Friday, April 28, 2023

The Internship

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Busy is good, and I've been busy. I've been busy enough that I haven't plopped down here on Blogger for months to crank out the latest drivel; busy enough that a foot surgery and its subsequent recovery put the screws to an already busy schedule; busy enough that my client waiting list is now two years long and is toying with three. I've certainly been blessed with work, so it's strange that, through a series of disjointed factors, I'm about to intentionally make things even more busy by beginning a new endeavor – The Riojas Internship.

Three students, Phoebe Burfeind, Ellen Egger, and Kaylin Ware have already committed themselves to this internship, which will inaugurate this coming August for the 2023-24 academic year. Those three students represent the full roster our house can accommodate. Before I totally spill the beans, however, a little backstory is needed.

This past summer, my wife, Mary, and I finally became empty-nesters. We live in a rambling, old farmhouse that, among other things, suffered through a hideous 1970s remodel. When our youngest son, Samuel, still lived at home, his bedroom was given a total makeover with the help of his brothers.

The end result was nice. Very nice. It included new electrical, new drywall, new flooring, new doors, and a tasteful paint scheme.

It was so nice that, when the nest was officially empty, the remodel rebooted on an adjacent bedroom, then spread to a third room, with sights put on the final room of the second floor.

No, we weren't attempting to make the house sellable and ride the crazy waves of the housing market. We simply wanted better studio spaces for artwork and perhaps a nice guest room. Then things went a little sideways.

While delivering two panels to All Saints Lutheran Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, Mary and I were chatting with Alysha Ware, the wife of Rev. Jeffrey Ware, and their daughter, Kaylin, who has considerable art skills. Kaylin had been homeschooled and would soon be facing the prospect of furthering her education at the college level. The specter of iffy art programs, however, dominated the horizon of collegiate choices. The question of 'What do we do?' was brought up. Something like a fleeting glimpse of an idea shot across my brain. What had been pleasant conversation turned a corner into a semi-gelatinous germ of an idea. And it wouldn't let go.

That was in mid-October. Less than two months later, the idea was solidifying and I was emailing Pr. Ware, his wife, and daughter, while seeking the advice of wise Lutherans who had connections within the workings of synod and education. Mostly, I was seeking their advice on my sanity, but I was also trying to gauge feasibility and reality. In the end, I simply could not find an excuse to do otherwise, so I pushed forward with the concept of an internship.

But why? Why do this? Why now? Why, at this time of my life, should I add more to my schedule and essentially create more work when others my age were easing into retirement? The reasons were compelling.

For starters, we need more confessional Lutheran artists. I'm tired of feeling like the Lone Ranger of artists when there is plenty of work out there for others. The landscape is also desperate for art that doesn't hale from the 1970s, doesn't insist on being Mid-century Modern, and confesses more than "feeling groovy." Adding three hopeful artists to the roster may not seem like much, but it's a good start.

Secondly, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that college programs in general and art programs in particular are in a sordid state. Wishing them otherwise isn't enough. Too often, young, impressionable minds are forced to tinker with worldly trends, broken philosophies, and fetid rubbish in the pursuit of tolerance, acceptance, and social awareness. No trade school inculcates such stupidity, and neither should an art education.

Once upon a time, an artist learned his craft – and I use that term in the loftiest sense – as if his life and livelihood depended upon it. Because it did. At the very least, one should learn the rules well before attempting to break them. But now an idiot can tape a banana to a gallery wall and call it "art." Calling it thus, however, does not make it so.

It may certainly be argued that I'm a curmudgeon; that I'm an anachronism; that I'm ignorant. I will accept those labels and proudly wear them. What, then, do we do with the parental responses of the three interns – the tear-filled declarations that this internship is an answer to prayers? Those humbling admissions alone bear witness to the state of art education and the dire need to change it.

Unlike other internships, I will not use the students to clean my studio or do my work or make me lattes. (On second thought, there may be lattes.) That does not mean they will avoid work. On the contrary, they all understand that my teaching methods will be based on experiences with favorite teachers – you know, the ones that did not coddle or pull punches; the ones that expected far more of students than anyone dared, including the students themselves. Interns will work on pieces for their own portfolios, so that pastors, churches, and various institutions can immediately see those things of which the interns are capable.. The interns will learn business practices. They will learn how to handle – sometimes with kid gloves – churchly art commissions. They will be taught the theological underpinnings of sacred art. Above all, they will learn why this vocation is at all worthy and, when done rightly, is truly a high calling.

Thus, I am beginning this private endeavor with the blessing of my wife, the interns, and their parents. May The Lord also truly bless this endeavor, to His glory!

