Prophets: An Introduction
Prophecy means prediction, but it also means proclamation, or message-giving. Throughout the Old Testament, prophets are called to convey messages from God, and many times these messages were messages of reproach and reproof. These men were approached by God to be leaders, and yet their special status did not exempt them from disobedient actions themselves, and it’s no wonder: prophets were often despised and rejected, outsiders and town spectacles. Moses implored God in Exodus, “Who am I?” and “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” Often, prophets are associated with holier-than-thou judgment, and yet they needed forgiveness too. Caught in the tension of being God’s mouthpieces and not themselves God, these prophets had complex relationships with God. For this reason, the prophets’ stories demonstrate that God alone is truly holy.
This series of paintings focuses on passages of the Old Testament that take place in Noah, Jonah, Isaiah, and Moses’ dark and painful moments, in times of disobedience, ostracization, hopelessness, and arrogance. At times, prophets were called to perform what John Sawyer in Prophecy and the Biblical Prophets calls “sign-acts,” or symbolic acts that serve as a metaphor for God’s judgment. The only true sign-act in this series is depicted in Isaiah, in which Isaiah walks naked for three years to demonstrate the coming vulnerability of the Egyptians and Cushites. In many ways, however, Christians have read the stories of the Bible (and not just the prophetic ones) as sign-acts, as metaphors to be applied in their own lives. In a similar way, the paintings in this series, as visual reminders of a bigger message, also serve as sign-acts.
The varying texture of the paint tells just as much of the story as the form.
For example, the dry and choppy paint in Isaiah gives the image material weight, emphasizing the humility of his position. In contrast, the smooth, transparent layers of paint in Resurrection gives the torsos of both figures a sense of transcendence.
Often, smoothness and roughness are used simply for formal description, as in, for example, the bubbles in Jonah. The paint quality of much of these scenes is highly textured, an important part of the “technical narrative” of the painting.
Though the subject matter is ancient, the painting technique blends Representational and Modernist elements, resulting in a fresh perspective on a subject common to art history. For example, the Isaiah triptych painting Man and Woman with Infant is composed of flat, one-dimensional planes of color that can be seen in twentieth-century abstraction. In narrating these stories with a modernized technical narrative, this series argues for their relevance today and seeks to engage a twenty-first century audience.
Written by Brie Stoltzfus
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