“I am the resurrection and the life.” -- John 11:25 (RSV)
A handsome young Christ in blue jeans leads a joyous jailbreak in “Jesus Rises” from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a series of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard. He takes the hand of a prisoner as he leads the group to freedom. Jesus still bears the wounds of his crucifixion, but he glows with life and health. His inner light illuminates the grey crowd behind him.
For the first time in this series, Jesus also has a halo. Beams of light shoot from his head in four directions, forming a diagonal cross behind him. One prisoner raises a fist in victory, a broken chain dangling from his shackled wrist. Another waves his hat in celebration. Even the picture frame cannot hold back the risen Christ. Blanchard has painted it to look like the frame is cracking open at the top, letting light shine through.
This uprising is not just the resurrection of Jesus as a unique individual. All humanity rises up along with Christ. God is in solidarity with humanity in this natural yet supernatural scene. It can be read as “gay” because Jesus holds hands with another man.
The prison can stand for any kind of limitation, including the closets of shame where LGBT people hide. Viewers of this series know from the previous painting that these particular “prisoners” are the dead. Jesus overcomes death itself in this updated vision of the first Easter. Artistically Blanchard drew inspiration for some of his resurrection and post-resurrection imagery from English Romantic artist William Blake.
“Jesus Rises” will always have a special place in my heart because it is the painting that introduced me to artist Doug Blanchard back in 2005. I needed queer Christian images for the Jesusinlove.org website, which was still in the design stage. It was hard to find any kind of LGBT-oriented Christ figures, but the rarest of all was the queer resurrection. I was delighted when Internet searches finally led me to Blanchard’s “Jesus Rises.”
Doug sounded discouraged when I called him on the phone. He reported that nobody cared much about his Passion series when it was exhibited as a work in progress in 2004 by the Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation in New York. Later he admitted that he had expected the daring Passion series to be a “career killer.” Eventually he agreed to let me share “Jesus Rises” on my website. People loved his Passsion series there, and in my book “Art That Dares,” and at a 2007 exhibit that I helped organize at JHS Gallery in Taos. Many paintings from the series sold and are now scattered all across the country. Images from the series have appeared in magazines and on numerous blogs (both admirers and detractors). Now Blanchard considers his most successful project ever.
“When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” -- Luke 24:30-31 (RSV)
Song of Songs: “O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth!”
This concludes a series based on “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a set of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard, with text by Kittredge Cherry. For the whole series, click here.
Scripture quotations are from Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations are from the Inclusive Language Lectionary (Year C), copyright © 1985-88 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.