed two ideas in this verse, which ultimately made for an unusual piece of art. I doubt that I am original in this, but a little visual research didn’t turn up anything identical. Sure, there are plenty of paintings depicting the Ascension of our Lord. Yes, there are paintings of the Holy Spirit descending. There are even paintings of Christ Jesus, reclining on clouds, watching the Holy Spirit descend, and there are paintings of the Holy Spirit [and The Father] waiting as Christ ascends into heaven. In the painting for this book, however, I intentionally did something different.

In a scene that, for lack of a better analogy, is very much akin to the workings of an elevator, Christ ascends, while the counterweight of the Holy Spirit descends with equal speed. The worm’s-eye view also helps to accentuate the feeling of motion. We strain our necks to watch the fast-fleeting Lord, even as the Dove comes down to earth.

Of course, we always associate the coming of the Holy Spirit with Pentecost, so there has always been a bit of a lag in the Church year between the two events. Those nine days have traditionally been a time of fasting. And waiting.

On the other hand, the Lord promised, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” It’s with that comfort that I depicted the Spirit passing Christ Jesus as the Savior ascended, and, if you catch the detail, Christ’s pierced hand is in a position of blessing. Even as He departs, He does not leave us as orphans.

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Giclée prints of images from ‘Dear Christians’ are available for purchase in two formats. To order or for more information, please e-mail me at edriojasartist@gmail.com.

Sizes/prices for giclée prints of “Dear Christians: Ascension Spread:”
30” x 19” / $140
24” x 15.2” / $110
16” x 10.1” / $75




Sizes/prices for giclée prints of “Dear Christians: Ascension Vertical:”
18.8” x 24” / $120
12.5” x 16” / $75

“Dear Christians, One And All Rejoice,” (Kloria Publishing) is available through Concordia Publishing House and Amazon.com




Friday, May 15, 2020

Signs and Confessions

“The Son obeyed His Father’s will...”

Copyright © Edward Riojas

These two page spreads do not appear back to back in the book, “Good Christians, One And All Rejoice,” (Kloria Publishing), but they are very closely related. The birth, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus is expressed by Martin Luther in two verses of his hymn.

It’s a bit hard to unravel the rich theology Luther weaves into the hymn, but visual strands of the whole can be seen when, for example, these two illustrations are placed side by side. In the one, a docile lamb rests. In the other The Lamb of God , obeying His Father’s will, is docile in death.

In the one, a seemingly insignificant sign, given by angels, is shown. In the other, the same sign is made manifest in the swaddled body of Christ, placed in a stone tomb.

In the one, a heavenly light points the way to the New King. In the other, our Lord IS the Light that draws the world to Himself.

Hopefully, the illustrations in this book give proper homage, as do Luther’s words, to the rich tapestry of the Gospel we confess.

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Giclée prints of images from ‘Dear Christians’ are available for purchase in two formats. To order or for more information, please e-mail me at edriojasartist@gmail.com.

Sizes/prices for giclée prints of “Dear Christians: Nativity Spread:”
30” x 19” / $140
24” x 15.2” / $110
16” x 10.1” / $75





Sizes/prices for giclée prints of “Dear Christians: Nativity Vertical:”
18.8” x 24” / $120
12.5” x 16” / $75








Sizes/prices for giclée prints of “Dear Christians: Easter Spread:”
30” x 19” / $140
24” x 15.2” / $110
16” x 10.1” / $75

Sizes/prices for giclée prints of “Dear Christians: Easter Vertical:”
18.8” x 24” / $120
12.5” x 16” / $75


“Dear Christians, One And All Rejoice,” (Kloria Publishing) is available through Concordia Publishing House and Amazon.com





Friday, May 8, 2020

“Bright Jewel of My Crown”

God said to His beloved Son:
It’s time to have compassion.
Then go bright jewel of My crown,
And bring to all salvation.
From sin and sorrow set them free;
Slay bitter death for them that they
May live with You forever.

Copyright © Edward Riojas

This illustration, created for “Dear Christians, One And All Rejoice” (Kloria Publishing), was the most difficult to conceptualize. I wanted to stay true to Martin Luther’s hymn text, but visualizing those words eventually went down and unusual path.

The stanza begins with a conversation between Persons of the Holy Trinity, to which we are oddly privy.

This divine dialogue shows up in Holy Scripture. Genesis 1:26a, declares, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Again in Genesis 11:6-7, regarding the tower of Babel, “And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.” The words “us” and “our” are significant.

Visualizing the “jewel” in Luther’s stanza teetered between brilliance and heresy. Admittedly, it is impossible for mortals to fully understand the mystery of the Holy Incarnation, and it is lunacy to claim as much. It is with that lack of full understanding that I dared to show the preincarnate Christ as a tiny fetus while still descending from heaven. However, I stand behind the truth that, as a seemingly insignificant Being, the Son’s preeminence was – and still is – blindingly significant and brilliant. He is, indeed, the bright jewel of the Father’s crown.

While reminiscent of a cross-topped crown, the gold ornamentation around the fetal Christ is actually formed in a tri-radiant nimbus, confessing that Christ Jesus is a Person of the Holy Trinity. In Honor of Him, the angels dare not even look on His countenance. And in a preemptive, divine action against those who futilely strive toward the perfection of heaven, The Father's Hand of blessing brings down to us His greatest Blessing – The Son.

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Giclée prints of “Dear Christians: Procession,” are available for purchase in two formats. To order or for more information, please e-mail me at edriojasartist@gmail.com.

