New Holy Family Art

Holy Family
Holy Family

I’ve been working digitally for decades, but this piece represents a new commitment for me into a fully digital commercial painting workflow.

More details on the Holy Family page.

That’s Not MY Jesus

Excerpted from James C. Christensen, That’s Not MY Jesus, An Artist’s Personal Perspective on Images of Christ.

Gethsemane by James C. Christensen
“Gethsemane” by James C. Christensen. Click to enlarge.
Many years ago I had occasion to visit with Elder Boyd K. Packer about a painting I had done for a Deseret Book cover. It was a portrait of Jesus. We discussed various aspects of the painting for a while and then I said, “You know, Elder Packer, when one is in the presence of one of the Twelve with a picture like this it’s very tempting to ask how close did I get.” He smiled, shook his head for a moment, turned to me and said,”How do you think BYU’s basketball team is going to do this year?” The message was there: if through revelation an individual does know the Savior it is a supremely sacred experience, much too personal for conversation.

…I had the opportunity to visit with President Kimball at his home. I had painted a portrait of him and his wife and when I brought up the fact that I was working on a picture of Christ we were invited to come to his house with reference material and notes to discuss the painting. My wife and I sat around the kitchen table eating milk and cookies with the prophet and his wife. All the pictures of Jesus I could find were laid out on the table. Sister Kimball had opinions on several of the pictures but the prophet said nothing. Finally I said, “Look, President, I have been around (I was very young and just thought I had been around) enough to know that we’re not going to be given a detailed physical description of the Savior but if you were going to hang a painting of the Savior in your office what would you want that picture to be like?” He took off his glasses and put his face about a foot away from mine and said, “I love people. That’s my gift. I truly love people. Can you see anything in my eyes that tells you that I love people? In that picture I would like to see in the Savior’s eyes that he truly loves people. It is not affected, it is not his job, he truly loves all people.” Well, that was an overwhelming challenge for me. I felt his unconditional love and I think I understood what he said. But to translate that feeling into the eyes of a painting was more than I was capable of. I threw away dozens of subsequent drawings of the savior and did not do another Christ painting for many years. I did not want to do it until I had the image right. Years later when I painted Gethsemane I skirted the problem by painting the Savior with his head down.

More recently within the last couple of years I said to Elder Packer, “I need to be painting for the Church. What shall I do?” He looked me in the eye, stuck his finger close to my face and said, “Paint the Savior.” I told him the whole President Kimball story and complained, “It’s too hard.” He said, “No, it’s not. You have the training the artistic talent and the sensitivity. You can do it.” So I agreed I would. How many hints does a person need? As members of the church we always pray, “Lord tell me what you want me to do,” so when the President of the Twelve points his finger at you and says, “Do this,” you do not go home and whine in your prayers, “I need a little better direction.”

Four New Paintings

Today I released four new paintings. I unveiled them at a conference for women in Annapolis where I spoke about my illustration process, inspiration and techniques. They have been in development since early 2014.

Touching Faith
TOUCHING FAITH: A woman reaches for healing from The Savior in faith, hope, and last-chance desperation. Click for more information.

 

Offering
OFFERING: The Savior blesses the sacramental bread. Click for more information.

 

Emmaus
EMMAUS: Two disciples suddenly recognize the resurrected Lord at he breaks bread with them. Click for more information.

 

Looking Toward Bethlehem Oil Painting Progress Shot
APPROACHING BETHLEHEM: Mary and Joseph view the last few steps in their journey toward bringing The Savior into the world. Click for more information.

Condensed Book of Mormon

While I have always known that the Book of Mormon is filled with great truths, I’ve only recently discovered what its publisher considers to be some of its most important teachings. Whenever the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints begins the lengthy process of translating this additional testimony of Jesus Christ into a new language, they first create a collection of essential passages, called a “Selection”, which they make available until the final version is published. Boyd Waite, an instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy, owns one of these books and introduced these concepts to my wife at a weekly off-campus religion class.

According to Waite, these passages “were approved by the First Presidency with something in mind… perhaps mostly to give new members with little other exposure to the Gospel the best chance of appreciating the origin and purpose of the Book of Mormon. I’m sure you’d come up with another set of selections if the purpose were different, e.g., the most essential parts relating to teachings about the atonement. It’s a very interesting exercise to think about the most meaningful selections as measured against whatever criterion you choose.”

I’ve listed the preface and table of contents from one of those volumes below. Waite translated them from the Romanian using Google Translate. The Romanian Selections was published in 1981, with the full translation available in 1998 and 2004.

My wife and I are reading these passages to experience the power of the book in a condensed way. What are your experiences with them?

