Friday, December 13, 2019

Putting The Child in the Back Seat

"Madonna and Child"
Hans Multscher (German). 1480.

Copyright © Edward Riojas

A annoyance occurs every year during the Nativity and artists are sometimes to blame.

It is subtle, and worms its way around the edges of Christendom, eating away at the fringe, but affecting the core, as well. What begins as an innocuous thing ends up, when allowed to continue on its logical progression, as heresy. I am writing, of course, of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and His mother, Mary.

The crown has long been one symbol associated with the Advent season and, by extension, Christmas. This originates from one of the “O Antiphons,” and runs through hymns of the Advent season. Lyrical phrases like, “The Advent of our King,” “Prepare a Royal Highway,” and “be Thyself our King of Peace,” roll off the tongue with tunes playing in our heads.

Hence, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that some artist in antiquity decided it would be swell to put a crown on the head of baby Jesus – this, in spite of His birth in a feed trough for livestock. But then something bad happened.

Whether because of a growing Marian cult, or because of some strange foreshadowing of gender equality, Mary was given a crown, as well. In the symbolic realm, however, a crown does not act as does a halo (nimbus). A nimbus is used for garden variety saints, but a tri-radiant nimbus is reserved for Persons of the Holy Trinity. That includes baby Jesus. No such distinction is made with a crown. Furthermore, when a crown is placed on an adult, it must be twice as large as the Infant’s. But sometimes the Child retained no crown at all. This is where subtlety was lost and things became dangerous.

Art began to mimic life, life began to mimic art, and the slippery slope of relegating the King of all creation to the back seat began. But we needn’t totally fault artists – music composers tripped in their own turn. The angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary apparently wasn’t quite enough, so heretics and lyricists put a few more words in the archangel’s mouth. The “Ave Maria” ended up with a second verse, and it wasn’t at all the same as the first. “Hail Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sinners...” goes off the deep end, and spirals into the netherworld.

While we may enjoy Renaissance depictions of the Madonna and Child, and while we may hum our favorite version of “Ave Maria,” it is important to draw critical distinctions. Unfortunately, those distinctions have become badly smudged, not only by Roman Catholicism, but also by some on the fringes of Lutheranism.

Prayers are offered to Mary and glory given to the same, while our King – and hers – sits as a darling afterthought on the lap of a queen. Lord have mercy! Of this, and so many other sins, we must repent.

The Word, which became flesh and dwelt among us, is living still and speaks even to this sin. Perhaps in knowing what would become of her perceived persona, the last words of Mary as recorded in the Gospels point in a far different direction than her devotees might expect: “Do whatever He tells you.”

Friday, December 6, 2019

An Article of Note

Copyright © Edward Riojas

In my avoidance of redundancy [and copyright infringement], I'm pointing your attention elsewhere for just this once. I was asked to write an article for this year's December issue of the Lutheran Witness. Because it is based on a description of one of my pieces, and because it is worth contemplating the coming of our Lord, I'm urging to hunt down a copy and give it a read.

What wasn't stated in the article is the fact that giclée prints of the piece are available for purchase. Below are sizes/prices for the prints. To order or for more information, please e-mail me at

19.5" x 30" / $150
15.5" x 24" / $110
12" x 18.6" / $80
"Adoremus" Edward Riojas. 2012. Oil on wood.
(Collection of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, Mich.)

Tuesday, November 26, 2019


HERE’S THE DEAL: I HAVE 12 ORIGINAL PIECES THAT ARE GATHERING DUST AND MUST GO! Our Savior Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, Mich., has an Organ Fund that needs filling. You have an itch to own an original Riojas at a drastically-reduced price. This is that opportunity.

FOR FOUR DAYS ONLY -- Black Friday, Small business Saturday, The First Sunday of the Church Year, and Cyber Monday (Nov. 29-Dec. 2, 2019) -- The original pieces below will be 40% off*.

