"Rise Up" is one of seventeen paintings in my Streams in the Wasteland series, which explores the relationship of humans and the natural world, as well as hope in the face of destruction. Taking over 650 hours to complete, this is one of my largest paintings to date. To highlight the spiritual context in which I desire the painting to be interpreted, I designed a triangular panel and medieval altarpiece frame with 'wing-like' doors to emphasize the transcendent orientation of the subject matter.
"Rise Up" is a sequel to my previous work "Can These Bones Live?" Both of them explore a visual interpretation of "The Valley of Dry Bones" from Ezekiel 37. This ancient book records the prophecies of Ezekiel to his fellow Jewish refugees, who have been taken by King Nebuchadnezzar from their homeland of Judah to Babylon. In this vision are sun-bleached bones and skeletons symbolic of the Jewish exile, which according to Ezekiel happened as a result of their rebellion against the Creator. God’s Spirit breathes and the bones rattle together, taking on flesh and coming back to life, a metaphor for national resurrection. It was an image of hope for the Jewish exiles who would one day return to their Promised Land. In the broader context of the whole Bible, this vision of homecoming foreshadows the promise of transformed hearts through grace, enabling the people of God to live in a new universe of justice and peace traditionally referred to as heaven. I approached my painting as a modern interpretation, seeing the Monarch Butterflies as symbolic of breathing new life into lifeless human bones, signifying a cultural metamorphosis. Species like these Monarch Butterflies, fifteen to represent the model’s age, will flourish once again.
While many artists have visually interpreted the prophet Ezekiel's vision to depict a commanding army of soldiers, I was interested in portraying the spiritual nature of the battle, a theme which is taken up by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:10-12.
The meaning of my painting dovetails with the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus, in which he exhorts his fellow believers to take on the Armour of God to resist the devil’s schemes. Paul reminds us that we are not in a physical battle, but one that is waged “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12b NIV). “Rise Up” is a call to arms. Paradoxically, instead of wearing a soldier’s armament, the young woman wears a white lace dress, which represents the imputed righteousness bestowed upon her by her Saviour Jesus Christ. Jesus never took up the sword, but laid down his life freely for his bride, the Church.
I wanted to depict racially diverse figures of all ages: a young African-Canadian woman in the foreground, a middle-aged Indonesian lady, and an older Caucasian man atop rock spires in the background. Facing ethnic hostility between Jews and Gentiles in the church of Ephesus, Paul advocated for unity through Christ's reconciliation (Eph. 2:11-22). Today, the Bride of Christ must also fight for unity. As God’s Church from every tribe, nation, and language, we are unified through the powerful Armour of God available to us: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God. We need prophetic imagination fuelled by a biblical worldview in order to resist our society’s false narratives. In the Church we often focus on personal sin, but we must also be aware of the systemic forces of darkness that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 6. My painting stands as a metaphor for transcending all that is evil in our present world, such as war, greed, self-absorption, and racism. It expresses the longing for a world set right, where harmony will reign between humans, animals, and the Creator.
Thank you to the models who posed for this painting:
Special thanks to Douglas Tiessen who built the frame I designed, and to Daryl McMahon who did the antique finish.
"Rise Up" is available for purchase through Josh Tiessen Studio Gallery. To Inquire, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To watch the making of "Rise Up" see: www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbkWUmXt5MY
Josh Tiessen Studio Gallery • www.joshtiessen.com
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