In 2011, Grace Episcopal Church asked artist Johnathan Randall Grant to paint four meditations for Advent. Each is inspired by various texts in the prophets- and there is a painting for each of the weeks in Advent. The paintings are on permanent display on the lower level opposite the music room.
Grant is an artist from Northern Indiana. As a child he would sneak across the street to Catholic Mass. He learned to value creativity, imagination and his own faith at a very young age. Since then Grant has attended Asbury University, U.C. Berkeley, Indiana University and is indefinitely avoiding a masters degree at Sotheby’s Institute of Art. Grant’s passion is to assist artists. He thinks that helping artists become whole and connected within The Church is the first step toward healing the Church… and healing the world. Pretty big ideas. Grant collaborates with churches, hosts spiritual retreats and workshops, and travels around like a wandering gypsy.
Station # 1 Artist’s Statement
Bible References: Isaiah 19:20, Jeremiah 15:21, Jeremiah 39:18
Themes: Crying out. Desperate for deliverance. Hunger. A cry for a savior. Freedom from oppression. The chains being broken. Years of war and pain. Hope for renewal.
For the first station I wanted to explore the themes of oppression and deliverance. I painted very vague figures… are they people? are they past? are they present? are they us? one of the figures is a bishop… or an alien… or? There is a smaller figure holding a machine gun. That is a direct reference to the child soldiers in Uganda. I painted chains and arrows… broken. arms reaching out- or uplifted? hearts heavy, hungry, grateful? I wanted this painting to be tribal and raw and difficult. I painted it in a few hours… after months of pondering over the themes- contemplating our hunger for God- and for peace- inner- and outer- and the link between. Advent Starts with Hunger.
Station #2 Artist’s Statement
Bible References: Isaiah 11, Isaiah 9:6-7
Themes: The Dawn of a New Era! Out of the stump of Jesse…a shoot will grow… Old powers over-thrown… Out of the chaos of the past grows a forest of new life. A past of abused power and struggle is redeemed.
The second painting was the most difficult for me. I kept thinking of the passage about the stump of Jesse and the shoot rising up I tied some verses together- Stump of Jesse- mixed with the vine and the branches. Basically I ended up with the idea that a forest is growing out of this old system of death and oppression. It is still a young forest- but forests are alive and hopeful- and full of life. the stump is growing out of this old dirt. I filled the dirt with all sorts of power-structures and religious symbols, even a few critters. I wanted it to look like an excavation- digging up the past- examining what was before. the good perished along with the bad… but always this new and beautiful life growing out of it. Advent is about a new system.
Station #3 Artist’s Statement
Bible Reference: Galatians 4:4
Themes: Offering . Expectation . Motherhood . Growth . Connection
Expectation was interesting for me to create. I talked to mothers- my own- and especially to Miriam Pico- about birth and about expectation and that process. Miriam talked about light and about offering and creation and a gift. I let all of it stew a bit… mixed in with texts from the prophets about “the fullness of time” and the earth as in labor pains. It all combined to create this image. I don’t really know what it means- but at its root it is about Advent- about expectation and about offering ourselves and our bodies. I really enjoyed hearing the perspective of Grace’s youth about this one- they talked about connection- about blood- about mythology and the earth. Be sure to ask them about what they think this painting means. Advent is about bodily sacrifice… and waiting.
Station #4 Artist’s Statement
Bible References: 1 Corinthians 15:20, Romans 5:17
Themes: The new Adam . As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness- so must the Son of Man be lifted up. Victory . Abundance . Shelter . Provision . A child that will heal the world and redeem the fallen state. Adam prefiguring Christ.
The last painting is perhaps my favorite of the four. Christ as the New Adam. When I was at Chartres Cathedral a few years ago the historian Malcolm Miller pointed out to me that the windows there always mirror biblical stories- there will be an Old Testament figure paired with a New Testament figure. Most of the combinations I had never even considered- and it helped me view each story with new intensity. My favorite pairing was Christ and Adam. Tidy bookends of the Bible. One man brought sin- another ended it. I wanted to portray Jesus in a new way- prefiguring the cross- but referencing the fall… so I painted Christ as a child hovering in front of the cross. He holds an apple- not bitten out of- but whole. The serpent still waits. (There is a passage in the Bible about the serpent waiting to devour the child as soon as he is born). My nephew was a year old when I painted this- and his hair was slightly ginger- so I basically painted him as Christ. (Please forgive me if that offends you- he was the only baby I really knew.) The Child appears victorious- surrounded by four green elements. Laurel is the Roman symbol of victory, Wheat is the traditional symbol of provision and sustenance, Grapes the symbol of bounty and celebration, and basswood- which to me symbolizes shade and shelter and protection. I wanted to continue the themes from painting #2 in describing Christ’s reign.