New exhibit displays creative interpretations of traditional Biblical stories
October 5, 2017
Despite our common roots as students at a Jesuit university, delving into the complex language of the Bible can be a daunting task for all. Understanding—let alone interpreting scripture and deciphering symbolic meaning— can be challenging enough. Luckily, the Third Floor Gallery in the University Library is hosting an exhibit on three artists who have made scriptural interpretation their life’s work. This exhibit provides imagery for a text typically devoid of pictures, allowing viewers to broaden their understanding of Biblical stories and motifs.
On exhibition until April 1, 2018, “Art Interpreting Scripture: Characters in and Creators of the Bible” takes viewers on a short journey through scriptural interpretations of three modern biblical artists. Along each wall, the artists’ works concerning the same biblical characters hang adjacent to one another.
For example, three interpretations of Adam and Eve preside side-by-side: one realistic and filled with color, the other harsh and colorless and a third somewhere in-between. Although they contain identical subjects, each painting illuminates different human traits. When positioned next to each other, the diverse pieces communicate the multidimensional nature of mankind.
The works of English calligrapher Donald Jackson are elegant and color-heavy. His strict usage of medieval tools, such as gold leaf and quills, did not stop him from creating images that leap off the page. However, Jackson did not limit his creations to medieval imagery as he did his tools.
In fact, his illuminated manuscript entitled “The Saint John’s Bible” includes modern imagery such as tanks and cars, as well as symbols from a variety of world religions, including the Buddhist mandala. While the text is ancient, the messages endure and Jackson’s contemporary imagery makes its meaning relevant for a modern audience.
Meanwhile, Barry Moser’s way of bringing the scriptures to life in “The Pennyroyal Caxton Bible” could not contrast more fiercely with Jackson’s. Devoid of all color, Moser uses engravings as his medium to depict a natural cruelty often overlooked in scriptural studies. Unlike Jackson, who avoids realist depictions, Moser embraces the personal. In his depiction of Job, he shows a sallow man covered in boils who has dropped to his knees “cursing the day he was born.”
Finally, Sadao Watanabe takes his depictions in a fresh cultural direction, drawing on his Japanese heritage to shape his creative lens. After converting to Christianity at a young age, Watanabe saw it as his duty to recreate traditional Christian images in a Japanese style. He embraced the methodology of the early 20th century mingei movement, which, according to the piece’s placard, “sought to return to traditional Japanese handicrafts.”
In general, Watanabe tries to direct the attention of the viewers to the presence of God in each piece, which sharply contrasts with Jackson’s contemporary imagery or Moser’s focus on the reality of the individual.
In addition to portraying artistic interpretations of Biblical stories, the exhibit also showcases Bibles themselves, many of which date back to the fourth century. Although some are contemporary and some are medieval, certain images persist through all editions, including the recognizable shepherd. In addition to imagery, devotion to detail and sophistication of embellishments in the sacred scriptures endures through the centuries.
Each new Biblical print reflects the creator’s theology and history, easily felt by the pity, sanctity or awe evoked in each artists’ renderings. For the Biblical art enthusiast and curious student alike, “Art Interpreting Scripture” takes an artful twist on biblical interpretation and offers an engaging way for library goers to procrastinate on their work even longer than normal.
Contact PJ Hummelt at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.