This could be very big news on a couple of counts. One, this marks the return of illuminated manuscript-style bibles, and in the English Standard Version, one of today’s most popular translations at that, especially among Reformed Protestants and one of the literary progeny of the King James Version. Two, it features a surprising artist, Makoto Fujiumura, an outstanding abstract artist known worldwide for his popular and groudbreaking work, who also has been very expressive in his deep Christian faith. His style is a drastic departure for an illuminated bible, but perhaps this is exactly what an illuminated manuscript for the 21st Century looks like. Here is the press release:
PRESS RELEASE: Through Fujimura, New York Produces its Bible
Contact Angie Cheatham: 630.868.6043 or Media@Crossway.org
Renowned artist and writer Makoto Fujimura is not shy about the importance of his latest project. “Whether I like it or not, this is what I will be remembered by,” Fujimura asserts. “I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that it is a commission of the decade, if not more,” says Valerie Dillon, whose Dillon Gallery is Fujimura’s main exhibitor.
The commission is an illuminated manuscript published by Crossway, to commemorate the four hundred year anniversary of The King James Bible, set to be released January 2011. The leather-bound English Standard Version of the Bible, printed with a six-color metallic process, will comprise the four Gospels as designed and illustrated by Fujimura. Five major new works, painted in the artist’s Manhattan studio, will be the volume’s main images, making this the first such manuscript to feature abstract contemporary art in lieu of traditional representational illustrations. It is this unprecedented marriage of a modern, usually secular art form with ancient scripture that most interests Fujimura, who aims to depict “the greater reality that the Bible speaks of… for the pure sake of integrating faith and art in our current pluralistic, multicultural world.”
The artist is quintessentially multicultural. Born in Boston to Japanese parents, Fujimura lived in three countries before the age of ten. While attending school in Japan and the US, he met and married an American woman, then became a New Yorker. He is both culturally and literally bilingual, a seasoned navigator of the uneasy overlap between East and West. But he also traverses the deeper divide between the art world and the church. As an Artist and a Christian rather than a Christian Artist, Fujimura is Crossway’s ideal candidate, an individual defined by the very juxtapositions this Bible will display.
Fujimura’s work also fits the commission. As a student of Nihonga, a Japanese technique dating to the 8th century, Fujimura and his classmates at the Tokyo University of Fine Art set out to “[break] with tradition in order to revitalize and expand the art form,” according to Dillon. The Dillon Gallery is the foremost Western gallery representing contemporary Nihonga artists. The work of that group, which includes Hiroshi Senju, Norihiko Saito and Chen Wenguang, created an “entirely new approach to Nihonga,” a synthesis between traditional and modern techniques.
Fujimura is not alone in his complexity. Sociologist Tony Carnes sees Fujimura as part of a “global religious transformation,” the result of blurring lines between mainstream and religious culture. Another recent illustrated manuscript of Genesis, by decidedly secular illustrator R. Crumb, is evidence of this shift.
Fujimura also recognizes this movement, saying “the Age of Faith is coming.” This illuminated manuscript, painted in Midtown Manhattan by a cultural navigator like Fujimura, will be further affirmation. “Jesus is a New Yorker,” Carnes says. “And he’s got an illustrated Bible.”
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