# # Working at Cross-Purposes (pt. 1)

Brother, I Can See Your Skull.

Brother, I Can See Your Skull. - The Coreyshead Blog

Working at Cross-Purposes (pt. 1)

Cross Purposes - christian crapoganda

This post deals in an off-hand manner with the central symbol of Christianity. If you’re likely to be offended by this, please avoid the inevitable consternation by not reading any further.

I’ve long had a fascination with religious iconography – not specifically Christian, though that is at the root of it all – and much of this fascination is based on all of the, often beautifully rendered, gore.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a detailed painting of the crucifixion of Christ. I was of pre-school age and at the neighbor’s house. They had this big, old bible with gilt edged pages and a colored plate of some kind on the cover that drew me. Our neighbor, appalled at our family’s lack of religiosity, always encouraged me spiritually so, when she noticed my interest in her bible, she told me to go right ahead and open it up.

Their bible had color plates illustrating key scenes in the story and I turned to each one with a child’s eagerness. Many of them meant little to me because of my ignorance but others caught my eye with their unique subject matter – pairs of animals on a boat, a parted sea, walking on water – but my favorite was definitely the crucifixion. The mystery and distant horror of death fascinated me precisely because it was so mysterious, distant, and rare in the conservative, rural 1970’s America of my childhood. It was often hinted at on tv and in movies but hardly shown. Yet here, in my gentle neighbor’s big book, we had a detailed picture of bloody torture and I was not only allowed but encouraged to look at it for as long as I liked. Drink deep, little one. Misunderstanding my rapt attention, my neighbor hatched a plan to further my religious instruction – but that’s another story.

Years later, when I saw my first Spanish crucifix up close (along with some delightfully disturbing paintings of other aspects of the “passion” in an art museum), I was immediately taken. I was so used to seeing either an unadorned cross or a monotone version of a blobby Christ by then that I was unprepared for the realistic, 3-D depiction. The contorted pose, the dead eyes, the oozing blood: intense and repellent realism in the depiction of torture and death. It was all really disturbing and bizarre. Why would any normal, sane person hang something like this in their house?

I wanted one so badly …

Cross Purposes - sterophonic lenticular ChristOver the years I’ve managed to collect a very modest amount of religious regalia – mostly propaganda and mostly Christian; comics, fake money, pamphlets, etc. – but no crucifix. The closest I’d come was an amazing, back-lit, framed lenticular of the scene that I found at Goodwill. I’ve hooked it up to my amp so that, when I turn on to the stereo, WHAM: Jesus. It confuses some folks but I like it.

I go to Goodwill regularly and was rewarded recently with a small, cheap crucifix. The corpus and INRI were of resin, painted a dull mockery of gold. The cross 10 or so corny inches of some pale wood. I picked it up, imagining myself tossing the cross and affixing the corpus to something ironic or silly. Good clean fun for $1.99.

Cross Purposes - the original corpusThe crucifix sat on my “future projects” list for a short period of time. I kept thinking of how badly I’d always wanted a realistic crucifix and it finally occurred to me to take this monotone hunk of plastic and paint it up into the gory, traditional ideal.

I pried the Christ off its cross, clipped the two affixing posts from its backside, and began chasing the seam lines and post remnants off.

The nail heads molded into the palms and crossed feet bothered me. I wanted my corpus to be literally nailed to its cross, so I carved off the offending lumps, chased the surfaces, and drilled three corresponding holes. Hotcha.

Cross Purposes - toolsI dug through my nail collection for some small tacking nails to fit the holes then customized the heads of the ones I found into smaller, less uniform shapes with a pair of dikes. When I was satisfied with their appearance, I dipped them in flat black paint and set them aside.

After priming the corpus a flat gray it hit me that I’d never attempted to paint any model of a person realistically before. Not really. My mind went back to the lead gaming figures I had painted as a kid. I didn’t want my corpus to look like *that*. I consulted Google for both some images and some advice.

Cross Purposes - detail of the crucifixThe best of the latter led me to paint the skin areas a medium tan, then dry brush over this with lighter skin tones. Two layers in and it was already looking fabulous – holy (no pun intended) shit! Caveat: dry-brushing with Tamiya acrylics is a lot trickier than one might assume: the stuff dries super-fast … and sticky, balling up if you’re not careful. I was not and ended up having to strip the face down to the old, gold surface – not such a bad thing – the detail uncovered by losing the primer coats revealed slightly open eyes, which I might otherwise have missed.

This layering technique so impressed me that I used it on the whole piece. On the cloth, I started with a deep, almost black red, then dry brushed with white before it was totally dry, the hair and crown of thorns received a similar treatment. Even the blood got a darker layer first. As I continued the process, I realized that it was one I’d learned as a patineur at a bronze-art foundry and had also used in Photoshop and on the canvas. In short, I’m beginning to dig this whole painting thing – I really oughta do more of it.

I finished off the corpus with a couple of layers of dull-cote to knock back the shine and some fingernail polish on the blood so that it would glisten. Now to the crucifix.

