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Abstract Illuminations

12:20 PM, Apr 10, 2011 • By DAVID GELERNTER
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Makoto Fujimura is one of the best painters alive; there is no finer abstract painter at work today. He is a Christian who lives in New York and paints using the traditional Japanese Nihonga technique, and Crossway has just published an elegantly produced folio of the four gospels with Fujimura’s illuminations (The Four Holy Gospels, 168 pp., $129.99).

To paint small decorated initials (one for each chapter), marginal images, and one full-page picture for the front of each gospel (as in a first-millennium Insular gospel book) is an exacting test for this painter, who ordinarily unfurls his magic colors across large canvases. But Fujimura brings it off with distinction. His gospel book is always beautiful, sometimes profound. Ordinarily his colors flow as if across vast spaces, as if they were still unrolling so far away that their movement (like an exploding star’s) is invisible. And within this deep silence there are flares and showers of gold-like northern lights. Yet Fujimura has brought his vast art down to the size of squares just under an inch on a side, each containing its initial letter; and his squares are endlessly fascinating. That his paintings always seem to happen immeasurably far away works strongly in his favor: You can see the night sky as clearly through an inch-square peephole as you can standing outside within it.

The Four Holy Gospels, 168 pp., $129.99

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