#1 jesus is condemned to death
Recently my friend Kate Shellnutt from the Houston Chronicle asked me to answer some questions for an upcoming article in the Belief section about people from Houston making pilgrimages to the Holy Land. As I answered the questions, I thought that it would be a good format to show the Stations Of The Cross paintings with the answers to her questions…. since a lot of the inspiration for the paintings came out of my trip to Jerusalem. So here you go….First, could you describe the basics of your trip? Who were you traveling with, how long did you stay and why did you go?
Chris Seay, Donald Kilgore, Asher Castillo, Eric Hughes, and myself went to Jerusalem for 3 days to film and tell stories, and to have a pilgrimage of our own. The filming was for a book that Chris is writing for Lenten practices and for Ecclesia. at ecclesia we have been talking about heaven and the new jerusalem and it seemed like a fitting thing to actually go to jerusalem and see what connections we could make.
the pilgrimage part was to deal with the death of our friend sarah who just died. eric is her husband so we brought him along cause it’s gotta be hard to be by your wifes side for months as she’s dying, she dies, then you’re just supposed to go back to work? so he came along too…..
#2 jesus is given his crossDo you know a lot of fellow (non-denominational) Christians who have traveled to the Holy Land? Do you think it’s becoming more of a popular impulse among young believers?
I know a few who have gone.
i think it’s always been a popular place to go. when your there you see people from all over the world visiting… from many different religious backgrounds. the old city jerusalem is a crammed space of 3 major religions, which all came out of this historical city. so it’s a fascinating place to visit and walk around in… to see why people are there. literally the whole world is there. i mean we were just walking through some small street and Rudy Guiliani walked by us with his entourage. It’s a place to visit in the world.
i think for people of faith it’s definitely an attractive place to visit. it was surprisingly contextually helpful for me in my faith. i’ve traveled alot so i know the cross cultural elements that we need to consider in other peoples stories and beliefs. so you can infer that understanding on biblical stories. but when you actually walk around the places, it just adds a whole other dimension to the stories and the context that play a major role in the beliefs one has.
this idea actually came out in some of the paintings i did after the trip. the vagueness, the colors, the textures, the translated text…. the paintings are meant to be dealt with emotionally… what it feels like to walk around jerusalem. i had some people come up and tell me that they had been to jerusalem and i nailed it with the paintings.
#3 jesus falls the first timeWhy important for you to take this particular trip?
i just really wanted to go. chris had been thinking about it for awhile and i was encouraging him to go and bring me to film as we explored and told stories. then when he pitched the idea to his publisher, they threw in some money and we brought asher and DK along.
but as for why it was important, i think it breaks down to: 1. i love to travel and want to go everywhere, 2. i wanted to help with the story telling that needed to be done for our community 3. the Spirit is leading me in a whole creative project and this was a key part of it.(i’ll get to that last one a bit later)
#4 jesus meets his motherWhat place, feeling or memory sticks out to you?
my most spiritual experience was at the wailing wall. the wall is the last piece of the temple still left. its crazy to think about that there was a time in human history where there was a place on earth where God actually dwelt. if you wanted to go and approach him, you made a pilgrimage to jerusalem. now we know jesus came, died, the veil tore, and God plunged out of the holy of holies and into the world and he has given us his spirit to dwell in us if we receive it. so we live in a whole new reality. but thinking about back then, that God’s presence was in this one spot… well that’s just crazy.
so we stumbled upon the Wall by accident. we were just walking around one night fighting jet lag and we saw it. so we went down to it. to approach the wall you have to wear a head covering… and they have these loaner yamakas you can use. i saw a couple guys with hoods up and i had a hoodie on so i just threw on the hoodie and approached the wall. so i’m standing in front of the wall… trying to open to the Spirit but not really knowing what to pray. in fact, i think i just said out loud “God, i have no idea what to pray. i’m just hear to listen”. right after i say that a jew around my age approaches the wall about 15ft from me and begins to sing. now everyone is super religious in jerusalem. i say that meaning all the jews there all wearing the same black coat, white shirt, black hat, side curls, and huge beards. so we are the same age yet look so different. but he begins to sing.
i’m not sure if he sings this song everyday. i’m not sure if he’s even sad. there are just a lot of religious practices that go in jerusalem, so i couldn’t tell if this was just a normal day at the wall for him. it was obvious that this song was some kind of lament in hebrew. it was so beautiful and foreign to me. i’ve been in choirs throughout my life but i was never taught to sing this way. it stunned me where i was and something started to stir in the deepest part of me. this song being sung next to me bypassed all the jet lag, busyness, loudness of life and just got right to the deepest center of my soul and it found the deep sadness that was there. the sadness over sarah’s death. the sadness of eric’s loss. the sadness of my grandfathers death. the sadness of the possibility of my son having an eye disease. the sadness of sex trafficking world wide but in houston as well. just everything that beats us down that we hide deep down to survive… the song hit there. and i began to cry. silently. just listening. i remember praying saying “I don’t know what this song is saying or what the words are, but God i want this to be my prayer. let his song be my prayer.” and i just sat there on the temple wall listening to this man sing… letting him sing my prayer.
that was probably my most vivid memory.
