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.


Rainer, Arnulf - VM - Patrik Scherrer

Arnulf Rainer: Pentecost

The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit

by Patrik Scherrer

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Acts 2:1-4 (NRSV)

The gift of the Holy Spirit revealed itself to the apostles in the speaking in foreign languages. In his book entitled Bibelübermalungen or ‘Bible-overpaintings’ Arnulf Rainer in 160 pages gives expression to the events at Pentecost in a very different way. He does not paint over images taken from art history as he does elsewhere, but makes three completely new images – as if he wants to emphasize the Holy Spirit’s unique power. One of those examples is shown above.  

The starting point of the image is at the top. There all lines and colours break forth with concentrated primal power and proceed to gush down onto the earth with a force like that of a hurricane. This super-terrestrial stream reminds me of the promise made by the prophet Joel that in the days that God will pour out his Spirit he will ‘display wonders in the sky and on the earth, blood, fire and columns of smokeʼ (2:29-30).  

For the prophet these signs are full of wonder as they mean liberation. On the one hand red refers to the blood of Christ by which he released us from our sins. On the other hand red and yellow point to the fiery force of the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit is warmth and light – light that will reveal the truth (Isaiah 32:15-17; John 16:13). He is the love of God poured out in our hearts (Romans 5:5), through which he fires and inspires us to good thoughts and deeds.   

To the left and right this storm of flames is accompanied by softer colour tones, lending to this bow a somewhat peaceful character. It makes me think of the rainbow, which God set in the clouds as a sign of the covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:8-17). Did not with Pentecost start something totally new, similar to the time after the flood? God gave his Holy Spirit to all people! Not only to those standing in the main stream, also to those on the fringe, as this image makes me understand.

The painting arouses a longing in me to place myself in this Pentecostal stream of mercy and to let me fill anew with the God’s love, light, justice and peace – in order that I may become fully human, a human being after his image!


Arnulf Rainer: Pentecost, 1998, sheet of 29,4 x 24,8 cm.

Arnulf Rainer, born in 1929 in Baden close to Vienna, was the founder of Art Informel in Austria, paralleling Abstract Expressionism in North America. In the 1950s he developed his ‘overpaintings’. His committed search for new approaches to painting and his constant development of new painterly strategies, accompanied by performative works and extensive writing, has established Arnulf Rainer as one of the influential artists of our day.

Patrik Scherrer is the driving force behind the German website Bildimpuls. Every fortnight he sends out a ‘Bildimpuls’ or visual meditation, in which he focuses on contemporary Christian and religious art from Germany, Switzerland and Austria. He studied theology and works with the mentally handicapped. He wrote the book Gott in Sicht? 33 Impulse zum christlichen Glauben aus der Pinakothek der Moderne, Schnell & Steiner, 2005. On the Bildimpuls website there is also a lot of information about artists, books, museums, exhibitions and organizations. See

ArtWay Visual Meditation June 4, 2017