Ned Bustard talks with Edward Knippers
Ned: I often explain to people that Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups began with my desire to make a book featuring your printmaking alongside works from your collection of other printmakers who explored Christianity in their work. Because of copyright complications, we were not able to include many prints from your collection. If copyright weren’t an issue, which pieces would you have had us include?
Ed: I would have included Otto Dix’s pieces for sure, especially The Flight into Egypt, the Entry into Jerusalem, the Massacre of the Innocents, and the Betrayal in the Garden. There are also a number of Chagalls such as The Gray Crucifixion and Joseph Before Pharaoh that would have been nice to use, not to mention Cain Slays Abel and David and Absalom. Max Beckmann’s Baptism of Christ and Bernard Buffet’s Veil of Veronica would also have been good additions.
Ned: Several pieces in the book contain nudity, which often elicits a strong responses from viewers. Your work often comes under fire for showing too much skin, so you’re no stranger to people being offended by your art. How would you respond to Christians who take issue with Revealed because of the nudity included in it?
Ed: I recently wrote a blog post for ArtWay in which I addressed my choice to use the nude in my art. In it, I explain that I want viewers to reconsider the Scriptures in very human terms that might shock them out of their complacency about the things of the spirit. The nude is my way of aiming at the deep and saving Truth given to us by Christ. It is an attempt to strip away our hiding places. Revealed is a place that nudity is not only appropriate but should be expected. In its pages we should be kept on edge, thinking new and penetrating thoughts.
Ned: The title of your new book Violent Grace gets at another issue people have with Revealed. Some who may not be offended by the nudity may view images like Steve Halla’s depiction of the murder of children as crossing the line. What is your response to why violent works such as this actually had to be in this project?
Ed: The Scriptures ring true because the difficult events are not suppressed but recorded for all to read and try to comprehend in the light of the reality of God. The Bible is not a cover-up job, but instructive truth dealing with real people. In the other literature, if a king is defeated in battle, the narrative stops. The king must only be seen in the best light. Yet in the narrative of David, for example, his worst sins are exposed. Likewise, Steve Halla’s murder of children should be seen. Even the cannibalism in II Kings (chapter 6) would not be out of place. Your linocut, What Evil Is This? depicting the dismemberment of a woman is no easier to contemplate. Yet for all the violence represented, Revealed contains much tenderness as well—for example, in prints such as Tanja Butler’s Rest on the Flight to Egypt or Albrecht Durer’s Doubting Thomas (Small Passion). Regarding the violent images in the book, they remind us that the Bible teaches us the often difficult fact that we are to fear nothing but God, who has revealed himself as our loving Father. This is truly liberating, and we should learn to embrace our freedom from fear in all things—even pictures in a book.
Ned: Continuing with the violence theme, several of your contributions to this book illustrate the ways the spiritual world violently thrusts itself into the physical world through your use of cubism. No puffy clouds or cute cherubs here—just alien slabs of another reality marching in.
Ed: I think we are living between two worlds and that ours is the weaker of the two. I also think we will have glorious work to do in that other world to which we hope we’re heading. The puffy clouds with people sitting around doing nothing, seems to me, to be a boring, anti-Christian image that makes Hell seem more interesting, maybe even more important. Glory will be engaging, and our participation in it will be wonderful, consuming all that we are and could ever hope to be—never boring. This is true because Glory is where God is, and we will see Him face to face. It is difficult to be able to even hint at that powerful reality using the tools at our disposal, the least that we can do is not to be sentimental about it. Give me Flannery O’Conner or C. S. Lewis over Hallmark any day! This brings to mind an overriding question that we should engage: “Why is it easy to show evil and despair and so difficult to create images that embody goodness and joy?”
Ned: For me that question immediately reminds me of you throwing down the gauntlet years ago, when I was developing the first edition of It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God. Back then you challenged me to write an essay on making art about GOOD. That task was certainly no walk in the park. In the end I learned a great deal about goodness, and the ideas in that essay have shaped my artmaking ever since. One reason it is so difficult to create images that embody goodness is a general watering down of what the word really means. We make good the equivalent of “nice try” when we say a child has “done good” for merely putting forth effort, and often “nice” or “sweet” are presented as synonyms for good. Thus, our collective understanding of the biblical concept of good begins to break down. A nice or sweet God would not destroy every living creature (except those who could fit on one boat), in a worldwide cataclysmic flood. Our misunderstanding of the word results from a distortion of true goodness observable in the world around us. Also, we are completely immersed in a broken world. We can neither rise above it, nor go around it. We are bound to it. It pervades everything we think and do. Portraying good is hard because we rarely get an objective viewpoint on it.