The funds I receive on sales of each piece, minus shipping/handling* charges, will be given to the Organ Fund. Apart from purchasing anything, you may also give directly to the Organ Fund by emailing any of the following folks: Christina Roberts:; Rev. Jeremy Swem:; or Rev. David Fleming:

To purchase a piece, and for more information on each, please e-mail me BEGINNING FRIDAY, NOV. 29, 2019 at

*NOTE: 4-Day Special price does not include shipping, handling, insurance, and extra duties, etc., placed on international sales. Those will be determined upon shipping and billed to the purchaser. Intention/notification to purchase will be made by e-mailing the artist at and taken in order of time stamp. Payment will be accepted by either check or via PayPal. PayPal totals will be more, based on PayPal’s transaction fee. It is improbable that shipped pieces will arrive by Christmas.

“Parables of the Vineyard” Oil on wood. 46.5 inches by 31.5 inches. Framed. 
Original Price: $10,000.  4-DAY SPECIAL: $6,000*

“Two Men Went Up To Pray” Oil on wood. 24 inches by 48 inches. Unframed.
Original price: $5,000.  4-DAY SPECIAL: $3,000*

“O That My Words Were Written” Oil on wood. 37 inches by 70 inches. Framed.
Original price: $10,000  4-DAY SPECIAL: $6,000*

“Martin Luther” Oil on wood. 18 inches by 24 inches. Framed.
Original price: $2,500  4-DAY SPECIAL: $1,500*

“Katarina von Bora Luther” Oil on wood. 18 inches by 24 inches. Framed.
Original price: $2,500  4-DAY SPECIAL: $1,500*

“Adoremus” Oil on wood. 57 inches by 88 inches. Framed.
Original price: $10,000  4-DAY SPECIAL: $6,000*

“Ambrei as Potamiaena” Oil on wood. 48 inches by 84 inches,
unframed (without black border shown).
Original price: $10,000  4-DAY SPECIAL: $6,000*

“Precious in the Sight of the Lord” Oil on wood. 30 inches by 24 inches.
Original price: $5,000  4-DAY SPECIAL: $3,000*

“Archangel Michael” Oil on wood. 34 inches by 49 inches. Framed.
Original price: $5,000  4-DAY SPECIAL: $3,000*

“Under Slottet Bron.”  Oil on wood. 13 feet by 8 feet. Framed.
Original price: $20,000  4-DAY SPECIAL: $12,000*

“Förtrollade Skogen” Oil on wood. 11 feet by 4 feet. Framed.
Original price: $10,000.  4-DAY SPECIAL: $6,000*

“Fridur” Oil on wood. 144 inches by 52 inches. Unframed.
Original price: $10,000  4-DAY SPECIAL: $6,000*

Friday, November 22, 2019

A New Piece Unveiled

Copyright © Edward Riojas
 Copyright © Edward Riojas

The figure is centered, but he is not central. He is conspicuous, but he is not preeminent. He is illuminated, but he is not in the light. The composition of my newest piece, “Two Men Went Up To Pray,” belies the focus of the painting, and this was done with great intention.

The Pharisee appeared to be the paragon; the epitome of temple worshiper. When he awoke that morning, a quick gaze at the stripes of his tallit in the predawn light told him it was time for prayers. He put on the visage and garments and trappings of one who dared to enter the Temple courts. His grizzled payots lay next to his carefully-groomed beard. His shel rosh and teffilah, phylacteries bound to forehead and arm, carried bits of the Torah. His tassels were long. He covered his head with the prayer shawl and headed to the Temple. But he forgot something.

The Publican, on the other hand, had little to bring. With so many sins burdening him, pride had been left behind. He stood out among the others on the Temple grounds. Perhaps they saw his Augusticlavia, a piece of clothing Roman Equites wore – the social class to which Publicans belonged. Perhaps he had no tassels or phylacteries at all. Perhaps his prayer shawl was not recognized as Kosher. But he was recognized.

"Two Men Went Up To Pray"
Edward Riojas. 2019. Oil on panel.
(Copyright © Edward Riojas)
Those around him knew who he was, and disliked him for it. They thought he had been too comfortable with the occupying Romans, and he had been far too comfortable with squeezing Hebrew pockets. To Jews, he was an outsider who did not belong at the Temple. At all.