Monday, October 24, 2022

The All Saints Nativity and Resurrection Paintings

© Copyright Edward Riojas

What follows is an explanation of two paintings recently delivered – and soon to be installed – at All Saints Lutheran Church, Charlotte, NC. The congregation is well into the process of taking an existing, protestant, white box and repurposing it as a confessional Lutheran sanctuary. The focus will be a custom carved crucifix that is currently being created in an Italian sculpture studio.


© Copyright Edward Riojas.
Images may not be reproduced for any purpose.

The oil-on-wood paintings were meant not merely to act as parentheses to a central Crucifix, but to more fully explain Who this was that was once crucified. In essence, they confess that Jesus Christ is true Man and true God.

The left-hand panel depicts the Nativity of our Lord. Joseph looks out at the viewer. His gaze makes use of an old artistic device that “pulls” the viewer into the painting; it breaks the visual plane and includes us in this otherwise intimate and exclusive moment in time.

Traditionally, Joseph holds a burning candle to show that he literally carried the Light of the World. He is also traditionally depicted sleeping to show that he was given instructions through dreams. Unfortunately, he may be shown doing both (gasp!): Holding a burning candle while sleeping. I have avoided that pitfall, and have therefore kept him wide awake. The candle has been replaced with a lit lantern, and it was very intentional that the ironwork of the lantern was transformed into a conspicuous cross. The light it gives far outshines even the star which eventually drew the magi to this King.

Following a more probable scenario, a stone manger rests firmly in the foreground of the left-hand painting. European depictions typically show a wooden manger, but lumber was a more precious commodity in Bible lands and was reserved for more noble uses.  In the Nativity, God became incarnate; there, He dwelt with us. But "the sign" given by the angels was a decidedly morbid one. The swaddling cloths and the stone manger pointed forward to an embalmed body in a sarcophagus, an all-too-soon burial, and a dead God.

The manger is inscribed with, “CHRISTUS REX” (“Christ the King”) and beneath that is “IHS,” an abbreviation for “Jesus,” which is prophetically circumscribed with a crown of thorns.

In the right-hand painting, a similar visual device is depicted: An empty ossuary serves as a footrest for the resurrected Christ. The God-Man was dead, but is never to be dead again. It was the practice in the Biblical world to first bury a body in a tomb, and then later transfer the decayed bones to a much smaller ossuary. Without having a corrupted body, there was hardly a point to the tomb, and certainly no point to using an ossuary for His skeletal remains.

The Resurrected Christ looks at us with a reassuring gaze. His head is surrounded by a tri-radiant nimbus to show that He is a Person of the Holy Trinity; that He is True God. Jesus holds a cross-emblazed banner, in traditional fashion, to show that He has proclaimed victory over Hell. The stone, the seal, and the tomb are all in vain. The empty ossuary is inscribed with “CHRISTUS VICTOR” (“Christ the Victor”) under which is a “Chi-Rho,” an abbreviation for “Christ,” circumscribed with a victorious laurel wreath.

Satan is defeated and crushed under the foot of Christ. Satan is undone. Even his fangs lie at the foot of the ossuary.

And in case we may still wonder if this Hebrew Messiah gave His life for us undeserving goyim, a special tree is planted in that blessed garden – one into which we have been grafted. The life of Jesus Christ, once given on a far different tree, now nourishes us, His adopted children.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Every Party Needs a Pooper

 Copyright © Edward Riojas

I received an invitation to participate in ArtPrize 2022 ages ago, but this artist won't be joining the competition. I know that makes me a pooper, but such comes with the territory of a self-styled art curmudgeon. I have, however, good reasons to avoid the hoopla.

For starters, my wife gave a rather impressive fist pump when I made the same decision two years ago. That was the last "normal" ArtPrize – when the competition wasn't an off-year attempt to dress up downtown Grand Rapids with ugly sweaters of iffy, public art. But I digress. 

That fist pump was in response to the massive time-suck involved in first creating a piece, then jumping through hoops to secure a venue, dragging the piece down to that venue, hanging around that same venue for two-plus weeks, and then dragging the piece back home. Oh, sure, I usually came home with a prize: A nasty case of influenza from plopping myself down in the world's biggest petri dish.

And then came Covid. 

Another reason for avoiding ArtPrize is the willy-nilly attitude of the powers that be who run the show. "Let's create a massive, yearly art spectacle for the masses in a small area. Well, let's not make it entirely for the masses – let's make it partially for art snobs. And let's spread it out a bit so hoity-toity art venues can join in the fun. And airports. Let's take some of the prize purse and give it to venues. Especially ones that will win every year. Let's be irresponsible with the funds and cut the prizes. Let's invite musicians and  street performers, because we don't understand what the visual arts really are. Artists don't need incentives like goody bags, so let's give them a goody bottle of water. Even if they can drink water from a goody drinking fountain. Let's not do it every year, because that costs too much – we'll do it every other year, and do something different on the odd years to confuse the masses. They're already confused about art, anyway."

