Emily Zacek Part 3: Chapel Paintings – Gospel of John Series

In the Fall of 2021, I was hired as the Campus Chapel Visual Arts Coordinator (also referred to as the “chapel artist”) at Whitworth University. My job was to create paintings that correlated with and responded to the messages being presented at chapel services. I created these pieces bi-weekly, visually combining the messages from two weeks at a time while incorporating elements that were specified by the speakers. Due to the nature of the position, the specific artworks do not represent my usual or preferred painting style or content; however, it encouraged me to process themes from scripture in a creative and valuable new way. 

This blog post covers the series of paintings from the Fall 2021 semester – the Gospel of John series.

Lord, I Believe, 2021, oil on canvas, 16×20 inches

Lord, I Believe is a piece that correlates with John 8:12-20 and John 9:1-41. Combined is the imagery of the blind man from John 9 emerging from darkness with a burst of light across his eyes. This signifies the gift of sight from Christ, “the light of the world.” In John 9:38, the man says “Lord, I believe” – the statement that gives him, and all people, new life in Christ.

Lazarus, 2021, oil on canvas, 16×20 inches

Lazarus is a visual representation of John 11:1-44 and John 15:1-17. It is an image of Lazarus’s grave clothes trailing from the tomb, removed while he walked from death toward life (Jesus). The cypress tree that grows in front of the tomb has been pruned of dying branches, representative of John 15. The grave clothes and pruned branches are together abandoned on the ground as symbols of death defeated, while the healthy tree continues to grow, and Lazarus is alive beyond the painting. 

Jesus of Nazareth, the King, 2021, oil on canvas, 20×16 inches

Jesus of Nazareth, The King is a painting of Jesus’s crown of thorns casting the shadow of a crown of royalty. It is in reference to John 18:33-40 and John 19:19-30, John’s description of Christ’s crucifixion. The crowns are symbolic of Jesus’s reign through his suffering. The text on this piece refers to the inscription that Pilate, the governor of Judea and presider over the crucifixion, instructed to be above Jesus on the cross (John 19:19). 

Rabboni, 2021, oil on canvas, 16×20 inches

Rabboni is a Jewish title of respect for a master or teacher, specifically one of spiritual insight. This is what Mary called Jesus when he approached her after his resurrection. In John 20:1-18, Jesus approaches Mary in the garden, gently calling her name and proving his resurrection with his pierced hand. The back of Mary’s head is in the foreground of this piece so that the viewer may be welcomed into the scene, being approached by Jesus in a similar gentle way. In contrast to the other paintings in this series, I intentionally left sketches revealed in this piece and used thinner washes of paint. The purpose is to represent a simpler and less dramatic scene, signifying God’s presence in simple moments, not only in what’s flashy.

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