“Two men went up to the temple to pray.”

From childhood, we have been taught the selfishness of the Pharisee’s prayer. Not only was he thankful for, um, himself, but he was also thankful that he was not like others – especially the worst vermin of society; especially that Publican. Some versions say the Pharisee prayed “with himself,” or prayed “to himself.” We can easily surmise that the Pharisee’s prayer was no prayer at all. Still, the Pharisee was obviously comfortable with himself.

From childhood, we have also been taught of the discomfort with which the Publican prayed. He avoided the Temple limelight and stood far off. He could not bear to look heavenward, but beat his chest, and begged, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” This is the picture of misery. This is a man who dares not come out of the shadows. This is one who might crawl under a rock. For those of us who have felt this and felt it keenly, we know it is not a happy place. But it is a most blessed place, for the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart is what our Lord desires – not the scent of burning cattle from a thousand hills. This contrite heart is what the Pharisee had forgotten.

The point of this piece can be seen in small details of the painting. Hand gestures, in particular, clarify the essence of this passage from Holy Scripture. The Pharisee’s hand sits comfortably on his own chest in admiration of the superior man whom God has made. The Publican’s clenched fist beats his own chest in abomination of the man who has offended God and men.

But there is a hand from a third figure – One who is hidden in plain sight. This person gives consolation, in a simple gesture, to the burdened shoulder of the Publican. That hand is the focus of the painting. The wound on that hand is the epicenter of this passage and, indeed, the whole of Scripture. That wounded hand is evidence of undeserved Grace. This is how the one man went home justified.

Even as we read of the two men who went up to the temple to pray, we are reminded of another Who prayed. In His High Priestly prayer, Christ prayed, “...“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”


Sizes and prices for giclée prints of “Two Men Went Up To Pray:”
20" wide x 40" / $180
18" x 36" / $150
15" x 30" / $120
12" x 24" / $80

NOTE: Listed sizes are for the image itself – there is an extra one or two inches of white space all-around to aid in framing. Prints are signed, but are not matted or framed. Domestic shipping, etc., is included in listed prices. International orders will have additional shipping and duty charges.

THE ORIGINAL PIECE, a 24" x 48" unframed, oil on panel, is also for sale at $5,000. Shipping, handling, and duties are extra.

To order prints, or for more information on either the original or prints, please e-mail the artist at

Friday, November 8, 2019

I'll Bet That Idea Sounded Better In Your Head

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Between Halloween and Advent, there's this season called "Stupid." This is the time when knuckleheaded advertisers blast us with jingles like "We wish you a merry Kia" [I am not kidding], and other such drivel. I guess it shouldn't surprise us that not everyone understands what Christmas is about, let alone what constitutes good taste in gift-giving. Still, we somehow expect Christians to have a better grasp of things when it comes to Christmas gifts. I'd call it "great expectations," but someone has stolen that line. Anyway, here's a sampling of real merchandise that should be left off every one's Christmas list. Unless you really enjoy the season of Stupid...

Put a lid on it: How 'bout an upholstery-tack-encrusted, Western-infused, cowhide-wrapped toilet seat cover emblazoned with a cross? I don't even know where to begin with this thing, even though we all know where things will end. Not only is this flush with bad taste, but it's also overflowing with incongruous motifs. Just say "No" to...    Oh, for heaven's sake, just say "No."

Footnotes: The target audience for these socks must surely be test-weary seminarians. Why else would anyone want Bible verses hidden under their pant legs? For those wondering, this only comes in the King James Version. Apparently, there's a copyright on the ESV.

"No, you may not wear that to church, young lady:" Just because a piece of abbreviated apparel has a Bible verse on it does not make it a great addition to your wardrobe. Besides a bit of Scripture, this mini-skirt has "Stupid" written all over it.

Sweat it out: If the 10-mile run to the donut shop doesn't make you sweat, then certainly this stupid paraphrase, taken out of context, will do so. (Note: 20 lb. water bottle and Joel Osteen ear buds are sold separately.)