The bottom line is: They originally created something fantastic but couldn't leave well enough alone, so now it's an embarrassment.

Speaking of embarrassments, the whole world has clearly become embarrassed for the competition, and the real international talent is now avoiding us. Sure, ArtPrize statistics show that international participation is growing, but there's nothing to stop lame artists from plopping down pesos or kronor or rubles and thereby be considered international "talent." Once a recognized international artist is forced to face off with a crappy piece of art created with 10 million sequins – and loses – it's understandable that they would rather seek a stage elsewhere on the planet.

Art competitions like the Turner Prize and the Kandinsky Prize have such prestige that inclusion in those events is a massive prize in itself. ArtPrize, on the other hand, had to throw bucket-loads of cash to lure such talented artists. But even amounts close to a quarter-million dollars won't entice them anymore – not when sequins are involved.

It's also clearly evident that art has taken a backseat to agenda in ArtPrize. If you don't support the latest stupid cause or fly a rainbow flag or are the correct shade of non-white or rally to the correct side of the political aisle, then apparently you are no artist. Especially if you don't like sequins. If, however, you vaguely represent conventionalism, representationalism, or religion, then surely you don't belong. Never mind the fact that the Church and classical art carried such sorry-excuse-of-artists, kicking and screaming, to this present day. I've heard, while standing next to my sacred "Adoremus" piece, that "Religious pieces should not be allowed." Sequins, I suspect, were somewhere behind that comment.

Some may accuse me of elevating art too far above the mundane; of expecting too much of artists; of believing that the visual arts are worthy of being held to the highest standards. I cannot, however, be accused of being a  pooper. That title goes to the septic waste that persistently oozes into the nooks and crannies of ArtPrize. When it comes down to the pitfalls of ArtPrize, some of us are simply tired of the stench.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Clarity Comes into the Picture

 Copyright © Edward Riojas

Rarely do I show photos of a piece before it is finished or delivered to the client — that includes small detail photos. When the exception is made, there is good reason for it. In this case, advice from past instructors made me reconsider what exactly it is that I am doing in a set of paintings destined for All Saints Lutheran Church, Charlotte, NC.

"Don't pull any punches," is a decades-old quip from a writing instructor. That one has always been easy. Those of you who really know me know that I don't do "subtle" very well. My artistic lines are clear and my colors are saturated. My reds are punchy. Some have even accused me of using child-like colors — whatever that means.

When creating the illusion of space, my art instructor would often tell us to make the foreground objects so clear that they would "poke you in the eye." As I was working on this current piece, that same sentiment paraphrased itself into, 'Make it so clear that you might trip over it." And that is precisely where Holy Scripture gave me a good slap.

Detail of the commissioned piece.
Copyright © Edward Riojas

You see, I was working on one of two paintings for the church, and the painted shapes on which I was working are identical in size and shape, and appear in the same place — about shin high — in each of the two paintings. The left-hand panel is of the Holy Nativity, while the right-hand panel is of the Resurrection.

The two shapes are very block-like and, had they existed outside of their two-dimensional constraints, it is true that one would be careful to walk near them for fear of tripping. They are stumbling blocks.

In the left-hand painting, a stone manger rests firmly in the foreground. In the Nativity, God became incarnate; there, He dwelt with us. But "the sign" given by the angels was a decidedly morbid one. The swaddling cloths and the manger pointed forward to an embalmed body in a sarcophagus, an all-too-soon burial, and a dead God.

In the right-hand painting, an empty ossuary serves as a footrest for the resurrected Christ. The God-Man was dead, but is never to be dead again. Without having a corrupted body, there was never a point to using an ossuary for His skeletal remains. With the Jews arguing amongst themselves over the possibility of a Resurrection, it is no wonder such blocks caused — and still cause — men to stumble. Neither is it any wonder that the philosophies of man still look at the same as utter foolishness.

It is, however, a blessing to the Children of God when the hidden reality of the Word becomes crystal clear and pokes us in the eye. It doesn't matter that we cannot logically wrap our heads around it, and it doesn't matter if it doesn't fall in line with centuries of man-made traditions. The beauty of Holy Scripture is that it forces us to admit that, in our fallen state, we are weak and vulnerable and in desperate need of a Savior. Holy Scripture pulls no punches.