Sizes/prices for giclée prints of “Dear Christians: Crown Spread:”
30” x 19” / $140
24” x 15.2” / $110
16” x 10.1” / $75





Sizes/prices for giclée prints of “Dear Christians: Crown Vertical:”
18.8” x 24” / $120
12.5” x 16” / $75


“Dear Christians, One And All Rejoice,” (Kloria Publishing) is available through Concordia Publishing House and Amazon.com



Friday, May 1, 2020

“My Own Good Works”

My own good works all came to naught,
No grace or merit gaining;
Free will against God's judgment fought,
Dead to all good remaining.
My fears increased till sheer despair
Left only death to be my share;
The pangs of hell I suffered.

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Martin Luther continues his dark train of thought in this stanza of “Dear Christians, One And All Rejoice,” pointing to the Reformer’s state of despair. The book of the same name was produced by Kloria Publishing.

In the illustration for this stanza, Luther walks past a morality play in progress. Such productions were often a strange conglomeration of drama, dark humor, and questionable theology. They typically included unsuspecting actors being swallowed by the ugly maw of hell, as is shown here. The threat of damnation must have been a constant companion for those who depended on their own good works for salvation. In Luther’s case, it was an unbearable weight. To highlight his emotional and spiritual state even more, I’ve included a couple of blissfully-ignorant children, whose relative innocence has not yet been polluted by the teachings of Rome.

Even the invented, misplaced hopes so deftly promoted by Rome did little to ease troubled minds. In a silhouette behind Luther, a banner bearing official Papal seals urges the faithful to buy indulgences.

Luther could not escape these ever-present reminders of his own insufficiency. Thanks be to God, neither could he escape the Hound of Heaven, Who pursued the Reformer with the Light of the Gospel and eventually led him to discover the Grace of a loving Savior.

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Again, I don’t plan to offer giclée prints of this particular image unless someone twists my arm.

“Dear Christians, One And All Rejoice,” (Kloria Publishing) is available through Concordia Publishing House and Amazon.com 





Friday, April 24, 2020

“So Firmly Sin Possessed Me”

Fast bound in Satan's chains I lay;
Death brooded darkly o'er me.
Sin was my torment night and day;
In sin my mother bore me.
But daily deeper still I fell;
My life became a living hell,
So firmly sin possessed me.
Copyright © Edward Riojas

Not every waking moment of the Christian’s life is filled with joy and exultation. Sometimes life seems to have little meaning. Oftentimes Satan wheedles his way into the nooks and crannies of our being and threatens to undo us at every turn. Sometimes life just sucks. It is very comforting for us, therefore, that Martin Luther opened up and revealed the less-heroic corners of his mind.

Illustrating this stanza of “Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice” (Kloria Publishing), was a bit of a challenge, and it was also one of the reasons I decided to use a historic approach to the book. Most of us are familiar with the intense doubt, the fear of damnation, and the self-flagellation which consumed the Reformer.

Besides Death visually looming over Luther, there are other clues to his inner turmoil in the illustration. I intentionally included an unlit candle. The man could not yet see the Light of the Word in its fullness. Divine Wisdom was not yet his. Although volumes lay before him, he lived in the dark; he was constrained and tortured; he was “Fast bound in Satan’s chains.”

It is almost as if the viewer of this illustrations WILLS the plagued figure to simply raise his head and see the image of Love and Grace before him; we want him to look to Christ as the all-atoning sacrifice, not only for Luther’s sins, but for the sins of the whole world.

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Thus far I don’t plan to offer giclée prints of this image – that is, unless someone twists my arm.


“Dear Christians, One And All Rejoice,” (Kloria Publishing) is available through Concordia Publishing House and Amazon.com



Friday, April 17, 2020

“With Exultation Springing”


Copyright © Edward Riojas

The cover art for “Dear Christians, One And All Rejoice” (Kloria Publishing), is also the illustration to accompany the first stanza of Martin Luther’s hymn. It is, in a sense, the centerpiece of the book.

Unfortunately for some of us, we must forego what is seen in that illustration. With common sense, Federal limitations and, in some cases, excessive state mandates heaped on for good measure, the gathering of believers has been greatly curtailed. Our only defense is that this has not happened out of neglect. I had no idea that this particular painting would one day create yearning to simply gather in church.

On the other hand, I did intend to play the “yearning card,” albeit with different purpose. When kneeling at the Lord’s Table, I am reminded, through the liturgy, that we are not alone in our praise of the Lord. Together with angels and archangels and all the host of heaven, we adore The Lamb. In the illustration, those sainted members of the family of God hover, as it were, above our heads. We don’t normally see them, but we know they are present. Family members in glory, the glorious company of the apostles, the noble army of martyrs, the goodly fellowship of the prophets, the young, the old, men, women, members of every nation; they join with us “with exultation springing.” We deeply yearn to one day be reunited with them.

Central to all this is an image of our Savior, Christ Jesus, which leads a procession into the sanctuary of the church. His ransomed children bow in honor as a reminder of His death passes by. And if such an image does not stir our memory, then surely Luther’s words do: “What price our ransom cost Him!”

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Giclée prints of “Dear Christians: Procession,” are available for purchase in two formats. To order or for more information, please e-mail me at edriojasartist@gmail.com. PLEASE NOTE: Due to the current stay-at-home mandate, prints will not be shipped out until the end of April, at the earliest.

Sizes/prices for giclée prints of “Dear Christians: Procession Spread:”
30” x 19” / $140
24” x 15.2” / $110
16” x 10.1” / $75




Sizes/prices for giclée prints of “Dear Christians: Procession Vertical:”
18.8” x 24” / $120
12.5” x 16” / $75


“Dear Christians, One And All Rejoice,” (Kloria Publishing) is available through Concordia Publishing House and Amazon.com