Fall wardrobe: Someone thought a Bible verse and a [poorly placed] snake would look great on a mini-skirt. See what I mean about the season of "Stupid?"

Lose this in the wash: Some fashion designer became possessed, and shortly thereafter Bob was gifted with Psalm shorts. Bob, we're begging you to go back to the cutoffs. Yes, the ones with the pockets showing.

Doggone it: Someone has high hopes for Fido, who not only is embarrassed by the misuse of Scripture, but is also seriously doubting whether the silly shirt will help with his potty training.

Things unseen: Ugh. What were they thinking?! The definition of Faith on a white pencil skirt?! If you are gifted with this fashion faux pas this Christmas, please re-gift it to the nearest dump. Especially if your name happens to be Faith.

If you can read this, then you're too close: Guys, by now you should know the difference between Holy underpants and  holey underpants. Get rid of them both. Even if they are a gift. Even if they inexplicably have Joshua 1:9 written on them in four-point text.

Resort wear: Not only does His love reach to the heavens, so also does some one's poor taste in swim trunks. Just put them back in the gift box and declare, "It's exactly what I didn't want for Christmas."

Friday, November 1, 2019

“God’s Own Child I Gladly Say It”

Copyright © Edward Riojas

This project began years ago, during what seems a different lifetime. In fact, I couldn’t pinpoint the original date of inquiry because at the time I was using an old, office e-mail address. My best guess is five years ago or more – another lifetime, indeed.

Through various revisions and lapses in time, the project evolved into its final form. The “God’s Own Child” Mural was designed for a hallway in the environs of a music conservatory at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Council Bluffs, Iowa. God willing, the conservatory will soon become the home base of “David’s Harp,” a new LCMS Recognized Service Organization that, among other things, bolsters the work of encouraging and developing young church musicians. It is fitting that such a beloved hymn is held up before music students on their daily walk.

Even the most tone-deaf among us, however, can do well to remember the hymn’s words on our daily walk. To that end, while we may not be able to wander the halls in St. Paul’s, it is now possible to hang a smaller version of the mural on our walls as a good reminder of our Holy Baptism. And, in case you need a bigger reminder, the print is available in some rather gargantuan proportions. The framing, however, is your responsibility.

Sizes and prices for giclée prints of “God’s Own Child:”
96" wide x 20" / $400
84" x 17.5" / $325
72" x 15" / $260
60" x 12.5" / $200
48" x 10" / $150
36" x 7.5" / $100

Note: Listed sizes are for the image itself – there is an extra one or two inches of white space all-around to aid in framing. Prints are signed, but are not matted or framed. Domestic shipping, etc., is included in listed prices. International orders will have additional shipping and duty charges. To order, or for more information, please e-mail the artist at

"God's Own Child" Mural. Edward Riojas. 2019. (St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Council Bluffs, Iowa)
Copyright © Edward Riojas

Friday, October 25, 2019

For All Saints Day and the Anniversary of the Reformation

Copyright © Edward Riojas

“And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.         Acts 2:7-11

This passage of Holy Scripture has always intrigued me, but perhaps not in the way most would think. Sure, the list of ancient regions and nations is interesting, but what is most curious is the way the writer speaks of “we” and “them,” and with whom reader most closely associates.

Drawing detail. (Copyright © Edward Riojas)
On the one hand, through adoption we can certainly associate with the “we” and marvel that The Spirit was poured out on such a diverse and foreign crowd. The event was essentially an epic ‘outreach’ mission, but by the Lord Himself and not some silly human invention.

On the other hand, we are not at all the “we” of whom the writer speaks. In fact, Gentiles were not yet part of the equation – that would not happen in the narrative until later in the Book of Acts.

It is probably a good exercise, however, to occasionally insert ourselves, along with the rest of the world, into the passage in the stead of extinct places like Pontus and Pamphylia. For Lutherans of European stock, it allows us to see how large the world is, and how small we really are. We might read the same passage thus:

‘...How is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Saxons and Thuringians and Bavarians and residents of Baden-Württenberg, Bavaria and Bremen...’

