When Seeing Enables Believing
We’ve all heard “A picture is worth a thousand words.” But in artist Matthew Burgy’s world a picture (or sculpture) is worth far more than a thousand words. It’s the very tool he uses to draw people to the One who created them and who pursues them with passion.
“People think, ‘Oh, you’re a Christian artist – you just paint Jesus all the time.’ No, I don’t. I have, but I would rather talk about His character than His appearance,“ Matthew told me with a glint in his eye.
While studying art, Matthew’s professor recognized his artistic abilities and challenged him to avoid familiar iconography, which would be old hat. What if he pushed it just a little? Being gifted in abstract thinking, Matthew fell into his niche – a niche that would be used of God as a vehicle to share the Gospel.
“My goal is to bridge the gap where people have looked away from the church. I try to find the middle ground and try to meet people where they’re at rather than have them
try to come to us,“ he shared.
I was intrigued by his work—and had burning questions in my mind as I gazed upon a picture of a perfectly white canvas with three red stripes he had painted.
At first glance I saw only stripes, but I soon learned there was much more behind and beneath it – quite literally. What was painted red and over-painted white was then torn to reveal deep gouges of red. “This talks about who Jesus is,” Matthew explained, “He is an all perfect God that allowed himself to be ripped, torn, and scarred by us in order to make us whole again.”
I looked again with deeper understanding and appreciation, and asked Matthew if he had descriptions or titles for his work so that people (like myself) wouldn’t glance at it and think, big deal. It’s just three red stripes. His response was my education in art
“My goal is to make people question, why would someone do that? Why would they have three red stripes? Any good artist gets people to question things rather than just taking them at face value. Why would someone take their time to very carefully put these three red lines here? Why there? Why three? Why not ten? As an artist I speak a very visual language. Art transcends boundaries and any cultural barriers. I can show that image anywhere in the world and while I may need an interpreter when I’m talking to that person, we can still understand the same concepts. And that’s a huge part of art.” That is how Matthew makes connections with people and opens dialogue.
My attention was then directed to a sculpture made out of marble. Matthew shared how he wanted to carve marble, but it was too expensive. Where could he find marble sitting around? Remembering how Michelangelo’s David was carved from rejected marble that had a bend to it, he visited a tombstone company and was given a large piece of broken marble they had no use for. What was meant for death would now be given a whole new life.
Matthew polished the marble and drilled three holes representing the three nails used to hang Jesus on the cross. The back of the stone was carved to resemble His being whipped and beaten. The little vine represents life – not death– coming out of it. The parts coming out of the bottom hole represent the roots of our faith beginning to grow. When you flip it on the back, the root looks like a crown of thorns.
Matthew would rather people not focus on how his art was made, but rather why it was made the way it was. The art is simply a bridge to carry the message, and the more senses involved, the more the message will be remembered.
As a Christian artist, Matthew often feels he is in the crossroads between two worlds – the Christian and the secular. “I’ve heard, ‘If you’re part of this, you can’t be a part of us. You shouldn’t be hanging out with these kinds of people. You’re creating idols before God. Why spend all your time making things when you should be witnessing?’” His reply to this last question is simply, “Why can’t I do both? I don’t know how else to do it. Cold calling isn’t my thing. I want to treat people as people and not projects. What’s the point if there can’t be a conversation between two human beings first?”
It’s not uncommon for Matthew to spend time at the junkyard. “There’s always pieces of torn up rusted metal that’s been rained on, rusted, and cast out. I take it, sand it down, weld it, paint it and give it new life,” he shared, likening it to how God chooses us and makes us into something new and beautiful no matter how far gone we may think we are.
He also uses the local hardware store as his art supply shop. “Where other people see nuts and bolts, I see beautiful objects that can be used in wonderful ways outside of what most people may think—and I think God
does the same with us. We think we can’t add up to much, but He says, ‘No. I created you this way and you have this whole aspect of yourself you just don’t know about yet.’”
We’re all born and gifted with abilities—and not by accident. “Jesus used the analogy of a body – with toes, fingernails, eyelashes, and bellybutton. We’re all given different purposes. As an artist I see connections. I think it’s my purpose to teach these connections. If I’m a body part, maybe I’m an eye to help people see more clearly.”