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Painter: Jim Janknegt
Location: Elgin, TX
Photo Credits: Jim Janknegt
The day my junior high art teacher taught us the difference between looking and seeing changed my life. She assured us that most people go through life without really seeing what they are looking at. I have found this to be true on multiple levels. As an artist, one attempts to represent three-dimensional space using only two dimensions. When one stops and slows down the process of looking, the discovery is made that things aren’t what they seem. For instance to represent a cube the artist does not draw a series of connected squares. We all know that cubes are made up of squares but to represent a cube visually one must draw trapezoids. I think this is what Picasso meant when he said the artist must lie in order to tell the truth.
Likewise Jesus tried to get people to hear the truth not by using propositional statements but rather through teaching in parables and metaphors. As in the distinction between looking and seeing Jesus was aware of the difference between listening and hearing. A parable unlike an allegory remains open ended. Those who have ears to hear can get to the heart of the matter. Those who don’t or won’t hear only get the literal meaning and the heart remains unmoved.
Over ten years ago I became convinced that my time spent as an artist would be best used trying to paint the intersection of faith and life. I began to paint interpretations of Jesus’ parables, a series on which I am still working. I have recently begun another series of paintings, meditations on the mysteries of the rosary.
Previously I had spent ten years painting the urban landscape, a nighttime vision filled with neon lights, buildings, cars, and angst. I figured I was being, in Walker Percy’s words, “a diagnostician-honestly looking into the heart of contemporary America.” In actuality I was also expressing my own sadness and sense of dislocation.
After my wedding in 1989, my wife and I lived in a suburban neighborhood similar to the one I grew up in. I began to transition from painting urban landscapes to suburban ones and it is obvious that my mood had changed. I now saw myself as a celebrant, extolling, in my suburban landscapes, the simple joys of domestic life. Slowly, biblical imagery began to appear in these suburban settings.
One day, after we had moved from the city to the country, I realized that what I really wanted to paint was more substance-paintings that confronted Jesus’ life head on. It was like an Einstein thought experiment had occurred: What if I only had time left to paint a few more paintings. What would I paint? It seemed trivial to not attempt to paint something of significance, something having to do with the great biblical narrative of the salvation of the world. So I began to paint subjects that were overtly Christian, interpretations of Jesus parables, and scenes from the life of Jesus. Painting them in a style that is contemporary, but with allusions to art history.
Not to long ago I ran across a quote from ART TO HELP HUMANKIND CROSS THE "THRESHOLD OF HOPE" by Carlo Chenis
"Art is sacred if it is above all beautiful, that is, intrinsically splendid, because it is fully intelligible, so that it makes first the artist and then the person who enjoys it want to cross over into infinity. This art is religious if it produces a longing for the divine, namely, if it leads one to transcend one's own self in order to meet God and with him one's neighbor. This art is Christian if, through the adventures of the spirit, it recounts what happened between God and man in the history of salvation, if it rises to God like a sweet and profound prayer, if it makes "God's glory" visible, though in a hidden manner, in the celebration of the divine mysteries."
This quote expresses my sentiments exactly. As a Christian and an artist I have great freedom to paint almost anything and in any manner: still life, landscape, narrative, or completely abstract and non-objective. What I have found is the freedom to delve into the vast and unlimited source material of the life of Jesus. His life has been transformed into the liturgical life of the church and incarnated in the life of the saints. I cannot imagine a richer source of subject matter for an artist. My hope is that my paintings can help the viewer look deep into the heart of the gospel and hear afresh the good news of Jesus.