Yes, we were outsiders, too, but by God’s Grace considered worthy of the Kingdom, and ultimately heirs by adoption. What is more, we should remind ourselves that the Gospel was established in other places much earlier than Europe. Which brings us to Michael the Deacon.

In a curious event that is rarely discussed in Lutheran circles, Martin Luther once entertained  Michael the Deacon, of the then-Ethiopian Coptic Church, who traveled to Wittenberg to meet the Reformer. The two compared the Lutheran Mass and the Mass used by Ethiopian Orthodoxy and found that they were in agreement with each other. Michael even declared that Luther’s Articles of Faith were “a good creed.” Apparently, the Lutheran Church then extended full communion to the Ethiopian Church – a far cry from the goings-on in Rome. The consequences of that meeting may indeed have been more far-reaching than what history records.

What is also curious is the fact that there is no visual documentation of the meeting. Perhaps Lucas Cranach was on sabbatical. Maybe the artist was ill. What is more likely is that the meeting was so brief as to exclude time for a portrait sitting.

I found but one image online – and that was created but one year ago – commemorating the meeting. For years I have had the urge to recreate the event as a painting. For months now a drawing has been languishing on a drawing board, awaiting its final execution. Unfortunately, it will have to wait a bit longer as large projects pile up in front of me. I do think, however, that the drawing is developed enough for a preview, which is below.

The time is long overdue to commemorate this event, even if it must come from my own hand. Certainly, it is high time to recognize that the 1.5 million confirmed members of the LCMS do not comprise the bulk of confessional Lutherans worldwide, let alone confessional Christians worldwide. It is fitting that, on the eve of All Hallows, we thank the Lord for having poured out His Spirit far beyond those first disciples, and on the likes of Athanasius of Alexandria [Northern Africa], Cyprian of Carthage [Northern Africa], Michael the Deacon [Ethiopia], Martin Luther, and the great host of those who have gone before us with the sign of the Cross. It is also fitting to rejoice over those saints, this side of heaven, who live in every tiny corner of the globe – yes, even the 25 MILLION Lutherans living in, of all places, Africa.

Preparatory drawing for "Michael the Deacon and Martin Luther" (Copyright © Edward Riojas)

Friday, October 11, 2019


Copyright © Edward Riojas

Most of the pieces I create have been commissioned and, for that reason, are out the door as soon as they are completed. Most of them.

I don’t understand those artists who have a hard time parting with their work. Perhaps it’s because I work hard at what I do and look forward to finishing a piece. Maybe the time invested working on a project eventually wears on me. It might be that my mind is already toying with the next project. At any rate, I’m always more than happy to say “Sayonara” when all is said and done.

Not everything I create, however, is commissioned. To keep my sanity, I sometimes create pieces on my own initiative. I’ve been blessed with a mind active enough to keep my hands busy for eons. Ideas for interpretations of Holy Scripture are always rattling around in my noggin. I often visualize the image, the color palette, and significant details, but then have to store those visions away in a fold of gray matter until I have time. I also indulge the more fantastical part of my brain, if only for fun. Those images also get mentally filed away.

Occasionally these seemingly-random ideas come to fruition. ArtPrize has a knack for making that happen, but we shouldn’t blame ArtPrize for everything – sometimes I make it happen on my own. Sometimes I squeeze in one of those projects, even when my schedule shouldn’t allow it – which is pretty much all the time.

Until recently, I've sold only one of my many entries into ArtPrize – “Owashtanong.” Most everything else is still on the walls or stacked in some room of my house or languishing in the loft of my barn. That will soon change when a second ArtPrize piece, “Ecce Homo,” travels to a new home.

Of course, I would love to sell more pieces. Not all of them need end up in a church or private home. One or two of my pieces would – pardon the pun – look fantastic in a beer hall or perhaps in a children’s hospital.

