Friday, November 25, 2016

A Lavish Record

“Mark” Chuck Close. 1979.
(Museum of Modern Art, New York)

Copyright © Edward Riojas

It is something which artists rarely intend, but it happens.

Every artist loves to make marks, and making a mark in history is every artist’s dream. Becoming a reliable source for historical reference, however, isn’t exactly a high priority among the artsy-fartsy. There is a nomadic side of the artist that wants to follow every creative vein in sight and live the Bohemian life, and producing reference material doesn’t fit too well in that mold.

But time happens. Eventually, everything man touches becomes dated – art included. Becoming associated with a place in time isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but eras tend to harden and cure over time like concrete. Then they become immovable; they become repositories of history.
“Boomtown” Thomas Hart Benton. 1928.
(Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, N.Y.)

Chuck Close’s photorealistic piece, “Mark,” could have been done by any photo-copying knucklehead today, until the viewer actually looks at the piece. Then they ask, “Where did the subject get those glasses, and – wait a minute – is that shirt polyESTER?” Like it or hate it, the piece has been firmly placed in history.

The further back one travels in time, the more significant those artistic details become to historians. A Thomas Hart Benton cityscape of a Depression-era town might simply be a pleasant painting until we realize the place was dozed long ago for a strip mall. It is only then that we set aside esthetics and look at the painting for the placement of buildings, checking out their architectural details.

“White Cloud, Head Chief of the Iowas”
George Catlin. 1845.
(National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.)

Early frontier artist George Catlin approached his subjects with a much keener eye on preserving a place in time when whole nations of people were disappearing. With near-scientific observation, the likenesses and details of Native Americans were recorded for those who might otherwise forget. We view Catlin’s images, lament the passing of cultures and appreciate the historicity of his paintings.

Taking a giant leap back in time, Gothic and Renaissance artists unknowingly left historians a valuable store of knowledge. Nowhere else is this more obvious than in Sacred art from those eras.

While ancient Rome and Greece were held with high regard in the Renaissance mind, the Holy Lands were not. Without having accurate information and reference when painting religious subjects, early artists deferred to images of the dress and lifestyle they did know. Hence, the Virgin Mary may be depicted wearing a cotehardie or a houpelande or some other European dress typical of the day, but not a frock indigenous to the Holy Land.
“Altarpiece with the Passion of Christ” (detail)
Unknown German artist. c. 1490.
(The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Md.)

The same is true when artists depicted Roman soldiery. While speaking the languages of antiquity were marks of a Renaissance man, having equal knowledge of their weapons cache apparently was not. Gothic and Renaissance paintings are a prime reference source for armor and weapons of the Renaissance, including flamberges, falchions and halberds, but one won’t find in Renaissance art an example of a Roman gladius or pilum – both standard issue for the Roman foot soldier. And the viewer doesn’t really care. Or notice.

Average museum-goers are so used to these incongruities that viewers of old paintings translate the costumes and accoutrements as authentic. They are authentic, but only to the time and culture in which the work was created. It is the same thing as a modern artist producing a painting of Mary and Joseph wearing jeans and t-shirts or top hat and hoop skirt. Well, sort of.

Of course, we needn’t chastise artists long gone for their lack of authenticity. These artists have put a clear time stamp on their own works, and have certainly created timeless pieces in the process. Thus, we inherit a double blessing in our own day.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Art Curmudgeon’s Gift Guide

“With No Sense For Time”
Fine art giclée print by Hope Olson.
Starting at $38

Copyright © Edward Riojas

I’m caving in to the commercialism-thing, and it’s not even Thanksgiving.

Many of you will be shopping before that mangled turkey is even cold, or you will be, at very least, planning your attack on Black Friday, so please allow me to turn you in a different direction before you drag your bloated self to the nearest mall. Besides, you don’t want to roll out of bed at the crack of whatever on Black Friday, just to suck on a five dollar coffee and stand in line two miles from the nearest cash register. I know it’s the American way, but it doesn’t have to be. You can be more American by going online and supporting the arts in the good ol’ U.S. of A. All this while wearing your jammies.
“Parable of the Buried Treasure”
Fine art giclée print by Edward Riojas.
Starting at $75 or

Consider this your gift guide for folks who are slightly more deserving than a Hai Karate cologne set. Admittedly, my picks are limited in scope, but they’re all good stuff. They might also whet your appetite to search beyond my choices.

