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Agnostic Minneapolis painter gives the Old Testament a colorful, surreal new look

Jenna Ross, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Religious News

MINNEAPOLIS -- The idea came to Samuel Robertson at a moment of artistic aimlessness. He was painting -- but haltingly. And his works didn't have a theme or deeper purpose. Robertson considered whether to illustrate one of his favorite books, which might help him tap an existing fan base. He weighed one title, then another.

Then it hit him: the Old Testament.

"It was super clear," Robertson said, his eyes intense.

Now, to other people, this choice was not so clear. The south Minneapolis-based artist and musician grew up going to a Catholic school in Eau Claire, Wis., but considers himself agnostic. In fact, until he decided to illustrate the Bible, he had never read the Bible. But Robertson, 30, connected with the odd, antiquated language of the King James Version.

"It's a style that I think works well with what I'm doing," he said. "There's a lot of goofiness within it."

The Bible has inspired sacred interpretations -- from the intricate wood engravings of Gustave Dore to a calligrapher's handwritten, hand-illuminated pages commissioned by St. John's Abbey and University.

 

Robertson's Old Testament looks a little different. His paintings feature office and construction workers living in a neon version of the United States. Water skiing, sunbathing, playing instruments. There are Tupperware parties, toilet plungers and plastic-ball pits.

"It's weirdly perfect, where it's tapping into something people have been looking at and reading for a really long time," said Grant Maierhofer, a writer and friend. "There's this mainstream narrative of what the Bible is and what it's for.

"What Sam has done is looked at it and said: This is a really bizarre book."

Finding wonders in the deep

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