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Bold canvasses at SFTS illustrate biblical stories

Showcasing Lucy Janjigian’s particular expressionistic and cubist style, vivid colors, and stark graphics, 18 paintings are permanently installed above the student lounge in Scott Hall. Pictured here is Creation, Day 2: Seas and Firmament.

“I have done 69 paintings of biblical stories,” says artist Lucy Janjigian, whose many works—most issued in her trademark multiple-canvas series—interpret the stories within Scripture. “I am a student of the Bible.”

"I am a student of the Bible," says artist Lucy Janjigian. (Photo courtesy of Lucy Janjigian)

Janjigian donated two series, “Creation” and “The Story of Eve,” to San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS), now part of the University of Redlands Graduate School of Theology. Showcasing Janjigian’s particular expressionistic and cubist style, vivid colors, and stark graphics, the 18 paintings are permanently installed above the student lounge in Scott Hall.

“I have donated my paintings where I think they should be because they tell a story; they should be seen,” says Janjigian, who is based in Los Altos, California. She has gifted many series to institutions around the world, a testament to both her largesse and her desire to share the stories that mean so much.

Advocating for the Uprooted

Janjigian was born in Jerusalem, Palestine of Armenian Heritage, whose parents were survivors of the Armenian Genocide 1915-1918. She and her family were displaced from their home during the war that ensued in 1948 between Israel and Palestine, after the United Nations declared the Partition of Palestine.

At 17 she worked with United Nations Relief Works Agency, among Palestinian refugees in tented camps, and later trained as a scientist. Her artistic works often advocate for the uprooted and disenfranchised populations of the world, as noted in her two series The Uprooted and The Homeless.

With both prayer and dedicated practice in the studio, Agony in Gethsemane was the artist’s first biblical painting in 1984.

Interpreting Genesis

At SFTS, the eight canvasses in “Creation” boldly interpret the story from Genesis. Within many of the paintings, including Creation, Day 3: Flora, Janjigian’s background as a plant ecologist is evident. “As a scientist, I look at all different angles to solve a problem, and I also use that dynamic in my paintings,” she says. “As I paint, I think ‘How else could this be? How else can I express it?’”

The Fall, one of 10 canvasses comprising “The Story of Eve”—a series evoking both drama and movement—depicts the moment Eve partakes of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. This pivotal event is preceded by works reflecting the happiness and innocence of Adam and Eve before their expulsion. “When Eve’s with the snake wrapped around her, she’s happy,” says Janjigian of the canvasses leading up to the fateful moment powerfully portrayed in The Fall. “When the snake goes away, she’s worried. Then, the snake is tempting her.

“You’ll see her hands are deformed to make it more dynamic. … Then she takes the plunge and bites it.”

Janjigian’s artwork may be viewed online, including in a documentary featuring the paintings in “The Story of Eve” and other features available on YouTube and in a compendium of her work, Paintings by Lucy Janjigian.

Learn more about San Francisco Theological Seminary and the Graduate School of Theology.