The Temptation of St. Matthew

Jim Craft

U.S.A., b. 1954

This painting depicts two Expressionistically anguished faces, with one turned away from the other, as Janus-like, tragicomic alter-egos. Between the two is an incoherent jumble of brightly colored forms. What Craft has done here, with considerable wit, is to create the ironic opposite—the hypothetical contradiction—of a well-known subject in European art, The Calling of St. Matthew. The most famous painting with this title and subject is that of Caravaggio (Italian, 1571-1610). The disciple Matthew was originally a tax-collector who, as he sat in the customs-house counting money on a table, was called by Jesus of Nazareth to give up that worldly occupation and follow him.

In Jim Craft's new painting The Temptation of St. Matthew, the artist has in essence, by inference and compensatory psychological transposition, created a new, biblically inspired subject. Aside from the scriptures' temptation by Satan of Christ himself, during the forty days in the wilderness, there are two otherTemptations which are common in European art—those of Saints Anthony and Jerome—but none of St. Matthew. Nevertheless, Craft has inferred that there must have been a residual worldly undertow, the temptation of earthly wealth the ex-tax collector knew so well, that dogged the disciple Matthew through his later life of evangelism.

Observing the operation of such incisive intellect in the creative process inspires our willing respect for a work of visual art, and for its maker. As the great 20th-century French poet Paul Valéry says, of the artist's hand and his head, of his craft and his intellect: "The one without the other is nothing."

What Craft has also accomplished here, quite apart from the biblical connection, is to make an art-historical type of subject live again with contemporary impact and meaningfulness. As the late-dismantlement esthetic of deconstructive Post- Modernism continues to wither and die before our eyes, reconstitutive art such as Craft's will have an increasingly important place in the artistic sensibility of the new century looming before us.

The Temptation of St. Matthew
Oil on canvas
54"w x 73.25"h
Jim Craft
Ezekial's Dream III
Oil on canvas
48"w x 72"h
Jim Craft

April 11, 1997
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