The first of my picks is the work of Hope Olson, who shared a venue with moi during ArtPrize. Her work is extremely fresh and equally affordable. She re-interprets cubism using a designerly color palette, which begs her delightful pieces to be hung and enjoyed. “With No Sense For Time,” above right, is available as a giclée print. The original has been sold, but there are plenty of other originals available on her site, beside a new selection of prints.
“Sola Fide”
Painting by Tanya Nevin. $168

Speaking of prints, I sup-POSE I should toot my own horn and mention that I also offer a large variety of prints in several sizes. A few of the originals are also for sale, in case you want to give an extremely special gift. Shown here is one of the more popular prints. “Parable of the Buried Treasure” is a slightly different, but strong interpretation of the parable of the Kingdom of Heaven. A print selection can be found at or in the “Giclee Prints for Sale” album in the public Facebook page "Edward Riojas - Artist." Or, if you really want to use that plastic to purchase the same, then go to

While you’re at Ad Crucem, check out the work of other artists represented on the site, including Tanya Nevin. Her work takes the sacred and gives it a feminine touch in a truly original approach. “Sola Fide” is just one example of her pieces available from Ad Crucem. Prints and originals are both available at the site. The best endorsement I can give is that I own a couple of Tanya’s original pieces.
“Martin Luther: Treasures of the Reformation”
Published by Sandstein Verlag. $39
Artbook, via Minneapolis Institute of Art

One other splendid idea is an art book. If, like me, you’ve resigned yourself to the fact you probably won’t be able to attend one of the Luther shows in Atlanta, Minneapolis or New York, then the catalog is the next best thing. The book represents 400 exhibits in art and writing, most of which are being shown abroad for the first time. If, on the other hand, you CAN attend one of the three U.S. shows, then tickets to the Luther show are a must on your list.

There’s always one in every family – the oddball who has everything, including a wry sense of humor. If you have one lurking somewhere in your gene pool, then consider perusing the online art museum gift shops that abound. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago is listed as one of the top ten museum gift shops by the Wall Street Journal. Like other top ten shops, it is loaded to the gills with all manner of unusual gifts that ooze taste and artsy-fartsy-ness. For those with a sense of humor, I suggest the Marie Antoinette salt and pepper shaker set by Terry Kerr. Oh yes, it will definitely fit in with the antique china in that corner hutch. If it doesn’t, then heads will roll.

“Marie Antoinette Salt and Pepper Shaker” by Terry Kerr. $25. Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Grasping At The Boundless

“Trinity of the Broken Body”
Robert Campin. 1410.
(Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt)

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Perhaps Robert Campin was the first. Perhaps he wasn't. Whoever it was, a precise formula for painting The Holy Trinity was concocted during the early Renaissance and passed around in rapid succession, influencing big names to crank out similar versions and inspiring others to do the same. And the recipe bothers me.

It is a bold move by anyone in Christendom to grasp at the boundlessness of our Almighty God. It is a vain attempt to wrap one’s brain around His omnipresence. Humans, however, have an annoying habit of wanting to put things in their pockets and bring them out at will. Even Christians become dumfounded at heavenly visions, and end up suggesting something as random as tents – as did disciples at the Transfiguration.

Whether commissioned to do so or of their own volition, artists attempted to visually capture the Holy Trinity in a similar manner. What is somewhat puzzling is that they often did so while forcing the vision apart from Scripture.
“The Holy Trinity”
Masaccio. 1425.
(Santa Maria Novella, Florence)

Long before Campin painted his “Trinity of the Broken Body,” iconographers used an image of three angels as a symbol of The Holy Trinity, pointing to Abraham’s visitors near the oaks of Mamre as recorded in Genesis 18. It was enough for Christians. For a while.

There were also depictions of Jesus' baptism, in which each Person of The Holy Trinity made Themself known. Apparently, that also wasn't enough.

The new formula called for specific elements: The crucified Christ being held by The Father, and the nearby Dove of the Holy Spirit. However, there are big problems with this formula that dance awfully close to heresy.

For beginners, Scripture is pretty clear in showing that The Father was not at the cross. Admittedly, saying as much ignores the very omnipresence of God. Admittedly, it smacks of heresy. Admittedly, it is impossible to reconcile the “is, but is not” of the thing, but when Christ cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?,” it is convincing that His Father was not there.
“Adoration of the Holy Trinity”
Albrecht Dürer. 1511.
(Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)

It can also be argued that an otherwise peculiar recording of meteorological conditions was unnecessary – unless it was pointing to something else. Aaron’s Blessing from The Lord carried the unusual line, “The Lord make his face to shine upon you.” The antithesis in its deepest form would cause “Darkness over the whole land.” Such was the case at Jesus’ crucifixion.  The Father very much turned His back on His Son.

