Old & New: A Project of Biblical Proportions

Contemporary Christian art has a way of “prettying up” disturbing Bible stories so that you can hang them inoffensively, even attractively, above your mantle or in your nursery. Jim LePage and Troy DeShano have quite a different vision for biblical art. They are the co-creators of “Old & New,” a collaborative art project that aims to create more “honest” artistic expressions of biblical stories and passages.

“One of the biggest drawbacks of contemporary biblical art is that much of it is very proper, which often comes at the expense of being honest,” says LePage. “The Bible is filled with some weird, confusing and improper stuff. It takes honesty to create art around that. For honesty’s sake, the art and writing for Old & New may contain swearing, sexual references and all sorts of improprieties…just like the Bible itself.”

A new kind of biblical art
Old & New’s fresh, new artistic interpretations of biblical stories and passages are the work of a group of international artists and graphic designers of various religious backgrounds. LePage describes the results as ugly, beautiful, sometimes violent and always compelling.

The first round of artwork was posted in the spring of 2012 and included modern graphic designs titled, “Why Have You Forsaken Me,” “Legion of Demons,” “Elijah and the Prophets of Baal,” and “Nehemiah Confronts God.” Round Two, themed “Miracles,” is currently underway and includes eighteen new designs ranging from “Spit & Mud” to “Jesus Raises Lazarus.”
Old & New posts each of their designs online along with a contemporary retelling of the associated biblical passage. DeShano writes these posts with the intention of making the stories accessible, particularly to the art community, as an entry way to take a fresh look at the Bible.

The atheist artist’s take
Old & New Project is intentionally recruiting contributing artists who are atheists or have no religious background. LePage says these artists, who “have no churchy upbringing,” are able to offer broader artistic expression. LePage believes that Christian artists, like himself, who grew up as part of the Christian culture largely sanitize the Bible. Most Christians, he explains, like to keep the Bible safe. “We focus on pretty Psalms and skip the confusing or ugly parts,” LePage says. This is reflected in the type of contemporary Christian art on the shelves of Christian bookstores.

What secular artists can offer in terms of providing new perspective is obvious in the work of artist Lisa Romero, who took on one of the more controversial and disturbing stories in the Bible. Romero, an atheist, says, “I am not a big fan of the Bible. I know it was written by a group of men, so the way women were seen, treated, and spoken of has always bothered me.” It was through this lens she read and artistically represented the story of Judah and Tamar. Romero said she was determined to approach the piece from Tamar’s point of view and imagined her deep disappointment and anger. DeShano says Romero’s design is startling because, while Christians rightly consider Tamar as incredibly victimized, Romero depicts “the courage and power the girl must have had to take matters into her own hands.” The piece is unconventional, but a provocative and powerful image of Tamar and her story.

Romero, reflecting on her participation as a contributing artist for Old & New said, “It’s wonderful that so many artists can get together, regardless of religious affiliations and talk openly about how they feel.”

Old & New is meant to be just such an invitation to non-Christian artists. LePage says the Christian community has largely devalued art and says he wants to draw artists back into the community. He believes there is power in asking them to honestly interpret the biblical passages and then posting their artwork. LePage sees the role of Old & New as intentionally breaking down the “us-vs-them” dynamic and hopes this project may eventually lead some artists to reconsider Christianity.

Connect with Old & New
You can view the latest designs on Old & New website as well as follow them on Facebook and Twitter. Old & New’s blog features “Q & A’s”, with the contributing artists. These posts are a way to learn about the artists’ personal backgrounds, as well as how they developed their design concept and carried it out.

The Old & New designs are available for purchase as prints. All proceeds go to support Blood: Water Mission which works in the village of Lwala, Kenya to provide safe drinking water.
Origins Art_Space, a gallery associated with City Alliance Church in Williamsport, PA recently hosted an exhibit of designs by Old & New. A member of City Alliance Church tweeted that his favorite response to the exhibit was: “Now I wanna go read the Bible,” Clearly, Old & New is having an evangelistic impact.

Keri is a freelance writer from Charlotte, NC. She blogs regularly at keriwilliams.wordpress.com and movingtojamaica.wordpress.com.

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