Today, I had the pleasure of visiting Capo Beach Church, near the picturesque Dana Point Harbor. Although it and I go back many years, I did not go there simply to pay a visit. I went to see Wayne Forte’s art exhibit.
Mr. Forte is a very talented Christian artist. His art can be found all over Orange County, especially in the non-denominational churches I grew up in. It is one thing to see a piece or two here and there, and it is another thing entirely to see a whole collection of his works gathered together.
His body of work has very strong Christian themes. Many pieces illustrate or draw their inspiration from specific passages in the Bible. Mr. Forte is not the first to paint from the Great Book. Its Scriptures are full of rich visual imagery. The Middle Ages and early Renaissance knew well of this, and many of the great masters took to capture scenes from the Bible in marble, oil, and glass.
The remarkable and unique aspect of Mr. Forte’s work is not the source of his inspiration but rather the way he brings that source to life. Whereas classical depictions mostly cast Anglo-Saxons in the lead Biblical roles, Mr. Forte uses more Southeast Asian and South American models. The men and women in his pictures are more full-bodied than European counterparts, and his color palate is a lot brighter. Where Raphael and Michaelangelo strove to capture every ounce of muscle and lock of hair, Mr. Forte allows his paintings to remain more abstract, as if by viewing them we enter into a rich, prophetic dream.
Do not get me wrong: it is not that Mr. Forte has snubbed the old way. (He gives a tip-of-the-hat to Duccio di Buoninsegna, a 13th century Italian painter, in his “Temptation” piece.) Instead, he has taken the work of the masters and made it relevant both to himself and to more modern audiences. Another case of marvelous adaptation is found in “Parable of the Good Samaritan (with Benigno Aquino).” Here he takes a familiar story and inserts the assassinated Filipino Senator into it. The narrative thus changes from “once upon a time there were good people doing good things” to “right here and now people are laying down their lives to make others’ lives better” (a message we all could surely benefit from in these troubled times.)
Other noteworthy pieces are “Here Lies Love,” wherein Mr. Forte replaces the lost sheep of Matthew 18:12 with a lost sinner, found by the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ; his six different “Madonna and Child” paintings, each using distinct objects and colors to differentiate between them; his “Temptation of the Second Eve,” which shows Mary* and Jesus overcoming Satan and Adam’s stain by branding a cross on the infamous apple; and his “Christ’s Blood Fulfills the Law,” which depicts Christ pushing back the Ten Commandments (in a manner reminiscent of the parting of the Red Sea) so that the people below might walk in the gap over to the Tree of Life.
Of course, it would be foolish of me to review this collection without mentioning Mr. Forte’s pastoral pieces, wherein we see hunter and prey living together as they will do in heaven. “The Leopard Will Lie Down With The Goats” and “A Lion in Paradise” are my favorites among these works, namely because they are painted in such a way that the animals therein seem moments away from leaping off the canvass and into the main hall. I love the vibrancy of these works, the hope they impart to the viewer, and promises of God that roar mightily between them: one day, pain shall be removed from us, old wounds shall be forgotten, and divisions will cease. That will be a good day indeed.
Mr. Forte definitely is a man of two worlds, with one hand in antiquity, the other hand set on relational modernity, and both feet planted firmly on the Rock of Ages. He has worked hard to unite the two worlds and I sincerely believe he has succeeded in his task.
*”Mary succeeds because Jesus is holding the fruit, and she is holding on to Him.” -Wayne Forte