Edward Knippers: The Stoning of Stephen
A Modern Christian Use of the Nude
by Rev. David L. Hatton, RN
There is nothing in all the world more beautiful or significant of the laws of the universe than the nude human body. In fact it is not only among artists but among all people that a greater appreciation and respect for the human body should develop. When we respect the nude we will no longer have any shame about it. Robert Henri (American artist, 1865-1929)
Because Michelangelo’s paintings on the Sistine Chapel ceiling are saturated with nudity, Pope John Paul II called it “the sanctuary of the theology of the human body.” Yet, while some artists find capturing the naked human form too challenging, others avoid it as a religious taboo.
Henri’s quotation fulfills a prophetic role that really belongs to the church. When Christians neglect incarnational truth, God can find and use a secular voice. In painter Edward Knippers he has found and consecrated a prolific Christian brush.
Since the 1970s Knippers has tried to convey biblical revelation to the contemporary world. He says, “The human body is at the center of my artistic imagination because the body is an essential element in the Christian doctrines of Creation, Incarnation, and Resurrection…. Disembodiment is not an option for the Christian.”
Simultaneously his abundant use of the nude confronts the modern bent toward a gnostic view of reality. A Victorian flight from the body was an error from which the Christian world has yet to recover. Pope John Paul II’s landmark “Theology of the Body” is a giant step toward that recovery. Edward Knippers’ paintings are a visual vehicle for it.
Nudity’s power to shock is due to its modern association with eroticism and pornography. This cultural definition leads many conservative Christians to censure the nude in art. Knippers’ works have even sustained violent attack. One enraged believer slashed three of his paintings exhibited at CovenantCollege (Lookout Mountain, GA, ISA), claiming that Knippers had made the Bible “into a nudist colony.” Retrospectively, Knippers commented, “…that’s exactly what God did. He stripped us of all our pretenses. The spirit isn’t hidden somewhere behind our bodies. It’s all one. These Biblical men looked like me, and I look like them. If God could talk to them, then he can talk to me.”
While correctly calling popular gnostic attitudes toward the body ‘heretical,’ Knippers defends an artistic use of the unadorned body in biblical terms: “God gave us bodies for a reason, and they are bodies we’ll be stuck with for eternity, because we believe in the resurrection of the body. Christ came in the flesh and redeemed it, and by doing so redeemed the entire world of matter.”
His intentional neo-Baroque style—using grand displays of earthy, emotional scenes of action, drama and symbolism—graphically presents the physical side of his incarnational message. But personal tragedy brought an element of abstraction into his paintings, expressing the presence and interaction of the spiritual realm with the physical. He explains, “Since the death of my dear wife, Diane, I have become increasingly aware of the ever-present veil that separates this world from the next. I hope that my cubist-type language suggests a multi-dimensional world quite different from our own as it keeps the eyes in constant motion through transparent overlappings.”
For truly Christian art communication is paramount. Unclad humanity starkly transcends the historical changes associated with dress and directly supports the timelessness of God’s Word. The nakedness of our ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ bodies also locates biblical truth in the concreteness of divine creation and the human condition persisting after the Fall. Knippers argues that “nudity has too often become a theoretical line that Christian artists should not cross if they are to be acceptable to true believers. Yet I have found that my nude figures have been used by God to change lives, bring those who love him closer to his side and challenge those who do not know him.”
Edward Knippers: The Stoning of Stephen, oil on panel, 240 x 360 cm, 1990.
Edward Knippers: The Woman Taken in Adultery, oil on panel, 240 x 360 cm, 2004.
Edward Knippers: Christ in the Wilderness, oil on panel, 240 x 360 cm, 2011.
Edward Knippers holds an MFA from the University of Tennessee, has been a fellow at S. W. Hayter’s Atelier 17 in Paris, France, worked with Zao Wou-ki in painting and with Otto Eglau in printmaking at the International Summer Academy of the Fine Arts in Salzburg, Austria and has studied the figure at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, USA and the Grande Chaumiere, Paris, France.
He has had well over 150 awards and exhibitions in the USA of which over half were one-man shows. His work has also been exhibited in Italy, England, Canada and Greece. For more, see http://edwardknippers.com.
For further study of Edward Knippers:
David L. Hatton is a Wesleyan pastor, a registered nurse and a perpetual student of art. His work of helping mothers deliver and breastfeed babies brought him to conclusions identical to those of Edward Knippers before ever seeing his artwork. David’s website is www.pastordavidrn.com.