Friday, February 11, 2022

"Law and Gospel:" A new piece

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Yes, it's been a while since I graced this blog with my words. You had your break, but now the Curmudgeon is back – well, at least for now. This year's schedule is going to be grueling, so the words may come in at a slow trickle. What follows is a description of a new diptych, "Law and Gospel," which accompanied the piece when it was delivered to the client...

"Law and Gospel" Edward Riojas. 2021. Oil on wood.

This diptych attempts to convey, through symbolic reality, Law and Gospel. As Lutherans understand it, the two are so inseparable and so dependent on each other that it sometimes seems odd that “proper distinction” should ever enter into discussion. It is with the same spirit that this piece was created.

From its inception, shape and construction drove the piece. It was very intentional that the shapes of the panels echo the representation of the tablets of the Law which Moses carries. Moses is depicted as one who delivers the Law given by God, while Christ Jesus is depicted as THE perfect fulfillment of the same Law. The two literally hinge on each other.

In the left panel, Moses descends from the mountain. Behind him is the Shekinah – the cloud of Glory in which the Lord dwells. His presence is symbolized by the three rays emanating from an unseen source, for no one may see His face and live.

Unlike most depictions of Moses, two rays emanate from his shining face – not as the usual “horned” images of the prophet, but as a reflection of the Lord’s glory, Whom Moses has beheld. The two rays, however, have a horizontal trajectory and point to the giving of the Law to all mankind. The face of Moses was painted so that it is “uncomfortable” to look at it; His blue eyes seem to be etched with the sight of the Divine.

Moses, in his humility, does not dare touch the tablets, but holds them with the hem of his sleeves. The tablets are depicted in symbolic form, using a decidedly-Lutheran twist on the normal Hebrew interpretation. Typically, depictions of the tablets are boiled down – not to letters, but to numbers. Lutherans consider the first table to be comprised of three commandments, which tell us how we should live in relation to God, and the second table of seven commandments, which tell us how we should live in relation to our fellow man. The first table is placed on the right-hand side – the Hebraic ‘first page.’ Here it must be noted that, in its design, the crucified Jesus Christ is placed on the symbolic equivalent of the first table, confessing Him as God. Holy Scripture states that the tablets were written on front and back. Instead of simple Hebrew numbers, the opening words of each command are depicted, e.g., “You shall not murder,” etc., in Hebraic fashion. The last two commandments, as Lutherans count them, share the same opening words, giving a hint that the words must continue on the back of the tablet.

It is intentional, too, that Moses's garb prefigures a pastor’s chasuble and stole, which is adorned with pomegranates. The pomegranate’s double meaning has come down to us through the ages as symbolic of both the abundant blessings from the Lord and the Resurrection of the Lord, Who burst forth from the bonds of death, once for all.

In the right panel, Christ Jesus is depicted as the perfect Sacrifice which atones for the sins of the world and fulfills the Law’s perfect demands. His innocent blood pours down the cross. Blood and water pour from His pierced side, pointing to and confirming the waters of Holy Baptism into His death and resurrection. A skull and bones lie at the base of the cross, symbolizing not only Christ’s victory over death, but also alluding to the tomb of Adam, from whom sin was inherited.

Behind the crucified Christ, the outline of the temple can be seen. Sacrificial smoke and prayerful incense rise, but there is an end to both as Christ becomes THE sacrifice and as He becomes our only mediator through prayer. Even in death, Jesus displays His glory as a Person of the Holy Trinity through the symbolic use of the tri-radiant nimbus, echoing back to the Shekinah and the Giver of the Law.


Giclée prints of "Law and Gospel" are now available by contacting the artist.
Sizes/Prices of prints:
40" [wide] x 28.8" / $215
36" x 26" / $180
24" x 17.3" / $120
18" x 13" / $80
To order this print or any other that I offer, please email me at

Friday, April 2, 2021

In A Garden

Copyright © Edward Riojas

When creating images relating to Holy Scripture, I like to get things right. In a way, it’s similar to the genre of history painting, in which the artist takes the time to research period costumes, location, and even the weather surrounding a specific historical event. 

Holy Scripture, however, is not simple history. The Word does not always give information that would otherwise seem like straightforward historical data. Most historical information, such as the dress of a Galilean fisherman or the construction of a Jerusalem house, must be gleaned from other sources.

Neither does Holy Scripture read like a novel. Unless there is good reason to do so, Biblical passages won’t tell the reader whether or not "the sky was ripe with rain" or if a "garment gently played in the breeze." The more romantic corners of our brain are necessarily ignored. That’s because the Bible was not written as a fine diversion for our amusement.

