The Stations of the Cross
At the Church of the Epiphany Honolulu
Thoughts on the Paintings of the 14 Stations by Dieter Runge
First of all I like to give thanks to Donald Matsumori, who gave me the opportunity to create these paintings. I also like to thank Father David Jackson and Donald for the trust and patience they had with me during the long process.
The history of the Stations of the Cross began with pilgrimages to Jerusalem to visit the places of Christ’s life. The desire to follow Christ’s passion at home gave rise to the recreation of the passion as early as the 5th century in Bologna. The word station originates with the English pilgrim William Wey, who visited the holy land in the 15th century. The Franciscans began building out door shrines during the 15th and 16th centuries, which numbered between eleven and thirty. These developed into the ‘traditional’ 14 stations, some of which had no references in the bible.
On Good Friday 1991 Pope John Paul II introduced a new set of stations, which he called the Scriptural Way of the Cross. He consequently celebrated this form many times. Pope Benedict XVI approved this set of stations for meditation and public celebration.
They follow this sequence:
1. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, 2. Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested, 3. Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin, 4. Jesus is denied by Peter, 5. Jesus is judged by Pilate, 6. Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns, 7. Jesus takes up His cross, 8. Jesus is helped by Simon to carry His cross, 9. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem,10. Jesus is crucified,11. Jesus promises His kingdom to the repentant thief, 12. Jesus entrusts Mary and John to each other, 13. Jesus dies on the cross, 14. Jesus is laid in the tomb.
These paintings of the ‘14 stations’ aim to be contemporary, representing my own sensibility and the desire to speak also to the aesthetics of a younger audience. They are cinematic, as they must be, since they tell a story and are inspired by the movie ‘The Passion of the Christ’. The compositions and rendering are my own. When we study the long history of Christian art we discover that the art work is always of its time, yet my hope is that these painting show my respect and debt to all the artist who came before me and are my inspiration. The more than two years of working on this project allowed me to question and reflect on my own spirituality, especially the concepts of self will and surrender
Disclaimer: the following comments describe my personal relation to these paintings and their story. They do not represent the view of the church and I don’t know if they support or contradict it. My hope is that these thoughts help you to appreciate my work and inspire you on your own spiritual journey.
At night, all is blue, Jesus prays to his father; he sweats and struggles with what is to come. His humanness shows when he asks his father to ‘take this cup away’, yet once he said this, he surrenders with ‘thy will be done’. Jesus tells me to chip away at my ego as well and to surrender to the divine. The stripes remind me of prison-clothing. It also sets up what is to come, which is dark as well as light.
Later the same night Judas reaches up to kiss Jesus in order to identify him to the Roman guards. He has sold his soul, but not everything is as clear-cut as it seems. Judas plays the role of putting the passion into motion. The very moment of this picture can be seen as a hesitation. Is the hand going to reach all the way or is it going to pull back? Do we easily condemn Judas or can we also identify with him in our own doubts and struggles?
Kaiphas, the high priest of the Sanhedrin interrogates Jesus. Again, Jesus is shown with the back to us. Kaiphas is another character for us to recognize ourselves in. Jesus’ actions threaten the Jewish religious aristocracy as well as the beliefs of many people in his time.
In fear we do not act true to our selves. Peter is afraid; he doesn’t trust the unfolding of the events and denies Jesus. This, I consider the most ‘classical’ of my paintings of the stations.
Crucify him! The crowd actually condemns Jesus, not Pilate, who wants to let him go. Of course the Sanhedrin would like to punish him for questioning their authority, but just like the Rolling Stones sing in ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, “who killed the Kennedys? After all it was you and me.” How quick are we to condemn those who think or are different from us, who threaten us, by daring us to question our beliefs?
Now, Jesus passion has begun. The Roman soldiers torture Jesus for being who he truly is. My aim is to pull in the viewer with the close-up composition and the details in the painting.
This is one of two paintings that I did first, about eight month before I started on the entire series. The other one, a close-up of a nail driven through Jesus’ hand, did not make it into the final selection. Both these paintings are rendered straight on wood. All the others are painted on linen stretched on wood. I struggled with applying the paint to the slick wood, even though I had applied three layers of acrylic gesso. The result is thicker paint and rougher brush strokes, a slightly looser approach, since I considered it a ‘test painting’. By the time the series developed to station number seven I decided to keep it. From the pain of the person behind Jesus, to Jesus’ own face, the rawness of his garment, the heaviness of the wooden cross and the bloody hands clinging to the cross, the brush strokes fit the energy of the moment. Finally, the white light on Jesus’ hands point to the potential of transformation.
By the time Simon from Cyrene is pulled into the action involuntarily, Jesus is beaten up severely. In this painting Jesus does not appear heroic. It is Simon through his steady determination, who picks up Jesus and the cross, not just physically. Black, white and red dominate and the cross is blue.
Jesus stops to talk to the women of Jerusalem to tell them not to cry for him and that things might even get worse for them in the future. In the painting Jesus talks to one woman standing for all. He holds her chin to make sure that she is completely with him and she is. What I understand here is that Jesus is ok with his lot, since he has completely surrendered his self will. Are we ready to do the same? Are we ready to surrender to the divine within ourselves?
Jesus is crucified and my initial response to this passage was to paint a close-up of Jesus’ face, extremely damaged with on eye shut, and I did. I lived with these paintings having them hanging above the windows in my living room/studio where I could study them all the time. Something disturbed me besides the realistically rendered brutality of the painting, which was justified for this moment in the story. After contemplating this for a while and considering a different composition, maybe not quite as close I came to the solution after reading the bible passage again. The centurion is another character in the story to help us understand that not everything is always as clear-cut as we like it to be. Yes, the Romans brutalized and crucified Jesus, but this centurion has a revelation.
I did not paint the good thief. This is the bad thief. After hurling insults he begs to be saved. Isn’t he close to many of us. I personally love this painting. I am not a great fan of heavy metal music, but I call this the heavy metal painting.
The mood is blue, but actually I consider this moment as the beginning of the church, hence lots of white. Jesus creates a union between mother and disciple, the beginning of the community that eventually evolves into the church.
Finally Jesus dies. The blurry abstraction invites us to move beyond the suffering of Christ. Death is transformation; the body is no longer the vehicle for our spiritual journey. Jesus last tear drops onto the rocks and explodes in all directions. We are catapulted as well, into the future. What do we take with us from Jesus’ passion?
This painting shows the cloth Jesus was wrapped in when put to rest. I took the liberty to move the story one step ahead. Jesus has already risen and only the cloth is left in the cage, or is it a mountain rising from the desert? I invite the viewer to move beyond the story and the physical presence of Jesus. The brushstrokes, the folds, ridges, valleys, what do you make of it? Can you fill it with your spiritual longing, can you surrender?