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