If you look at the Knippers’ Isaiah in the Temple (see right, cropped version), you see the nudity of body and the nudity of spirit expressed through the body. Isaiah, encountering the spiritual world breaking through within the Temple, is unclothed, arms thrown in a position of charged energy and vulnerability, open to this inbreaking reality. He is allowing himself to be impaled by a visibly invisible spirit’s coal of fire, pressed to his lips to purify him to speak God’s word. Meanwhile, incense smoke—a symbol of prayer rising to God as well as sign of God’s presence among us–floats gently in the foreground. Knippers presents a wholly fleshy Isaiah, body expressing a posture of prayer and amazement before God. The cubist-inspired ribbons of color and light are his language for the transformative spiritual realm “beyond the veil,” where our eyes (in this case literally) cannot rest and see the Divine: we sees fragments, pieces of a whole, and cannot quite put it together.
John Paul II on Michelangelo and Edward Knippers note two things: that what we see is important, and the posture we take to what we see is critical. The human artist can see, and help others see, reality in the light of God: as Knippers says: “I have maintained over the years that art is not merely self-expression but an exploration of a reality greater than the Self. I have also maintained that the artist should be concerned about the most profound parts of that reality, not just play in the shallows.” John Paul is, if anything, more direct: “Artists are constantly in search of the hidden meaning of things, and their torment is to succeed in expressing the world of the ineffable. How then can we fail to see what a great source of inspiration is offered by that kind of homeland of the soul that is religion?” Artists, through sign and symbol, are able to help us interpret the deeper reality imbued in what we see.
[p.s. great essays on Knippers’ art and theology at Theology Forum, populated by Protestant friends in faith: http://theologyforum.wordpress.com/2008/11/03/art-incarnation-%C2%BB-artist-statement-by-edward-knippers/ ]