I first encountered the work of Welsh Catholic artist James Keay-Bright last year at the 8th Catholic Arts Biennial at the Verostko Center for the Arts at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where his Trinity Redemption painting was among the juried selections.
It shows God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit standing one behind the other against a black background, facing forward. They are semi-encompassed by a wave of fire that emanates from the foreground figure’s outstretched hand. Vigorous and bright, it swells up and around the trio, its branching tip reaching like arms into the darkness.
The young African man in front represents the Holy Spirit sending forth his presence, Keay-Bright told me. (The illumination of his face is wonderful!) Jesus Christ is shown as a Middle Eastern boy of about eight years old, while God the Father is modeled after an elderly Aboriginal Australian.
Unable to withstand the tidal wave of divine light, evil retreats into the shadows, symbolized by the satanic figure at the left.
In the Old Testament, fire often signifies the presence of God, as when Moses encounters God in the burning bush (Exod. 3:2), or as with the pillar of fire that leads the Israelites through the wilderness (Exod. 13:21).
In the New Testament, in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit descends like fire on the people who are gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. This “fire” ignites faith and has a sanctifying effect—purifying us of sin, making us holy.
Last Sunday the church celebrated the Spirit’s historic descent, and this Sunday is marked in liturgical calendars as Trinity Sunday. One of the scripture readings in the Revised Common Lectionary comes from Romans 5: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. . . . And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (vv. 1–2, 5). This passage describes the combined activity of the Triune God in bringing about salvation.
Commenting on his painting, Keay-Bright told me, “It’s about cycles of redemption. We respond to God’s call but then fall away. But we can always come back.” God’s “spirit and grace” are constantly extended to us, he says. The fire of divine love is always going out, sweeping through the world to reclaim and restore.
Keay-Bright is interested in non-Caucasian representations of biblical figures. That desire has sprung in part from his international humanitarian work, in which he has encountered the sacred through people of various races and ethnicities. He has worked with refugees in the Balkans, Uganda, and Algeria—first through an NGO and later through the UN Refugee Agency. This month he is traveling to Rwanda to serve refugees from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
He supplements this vocation with his art making.