#5 simon of cyrene carries the crossWhat was it like being in Jerusalem?
it’s a visually amazing city. it’s 4000 yrs old and has been built on itself ever since then. when you walk the Via Delarosa (stations of the cross journey laid out through the city) it’s crazy to think about the places where jesus actually walked are about 90 ft in the ground. the city just has so many layers and levels. it’s like nothing i’ve seen before.
with that, there are tourist shops everywhere. so you’re in the most important religious place in the world and yet it has a disneyland feel to it. it’s an odd juxtaposition.
but i loved it. i loved walking around. i love cities that you can just walk around in. i would give up my car in a second if i could live in a place that you could get everything you needed within walking distance.
#6 veronica wipes the face of jesusHow did it affect you as a Christian? As an artist?
Christian: gave more context to the biblical stories i’ve read all my life. when they talk about going up to jerusalem you realize that’s a crazy mountainous walk and no small feat. that journey must have been something in itself. i think to that all these stories happened in the most boring usual way. there was no special music or crazy camera angles… they way weve seen most visual portrayals of biblical stories. it happened in the real grittiness of life. example, when you walk the via delarosa, you’ll come to station and there will be a plaque on the wall saying what happened in this station. there might even be a little shrine and a place for prayer. but when you look around you… there’s a pizza shop over there, 10 tourist shops over there, a guy pulling a cart, kids going to school, men smoking the hooka…. it’s just normal life going on around. Jesus walked the streets of normal life. and maybe when he walked that journey to the cross there was a lot of hub bub, but it was in the midst of the places where life is happening. i loved seeing that.
artist: i’ll get more into the journey i think i’m being led on which is part of the bigger picture of why i think i went, but as an artist… a couple things. 1. on my free times to walk around the city, i would bring my sketch pad and just draw. this just backed up the self knowledge i knew that my way of interacting with the world is through creating. 2. there are a ton of icon painting for sale throughout the city. all faked (prints) and way over priced. so when i came home i made some of my own about our pilgrimage. that’s been a cool artistic project. i’ve never really done images like that before.
#7 jesus falls the second timeDid you set out to do paintings inspired by your trip? Where did the idea of Stations of the Cross come from?
the gallery at ecclesia has a stations of the cross show every year. it’s always been a group show. you guys should know this, you did many stories on it last year. : )
this year, because of the building move and all that, the gallery has been on pause the show was forgotten about until i started inquiring about it in january. we realized that it was an important part of our liturgical life as a church, so since i was the artist in residence, i decided i would head up the show.
my plan was to make 15 images that then the community could one day come and add to the surfaces different symbols/marks/colors that would tie into the station title. then i was going to “finish” them all off and viola… a show.
but…. sarah was sick. we were talking about heaven. she died. my grandfather died. i went to jerusalem for 3 days. walked the streets that jesus did on his way to the cross. came home to houston. and when i finally sat at my easel with 5 days to finish the show…. the images just started to come out. i don’t really know how to explain it to you. as i was working on one, i was seeing the next one. i made 6 the first day. 8 the second. finished the last one on the third day and wired and varnished them all. hung them the next day. it’s some of the best work i’ve ever done and they were made in 3 days. crazy.
from my experience there are two ways of making art. first is an intentional putting together of aesthetical elements. you know what you want to make and you make it. the second is listening to what the art wants to be and allowing yourself to be the vessel to bring that out. the second scenario was what happened. i didn’t really know what the paintings were supposed to be saying until i was almost done with them.
it’s odd to do abstract pieces for a project that is meant to be contemplative about real events. the nature of the stations of the cross art is that it’s figurative and narrative… the images help you contemplate the journey of christ to the cross. so for them to come out abstract… well it’s just weird.
i haven’t done a lot of abstract work (but i will more) but from what i’ve seen the images are not to be interactive with logically but emotionally. like i said before, they are meant to evoke what it’s like to be in jerusalem. what it look and feels like. the colors, the signs in hebrew and arabic. the textures of old stone and rock. the layers of color and stories that have gone on all throughout the history of the city.
#8 jesus meets the daughter of jerusalemWhat was the purpose of this series of paintings? Why did you choose to display the paintings over Lent?
well, stations of the cross…. used to meditate on the journey of jesus to the cross. the purpose is to have something visual that can stimulate contemplative thought on the crucifixion.
#9 jesus falls the third timeHas your recent trip changed what Easter will be like for you this year?
yep. it’s started a whole chain of events to go deeper into the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of jesus christ. in fact, it’s spawned a meditative art piece that i’m doing on good friday called “the crucifixion according to radiohead”. the experience of being in jerusalem has given me the context and a renewed passion to creatively meditate on this story and find new ways to portray it.
#10 jesus is stripped of his garments
#11 jesus is nailed to the cross
#12 jesus dies on the cross
#13 jesus' body is removed from the cross
#14 jesus is laid in the tomb
#15 jesus rises from the dead