Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Job: Questions about Loss

This drawing is one of several from a series reflecting on the Old Testament figure of Job. Eventually all the images will become watercolors on book pages. Traditional watercolor is a transparent medium, so it is very difficult to cover underlying images with it. When I paint with watercolor on book pages I also mix in a bit of white casein paint. Casein is milk based (though I’m still not exactly sure how that works) and is mixable and thinable with water. My use of casein with watercolor goes back to my freshman year of college when a visiting artist showed us his method of using the white paint with watercolor. I ended up using it because, when thinned with water, the casein becomes translucent and produces a fleshiness that simply can’t be achieved with watercolor alone.

All of the figures from the series are on pages from the Book of Job from a Hebrew Bible from the late 1800s. Painting directly on these pages is strictly prohibited by Orthodox Jewish law, so I’m sure there is a certain segment of the population that it will offend, though that is not my intent. In fact, it took me some time to reconcile myself to tearing pages out of a holy book so that I could drawn and paint on them. My Protestant upbringing, which highly values the Word of God above most other things, didn’t quite prepare me for doing this. When I first started considering employing this process in the late 1990s I questioned a friend who had been using Bible pages in his own art work for several years. He said that the first Bible he used had been brought to him by a student who found it in a mud puddle. Since the book was unusable for its original purpose at that point he figured he might as well do something productive with it.

That freed me up to begin incorporating book pages in my work. This particular Hebrew Bible I found at a used bookstore that I frequented in Idaho. It was laying in a box of books that had not yet been processed. It had no cover and was already disintegrating. I asked the shop owner what the price was and he asked me how much I had on me. Sold! For five dollars. No one could ever read this book anymore. The pages were coming apart every time it was opened to a new section. I decided that painting on these pages gave this book a new life. It was resurrected, if you will.

All of my work incorporating text gets back to the concept of Jesus being called the Word of God—the Incarnate Word of God. Physical presence and being, or an image, are placed in connection with the very utterance of God. Part of what this means, as the Gospel of John states it, is that the Word of God—in the form of the Law given to Moses—is made complete by the physical incarnation of that Word in the person of Jesus. This is complicated, but I wrestle with the concept as I bring the Words and Images together in one form.

For the Job series I wanted to explore some ideas of loss, pain, and anguish. Though I started the series around 2003 it seems even more pertinent now. When the American economy is pushing people to their limits and thousands of people are losing their homes and jobs, what can we learn from this story? Job was literally stripped bare. All his possessions, his family, and even his health were taken from him. Nothing was left. When we are left completely alone we have to confront ourselves. All the noise, possessions, people, and busy-ness of life can distract us from the most basic things, causing us to lose our true identities. These are not the easiest things to ponder, but they are essential.

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