The Harrigan Hall Art Gallery is exhibiting a series of drawings by Professor Emeritus Greg Constantine titled “Jesus of New York: Premonitions of a New York Teenager” from Sept. 6-28. Very little narrative account of Jesus’s childhood exists in the canonical Bible—the years between twelve and thirty are not portrayed at all. Constantine’s exhibit, a collection of fourteen pen drawings and one painting, seeks to bridge that gap in Jesus’ life by showing an innocent side of Jesus that foreshadows many events in His future. These premonitions are translated to modern occurrences: getting lost in the temple becomes wandering in on a gameshow, walking on water becomes water skiing, and the Good Samaritan story becomes a mugging in Central Park. Within the context of the modern age, Constantine’s Jesus presents himself as a brother or friend, rather than an aloof God.
The artist’s favorite piece is a pen rendering of Jesus after a boxing match. The only work in the series where Jesus is 20-something, the drawing depicts a bruised and beaten Jesus crowded into one corner of a boxing ring. Onlookers whisper to each other, mouths open in gray gasps, and an assistant cleans Jesus’s face with a wet cloth. A cameraman on the sidelines pans to Jesus’s face--one of His eyes is swollen beyond recognition and his limp arms hang on the ropes. This event foreshadows the crucifixion, the small boxing ring acting as a comparison with the cross.
Constantine describes his work as a series of premonitions, events he imagines may have occurred in Jesus’s childhood (had He grown up in New York) that hint at His later life as described in the Bible. The rest of the pieces follow suit, bold black and white strokes filled with diverse characters, modern settings, and vaguely recognizable events.
Constantine has previously written books about Vincent Van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci, and Pablo Picasso, depicting the artists as time travelers transported to a more sophisticated era. This time, mainstream publishers refused to publish a book on “Jesus of New York” because the subject matter was religious; however, Adventist publishers implied it was sacrilegious. While his work is in between two extremes, so is the audience Constantine targets. Many young Christians begin to question and contemplate the theology of their church, rejecting pious and legalistic aspects while embracing wholeheartedly the loving and accepting nature of Jesus as portrayed in the New Testament.
As described in his artist’s statement, Constantine’s Jesus experiences “temptations, fears, misunderstandings, hypocrisies, and injustices much like young people find today,” from witnessing discrimination against a disabled man on the subway to feeling indignant that an immigrant medic is ostracized. These genuine experiences, similar to those the audience might experience today, draw a connection between Jesus and the viewer. Constantine expresses a hopefulness for his audience to realize that Jesus is not a parent, but a brother. In “Jesus of New York,” he separates and elevates the highest aspects of Jesus’s life, boiling it down to the compassion, thoughtfulness, and intelligence with which He approached every situation. Emphasizing the multifaceted nature of Jesus’s personality without producing a limited portrayal of Jesus, Greg Constantine’s exhibit is well worth visiting.