Ed: That is certainly true, but as followers of Christ, I wonder if we fear that true goodness and joy is too remarkable to be real and, therefore, when we attempt to embody them we tend to discount the images as false or make-believe?
Ned: C.S. Lewis credits that with the Temptor’s efforts. In The Screwtape Letters, the senior devil writes, “The general rule which we have now pretty well established among them is that in all experiences which can make them happier or better, only the physical facts are ‘real’ while the spiritual elements are ‘subjective.’” This is why I like the cubist elements you employ to represent the spiritual world. We contrast the spiritual reality with the “real world.” For many, the hope of Heaven is “too good to be true.”
Ed: Is this because we are more acquainted with grief than with joy? Can sentimental art be blamed, or is such art merely the result of a more all-encompassing failure of imagination in the face of something so grand?
Ned: I think of it as a poisoning of the imagination. I often feel that many of our popular songs, TV shows, and movies are wrapping cyanide in Beauty. The goodness and truth of Scripture are disparaged and discredited as half-truths, and lies are packaged in pretty moving images and heart-warming stories set to a good beat. We are distracted and misled to the point that we are unable to embrace God’s ultimate reality.
Ed: There are rare times, nonetheless, when we do find goodness and joy depicted with authenticity. For example, I find such goodness and joy in the face of Jesus in Lovis Corinth’s Christ Falls Under His Cross and also in Rembrandt’s Christ Preaching (La petite Tombe) Do you see it in other pieces in Revealed?
Ned: Well, though the book intentionally embraces the darker stories in the Bible, Steve Prince’s Slow Dance and Tanja Butler’s Kisses both convey real goodness and joy. Prince’s piece especially seems to be an authentic, non-saccharine display of goodness and joy. Also, Albrecht Dürer’s Noli Me Tangere shows Christ—the definition of Goodness—with Mary, who, at that moment, is the personification of joy.
Getting back to the gritty art of printmaking . . . As a graphic designer who sits in front of the computer all day, I love that in printmaking has no “Save As” button. It must be such a great exploration, trudging through the cutting of a block and arriving at the end with an unexpected image rather than the cold predictability of a “Copy/Paste.” You spend most of your time making huge oil paintings. What about the printmaking process draws you back again and again?
Ed: Printmaking is, for the most part, an intimate art form that can be distributed to many viewers in its original form. It’s not necessary for them to gather in one place in order to see the work, as is the case with painting. A print is usually a humble sheet of paper that speaks more about the ordinary world than about art, yet in doing so it becomes quite personal. For me, looking at prints is similar to reading a physical book—the same kind of tactile relationship. One might say that paintings are more standoffish. They draw you into them in a different way—more mental, less physical. However, both can be quite emotional; both can speak to the heart.
I am also drawn to printmaking because I like to see how much I can do with the simplest means; this is why many of my prints are a white line in a black field, a technique used by Matisse. In working this way, without all of the tricks of the print medium to cover my mistakes, I feel truly exposed with very little room to hide. The line must carry everything: the image, the emotion, and the presence of the idea.
Ned: I understand the appeal. I began making Second Eve immediately after seeing a Matisse print one night. I was so taken by the simplicity of the line as well. I agree also that printmaking brings people into a physical relationship with an original art. That’s why I am so glad that CIVA made a traveling exhibit from a selection of the book’s prints. Seeing them in person is so much better than merely looking at them in the book. I’m so happy with how the book turned out, but it is a different experience to see the art in person.
To wrap things up, I want to thank you again for inspiring Revealed and for your decades of inspiring us to love God and make art that seeks to bring him glory.
Edward Knippers is a painter and printmaker living in Arlington, Virginia. He holds an M.F.A. from the University of Tennessee and has worked in the studios of Zao Wou-ki and S. W. Hayter. His work has been included in numerous exhibitions throughout the U.S. and abroad.
Ned Bustard is CIVA’s graphic designer, a children’s book illustrator, an author, printmaker, and creative director for Square Halo Books and Gallery. Some of his projects include the Legends & Leagues series, The Sailing Saint, Ella Sings Jazz, Squalls Before War: His Majesty’s Schooner Sultana, It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God, The Church History ABC’s, and Bigger on the Inside: Christianity and Doctor Who; and Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-ups.