A modern Christ figure carries a wooden crossbeam through the city in “Jesus Goes to His Execution” from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a series of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard. The bleeding Jesus is surrounded by guards with guns and men who aim news cameras at him.
The Bible records that Jesus was forced to walk to the execution grounds carrying the cross on which he would be crucified. The story emphasizes that people play a role in their own oppression. For LGBT people, it is a solemn reminder that persecution includes being forced to carry our own crosses by internalizing homophobia as self-hatred and guilt.
Bruised and bleeding, a condemned man cries out in agony as a spike is hammered through his wrist in “Jesus is Nailed to the Cross.” The guard shows no emotion as he pounds a cruel spike through human flesh and bone. A shadowy guard in sunglasses keeps people away with a rifle while paparazzi eagerly record the horror from behind. Even the frame appears to be spattered with blood.
“While the sun’s light failed… he breathed his last.” -- Luke 23:44-46
“Jesus Dies” places Christ’s crucifixion against a 21st-century city skyline. Some spectators cheer while others pray. Many, including some priests, watch grimly. Dark clouds gather in the sky above. Jesus looks dead.
Until now the images in this Passion series mostly seem plausible, but as Jesus dies the series enters a different realm, a soulscape of faith and symbolism. Public crucifixions do not happen in contemporary New York City in a literal sense. Crucifixions happen every day in a metaphoric way -- every time anyone does violence to another. Many queer people have died in circumstances of abuse and humiliation.
After an almost suffocating close-up focus on the torture of Jesus in the last four images, this Good Friday painting takes a step back. We get the big picture, seeing the crowd, the horizon, and the open sky.
The crucifixion could be taking place on top of a building, or on some kind of terrace. The scaffolding for the cross is an old sign frame, like the one on top of the red brick building in the back right. The outline of a skyscraper like the Empire State Building stands tall in the distance. Its presence hints at a subtext of this Passion: the 9/11 terrorist attacks that happened near Blanchard’s art studio while he was painting the series. The World Trade Center is missing from the skyline; it has gone up in smoke like the dark clouds gathering above Jesus.
This is part of 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 quotation is 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.