"Confession" Documents Artist's Struggle with Faith

February 25, 2015


Chicago artist Richard Gibbons struggled with alienation from the church for many years. To come to terms with his faith and his struggle, he created “Confession,” a series of paintings reflecting on Christ’s passion now on display in D. Kyle Beecken Memorial Gallery at St. James Commons.

“From the early civil rights struggles, through gay awakening, AIDS, and through social and economic justice issues, I experienced alienation from the message and meaning of Christ,” he writes in the artist’s statement that accompanies the exhibit. “This exhibit is the journey I took to work through my alienation and come to a deep appreciation of the Christian message.”

“These paintings are powerful meditations on the agony of crucifixion and a reminder that the crucifixion of Jesus is an ongoing reality in the world,” said the Rt. Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee, bishop of Chicago. “The artist's work also points us to the gospel proclamation that crucifixion is not simply a dead end. There is a way through the cross to the mystery we call resurrection.”

Robert Black, a member of St. James Cathedral, helped organize the exhibit. “I first saw Richard Gibbon's ‘Confession’ in an art dealer's gallery in Chicago,” he said. “The paintings were provocative and critical of the Church, an uncomfortable mirror reflecting particular institutional sins of the past and present. But the images were so beautiful: Christ as a human perfection, dying for us.”

The St. James congregation held an opening reception for Gibbons on February 22 and plans to hold an open conversation about the paintings later in Lent.

Black says that when he first saw the paintings, “My immediate thought was they belong in church—my church—during Lent, when we reflect and confess and prepare to receive forgiveness and reconciliation made possible by God's love in Christ's sacrifice for sins past, present, and future. I hope his work stirs up conversation and reflection.”

Gibbons hopes that his work particularly provokes people to reflect on what would happen to Christ in today’s world. An altar piece in the exhibit, titled “Resurrection,” shows Christ appearing to snipers on a Syrian battlefield.

“Would the appearance of Christ render war obsolete?” asks Gibbons. “With what side of today’s issues would he identify? Would those of the ruling elite who self-identify as ‘conservative’ Christians share his views? Or would they crucify him as did a previous ruling elite?

“Just read the newspapers. The answer is there.”

The D. Kyle Beecken Memorial Gallery is located at 65 E. Huron St. in Chicago and is open 9-5:30 pm Monday through Friday and 9 am-1 pm Saturday and Sunday. 

Category: St. James Commons