Psalm 139: All Saints Princeton Liturgical Altarpiece Series (Diptych) by Makoto Fujimura

Makoto Fujimura

Psalm 139: All Saints Princeton Liturgical Altarpiece Series (Diptych), 2020-21, Mineral pigments on canvas, 121.9 x 365.8 cm, All Saints Princeton Church Liturgical Panels, Lenten Season, ©2020MakotoFujimura

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Bright Abyss

Read by Ben Quash

My Psalm 139: All Saints Liturgical Installation is a diptych that will be installed in All Saints Episcopal Church in Princeton in Lent 2022. The two large canvasses spanning 12 feet (3.65 metres) are layered in refractive, prismatic colours using ancient Nihonga (Japanese-style painting) mineral pigments on modern gesso. 

Although the work appears dark on screen, it is conceived as what the poet Christian Wiman calls ‘My Bright Abyss’. It brings moody layers evocative of Mark Rothko’s paintings into the light of present wonder and praise, to sing with the psalmist, ‘I am fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139:14).

Psalm 139 was one of the first Bible passages I studied as a young artist. It transcends the limits of time, giving us a glimpse of God’s sovereignty experienced (though perhaps not recognized) from our earliest days (vv.13–16), even as God’s anticipatory knowledge and prevenient grace accompany us in the present (vv.2–12), and the Spirit invites us to co-create towards the new creation (vv.16, 23–24). The psalm is a response to the mystery of God’s knowing, and to this artist, its expression of depth and power was a point of entry to the Bible as a sacred text that provides both personal redemption and future hope.

The All Saints Liturgical Installation is placed on the white walls of the sanctuary in Princeton, pointing through clear windows to the forest beyond. Each panel is meant to recede into the space behind the altar and choir, making breathing room for the drama that activates the chancel. Layers of refractive minerals and gesso draw the viewer into contemplation, inviting them into the silent, ‘slow art’ that opens our senses—in this case, for Lenten reflection.

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