FROM THE PREFACE:
“This volume contains selections from the Book of Mormon. They are published for temporary use until the Book of Mormon will be translated in full and published in Romanian. At that time the present volume will be discontinued.

“The Book of Mormon contains the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. These selections include some of the most important teachings of this holy scripture for missionary use and for the use of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and others who are interested in the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

THE PASSAGES:
1 Nephi, chapters 1-7, 16-18
2 Nephi, chapters 1-5, 9, 29, 31-33
Enos
Mosiah, chapters 2-5, 17, 18
Alma, chapters 5, 11, 12, 32, 34, 39-42
Helaman, chapters 13-16
3 Nephi, chapters 1, 8, 11-30
4 Nephi
Mormon, chapters 1, 4, 6-9
Moroni

The entire book is available here: https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm. For more translation information, see “Translations of the Book of Mormon” at http://ldsmediatalk.com/2010/07/30/translations-of-the-book-of-mormon/. The entire collection of LDS scriptures is here: https://www.lds.org/scriptures. A historical summary of the book is available here: http://www.mormon.org/beliefs/book-of-mormon.

#condensedbookofmormon #bookofmormon #mormon #lds #truth #jesus

In the Garden

In the Garden
Click to enlarge

Oil on Gessobord
18×36 inches
February 2014
Accepted into the Tenth International Art Competition, Museum of Church History and Art, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Purchase Prints

This painting shows the Son of God bearing the sins of all mankind, the supreme example of His love for us. In the Garden of Gethsemane he “fell on his face, and prayed”. Mark describes him falling on the ground and Luke describes him as kneeling, but whatever the position we know that he prayed in agony. In my view, no position says surrender, pleading, and pain like flattening oneself to the earth, face down in total humiliation. The strain he is under is reflected in his face, darkened by the stress-related rush of blood.

This Atonement began in the Garden of Gethsemane, as told in Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, and Luke 22:39-46. It ended on the cross when he paid the ultimate price for our sins.

The Easter Paintings
Why does this Christ have short hair?

Next in the 2014 Easter series: “Comforted”   >>

 

On the Cross

Oil on Gessobord
18×36 inches
December 2013

On the Cross
On the Cross. Click to enlarge.
Painted over three days in 2013, this image depicts the Son of God bearing the weight of the world as he endures the most humiliating and painful death that man can inflict, and much more, all out of His love for us.

I created this piece to inspire contemplation and gratitude, telling the story through suggestion rather than focusing on the gore and ugliness so natural in such a brutal experience. While flagellation and crucifixion are monstrous, I believe that thoughtfulness changes lives more effectively than shock. The viewer can take it from there.

This is the first in a series of paintings depicting the death and resurrection of the Savior. The second is “In the Garden”.

The Easter Series of Paintings
Why does this Christ have short hair?

Next in the 2014 Easter series: “Triumphant”   >>

 

Missionary Snakebite

The evening of May 17, 1978 was warm and humid, a perfect evening for snakes. My missionary companion and I trudged along a narrow jungle path in the coastal hills of Taiwan back to our bicycles, ready to head home for the day. We had just finished teaching the gospel to Mr. Wang and his wonderful Chinese family. They weren’t interested in hearing more from us at this time but in typical Oriental style they had listened to us graciously.

My companion trailed behind, enjoying the lights of Su Ao filtering through the trees. They glittered in the gathering dusk, far down the steep hillside. Within months, the streets of this tiny fishing village on Taiwan’s east coast would resound with the rumble of massive construction equipment transforming it into an important seaport, but for now it was peaceful and quiet.

I had just reached my bike when I heard a shaky voice behind me: “Elder Yocum, there’s a snake in the path.”

Calling 19 and 20-year-old men “Elder” strikes the Chinese as humorous. The term is used worldwide to indicate the priesthood office that these young men hold, and when paired with each missionary’s family name they serve as his name for his two years of full-time service. In Chinese, the word “elder” also indicates a level of gravity and respectability, traits that sometimes seem beyond the reach of early twenty-somethings. Although we got great respect for trying to live up to the title we were a long way from appearing elderly.

I sat my satchel of books down, turned around and peered into the dusk. Sure enough, there in the grass between us was a small green snake. It was about half the length of my forearm and had a triangular head. It was angling slowly down the path toward my companion, who was backing away from it.

“It looks like a garter snake,” I said.

Now, as anyone who has lived on a farm knows, garter snakes are harmless. When you find one in your way you can easily snap-grab its tail, pick it up, whirl it around a few times and let it go, watching it sail safely away. No harm done and you can get on with your work. So I wasn’t worried.

“Why don’t we try to grab it?” my companion asked.

I looked at him. From his nervous appearance it seemed clear to me that when he said “We” he meant “You, Elder Yocum. You look dumb enough.”

