We recently interviewed Adam Greene about the artwork he created for The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived. Below we ask about how he made the illustrations, what they mean to him, and how he hopes they’ll complement the message of the book.
What type of art do you create?
The disciplines in which I primarily have a hand are book design, book illustration, typeface design, and relief (letterpress) printing. When working within any of these disciplines my intention is to create a venue, so to speak, in which viewer and concept might meet unobstructed.
The most important thing in my work is the communion of the viewer with the intended concept or emotion. A good architectural space, to use a metaphor, is not necessarily one that draws undue attention to its accentuations and decor. Walls and vaults and their ornamentation are only as valuable as the usefulness of the empty space they define—the space in which we dwell. The challenge is to strike a balance.
When did you first start creating art and what drives your work?
I’ve always created images and been visually minded, as long as I can remember. I was fortunate to have parents who encouraged me to pursue those inclinations as far as I wished.
It was actually Crossway that provided my first professional work as an illustrator: namely, the Preaching the Word series, for which I have done about 26 illustrations thus far, each representative of a book (or series of books) of the Bible. Before that job I was in the field solely as a designer. I was designing the cover for the series and Crossway asked me to make an option with a spot for illustration, to be filled in later by an illustrator. I asked if I could take a stab at it, and they graciously said yes.
What drives my work, as I mentioned above, is a desire for purity of form that allows for communion between seer and seen. I hope to achieve simplicity and honesty in my work. To invoke the great visual artist and typographer Eric Gill:
Look after goodness and truth,
beauty will look after herself.
How did you go about creating the illustrations for The Final Days of Jesus?
I began by narrowing down which events to portray on each day. For Friday, for example, would I depict Jesus before Pilate? or on the cross looking down upon his mother and his beloved disciple? For Sunday, a resurrected Jesus appearing to his disciples? or Mary Magdalene upon discovering an empty tomb? In the end, the decisions sort of worked themselves out through sketching and contemplation.
Then I created a simple square grid over which I developed each illustration. I always work with grids, though it is essential to know when to break them. Sketching layer after layer, I began to shape the final compositions. Once they were balanced to my liking I scanned them and traced them digitally.
Though they are not actually woodblock prints, they are stylistically rooted in that long tradition of book illustration: flat, bold, and black. As far as I’m concerned, the medium should match the production method as much as possible, and since the books are printed from digital files I felt it was appropriate to build them digitally. That said, if the opportunity arises they may yet become woodblock prints.
How does your representation of Jesus’s final days on earth compare/contrast to other depictions of Passion Week that Christians have created throughout history? Is your work part of a particular artistic “tradition”?
Art history and tradition have always deeply informed my work. As far as past depictions of the Holy Week are concerned, I am not sure where mine fits in as I don’t recall having seen any sequential depictions of the entire Holy Week in my research.
It’s my view that the history of “holy art” follows an incredibly traceable and gradual development from the Egyptians, to the Greeks, down to the Middle Ages; with a similar development in the Far East. This type of holy subject matter has been treated with a sense of transcendence for millennia. Whether by means of strictly established formal rules, idealized figures, or clearly exaggerated proportions, the idea is to be clear that the image represents something beyond itself. Put simply, it is symbolism. I like to think this type of image functions properly by opening the mind’s eye. Depictions of Jesus are difficult for obvious reasons, so it made sense to tap into that idea that, yes, there is something to see, but it is not meant to replace the thing it depicts. One must look further.
How do you see your artwork supplementing the authors’ work in the book?
The book is refreshingly straightforward. There is a place for more devotional meditations on the Passion Week, but this book is intended primarily to educate Christians—and whoever is interested—with regard to what exactly is recorded by the four canonical gospels in what are arguably the most important eight days in history. It’s in that same straightforward spirit that I attempted these illustrations.
Straightforward does not mean dry. These events speak powerfully and passionately for themselves, so I would be just as comfortable with these illustrations being used to illustrate the actual gospels. It is a beautiful story, and my hope is that these illustrations reflect something of that.
Which illustration is your favorite and why?
It changes all the time, and sometimes I don’t like any of them! As with every project—and I think many illustrators can relate—I always see things I wish I would have done differently. But it mainly fluctuates between Resurrection Sunday, with Mary sitting baffled outside the empty tomb, and the Epilogue, with Thomas receiving his wish to see with his own eyes.
The making of those two illustrations were the most emotionally involved for me. Sometimes I get lost in the technical process of illustrating, but with these two I had these moments in which I would realize just what and who I was depicting, and it would kind of knock me over. It’s those moments I am so thankful to be given the opportunity to do this sort of work. I am very grateful to Crossway’s Josh Dennis, who asked me to be involved with this book.
What projects are you currently working on?
Right now I am most excited about an independent book project I am orchestrating. I have yet to announce details, but I will say it involves fine binding and printing, an original typeface, and a translation of the Bible of great interest.
Adam Greene is a freelance graphic artist specializing in book design, typesetting, and illustration. He is also a letterpress printmaker. His artwork can be seen on the cover of volumes in Crossway’s Preaching the Word commentary series and in The Final Days of Jesus (excerpt, study guide, reading guide).