Here’s a sight you don’t see every day: Jesus Christ clad in Gucci. The two elements—Christ and Gucci—are familiar to all, but to see Jesus lounging comfortably in a living room, reading a book and sporting a pair of Alessandro Michele-designed furry slip-ons certainly forces one into serious introspection.
The untitled work is part of an ongoing series by contemporary artist Marc Gaba, who replicates real fashion advertisements by employing The Great JC as brand ambassador. In another canvas, Gaba paints Christ in Louis Vuitton, his brooding good looks framed with an iconic LV scarf wrapped around his neck.
“I thought of abstracting him,” says Gaba of how he initially planned to paint his subject. “But it felt wrong because Jesus Christ is the figurative image of God, who is abstract.”
While the artist leaves the interpretation of his works to the viewer, he hopes to communicate the idea that the face of Christ is as subjective as fashion. “The way Jesus Christ was painted in early Irish art is different from the way he was painted in Rome,” says Gaba. “We don’t have an actual [figure] of Jesus Christ. It’s all imagination. It’s the same with fashion. It’s all just responding to the time and responding to the culture.”
A compact figure of friendliness and nervous energy, Gaba asks me suddenly, “But how do you see it?”
Portrait of Marc Gaba taken by Geric Cruz
I tell him that I’ve come upon the same realization I had when I squeezed myself among thousands of devotees walking through the streets of Quiapo during this year’s Feast of the Black Nazarene. Passing tight rows of makeshift stalls, I noticed vendors were selling merchandise with their own rendition of Christ. A face screen-printed in an array of paraphernalia, done in different styles. Statues and figurines sculpted after the traditional notion of his body. Some designs were so stylized there was even a rendering of JC in graffiti. These are the images that run through my head while seeing Gaba’s work: the Jesus figure, much like fashion, is one of the most adaptable items in the universe of consumer goods, one that can easily be packaged according to the specifications of its market.
Gaba’s rendering of Christ in the context of fashion is the second of a three-part show that tackles Catholicism, a visual intersection of religion, culture, and politics. In his first series, Days of Creation, he referenced his own understanding of the Book of Genesis through a collection of abstract paintings and a series of installations, all showing a progression of movements. Altering lines, shapes, gestures, and colors, Gaba mirrored the biblical act of dividing and multiplying. In the third and last part of the series, the artist says he will tackle the Apocalypse.
Before immersing himself fulltime into visual art two years ago, Gaba was an award-winning poet and university professor who once taught at the University of Iowa where he graduated with a Master of Fine Arts. His foray into contemporary art actually began during his time as an academic, driven by countless readings on the art movement.
Gaba’s strength as a visual artist is his ability to execute images with a very specific yet philosophical perspective. Although he says that his poetry has never dictated his visual art, it’s hard to ignore its influence: every detail, line, color, and use of space seems meditated, thoughtful. Even the folds of his paper boats in a geography-themed installation at the Fundacion Sanso are made with intention, and yes, philosophized.
“Contemporary art is so violent in a way that it takes out the ways that you were trained to see what is beautiful,” he says, recalling something from his readings. “Your prejudices are called into question and slowly eroded, [but in the end] life becomes more interesting.”
Much like seeing Christ swathed in floral-print Lanvin.
This article was originally published in The Style Issue of Rogue, September 2017.