Grand Rapids Theological Seminary Installs Artwork by Alfonse Borysewicz
by Meredith Sweet (B.S. ’17)
Four paintings were newly installed in the hallway of the Grand Rapids Theological Seminary this past year.
Donated by GRTS alumnus Dr. Christopher Brewer (M.A. ’04, M.Div. ’10) and his wife Rachel, along with their family, this series of four paintings was created by the Detroit-born, Brooklyn-based artist Alfonse Borysewicz. The pieces, which were created between 2003 and 2005, portray the presence of Emmanuel.
Each of the paintings centers around a different theme of Emmanuel. "Emmanuel I—Bethlehem" shows a face hidden behind a yellow rising sun. "Emmanuel II—Jordan River/Galilee" is a baptism piece featuring darker colors, rich purples mixed with brilliant strokes of pink. "Emmanuel III—Jerusalem" shows the emblem of a donkey and a palm branch across the face of Jesus. "Emmanuel IV—Alpha and Omega" reveals a hand against a background painted as red as the blood of Christ.
Portrait of the Artist as a Christian
According to Brewer, these were the first paintings that he and his wife purchased from Borysewicz.
"As much as I would have loved to hang them in my home," Brewer said, "they're just too large, and so we began thinking through places that were significant to one or both of us that might accept the paintings and also be close enough that we could visit them whenever we like."
Brewer first encountered Borysewicz's work in an issue of SEEN Journal.
"I had never seen anything like it," Brewer said. "It was clearly strange and other, with its modern/contemporary sensibility, and yet, at the same time, interesting and familiar. In an effort better to understand the work, I emailed the artist in the hopes that he might tell me more about the work."
Now very good friends, Brewer described Borysewicz as "theologically informed," "committed to the church" and "absolutely fascinating."
Brewer cites "Emmanuel III" as his favorite of Borysewicz's works, especially as it portrays Christ in iconographic form, showing God's glory.
"If religious experience is materially mediated, and I believe that it is, paintings such as these can have a very powerful effect on the believer, and also upon non-believers," Brewer said. "God is with us, quite literally. These paintings capture something of that moment, and have been, for me if no one else, a sort of lifeline through the valley of the shadow, the dark night, the loss or even death of faith and its subsequent re-emergence."
Faith Explored in Art
This narrative of faith is one of the things that keeps Brewer coming back these pieces of art.
"I've seen too many friends who think that the loss of faith means leaving the faith," Brewer said. "But faith ebbs and flows. It dies, it comes to life, it resurrects, or is resurrected. Now, that's the stuff of Emmanuel."
Brewer sees art in general as more than illustration, especially in terms of theology. It has something distinctive to contribute.
"This conversation most often proceeds along the lines of changing culture," Brewer said. "And that sounds great, but all too often this can be a thinly veiled desire for control. I think we might need—even if only for a time—to take a more passive approach."
Brewer lists artists like Borysewicz and Grand Rapidian Rick Beerhorst, for whom Brewer was business manager in 2016, among the people who have taught him the importance of establishing relationships with today's artists.
"We're so eager to teach, to contribute, but as is so often the case, we need to spend more time listening," Brewer said. "If we could do that, we might just have something to offer."
Brewer refers to this idea as a calling based less on contribution and more on cultivation.
"As Christians who affirm the reality of God's good creation should we not, more than others, seek to inhabit something more than our tiny worlds?" Brewer said. "Should we not seek to know and experience that goodness—and indeed the rest of the story—through as many eyes as possible?"