If any of my readers have spare change – lot’s of spare change – in their pockets, below are some available originals for consideration. Even though I had a wonderful time working on each of them and still value their artistic merit, I would also love to tell them “Syonara.”

"Parables of the Vineyard." Oil on wood. 46.5" x 31.5", framed. $10,000.

"Under Slottet Bron." Oil on wood, with carved wooden frame. Approx. 8 feet x 13 feet. $20,000.

"Martin Luther." Oil on wood. 18" x 24", framed. $2,500.

"Katarina von Bora Luther. Oil on wood. 18" x 24", framed. $2,500.

"Förtrollade Skogen." Oil on wood. 11 feet x 4 feet, framed. $10,000. 

"O That My Words Were Written." Oil on wood. 37" x 70", framed. $10,000.

"Fridur." Oil on wood. 12 feet x 52", unframed. $10,000.

" 'St. Michael Contending.' " Oil on wood. 28.5" x 40.5", framed. $10,000.

"Archangel Gabriel." Ink on paper. 18" x 28", framed. $3,000.

"Archangel Michael." Oil on wood. 34" x 49", framed. $5,000.

"Precious in the Sight of the Lord." Oil on wood. 30" x 24", framed. $5,000.

"Ambrei as Potamiaena." Oil on wood. 48" x 84", unframed (without black frame shown). $10,000.

"Adoremus." Oil on wood. 57" x 88", framed. $10,000.

Friday, October 4, 2019

From the Ground Up

Typical floor plan of modern
church building

Copyright © Edward Riojas

We’ve all visited churches that resemble, um, something else. The sound system might be impressive; the seats comfortable. It may be obvious that an interior designer gave serious thought to color schemes and fabric options and lighting. The church may be visually more closely related to theater than theology, and that is a problem.

The design of a church is something few of us can change. Short of a bulldozer and unlimited cash, congregations are pretty much stuck with the building that has been handed down to them. Thanks to overly-creative, but liturgically-senseless architects, church buildings can become their own stumbling blocks.

I should probably digress here and explain that I don’t have it in for architects. My brother, Steven, is a respected architect, and I fully appreciate that the discipline goes far beyond my understanding. I do, however, appeal to the wisdom of early architects. Without massive databases laying out specs of building materials, they accomplished some pretty impressive feats through common sense and a little trial and error. Their vision, however, is what is most impressive.
Floor plan of Winchester Cathedral

One need only look at floor plans to see immediately what those architects were about.

Perhaps it was originally introduced to structurally accommodate a dome, or maybe some architect simply saw an opportunity, but the transept quickly became an important feature in churches large and small. Transepts, simply put, are short additions running on a transverse axis to the larger sanctuary space. Their placement, however, is important.

Whether the transepts were used for a choir area or side chapels or extra seating, their presence forced the floor plan into the shape of a cross. Even as cathedrals became more elaborate with adjoining rooms and cloisters, the cruciform shape remained conspicuous.

This architectural formula became so prevalent that it trickled down to smaller churches. Even if a simple country church doesn’t have transepts, there is often the residual suggestion of one in the layout. An open space between the pews and the chancel forms a cross with a central aisle.

One pastor recently postulated that this may be the reason why many churches place a Baptismal font in that intersection instead of outside the sanctuary proper. It’s placement would coincide with the corpus of Christ, and the wound which issued blood and water.

There is yet another reason to appreciate the floor plans of older churches: While it may be hard for parishioners to envision an overall layout of the sanctuary for sheer size, it still gives great comfort knowing that they stand squarely on the cross.

Floor plans, from left, of Amien, Salisbury, and Cologne Cathedrals

Friday, September 27, 2019

Talking Ed

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Apparently, I have something to say.

I used to be extremely quiet – just ask anyone who knows me. When I was a child, an older brother sometimes teased, “He doesn’t talk,” when visitors came to call. That point, however, becomes highly debatable if you now ask those close to me. The once-overly-shy kid can be a chatterbox.