Cross Purposes - first crucifix vs originalI dug through the scrap in my garage and found some crude 1” x 1” stakes which I cut to length, notched for a double-dado joint, glued, puttied, sanded, added a foot bar, stained a dark walnut, then realized the thing was just too chunky, too big. The dimensions were based upon those of the cross my figure had come on and, well, that was the problem, wasn’t it?

What I was looking for was something the figure affixed to it could have theoretically dragged through the streets – what I had now was relative in scale to railroad ties or larger. Back to the drawing board, as they say or, in this case, back to the woodpile.

Cross Purposes - thinner wood for crucifixI repeated the above process with some ¾” hardwood stock, thinned to a rectangular profile with the table saw prior and taking the time to make it look a little more hand-hewn with an X-Acto blade before staining. When the stain was fully cured I gave my cross a good two coats of dull-cote.

Cross Purposes - detail of the finished crucifixNow it was time to nail our protagonist to his cross. I trimmed the aforementioned nails for length, put them back in the holes and lined up the body. Three light taps left me with marks to use as guides for my last application of blood – the cross needed some blood, didn’t it? Sure it did. Precious blood – get your grails out, boys …

Once I was satisfied with this final application of gore, I realigned the nails to the holes and drove them home – mazel tov!

There remained the question of the Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum above the corpus. How would I do it? How should it look? I googled for biblical references to the sign and realized that I was being awfully exacting. How had it happened. Was I turning into a … a believer?!? Heaven forfend – Oh, God. GAH!!!!!!

Cross Purposes - toolsPart of me really liked the idea of “getting it right.” I’d gone from the intent of doing something really outlandish to really working to do it right – and it felt good but the INRI sign had me at a bit of a halt. All that was mentioned was that Pilate had asked that a sign be placed over Christ’s head, proclaiming him as King of the Jews in various languages of the day (typically this note would state the person’s crime). There were no real details, otherwise.

As I contemplated how I would make my sign, my good, old brain started tossing up other four-letter words (no, not that one – get your mind out of the gutter) and one of the first was … OBEY.

Cross Purposes - OBEYI had been convinced that I’d create an INRI sign (or maybe even a Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum) for my crucifix and now I was over it. OBEY was perfect. It took this project from mere emulation to something a wee bit more on-message for me.

Using a mechanical pencil followed by an old, Mont Blanc fountain pen, I traced out numerous versions of my OBEY on some heavy, sketch paper. When I finally had one I liked, I cut it out with an X-Acto blade for roughness, “aged” it with a candle flame, then rolled it around a paperclip for that “scroll” look. Satisfied, I nailed that puppy on there as secure as our savior. Whap, whap, whap.


Pleased with the results, I showed it to my wife and, though she was impressed with the transformation, we both realized something was missing. The project was incomplete. Taken on its own, even with the “OBEY,” on a plain wall it looked an awful lot like … a simple crucifix. I wanted to hang it but was afraid to for fear a casual glance might cause someone to think I was simply religious. YIKES. Thus was hatched an idea to expand upon the project, a plan to create something even more glorious … or at least attempt to. Thus the “pt. 1” in the title and the reason that this piece is, as of yet, not added to the “Found Object Art” section of my site. Stay tuned …

Part 2 is here

Cross Purposes - palette and obeysLike many who have knocked at the legend(s) surrounding Jesus, it’s hard to take much issue with the central figure, fictional or not; a person brave enough to outrageously upend perceived societal wrongs in a peaceful fashion, murdered by the powers that be in a humiliating and excessively cruel fashion. What’s to attack?

Thereafter, however … there is so much to question. So many of the followers of this (potentially non-existent) person have spent the intervening centuries making his name and message synonymous with such a trail of horrendous abuses and oppression that it is difficult to remember that he is responsible for none of it.

Tacking the word OBEY over the character’s head, therefore, is a two-fold statement.

On the one hand, it is a more literal interpretation of what Pilate was purportedly trying to say with his sign: “OBEY.” On the other hand, it is a dig at how the symbol of this one man’s as-told sacrifice has been used to crush and control: “OBEY.”

As to the potential offense caused by the piece, it was never my intent to cause any, though I knew I would. There is no way to deal with this image in a non-educational, secular way that isn’t potentially offensive to some. It is a powerful image, imbued with a rich history of deep and mysterious beliefs. Strangely, the offense given is of the nature that a non-believer such as myself faces every day: not an intentional or cruel offense but rather a casual, off-hand one indicating that the person is only acting according to their own nature and beliefs and was not even thinking about whether you share them or not.


Cross Purposes - the finished crucifix

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3 Responses to “Working at Cross-Purposes (pt. 1)”

  1. Rhissanna says:

    Hi! I’m here because the local Catholic church have asked me to repaint a large crucifix for them. It’s in a patinated bronze finish, all very nice, but it hangs in a very dark corner and can’t really be seen. There’s not a lot of help online on painting one in the traditional style. Your article was very helpful as to technique. Thank you!

  2. cae says:

    Happy to be of service. What a marvelous opportunity! I hope it all works out for you. 🙂

  3. […] mentioned in the first part of this rambling, incoherent stream of blasphemy, after finishing the crucifix project, I became more and more aware that I wasn’t done, yet, […]

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