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

Friday, January 1, 2021

Old Stuff, New Stuff

"Venite" Edward Riojas. 2020. Oil on panel. (Zion Lutheran Church, Wausau, Wisconsin)

Copyright © Edward Riojas

I promised myself that I would neither mention by name the previous year, nor the thing that seemed to distinguish it. I just isn’t worth the time.

It is, however, worth the time to a name a few things that distinguished a productive year for me in spite of “things,” as well as look at a few projects coming in the new year. In spite of my laziness and everything else that hindered, here are a few artistic highlights of this past year:

“The Venite”
A series of four panels, based on the Venite, were completed and delivered to Zion Lutheran Church in Wausau, Wisconsin. The piece makes use of flora and fauna of the Wausau area, and acts as a set of windows for the chapel. Incidentally, another piece of mine, the "Zion Altarpiece," resides in the same chapel.

"The Hymn Writer." Edward Riojas.
2020. Oil on panel.
(Collection of Rev. Stephen Starke)

“The Hymn Writer

Although I had to keep this piece under wraps for much of the year, the commissioned piece was finally unveiled on the occasion of Rev. Stephen Starke’s retirement. (Hint: This may very well be made available as a print during the coming year.)

“Ode to the Age of Innocence”
This large, non-sacred piece was intended for ArtPrize. Along with an endless list of other events, the art competition was cancelled. Still, I was able to indulge in yet another large “troll” painting, thereby increasing the visual clutter of my studio spaces.

I made the time to create a distinctly-Lutheran processional crucifix [which still needs a good home], and also executed [pardon the pun] a commissioned altar crucifix. Both were done when the weather allowed me to work in my unheated woodshop.

“The Hardening of Israel’s Heart & The Hardening of Heart in the Church”
Technically, the cover art of this book – my sole contribution – was created in 2019, but I’ve thrown this in because the work, put together by Rev. Michael Holmen, was released this past year.

“The Ethereal Land of Heavenward Stairs”
This book, my third collaborative project with Rev. Tyrel Bramwell, takes a Seussian slant on more serious subject matter. The illustrated book was a nice stylistic change from my other work.

"Ode to the Age of Innocence."
Edward Riojas. 2020.
(collection of the artist)

“The Wolf and The Lamb”
This may be a bit premature, but the bulk of illustrative work has been completed on a yet-to-be-released book by Rev. William Weedon. I jumped style again and resorted to one of my older tricks – pen-and-ink stippling – for the children's book illustrations. Keep your eye on the horizon for this.

Ecclesiastical Sewing
I worked on various projects for the stellar – yes, I said stellar – vestment/parament company, Ecclesiastical Sewing, during the year. It’s always nice to bring my “A” game to their table. Some projects have exacting custom requirements, while others have a much broader appeal. I look forward to continually upping the game for pieces that are not only gorgeous, but are also confessionally Lutheran.

Speaking up
“Extrovert” isn’t the first thing that should come to mind when contemplating this artist, but I was asked to do an interview with KFUO’s “Concord Matters” host, Rev. Sean Smith. I gave my two cents-worth on the subject of artwork in the sanctuary, and was apparently able to string together whole sentences in the process. We’ll chalk it up to the wonders of modern radio.

What’s Coming on the Horizon
While a mountain of proposed projects are still in a fluid state, a few things are pretty much set in stone. I have one non-commissioned painting on my easel, and at least two other non-commissioned pieces are ready if time permits.

An article I wrote on sacred art has been accepted by Logia: A Journal of Lutheran Theology, and will be published in its Easter edition. 

Following in that same vein, I’ve recently written a series of nine articles for The Lutheran Witness that deal with sacred imagery. This little project was born out of negative feedback on the December 2020 cover art. It was seen as a teaching moment, so hopefully I will straighten out some misconceptions about sacred art. At the very least, I will offer a much better target for rotten tomatoes.