Crucifixion by Charlie Mackesy

Charlie Mackesy

Crucifixion, 2016, Charcoal on paper, Collection of the artist, © Charlie Mackesy

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Dissipation and Exaltation

Commentary by

Charlie Mackesy makes the striking decision to use a medium without colour. His charcoal drawing suggests the ephemerality of the body it represents (‘melting like wax’). Christ’s left arm seems to dissipate at the wrist, and the lines defining the contours of the body are difficult to fix. On Christ’s left side his body is mirrored behind him, like an after-image, as if the body is fading into the air, or impressing that air with Christ’s human form. It is as though not only Christ’s heart melts like wax (Psalm 22:14), but his entire body.

But what is most arresting about this drawing is Christ’s posture: he is not slumped in exhaustion nor limp in death, as so often in the art of the crucifixion. Indeed, his hands (and maybe his feet too) are no longer fixed to the cross at all. With his back arched and head thrown back (rather than lolling forward), one feels that Christ is being lifted up from the cross chest first. This Christ seems poised to bypass the grave and go straight to the ascension.

It is this posture that converses so fruitfully with verse 19 of the Psalm. Here, in a surprising shift, there is an announcement that out of the dark despair of the earlier eighteen verses, hope is able to spring. The ascension of the crucified Christ recontextualizes and reinterprets the cross much as the final section of the Psalm recontextualizes and reinterprets its beginning. The cross, as it is eclipsed by the body of Christ, becomes a path to glory, a jumping off point for the triumphant hero.

This drawing therefore presents a sign of victory that is neither simplistic nor apologetic. There is purpose to the cross, and this work reveals an inner dynamic that may also help us to discern what animates the Psalm: the character and purposes of the God who hearkens to the afflicted and redeems the lost. Just this dynamic connects the beginning of the Psalm to its triumphant ending—beyond every sense of abandonment, the one who trusts in the Lord may expect resurrection and ascension.

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