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The Irony of Art Prices


mastercopy of Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait, 1889 (private collection)

Recently I copied the Van Gogh Self-Portrait at the National Gallery. I went for a “dynamic equivalence” rather than literal accuracy of details. The reason is simple. The power of Van Gogh’s work is in its vibrancy and vitality. The almost hypnotic vibrancy is achieved through his use of color. He not only put one color adjacent to its complementary color to produce an optically vibrant effect as Turner and the Impressionists did. He painted one color over another wet into wet and achieved a unique shimmering, luminosity. The vitality comes from the speed at which he painted it, likely in one sitting. So I painted this much faster than I normally work.

The irony here is that Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime. He sold Red Vineyard at Arles for a mere 400 francs to a friend of his brother, Anna Boch. He couldn’t give his paintings away. In sharp contrast, the last auction price for another self-portrait (Portrait de l’artiste Sans Barbe, 1889) was $71.5 million in 1998 dollars. His paintings are so popular that on the day I finished this mastercopy, three different people who wanted to buy it approached me. Such is the irony of art pricing and the power of art.

Fidelis Ad Mortum: Portrait of Esther John


portrait of Esther John, Pakistani martyr

This is version 2 of a commission portrait completed for Christian Hospital is Sahiwal, Pakistan. The main difference of the original version is that some of the graffitti in that one is in the local language, Urdu.

Fidelis ad Mortem: Portrait of Esther John, 2015

Oil on linen

24 x 36 inches

“Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10)

Esther John was born into a Muslim family in South India in 1929. Named Qamar Zia, she grew up in Madras. Her father transferred her to a Christian school when she was seventeen, and there she saw the love of Christ in her teacher and came to understand the Good News through the scripture lessons. As a girl, she became a secret believer in Jesus Christ. She would read her Bible at night under the covers, using a flashlight.

In 1947, her family moved to the newly formed country of Pakistan. When her family sought to compel her to accept an arranged marriage, she fled to Karachi, where she worked in a orphanage. In 1955, she was baptized, taking the name Esther John. Her fellow Christians recognized her gift and call as an evangelist, and she attended the Bible Training Center in Gujranwala.

She eventually came to live with the Whites, an experienced missionary couple. Esther often  rode her bicycle out to the villages to visit people in their homes and in the fields, teaching the Christian faith to women and girls. Everyone loved her. One morning, Mrs. White called Esther to breakfast. “Esther, your breakfast is ready,” but there was no answer.

She found Esther lying on her bed with her head smashed in. The police inspector thought  such a brutal murder must have been a crime of passion, and operated on the assumption that Esther must have had a lover. He carefully read her diary and all her letters, and at last announced, “Esther did indeed have a lover. It was a man named Jesus.” Later, he added, “This girl was in love with your Christ.”

She was chosen to be one of the Ten Martyrs of the Modern World representing the many Christian martyrs of South Asia. 1998, the Archbishop of Canterbury unveiled her memorial statue, along with those of nine others in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth at Westminster Abbey.

The gold letters surrounding the cross on her Bible signify the principal accomplishments of Christ through the cross:

GR: Glory Revealed. God’s infinite moral perfection is unveiled: his love, justice, grace, mercy, goodness, etc. are revealed here.

HV: Honor Vindicated. Since God’s honor is inviolable, the just penalty must be paid for every offense against him to permit forgiveness

EC: Evil Conquered. When Christ died on the cross, Satan was defeated, demoralized and doomed. The accuser was silenced.

SS: Sinners Saved. By paying the just penalty for the sins of the world, the Savior accomplished our redemption.

Liberty Still Lifts Her Lamp


911 (private collection)

Yesterday I sold my first historical painting, 911. It looks back on the infamous attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. There has been renewed attention to the problem of Islamic terrorism with the recent mass attacks on French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. The publishers’ response was to publish another cartoon of the revered figure to assert they will not be silenced.  Predictably, this provoked another round of reaction and threats.  This painting presents another way to assert the triumph of liberty over her enemies.

It shows Liberty still lifts her lamp beside the golden door, in spite of the relentless and cruel attacks of her enemies.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

–from “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

Mastercopy of Old Man with a Beret by Jan Lievens

This is a recent copy I made at the National Gallery to learn more about Old Masters’ techniques. Lievens was a colleague of Rembrandt, and similarly skilled but not as famous. He used a wooden panel and likely  incised the beard with a sharpened brush handle.

Mastercopy of Lievens' Old Man with a Beret

Mastercopy of Lievens’ Old Man with a Beret

New Copy

Here is my latest copy. It is a copy of Monet’s The Japanese Footbridge.


24″ x 30″ oil on canvas (private collection)

Dr. Tom Little To Be Honored in a Documentary

Dr. Tom Little (private collection)

My first portrait honored Dr. Tom Little, a medical missionary to Afghanistan. Over the course of the past 35 years, he and his team provided quality eye care to over a million poor Afghans, often in remote villages. After he and his team were senselessly murdered by the Taliban in 2010, president Obama posthumously awarded him the highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom. He holds a map of his beloved Afghanistan. In the background are an optical instrument, and a Bible. On one of the books, a scripture verse from I Samuel 2:30 appears: “I will honor those who honor me.”

The Hard Places , a documentary on his life is being produced for PBS. Check out the trailer below.