The works of John Cobb are an intriguing exhibition of contrasts.
Known as his “Chapel Series,” the Austin-based artist began work on this series in 1981. Cobb has said he wanted to find a way to make traditional ideas and themes more relatable by placing them in settings relatable to a modern audience.
The work is quite stylized, yet still maintains a strong level of realism and each painting is created with egg tempera and backed with gold leaf, the latter or which is often found in medieval icons, helping to further tie the past to the present. Faces are detailed and expressive, with great emphasis put on the human subjects in each work.
Drawing the divine out of the ordinary isn't simply a matter of contrasting iconography, Tomio said, it's Cobb's way of showing a God's connection to humanity, in some respects.
“He's trying to depict, or portray and express, something about individuals,” he said. “He's trying to see people the way that God would see them, and he's trying to depict what would be reflected in God's eyes. … So the paintings are very concrete and realistic, but it's the goodness in all of us that is coming out of these.”
Cobb's work sets him apart, Tomio said, in that while his work is overtly Christian, he's not what one would typically consider a “religious painter,” allowing his message to be an organic part of what he's painting.
“He's an artist in his own right, producing images inspired by the Bible, yes, but they are also wonderful works of art,” he said.
For Tomio, it was the “sheer excellence” of Cobb's work that immediately stuck out to him, not necessarily the religious iconography.
“Then I started noticing, 'Oh, maybe this does have religious implications,'” Tomio said. “And that's what he said, that it depends on who's looking at the painting, because there's a certain level of religiosity that he's trying to express, but it's not necessarily a 'Catholic' image or what have you.”
As part of the Spring Lecture Series, Cobb will be present to give an artist talk at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 7. This public lecture is free, but reservations are preferred.
“The Sacred in the Everyday: John Cobb's Chapel Series” will be on display in the museum lobby through March 30.
The Tyler Museum of Art is at 1300 S. Mahon Ave., adjacent to the Tyler Junior College campus off East Fifth Street. For more information, call 903 595-1001 or visit www.tylermuseum.org.