After the success of his first gay Passion of Christ paintings, artist Doug Blanchard recently began a second series on the same subject.
“It has been 11 years since I finished the Passion series. After more than a decade of thought and conversation about the Passion series, I’ve decided to do another one, this time a little larger, and on canvas,” Blanchard said.
His goal is to finish the new series by Easter 2020 for exhibition at the bicentennial celebration of his Episcopal parish in New York City.
The new series features a darker, racially indeterminate Jesus who lives in a monochrome world. “I’m making the contrast between pre- and post-Resurrection even more stark this time,” Blanchard explained. Scenes will be painted in full color after Jesus rises from the dead.
One aspect that won’t change is the gay perspective. “I do plan to put more homoeroticism in this second series, especially in some of the more transcendent scenes following the resurrection,” Blanchard confirmed.
So far Blanchard has completed five new paintings: Jesus and the prophets, Jesus enters the city, Last Supper, Jesus prays alone, and Jesus is arrested.
In the original 24 paintings, the contemporary Christ figure is jeered by fundamentalists, tortured by Marine look-alikes, and rises again to enjoy homoerotic moments with God. His surprisingly diverse friends join him on a journey from suffering to freedom. Readers call it “accessible but profound.”
Christian conservatives attacked the original Passion paintings and Facebook made international headlines by banning the Passion book ads as too “shocking.” The first series is available as a book and high-quality prints and greeting cards.
“I’m trying to work beyond the old series into a truly new series,” Blanchard said. He plans to omit some scenes from the first series and add new elements such as the Judas kiss and the two thieves who were crucified beside Jesus.
With the first series, he painted a numbered frame onto each panel, but the second series is not numbered — giving the artist freedom to insert extra scenes at a later time. The originals were vertical images on 18-by-14 inch wooden panels. The new paintings are larger 26-inch squares on canvas.
There are strong precedents for an artist painting the Passion more than once. After all, one of Blanchard’s inspirations is German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer, who painted the Passion five times. His sixth version was underway when Dürer died in 1528 at age 56.
Nevertheless it is daring to revamp a series that is beloved by thousands of fans around the world. “I expect that some people who so loved the first series may be a little disappointed with this new series (but I hope not),” Blanchard said.
Initial reactions were enthusiastic when he began sharing his latest paintings on social media. Typical comments called them “breathtaking,” “absolutely stunning” and “honestly, some of the most moving religious artworks I’ve seen in a long, long time! Beautiful, mysterious, textured.”
Politics influenced Blanchard’s first Passion series, which he began shortly before the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. He used the series to grapple with his own faith struggles as a New Yorker who witnessed the horror. Events during the Trump presidency will shape his new series.
“I have an idea of where I want to go with it and what it will look like in the end, but as in the first series, I’m making a lot of things up as I go along.”
Top image credit: “Emanuel with Job and Isaiah (The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision II” by Doug Blanchard
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