The work above entitled Menorah is by the contemporary painter Roger Wagner, a London-born artist about whom I know little. I discovered his work by a happy accident a few months ago, and am drawn in by the pathos of his works. Honestly, I am not sure how I feel about his style of painting, but I am frequently mesmerized by the content. I find myself entering the painting as one of the figures, or as part of the landscape.
I appreciate the way in which Wagner makes use of biblical narratives. He often places the familiar Bible scene in an incongruent modern setting. Other times, he creates the surroundings squarely in the Middle East. I appreciate the way his paintings startle me into examining them and questioning what they might be saying about history, the Bible narrative, and about God. His startling juxtapositions of characters and locales give his works a more poignant punch. He speaks both theologically as well as artistically.
In Menorah we notice the belching smokestacks in the background and the dark figures in mourning in the foreground. Symbols of the Holocaust and of Christ’s crucifixion all take up space here, creating a jarring sense of something not being quite right. It is an interesting painting to reflect upon with Good Friday approaching.
Dartmoor crucifixion study 2006
Here is another one of Wagner’s paintings with the crucifixion as the central theme. Here, however, we are in a bucolic setting with gently sloping hills in the background. Again, the viewer notices the anachronistic setting with modern telephone poles instead of crosses. Sheep punctuate the bottom of the scene while flocks of birds seem to move all across the top. The sky itself even seems to suggest angels’ wings. We are given the impression of a quiet night, outside of town, and it seems Wagner may want us to remember both Jesus’ birth announcement and death simultaneously.
Both of these paintings, I believe, help us realize that although Easter is a joyous holiday, Good Friday was truly a day of mourning, and could only be called “Good” retroactively.