Crucifixion / Altarpiece?

If you’ve been visiting the blog to keep an eye on the progress I’ve made with the Aviator’s Dream, hold that thought. It’s the end of semester and I’ve been buried under grading and the poignant prospect of saying farewell to our senior art majors, who are finishing their time at CLU.

I have been talking to friends about the idea of taking the crucifixion painting on a tour of progressive churches around Southern California and elsewhere during the easter season in 2009. It’s a provocative piece that makes a good talking point. The image is quite disturbing. 

Mike Adams gave me the great idea of creating an altarpiece out of it, with a less aggressive painting on the outer doors that would cover the work, allowing it to be revealed during the Easter season like the extraordinary Isenheim altarpiece crucifixion by Matthias Grunewald. I love the idea (it’s the quantity of  work needed to complete the project that scares me).



I did a great deal of research to make certain that the way I painted the actual crucifixion was correct. Obviously there were no Enfield 303’s in the time of Christ, I’m talking about the torture of the three victims in the painting. 

There remains one task to complete the work: the addition of an acacia tree in the top right corner. Because of its tenacity and propensity to regeneration, the acacia is well suited to use as a symbol of the renewal of life. It is said that the acacia will re-shoot from even the smallest fragment of the root.

Curiously, acacia wood was found in the only archaeological evidence of a crucifixion, the heel bone of Jehohanan, a young man in his mid twenties who had been crucified between 7 AD and 66 AD then entombed in a cave-tomb to the North of Jerusalem. A round headed nail was pounded through a piece of acacia wood, then through the heels of the young man, and on into a piece of olive wood that made the cross on which he perished. I think this suggests that the hands of Christ may indeed have been nailed, sandwiched between a plank and the horizontal beam of the cross.

Found throughout Israel, the Common Acacia, A. raddiana is a species that may also be found in Sinai, the desert land through which the Israelites are said to have passed during their wanderings toward the promised land. It is likely to have been the wood of the Common Acacia that would have been suitable for construction of the Arc of the Covenant.

The acacia has the unusual property of producing gum Arabic as an excreted resin. Now used to make capsule casings for orally taken medicines, the gum is highly nutritious and has been suggested as the source of the legendary Mannah that sustained the Israelites in the desert. The bark of some Acacias has a high concentration of DMT. Don’t chew the trees.

In the sketch for the painting, I rendered an acacia in the upper corner as a way to continue the wave composition suggested by the arc of the crowd and the circle of the moon. The tree suggests the foam of the breaking wave (think of the famous Japanese tsunami painting with the boat). I’ll scan and post the sketch tomorrow.

You’ve GOT to know more about the acacia? Try here. Note the intense long thorns in one picture. Crown of thorns symbolism? 

About pearce

Michael Pearce is an artist, writer, and professor of art. He is the author of "Art in the Age of Emergence."
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1 Response to Crucifixion / Altarpiece?

  1. Rich Brimer says:

    Michael, I think that tis is a fantastic piece and an even better one if you create an altar piece of it! Press on with the stretching and maybe even mounting to a birch panel -but now the question to be asked is what will be the content of the door panels? Inside and out? This will be an interesting “problem” to work out – one which I am going to watch with anticipation. Now you have something to work on for the summer.

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