Quality is the first norm for art, but its final norm is love and truth, the enriching of human life, the deepening of our vision.


Adams, Patrick - VM - Alexandra Harper

Patrick Adams: Messenger

Messenger in a Homeless Culture

by Alexandra Jean Harper

I was raised in an American southern country church that didn’t recognize the liturgical year. Now, Advent and Lent are more often celebrated in churches like this, but the gift of Epiphany still eludes many Christians. The season invites us to dwell with Jesus in his local community. We glimpse the coming Kingdom as wise men honour the Christ child, witness the Lord’s baptism, and ponder his first miracle of at a marriage feast in Cana. The work Messenger, part of the series Elemental Signs by American artist Patrick Adams (b. 1965), helps us read the signs of God’s creative acts in the Son of Man through transformed and reimagined landscapes.

Patrick Adams is an Orthodox Christian with a sacred view of the world that defines his work. The Messenger is symbolic and his composition, colors and textures serve as spiritual metaphors that show the human experience of place, i.e., seeing the world as our home. Whereas most Western cultures divide secular and spiritual, this work illustrates the complex relationship of spiritual and physical activity. We may be tempted to make out figures in this painting, but Adams does not paint people in his landscapes. Instead, he asks us to remain outside of the painting and learn to see signs that our world is sacred. Adams states,

We are the priests of God’s creation, created from the beginning in his image. We stand both within God’s creation, and, at the same time, outside and above it. We interpret the world. We read the signs of God’s work in his creation, which, we are told, declare God’s glory. We are given the template of God’s material creation to shape, order, and complete.  And, finally, as God’s priests, to offer it back to God.

When my students studied Messenger, they considered “the Word became flesh” to be the main theme. While many colours and forms fill the painting, the blue and red illuminate the landscape. The atmospheric blue invades and clarifies what may otherwise be dark and flat, such as an empty door (or tomb) on the left. We can read the blue as streams of “Living Water” flowing from the top (Heaven) to the bottom (Earth), to represent members of the Trinity or the Presence of the Holy Spirit at Christ’s baptism. The red symbolizes the promise of Jacob’s ladder: Jesus identifies himself as the “ladder” upon which the angels ascend and descend, John 1: 50-51, a “bridge” between heaven and earth, connecting the two worlds. The red links Christ’s blood shed for us and hints of the double helix of DNA. Shared DNA is no small thing: every culture of the world recognizes the intimacy established through shared flesh and blood. When the Word became flesh, the Son became part of the fabric of our world as shown with the red threading at the bottom of the work.

Together Epiphany and Messenger show the complexity of Jesus’s creativity and hospitality in a hostile environment. Before we encounter the Resurrection, we encounter the craftsman. It’s not by accident that the Son of God lived and worked as a carpenter/craftsman for most of his life.

The arts have a culture making (and desecrating) force that shapes our lives in powerful and often unrealized ways. Yet, in the course of my work with churches I’ve discovered a posture towards heavenly accommodation and disinterest in culture beyond morals or ethics, an attitude not far removed from Gnosticism (a heresy that teaches that the earthly life was to be shunned in favour of a purely spiritual realm). Patrick Adams states,

We have become strangers and aliens on our own planet. Our very survival as a species seems to threaten the created order. Even so, God, in his infinite wisdom, has left the sign—the witness—of beauty in the world. Our creativity and our art, inasmuch as they participate in this beauty, are the highest and greatest of our callings as God’s priests in his creation. The primary purpose of these activities is to complete the work Christ began in bringing his kingdom into being. However, for this to happen, for the Kingdom of God to appear, heaven and earth must be reunited in the human heart.

Epiphany and Messenger call us to faithfully care for all areas of culture. May we join Adams in prayer: Lord, may your kingdom come, and may your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.


Patrick Adams: Messenger, 2015, 30" x 64", oil on canvas.

Patrick Adams earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Kentucky in 1992. He teaches in the art departments at University of Kentucky School of Art and Visual Studies and at Eastern Kentucky University. Adams' work has been included in exhibitions at several galleries and museums throughout the United States, and he shows his work regularly in Columbus, OH, Scottsdale, AZ. and Nashville, Tennessee. He has twice been awarded the prestigious Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council, and his paintings are in many private and corporate collections across the United States. He resides with his wife Terre in Lexington, Kentucku. For more information, see

Alexandra Jean Harper is the Creative Director for Culture Care, a ministry department of Artists in Christian Testimony International. Her work explores the relationship between creation, creativity and Christian ethics. She focuses on theological aesthetics and creating hospitable, imaginative environments that create space and ways in which the church and the arts of life reinforce each other. She leads collaborative projects and initiatives that equip churches to engage in strategic outreach, discipleship and create in-depth partnerships within the local community. She studied Apologetics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. She then went on to study Theology, Imagination and the Arts at the University of Saint Andrews in St Andrews, Scotland. She has also interned with the artist Makoto Fujimura as part of the Fujimura Institute based in New York City. She lives in Durham, North Carolina, USA. For more information, see

ArtWay Visual Meditation January 31, 2016