Capturing the likeness of The Father is a major fail, anyway. It is simply dumb. The results always end up looking like an old guy, Father Frost, or something worse. Jesus Christ took on the flesh of man. The Father did not. Forcing the viewer to look on any depiction of The Father puts them in a difficult place and confines He who is infinite into a finite form.

“The Holy Trinity”
Lucas Cranach the Elder. 1515.
(Kunsthalle, Bremen, Germany)
Of course, it is also a bold move to single out The Persons as individuals of the whole, when They are so interwoven as to defy separation. It is only for the sake of human weakness that we speak thus.

Holy Scripture does not say where the other two persons of The Holy Trinity were during the crucifixion. Or does it? The Holy Spirit, while not descending as a dove, was at work in a convict dying next to Jesus, and The Holy Spirit was guiding the tongue of a Gentile centurion. “Surely this man was the Son of God.”

And where might The Father be if, in His omnipresence, He was not holding the cross of Christ? Perhaps He, in His grief for His Son and in His righteous anger toward Satan, was rending His clothes – the curtain of the Temple – and fuming that Satan is as good as dead.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Tale of a Tree

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Once upon a time, there grew a tiny tree in a dark forest. It was like any other beech tree, with one exception: It was blessed to have a little patch of sunshine it could call its own.

Every day the sun passed by the little tree, and smiled. Every night the little tree stretched its limbs, and grew a bit more.

As time passed, the beech tree grew tall. Its branches spread wide, and birds often nested far above the ground in the tree’s protection.

The once-small tree knew, however, that it could not grow forever. It would steal glances at tree bones littering the forest floor, and the tree wondered if it, too, would one day topple over and be forgotten.

Then one day a woodsman came knocking on the trees. He passed by one that sounded hollow. He passed by two others that were too small. The woodsman finally stood in front of the beech tree, greeted it with his strange words, gave it a blessing, and then set to work on the noble tree.

Time passed ever so slowly. Years went by, and the tree, now sawn and portioned, lay under a thatched roof in a lumberman’s shed. The beech wondered if it would have been better to lay forgotten on the forest floor.

One sunny day, a man wearing a cape visited the shed and looked at the beech. He passed by and looked at other lumber. Then he talked with the lumberman, then looked a second time at the beech. The man wearing the cape smiled. After talking with the lumberman again, the caped visitor watched as the beech was loaded onto a heavy wagon.

The wagon followed the man down rocky roads in the woods. Then it followed the man on muddy roads past cow pastures. Then it followed the man on brick roads of a town. Street after street held stout buildings framed in lumber. The beech thought it saw a familiar face in the posts and beams of one such building.

At last the wagon stopped in front of a large building. The lumber was unloaded and each piece of beech was carefully brought inside. The beech was no longer living under a thatched roof. It was inside an artist’s shop. The beech smiled in the warmth of its new home, and fell asleep.

One morning the beech was pulled out of bed, even though it wasn’t quite finished sleeping. All day long, the beech was sanded and painted and sanded again. At the end of the day, the beech looked at its new smooth, white covering with wonder.
“Princess Sibylle of Cleve”
Lucas Cranach the Elder. 1526.
Mixed media on red beech wood.
(Weimarer Stadtschloss, Germany)

Not long after that day, a beautiful young lady came to visit. She had red hair and wore a delicate wreath for a crown. Many assistants helped with her coat and brought her things when she asked. The artist was very polite to her, but then he had the lady sit just so. He took the white-covered beech wood, put it on a special stand, and sat in front of it. All day long, the artist painted on the white surface.

It was very dark when the lady left. The artist would have to work much more on the painting of the lady. Days passed. The artist would sometimes spend many hours on the painting. At other times, he would put only a few strokes of paint on as he walked by.

There was much fanfare when the painting was finished and finally unveiled. The artist smiled and bowed to the lady. All her friends were pleased, and so was the beech wood. It had forgotten the dark forest, the forest floor, and the thatched roof of the lumberman’s shed.

Since those days of long ago, the painting has been shown to many people who come to visit. It hangs on a wall near other grand paintings and a fancy, ticking clock. And every day, the sun passes by, and smiles.