Without promoting myself as a public speaker in any way, it seems a growing number of folks think I have something to say. I will assume it has nothing to do with the timbre of my voice, the smoothness of my delivery, or any presence I might exude. On the contrary, it has everything to do with the subject worth presenting – sacred art’s place in the sanctuary and how my work fits into that picture.

I've given talks before, but for some reason speaking engagements have been ramping up this year. Beginning in early January, I gave a couple of formal presentations at the Calvin Symposium on Worship. (Yes, I felt like a stranger in a strange land.) In late spring I gave an informal presentation to the KCAD Christian Fellowship at Kendall College of Art and Design. A few days ago I gave a similar presentation at Christ the King Lutheran Chapel on the campus of Central Michigan University. My presentation will be bumped up a couple of notches November 16, when I will be giving an expanded presentation at University Lutheran Chapel on the campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

This gentle escalation of talks is preparing me for an event that, Lord willing, will happen sometime next summer in Council Bluffs, Iowa. It’s a bit too early to spell out exactly what that will be, but the intent is to expand the presentation further yet so it spills over multiple days.

What is most exciting about all this is the strong desire – among confessional artists, Lutheran pastors, and laity alike – to educate on the subject of sacred art within the Lutheran church. For countless reasons, a great chasm has formed between how church art was viewed in the Old World and how it is viewed in the New World – and an ocean is the very least of reasons.

Hopefully, these presentations will begin to correct some long-held misconceptions, and will point, once again, to the usefulness of art in the Church. Hopefully, the shy, little child of my youth will yield to his elder self, who definitely has something to say.

Friday, September 20, 2019

ArtPrize Off Year

Copyright © Edward Riojas

What if somebody threw an ArtPrize and nobody cared?

That is becoming a valid question. The question most asked, however, is, “What is going on with ArtPrize this year?”

For those of you who don’t know, ArtPrize – now held every other year – is an art competition with a prize purse of half a million dollars. It draws thousands of local, national, and international artists, and thousands of entries come under scrutiny for both a public vote and a jurored vote. Hundreds of thousands of people descend on downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., for two and a half weeks beginning in mid-September. It used to be an annual event, then things started getting a little tired.

The powers-that-be decided the event should be a biennial thing, and the in-between years would be a different, but related, animal. Hence, the debut of this year’s Project 1. Technically, it isn’t ArtPrize. In spite of lots of media hype, a lot of folks are still asking, “What is going on with ArtPrize this year?”

I could be ornery and declare that I don’t know and I don’t care, but that is an oversimplification. What I do know is that I’m not alone in feeling drained from participating in ArtPrize. It takes a massive amount of energy to create something eye-catching and spectacular, and do so every year with little return on the time investment. I certainly don’t want ArtPrize to go away, but the break is a welcome relief.

This year’s Project 1, however, is not wholly a cause for celebration. While ArtPrize was once the darling of the Visual Arts – drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, and associated disciplines – the event has been slowly eroded by performing arts in the guise of the visual arts. Project 1 nearly ignores the visual arts, focusing instead on performing arts. Only a handful of commissioned pieces have been installed in public spaces this year.

Photos from Project 1 show a little art, lots of folks with microphones, and [I’m being generous here] modest crowds. I know I am sounding disgruntled, but I dare say folks will share my sentiments once they dig into the goings-on of this year’s event. Perhaps “pissed” will suit you better.

You see, Project 1, in its great wisdom, decided to showcase London-based Drag Syndrome, among other performances. Perhaps Project 1 wanted to display patronage of international “talent.” Perhaps they felt the need to educate the pedestrian public about “culture.” Perhaps simply showcasing the visual arts was not enough. But really, no one should be forced to think that a show of Down Syndrome drag queens is art! Unfortunately, now I know what’s going on with ArtPrize, and, yes, I care. Enough of this crap already! You’re 11 years old, ArtPrize – it’s time to grow up!

Friday, September 13, 2019

That Which Lies in the Mirror

Detail from the "God's Own Child Mural." 2019. Edward Riojas
(All images Copyright © Edward Riojas. Images may not be reproduced.)

