As a muralist who specializes in painting religious murals, I have a confession to make. I’m not a big fan of painting Jesus murals. I know, I know, you wonder how someone can paint church murals for a living and not want to paint Jesus. Let me explain…
When I was a kid, my mom would read stories to me from a book called “The Children’s Book of Bible Stories.” It was a collection of Bible stories condensed into kid-sized chunks and accompanied by some pretty cool illustrations. I loved those illustrations so much, I used to spend a lot of time tracing, drawing and coloring them. Some of the illustrations were bold and inspiring but some were plain terrifying (Absalom’s head caught in a tree and John the Baptist’s head on a plate are two that come to mind). Even though it’s been years since I’ve looked at that book, it’s that group of illustrations that pop into my own mind when I remember a Bible story. Those were some of the very first images I saw of any Bible character so it seems those are the ones that have lived with me to this day.
Whenever I am asked to paint a mural of Jesus on a church hallway or classroom wall, I think about that book. Do I want the Jesus mural I paint to be the image of Jesus that lives in a person’s head for their entire life? Even if I’m just illustrating one Bible story in mural form, is this the image of Jesus a person will think of way into their grown-up years? That’s a lot of pressure, isn’t it??
Personally, I’ve always felt the most powerful image of Jesus is the personal one created in the mind of the individual. I believe it’s more important for a child to decide what Jesus would look like to them, rather than me creating the image for them. Maybe that’s a ridiculous point of view for an artist to have, but I think it’s important to consider it. We all have a picture in our head of what Jesus looks like to us and it may have come from a childhood book, an image from a dream or a movie that impacted our lives. My favorite Jesus image is the one created by Robert Powell in the television movie Jesus of Nazareth. His portrayal as Jesus always worked for me and I even painted it as a public mural once.
Obviously, as a children’s church mural painter, it becomes necessary at some point to paint a mural of Jesus. I still don’t take that task lightly, though. I know whatever I paint and how I paint it, will have an everlasting emotional impact on a child’s life, all the way into their adult years. For that reason, I try to carefully plan all of our kids’ murals so they have the ultimate and proper impact on the mural’s tiny viewers.