Rudolph Valentino Bostic
Anyone who uses cardboard the way Rudolph Valentino Bostic does is an artist after my own heart. The work-horse of heavy duty paper has long been one of my favorite art materials, so it amazes me to see what shimmering wonders this Outsider Artist from Savannah, Georgia, is able to create just by applying enamel house paint from sample color pots onto huge sheets of discarded cardboard. Noah and the Ark. The visit of the Magi. The Passion of Christ. The Resurrection. From Genesis to the Book of Revelation, the great biblical narratives have all appeared in multiple variations in Bostic's whimsical cardboard panel paintings.
Bostic belongs to the category of "self-taught" artists. He owned few toys when he was growing up, so he learned to draw, making stand-up figures of Cowboys and Indians. Further encouragement came from his uncle, the longtime pastor of the Second African Baptist Church on Green Square in Savannah, who asked Bostic and his brother to make religious pictures for his congregation. What really launched Bostic on a creative career was finding the perfect medium for his art-making in the baking company, where he worked. When Bostic looked at scrap cardboard and ran his fingers along its smooth, solid surface, he thought it would make an ideal "canvas" for working with all the odds and ends of house paint he had at home.
This creator in cardboard is a true visionary artist. He seldom works from preparatory sketches and almost never retouches finished pictures, which are usually made in one sitting with the cardboard panel, lying in front of him on his bed. With his imagination so steeped in biblical imagery, Bostic gathers his paint pots and brushes, picks up a cardboard panel, and, as he says, "the images just come to me." He paints with the television on in the background, so the odd pop culture theme also finds its way into his work. Bostic is a big fan of science fiction.
When I first saw Bostic’s work at a show sponsored by Christians in the Visual Arts, I was intrigued by the series of miniature paintings he used to decorate and frame his central images, something I had only seen before in Eastern Orthodox icons. His cardboard panel pictures are firmly rooted in an Afro-American tradition of “testimony art," meant to share Black historical experiences and religious beliefs. You sometimes get the feeling this artist of faith has so much to say, he continues his narrative right on to the picture frame! Bostic says the inspiration for this striking story-telling device are all the split-screen effects and editing tricks he sees on television.
The Crucifixion I is an excellent example of Bostic's style of double painting. Clustered around Christ on the cross, you can find visual references to Jesus as “Lamb of God” and “Lion of Judah,” the Eucharistic symbols of bread and wine, an open Bible—even the Ark of the Covenant. Some of Bostic's images are less readily identifiable, coming from his own personal store of iconographic prototypes. The empty stool, which figures in the upper left corner of the frame in Christ Carrying the Cross, is visual short hand for Christ's suffering. A stool of this kind can be seen in Bostic's version of the Mocking of Jesus, The Final Hour.
Bostic is a great admirer of Rembrandt, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael and keeps a library of art books and clippings of favorite images. From his home study of the Old Masters, Bostic has developed a highly individual chiaroscuro style of strongly contrasting light and dark passages, which gives his figures a special vibrancy. This modern master of biblical narrative is less certain what to make of contemporary abstract art forms. "I've looked at the work of other artists, but they're all into symbols and things that aren't real," says Bostic. "For me, the Bible is the real thing and it's got story after story to paint."