The Four Holy Gospels Makoto Fujimura

There's a line in the contemporary art world, this is the line, you can paint and you can worship but don't do them together and if you step over that line you're in essence setting yourself up for crucifixion. I am Makoto Fujimura, I am an artist and I am working on the Crossway project to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of the King James Bible and welcome to my studio. Mako trained in an ancient technique, it's a Japanese technique, it's called 'Nihonga' but he uses it in a very expansive sense. He's looking backwards at tradition, he really spent the time learning a tradition and learning how to do it well and at the same time he is well recognized as a contemporary artist in the mainstream, you know, in your Chelsea galleries and your museums. Even people who don't understand painting look at his work and kind of go, 'Wow!' I don't think there's one ingredient that makes Mako's art unique, it is his voice. He expresses in his art what his relation to religion and faith is as an artist. The project is to illuminate four gospels; Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John and each of the chapter headings will have a letter that I designed and the embellishments that go along the sides and I have complete artistic freedom where we use the best printing possible. So it's one of the few times when contemporary art and the Bible have met. I just got this from the publisher so I'm just starting to process it. I want to design each page so it reads consistent with the message, it's another way of reading the text. The New York City art community is still sort of the center of the art community in the world. Which meant that he really had to engage the art market here in New York City one to one and it's very hard to do. It's really risky for an artist who's working in the contemporary mainstream of art to be Christian, to be overtly Christian, because people are immediately going to make assumptions about you and what you're trying to say in your art. Within the art community there was always sort of a spiritual drift to things but they didn't want anything that can find them. And they saw that Christianity somehow was confinement, somehow was anti-modern, somehow was anti-development of themselves. And at the same time the church is very suspicious of the art world. Christians have had a very contentious relationship with art especially Protestants and Evangelicals have had a really difficult time understanding what's going on in the art worlds and how they can be involved with it. Now here comes Mako illustrating one of the most important cultural artifacts that exists, the Bible. And he's bringing a global perspective, he's bringing a modern perspective, he's bringing insight to scripture that's so much deeper than maybe most artists or even believers would have. I think that having Mako's art, which is non-representational, next to the words of Scripture invites the reader to take the words of Scripture and sort of see what they see in the art and how that connects with the words that they're reading because the words are transcendent and the art in a lot of ways reflects that transcendence. Abstraction, 20th century abstraction, has really given me the language to tap into the mystery of creation. Everything he's been working on for his whole life this is the reason. I was thinking about John one, "In the beginning was the Word and the word was with God." So John to me is that metaphysical mystery that goes beyond what we can understand. He would want this to be just right, he's really bringing all of his art and expertise into each piece, he would want this to be just perfect. And then this painting which is gospel Mark and I was thinking how Mark is so much about when Jesus started talking about the judgment fire and fire is also to sanctify us, to purify us. So he's taking his craft, he's taking his experience, he's taking his creativity, he's taking his faith and he's able to produce works that say, "This is who I am." And then Luke which is a bit more complicated and nuanced. Just watching him work and talking to him in the studio and looking at the works for the first time and I think it's the most fun Mako's ever had painting ever. The painting that I'm gonna be starting today is Matthew and that's gonna be a very monochromatic painting; azurite, malachite, monochromatic and blue. If I were to put a few words in reflection of Mako's work it would be his faith, his family, and his compassion for this world. Mako really loves artists and so he started International Arts Movement nearly 20 years ago as a way to help artists grapple with how does their art relate to their faith, how does that art relate to their community. Mako's given a whole group of people confidence to pursue their creativity alongside pursuing their faith in the last hundred years, 50 years we've started to reconnect beauty with truth and I think Mako's work represents a fusion of that. It's not just a religious event it's a cultural event and it can become that because Mako's doing it here in New York, he's made it in New York, and his art is such a high level that it will catch attention. I think people will respond to that and say, 'Oh, you know what? Maybe modern art is not so hostile to Christian faith, maybe it's part of it.' and you're gonna find that both on the believing side and the non-believing side. Say, you know, there's a new modern art in town and you know it works. Art is always transgressive and what I always say is we need to transgress in love. We today have a language to celebrate waywardness but we do not have a cultural language to bring people back home. And so everything I do, my paintings or the International Arts Movement work, everything has something to do with that. So I hope this project will be enduring, that it is not just a printed object but it has a life of its own.

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