“John holds a cardboard sign in the Land of the Free”
Ric Stott (2015) Acrylic, oil and gold leaf on board. 123cmx160cm
I met John one evening in Times Square, Manhattan. It’s a remarkable place that seems to express capitalism and consumerism distilled down into its purest form. Neon signs and bright screens as tall as sky scrapers flash and flare in the night with adverts, twitter feeds and scrolling news telling us to buy this, be this, need this, feel this. A digital world searing itself on your retina whether you ask for it or not.
In the midst of the crowds John stood with his cardboard sign. It said “Jesus Christ, Jesus Loves You”. No message of condemnation and no sense of a need to repent for the end is nigh, just a simple message of love written onto a tattered white square.
Painting is a search for meaning and a way of thinking beyond words so in creating an image of that experience I try to listen to the deeper rhythms of the soul. For me, the freedom Christ invites us to is a limitless expanse of possibilities; possibilities of encounter with God, with ourselves and with each other. And so, in the middle of Times Square where countless gigabytes of information are poured out of bright signs 24 hours a day, the message of love is shown as a blank space: the love of Christ is an invitation not an imposition. This is the invitation to freedom in a digital world.
For me this is an echo of the experience of Christian mystics throughout the centuries. They show us that freedom is not found in Christ through receiving more information about God but through the path of unknowing: that entails a laying aside of our preconceived ideas, frameworks and neat theological formulae. Whatever we say about God, even if we filled the digital message boards in Times Square for a thousand years, would never be enough, it would always fall short of the reality. But the quieter way, the space of possibility that opens up in the midst of the bright lights, the place that calls us to grow into the person we were always made to be without demanding that we become bigger, better or more beautiful, that is the place of grace and true gift.