It sounded like fun.

I hunched down, reached my left hand forward, and tiptoed toward it. The snake seemed to ignore me.

Fingers outstretched, I bunched my muscles and held my breath. “You’re mine!” I thought. I clenched my teeth and snapped out my hand.

There was a flash of movement in the grass. A moment later I stood and looked wonderingly at my hand. Two drops of blood beaded my index finger.

I had no idea that anything could move so fast. Crawling away from me on the narrow path, surrounded by grass, this snake had heard me coming, waited for me to strike, turned, bit my finger, and turned away again, all before I could reach it. I looked down and watched its tail disappear lazily into the jungle. I was sure I heard some sniggering hiss that could be translated, “Amateur!” It was probably yawning.

My finger started to throb and grow numb. My companion came up to me and peered at it in the fading light. “What happened?” he asked.

“It bit me,” I said.

He looked at it again. The finger was starting to swell. “That looks bad,” he said. “Do you think it could be poisonous?”

Our eyes grew wide. We ran back to Mr. Wang’s home. Muttering and shaking his head, he tied a tourniquet around my finger and told us to get to the hospital quick. We ran to our bikes, tied down our satchels, and flew down the path.

Or tried to. Missionary bicycles back then were heavy and cheap. Painted black, they looked like they had been made out of cast iron. Ugly though they were, they were tough and could be easily repaired. We depended on them to get us around every day. That evening we depended on them a lot.

With the steep hillside on the left and the valley to our right, we careened down the narrow path. The darkness was nearly complete. My companion, who I later learned was terrified of snakes, tried to ride beside me, urging me to stay calm, warning that a fast pulse would speed the venom’s spread. I appreciated his advice, especially since we had to stop twice to pick him out of the ditch when the path got too narrow.

After about 30 minutes we pulled up at the hospital in Su Ao. By this time my finger was swollen and black. The staff told us that they had nothing with which to treat snake bites and directed us to another hospital. We climbed back onto our bikes and sped off.

At the next hospital the nurses laughed at us. I guess we did look pretty silly, all sweaty and covered with dirt from pulling my companion out of the ditch. Their doctor said he could do nothing for us and directed us to the hospital in Luodong, another twenty minutes away. They called for a taxi and watched us leave. They were still laughing.

During this time I remained unusually calm. I even made jokes. That helped my poor companion, whose composure slipped more than once. I simply had faith that I was in the hands of the Lord. I didn’t want to die or lose my finger but we were doing our best and could do nothing more. I prayed and left the rest up to God.

We got to the hospital in Luodong at about 9:30 that evening and were immediately surrounded by professionals. The doctor spoke fluent English and knew what to do. He gave me shots in my arm, hip and finger and then made two deep incisions at the knuckle and squeezed all the blood out.

While he worked he asked about the incident. After hearing my story he said that I had been bitten by a bamboo snake, one of Taiwan’s most poisonous, whose bite is often fatal. After working on me and injecting me with anti-venom, which also is sometimes fatal, he sewed me up and released the tourniquet. His staff bandaged the wound, which now looked like four-day-old hamburger, and told me to lie down and relax. He predicted that I would either be dead within in a few hours or in the hospital for six weeks in agony. And then he left.

I felt fine. Or I did until the pain medication wore off.

After several minutes the staff asked us to move into the waiting area and let them know if we had any problems; they needed my room. An hour later they told us to go home and come back the next day for a checkup. We returned to our apartment in Su Ao and, after a sleepless night, got up at 5am and started the day.

Later that afternoon the doctor examined me and expressed surprise that I was so unaffected. At length he concluded that I had not seen the snake clearly and had been bitten by some other species. I had been very fortunate. We went home and got some much-needed rest.

All through this experience I had remained calm, even while picking my companion out of the ditch. In my mind I had seen very clearly the story of Paul being bitten by a viper in Acts chapter 28. Onlookers thought he was going to die but he shook off the snake and felt no harm. I also remembered the promises of protection for the Lord’s servants against serpents in Mark 16:18. Although there is no promise of protection against the willfully foolish, I had been a full-time servant of the Lord and felt assured that His promises applied. I was very grateful that they did. I was able to finish my mission and return to my family 7 months later, fully healed.

I did pick up a nickname, though. The local Chinese laughed at my story and my big bandage and called me “the dumb missionary”. I have never picked up a snake since.

This story retells an incident that happened during my service as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have done my best to stay as close to the facts as possible, my primary source of information being my 1978 missionary journal. Except for myself, I have left out or changed the names of persons and facilities which might be embarrassed by this account. I have retained the names of the towns involved. I’ve been asked to document the story many times; I hope you enjoyed it.