Copyright © Edward Riojas

I don’t need to go far to be reminded of sin’s consequences. That sort of thing crops up in nearly every piece of art I create.

A case in point are some of the figures in a current project, the “God’s Own Child Mural,” destined for St. Paul Lutheran Church in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Out of more than 70 figures, mortality stared at me from a single face. In the mural, an elderly man shuffles behind a procession of sinner-saints. He could easily be me in a couple of decades. Or less.

The Fall not only created  a mess of Biblical proportions, it also made a mess of “lesser” things. In spite of what usually rolls off the tongue, aging is NOT a normal part of life. It wasn’t meant to be so ugly. It wasn’t supposed to be so debilitating. It shouldn’t be part of a ghastly, downward spiral.

Detail from the "God's Own Child Mural."
So the face before me was painted with wrinkles and age spots – attesting to the degeneration of muscles and degradation of elastic skin. In its place, the cartilage of ears and noses continues to grow – sometimes in ridiculous proportions. Bones degrade and dissolve so that the back refuses to hold up the shoulders and head. Senses fail. Hearing loss, cataracts, and macular degeneration wreak havoc. Youthful minds become hidden behind gnarled countenances and aching joints. Often, youthful minds simply dry up and blow away.

But to be honest, I don’t need a painting to remind me of all this. All I need is a mirror.

The affects of the Fall, however, are not exclusive of the mature or aged. Infants can die in the womb. Some are born broken. Toddlers die. This is neither natural, nor part of some morbid “circle of life.” Sin, Death, and Satan suck.

But thanks be to God, we have a Redeemer in Christ Jesus, who has changed things mightily. He has taken our sin on Himself, put Death to death, and has defeated the hellish knucklehead, Satan. This should be abundantly obvious in the mural – even more so than an image of an elderly man. In spite of the reality of our condition; in spite of the reality of aging and illness and death, the realities of Christ’s cross, our redemption, and eternal life far outshine that which lies in the mirror.

Friday, September 6, 2019

An Artist’s Prayer

(Photos courtesy of the Art Curmudgeon)

Copyright © Edward Riojas

I’ve often thought it would be wonderful to have a prayer, specifically by and for artists, that could be a daily anchor for my vocation. I’ve often thought that I should sit down and compose such a prayer. Maybe it would be based on some of the great collects. Perhaps it would be patterned after the Lord's Prayer. The notion of doing such a thing, however, seems naive and trite and contrived.

One doesn’t have to search very far to find examples of artist’s prayers. And, um, yes, a good share of them are naive and trite and contrived. Some are so flowery in prose and nebulous in content that they seem exercises in creative writing. Bad bits of fiction they are.

Others ask for ridiculously-stupid things. I ran across one prayer by an artist-type in which the general gist was akin to, “Father God, .... please let me nail that guitar riff on Sunday...” One can almost hear the Divine amplifier feedback in answer to such supplications.

Some carry on in meterless poetry with so many words that the prayer says nothing at all. It asks nothing at all. In the end, it IS nothing at all.

Thankfully, some come close to the mark. The prayer “For church musicians and artists,” listed in the Lutheran Service Book (CPH), has a close cousin in the Book of Common Prayer. I’ll let greater minds determine which influenced which. The LSB’s version reads:

“God of majesty, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven, be with Your servants who make art and music for Your people that with joy we on earth may glimpse Your beauty. Bring us to the fulfillment of the hope of perfection that will be ours as we stand before Your unveiled glory; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

The prayer comes close, but it's more of a prayer FOR artists, and not BY artists. The difference may seem slim, but as one who creates art for the Church, I’d like to ask for something more than just a glimpse of the Lord’s beauty, even if that is a noble and righteous thing.

For the time being, I suppose I’ll keep nagging the Lord with my simple and honest supplication that simultaneously begs what I need and hints that my labors might benefit others in the Kingdom. The prayer isn’t very eloquent and its grammar is questionable. It certainly isn’t flowery or poetic, but it’s been on the top of my studio easel for a long time. For many years it has been on the tip of my tongue.