Jan 23

The Cross

We all meet many people, and our paths come across many places – people with stories, places with history. When I see these interesting people and places…they scream to be painted. Most never make it off the “to do” list. A while back I was in a Texas prison on a ministry event and was able to shoot some photos of some of the men who were locked up. One of the men I shot had some interesting tattoos on his face and arms. But the one that grabbed my attention right out of the shoot was a cross on his forehead. What does that mean? What did it mean to him? What was his story?

Being fascinated and intrigued with the look of this young man, I decided to work out a composition and create a soft pastel work on Ampersand pastel board of this guy.  The piece is called “The Cross”. It has won a couple of awards, the latest was the “VAST Board of Directors’ Award” at the 2018 Visual Arts Society of Texas 12th Annual 125-Mile Visual Arts Exhibition in Denton, Texas.

When I have time to work through the problems, I like a challenge, and the tats’ and skin tones of this subject proved to be a challenge indeed. Soft pastel on a sanded surface is probably not the best surface to create this kind of artwork. The tattoos require a certain level of detail, and the sanded surface wars against creating detail, but I love pastels on sanded surface.

I usually begin pastel work with roughing in shapes with hard pastels (NuPastels), trying to cover the entire surface with color, keeping in mind the values. I then take a rough hog hair brush and some paint thinner and brush the thinner into the soft pastel pigment, which creates a watercolor like look. This becomes the under-painting.

Close-up of thinner washes that show through from the pastel and thinner wash.

Close-up of thinner washes that show through from the pastel and thinner wash.

Next fresh layers of various pastels are added (Sennelier, Schmincke, Unison, Terry Ludwig), building up layer on layer until the final work is complete. Some of the “underpainting” stage is left as is, brush marks and runs and all. This adds a bit of contrast and variation in texture, which I tend to like.

The Cross, soft pastel on ampersand pastel board

The Cross, soft pastel on ampersand pastel board, 18 x 24

I love to get my fingers in the soft pigment as well, blending and moving the layered pastels around until I hopefully get something I can walk away from. This work is 18 x 24, framed under museum glass.

I named this piece “The Cross” because this is what grabbed me first. The symbol that is the cross has been around for a while. The crucifixion of Christ on a wooden cross outside Jerusalem has marked our world to this day. The several thousands of years that were before the crucifixion of Christ are numbered in reverse, counting down to “the Cross” (B.C meaning “before Christ”) Since the time of the crucifixion, the years are marked by A.D. (A.D. stands for Anno Domini, which is Latin for “year of our Lord,” and it means the number of years since the birth of Jesus Christ) How did that happen? Why is our world marked so by this one event? The Cross was not simply a random event in history. The Cross changed everything. 1 Corinthians 1:18 says this:

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

While working on this piece, I took some artistic license to tell the story of the Cross. Even though I don’t know anything about my subject and his relation to the cross, I have seen this Cross story play out in the lives of many who are locked up, as well as those in the free world. I altered one tattoo to read “Love thy neighbor as thyself”, which is what Jesus called one of the Greatest Commandments. Truth is, if we follow that command of Jesus, the prisons would be empty, the divorce courts would be out of business, families would be together, and life would look different. The power to love our neighbor as ourselves comes about through the Cross of Christ. The Bible says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Cor. 5:17) I have seen many men in prison become new people by the power of the cross. Note the Bible on inmate’s bunk. When a life is given to Christ, the scriptures become alive and begin to alter the path of a person.

That’s the beauty of the Cross, the beauty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ…We have new life when we put all our trust in Him, and redemption that He brought about by His death and resurrection. Once before His crucifixion, Jesus was teaching a group of folks, and He quoted from Isaiah, which talked about Himself.

 “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.” (Luke 4:18, 19)

That is why Christ came and died on an old cross.  He came to set us free from sin and its bondage, whether we are free or locked up.  “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:8

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Thanks for reading, hope you have an awesome day!