Beth and I have had the great pleasure of often hearing Makoto Fujimura, the esteemed New York abstract painter, and founder of IAM (International Arts Movement) at venues large and small, including a moving plenary presentation at last year’s Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh. We will sell books again at the upcoming IAM Encounter (March 3-5) with an extraordinary array of artists, dancers, actors, writers, designers, thinkers, cultural creatives, musicians, and patrons of the arts. We have often commend his moving collection of essays—many set in the immediate aftermath of the fallen towers on 9-11—called Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture (NavPress; $24.99) It is a truly wonderful paperback, handsome, well-designed, and worth reading again and again, as we see this multi-cultural global citizen, living for God’s Kingdom in Manhattan, ruminating on what art and artists might offer as we see the common good in times such as ours.
Although Mako is low key and humble–the IAM Encounter is so full of remarkable people that he is just one among many strong Christian thinkers and creators–but I suspect that this year, the event will have at least some strong energy from the historic release of Mr. Fujimura’s collaboration with Crossway Books, the much-anticipated illuminated Bible edition called The Four Holy Gospels. This commissioning was pitched to Fujimura by the President of Crossway, who envisioned doing something extraordinary to celebrate the much-publicized 400th anniversary of the King James Bible this year. How about a rare illumination by a modern abstract artist, in the recent, beautifully-rendered English Standard Version? The ESV is a recent, elegant and exceptionally accurate translation (which some, by the way, say is the most accurate Bible translation yet done, and which has a cadance and feel, or so it seems to me, somewhat like the old RSV.) Fujimura is one of the living masters of nihonga, the ancient Japanese technique of painting, on the floor, using crushed mineral pigments. I’ve talked about his stunning work here before (here, for instance) and we stock his other books. To invite him to do major original paintings on the themes of the four gospels (not to mention embellished letters and such) was brilliant. The project must have felt daunting. See his exceptional, crisp website and a bit about his thoughts doing these paintings, here.
The Four Holy Gospels project is nothing short of spectacular. The Biblical text is in a good font, in a good size, making it ideal for liturgical reading—some churches carry the gospels in during the assembly and some hold high the book as they read from the gospel each week. It is nice not only for reading aloud in public (the nice font is so helpful) but beautiful for home use as well. We are not fancy people, Beth and I, and our home is crummy and cluttered. But there is a place for such beauty and we trust that many of our readers will not balk at the price of such a high quality volume. This may be a once-in-a-life time type purchase, something wonderful to have and to give.
As Jonathan Wilson said last week in his wonderful Books & Culture podcast, some may keep this as a collectors item, or as a coffee-table art book. It is (as all of the Crossway Bibles) exceptionally made, with a smyth-sewn binding, and durable, elegant paper. John is fastidious about his books and he knows that there is no shame in wanting to handle a Bible like this with great reverence, or to keep it nice for display. But I was thrilled to hear him say he is prepared to allow it to get beat up a bit as it is going to be used in his home. Am I cheesy to think of the Velveteen Rabbit story? Yes, The Four Holy Gospels are illustrated with original, important artwork, making it very special. It is on glossy paper and has the look of a coffee table art piece, and it is. But it is meant to be used. I am sure of it.
It is interesting that this sort of project—one single artist illuminating the Biblical text–has not been done, as far as we know–for perhaps 400 years! When I said in my first paragraph that this was historic, I wasn’t not using breathy hyperbole.
You may know the ongoing Bible calligraphy project called The Saint John’s Bible, beautifully produced by The Liturgical Press of St. John’s Benedictine Abbey in Minnesota. (Do visit their truly great website, here. Do a “google image” search and see some of the wonderful work done.) We have stocked those hefty volumes as they’ve come out, one by one, the Pentateuch, the Wisdom Literature, the Prophets, The Gospels & Acts. The Historical Books is the sixth and most recent (and the largest and most expensive, selling for $70.00.) We sell each volume for 20% off.
The writing of The Saint John’s Bible is equally historic–a lost art being revived by a team of world class calligraphers doing the entire Bible (in the NRSV) by hand. We are very fond of these, stock a few little paperbacks about the project as well, and have enjoyed a video documentary on the making of it. Some of our customers have seen the originals in an exhibition that was traveling (and spoke to us of how deeply moving it was to behold them.) We pray God will use these artists to illuminate the text, in every sense of the word. The joy and beauty and craftsmanship of this is tremendous, but my sense is that it isn’t used as a reading Bible. Not too many will risk reading the calligraphy in church or lug this thing to a Bible study.
Crossway’s The Four Holy Gospels, though, just might find its way into ordinary home use, or at least churchly readings. It is large, it is artfully embellished, and it may feel unusual for those of us used to tossing our compact paperback Bible into our purse or backpack. But we commend it. This is art to be used, the Bible enhanced, the Word of God made vital to encounter, to open up a multi-sensual, worshipful, heightened reading.
We are eager to offer this handsome ESV gospel volume, complete with the handsome and sturdy slipcase. We will sell it, at least for now, at an introductory price that is seriously discounted; we understand that good art and well-crafted books are expensive, but want to make this more affordable for you. Read the publisher’s description of it here for further background, details, and some basic dimensions and such. There is a great video there, too, which you’ll want to see….Help us spread the word.
The Four Holy Gospels
illustrated by Makoto Fujimura