I present the first twelve works in an ongoing series called “Forever and Ever” (Eph. 3:21), which among other things, is a play on the “Today” series by late artist On Kawara. The “Today” series, begun in 1966, is an enormous collection of paintings of only the date that each painting was painted, centered on a solid black, blue, or red background. The simplicity is stark, consistent across the entire series. Kawara was a giant of the new Conceptual art movement, yet, as other Conceptualists moved onto sculpture, performance, and pure imagination, he was unique in his commitment to a lifelong painting discipline. These “date paintings,” albeit minimalist in style, were painstakingly made, each one requiring the bulk of a day’s labor. And the artist made nearly 3,000 of them.
It is difficult to fathom just how much work went into creating the “Today” series, but it is even more difficult to confront the sheer absence of meaning in all of it. While the most generous critics of Kawara interpret his work as deeply philosophical, meditative, and Zen-like, the common person may likely be perplexed by the whole thing. The monotony, the nihilism, and the commitment to such nothingness. Indeed, Kawara’s project was an extraordinary act of labor. But it was not, by any appearance, a labor of love. This left me, as an artist, and a Christian, wondering if there is even a place for love in the whole Conceptualist genre. What better concept is there, anyway, than the love of God made literal through His word?
Art critics, professors, and historians have canonized the “Today” series as one of the great artistic achievements of Postmodernity. By alluding to Kawara’s project in my own, I’m calling upon viewers to interpret these “cite paintings” with the same kind of charity and consideration given to the “date paintings.” What should ensue is a fascinating comparison, for what they will discover in the “Forever” series is not Zen vaguery nor nihilism nor anything in-between but rather an art that points directly to the truth. The truth which gives back abundantly the gifts of wisdom and salvation. The truth whose beauty and goodness humble tedious works (such as painting these paintings) into simple acts of devotion. Furthermore, these works offer a “neutral” alternative to the kinds of print and digital verse art we are so accustomed to. The minimalist style, by shedding connotative aesthetics, invites the humble, unknowing viewer to discover the word of God in its proper context, and to experience this discovery in his or her own unique way.
I believe that Conceptualism is actually not so new, for before Man was completely seduced by his own artistry - as in the Renaissance, when artists first began to make work in their own names (and therefore glorify themselves) - art wasn’t about the image. The image was only a vehicle for a concept. Modern art historians give credit to the Conceptualists for this idea, but in doing so they must have forgotten the nameless sacred artists of the past. These sacred artists were making “Theological art,” a kind of art which was identical to Conceptual art in its utter emphasis on the concept, but completely different in its service to a higher purpose and the spiritual health of their communities. I make my paintings to make this point, and to explore the possibilities within a new kind of “Theological art” that embraces Biblical concepts using Postmodern forms. In this way, I see the “Forever” series as a connection between the past and the present, and a small revelation of God’s hand in all of art history.
Lastly, I shall mention that this project is deeply personal to me. This idea was conceived soon after I was saved in the Spring of 2019. What followed was a commitment to read the whole Bible, to read it carefully, and to read it every day - both for my own much-needed spiritual growth and so that I might find Scriptural entry points to share with a world unaccustomed to the truth. My purpose as a believer is to know Him and make Him known. This project, central to my art practice, magnifies both pursuits.
This project “fits into my canon” as a testament to why I make any art at all. My other works are actually quite different from these - eclectic, colorful, and playful - and I think of my oeuvre as a celebration of human creativity as a reflection of God’s perfect creativity. Without Christ, none of what I do would have any real purpose, which is why pieces from this series will accompany showings of my other works. Such juxtapositions will frame the interpretation of my paintings within a Christian theology.
One of the paintings here features a citation written in Hebrew (שמות כ). It reads “Shemoth 20”, or in English: Exodus chapter 20. Another citation is in Korean (요한복음3:16). It reads “John 3:16.” Future paintings will bear citations in Greek, Ge’ez, Arabic, Cherokee, Tamil, and so forth.
My process to create these pieces begins with reading the Word of God, meditating on it, and living and abiding by it. I draw up an evolving list of citations and verses by the dozen, color-coding them according to the structure of the Bible. I seek new friends: multilingual “People of the Book” to learn their conventions of Biblical citing, that my project may speak to the universality of Christ’s atonement. Lastly, I acquire my materials; prime and prep each canvas; sketch the text onto graph paper; transpose the text with chalk onto the canvas; and finally paint the text as carefully as I can before making all the finishing touches. I do these things while listening to sermons on the verse(s) cited in the painting that I am at-that-moment painting.
For many of his “date paintings,” Kawara created boxes whose lids were lined with a clipping from the day’s newspaper. Similarly, I will create boxes for each of my paintings, but the lids will instead be lined with pages of Bibles that contain the cited verse(s).
Surely there is a spiritual battle to be fought in the fine arts world, where many of its “rulers and authorities” challenge God and His Word. The Museum Association regards their institutions as “temples of the secular,” while the BBC goes so far as to declare that “museums are the new churches.” Indeed, the devil schemes where God is not honored, and we see this in the many works of contemporary art that leave truth, beauty, and goodness out of the picture - that instead exalt ego, contempt, or discontent. Furthermore, much of modern art is made for “its own sake” (l’art pour l’art), which, understood correctly as the divorcing of art from higher purpose, is a form of idolatry.
It is no secret, in fact, that many in the “world of contemporary art” are indifferent or even hostile to Christianity, for it is a place where “actual religion is foreign” (BBC). This is the world to which I belong to, speak to, and plan to eke my career out of. So I pray to our Lord and ask others to pray for me also for the wisdom, vigilance, and courage I need to fight my spiritual battles. May I “stand firm” and “fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel” to the viewers of my work. May my practice be a ministry to Christ. May I honor God where God is not honored.
Jeffrey A. Gomez - artist
Jesus Christ - saved the artist
Original work: acrylic on stretched cotton canvas, 8x10x2.5”. Each piece, as well as reproductions and new cite paintings, are available for $240/ea. Interested buyers may commission the artist to paint Scriptural citations of their own choosing (please note that the citation must be from the Bible and the presentation must conform to the artist’s guidelines).
I am interested in showing more of my work to interested audiences, particularly church galleries, and developing relationships that will help me to sustain a career as a full-time Christian artist.
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