Christ in the Wilderness (2011)
The man struggles to rise to his feet. Dark jackals are hunting him and a serpent is poised to strike at his heel. He is ruddy, eyes downcast, and nude. In the swirl of a bright, geometric cloud, pained, compassionate faces offer a had to lift him up. In a darker end of the spectrum, a horned figure watches.
This is not a depiction of Jesus radiating gold and light, smiling with inhuman passivity. This Jesus, in his fleshly body, is in the throes of a battle between light and dark, the human body and the soul, his face molded by emotion. This is his own battle in the wilderness from the book of Matthew, Chapter 4, passages 1-11.
Edward Knippers’ paintings, like “Christ in the Wilderness,” offer a depiction of Biblical figures grounded by physical bodies. Bodies contorted, bodies in action. His impressionistic application of ruddy flesh tones echoes the blood and the pulse beneath. They are not inhuman.
Peter Led From Prison (The Dreams of Men) 
When admiring the realistic quality of his work, the visceral nature of the human body, it is hard to imagine that Knippers was formerly a still-life painter. In the Paris opera house, a Ballet Russes presentation of the parable of The Prodigal Son altered the artist’s perspective on the figure. Inspired by the power of the body and narrative combined in Balanchine’s choreography, Knippers began studying the human form. Drawing on his beliefs, he wanted to make images that reflected his personal interaction with biblical texts. “The narrative of scripture cuts through our falsities and brings a clarity to our minds.” This corresponds to Knippers fascination with abstract expressionism and primitive art because “there’s a way that the primitive catches you off guard.” In this vein, Knippers offers an image of Jesus with the same flesh, blood, and body as his other subjects. This grounds Christ, bringing him out of distant imaginations of him nearly without a body. The notion of a physical body enduring a crucifixion leaves the range of abstract notions and enters the realm of real, provoking thought.
Dark and light, and the spirit and the body, are constant dualities in Knippers’ work. Drawn from his past abstract still-lifes the “intrusion of another kind of reality” is a theme in all of his works. Cubic shapes interact with the classical, realistic bodies as an analogy for the spirit world. These colorful elements cover figures as if to protect, guiding them with outstretched arms. Darker forms represent the dark spiritual elements. In “The Dreams of Men (Peter Led from Prison),” the kaleidoscope emanates near his face, like a halo, as an angel leads him through a wreckage of shackles and bodies, people who appear to be dead physically or spiritually.
The Stoning of Stephen (1998)
The Sacrifice of Baal (1995)
Up until the early 2000s, Knippers’ paintings were darker, dealing with the “heavier nature of contending with a greater reality.” The weight of flesh and shadows looms heavily on the canvas with figures painted at an immense scale to illuminate the magnitude of strife. Knippers was then more interested in the “earthy, solid manner,” of the spiritual narrative.
The violent quality of Knippers paintings varies, ebbs and flows. The pulse of action rises and mellows. Knippers says, “we live in such a world that when true grace comes it’s going to be a violent act.” He compares it to the perspective-altering coming of spring when “grass breaks through concrete.” Grace on Knippers’ canvas is not soft, instead a fearsome and beautiful thing.
All images courtesy of edwardknippers.com
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