On those occasions when Scripture does offer narrative details, however, the reader should pay attention. Those things which we often gloss over; those words which are often left in the margins are usually significant.

St. John’s account of Christ’s burial, for example, is the only Gospel to mention a garden. It is mentioned once, then implied shortly thereafter.

“Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.” John 19:41 (ESV)

“... Supposing him to be the gardener,...” John 20:15b (ESV)

Of course, we know this. Some artists make the tomb environs look well-kept, with cypress trees, vines, and perhaps a lily or two. Other artists are content to take the minimalist road and stick to a rock garden. Unfortunately, we are usually so focused on the account of Jesus’ death that we often underappreciate the horticultural detail. That is, unless you’re Adam or Eve.

With the temple curtain torn in two from top to bottom, with unsavory Goyim confessing Jesus to be the Son of God, with graves being opened and saints contained therein appearing to many, this small detail seems a Divine nod to a very different garden. I can see Adam giving the biggest fist-pump ever at John’s mention of a garden. To suffer life-long banishment of some 900 years from the Garden of Eden, only to have the Lamb of God interred in a mirrored location seems no coincidence. To have angels present, sans flaming swords, seems no coincidence, either. Yet there is more.

Into this garden was laid The Seed. It must first die before springing to life. But unlike other plants with their excruciating germination time, this Stump of Jesse not only sprang to life and became the Vine from which we branch, but It also flowered and became “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” This, in a garden.

Flanking 'garden' images from a shelved chancel project. Figures acknowledge the central cross.
(Collection of the artist)

Friday, January 15, 2021

“The Holy Ark of the Christian Church”

"Holy Ark of the Christian Church"
Edward Riojas. 2021. Oil on wood.
(Collection of the artist)

Copyright © Edward Riojas

This newly-revealed painting will be very familiar to some. Last May I offered a nearly-identical coloring page in an attempt to ease any annoyance during self-isolation. While many of the coloring pages were received with enthusiasm, that particular one grabbed considerable attention on Facebook, with more than 200 shares. Attention not only came from the Heartland of the U.S., but also from Canada, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Germany, Poland, Madagascar, Malaysia, and points beyond. Hence, I could not help but flesh out the coloring page into a painting.

I took the original image and gave it more visual breathing room in order to properly set the stage. Stylistically, there is a subtle homage to one of my favorite artists, N.C. Wyeth, with flavors of his work in the nautical margins.

The Church has been identified with a ship since ancient times, and has retained that symbolism to this day. Although a different type of nautical vessel, there is a Scriptural connection between the Church and the ark built by Noah. Matthew 24, Luke 17, and Hebrews 11 all give hints of something greater than simple historical accounts of the flood, and it’s easy to see a connection between the unbelieving, fallen state of the world during Noah’s day and the evils of our own day. 1 Peter 3 takes an extra step, connecting the ark and the flood to Holy Baptism: 

“...when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ...” (1 Peter 3: 20b-21)

It should not be surprising, therefore, that Martin Luther included the words, “the holy ark of the Christian Church,” in the Flood Prayer now used as part as the Baptismal Rite. It is from a combination of ancient imagery representing the Church and Luther’s words that I drew inspiration for this painting.

Unlike the simple sea-faring vessels from antiquity, I used a decidedly robust vessel that will not and cannot founder. It is majestic and massive. One might imagine that it does not even creak or groan under the mounting waves, but plies a steady course set by the Holy Spirit. Its stout bulwarks are formed by two sets of elders – twenty four in all – and its figurehead is the crucified Christ Himself. Two angels collect the blood and water into chalice and font. An image of the risen Christ drives the ship, blessing those who are carried along in safety. The wheelhouse – that seemingly small structure – contains the chancel and altar where our Lord, the Captain, promises to be. Three red banners identify its Master as a Person of the Holy Trinity, while a fourth banner issuing from the risen Christ underscores His sacrificial blood.

I intentionally placed the horizon at an angle, giving the impression of an unrelenting, angry sea. A foaming skull may allude to the perils of the days in which we live, but it also points to something else: Death by drowning. In Holy Baptism, the washing does not simply cleanse the outer body, but completely obliterates sin, drowns the old Adam, and raises us to life in the New Adam, Christ Jesus.


The original painting, “Holy Ark of the Christian Church,” as well as giclée prints of the same, are available for purchase.

Sizes/Prices for giclée prints:
24” x 36” / $175
16” x 24” / $110
12” x 18” / $80

The original painting, oil on wood, 24” x 36”, unframed / $6,000 (U.S.)

Domestic (U.S.) shipping is included on prints, as well as the original painting. There will be additional shipping/duty fees on all international orders based on destination.

To order or for more information, please email me at