By Mary Ann Bourbeau |
RUMSON – Scott Nickerson clearly remembers the first portrait he ever sketched that drew some notice. He was in the first grade in Catholic school in Jersey City, and he drew the face of Christ on the back of a math test.
“The nuns took it to the office and made a big deal out of it,” he said.
His interest was cultivated further by a high school art teacher, who introduced him to oil painting techniques.
“I really loved that,” Nickerson said.
Still, he didn’t pursue art as a career until he was laid off from his job and his girlfriend, now his wife, suggested he attend art school. Nickerson enrolled at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
“It felt so right when I finally got there,” he said. “I walked into class and felt like everything had changed immediately.
After graduation, Nickerson moved to Monmouth County and began hosting art shows, taking on commissions and teaching classes at Colorest Art Supplies. He made a name for himself in the area, so when Holy Cross Church in Rumson was looking for someone to paint a picture of Jesus Christ in an oversized cabinet above the altar, Nickerson came highly recommended.
“I met with Father Manning,” he said. “He told me what he wanted and we came up with the main vision, which was the Risen Christ. I knew this had to be my best, and I really put 110 percent into it.”
Nickerson, along with Father Manning and Holy Cross School art teacher Megan Peter, pondered various ideas, such as Christ emerging from the tomb with soldiers sleeping near the entrance. They discussed adding cherubs and other figures, but decided that was too complex and busy. So they decided to stay simple – Christ, high above the clouds, holding a cross in triumph.
“Theologically, I narrowed down the theme of the altar art to the story of the cross, our parish namesake,” said the Rev. Michael Manning. “We agreed upon a description of Christ’s visage in the painting and the meaning of his gesture – confident, victorious, merciful, inviting, blessing, with expression and eyes to engage parishioners in prayer.”
The facial features came from pictures of what Christ is believed to have looked like, as well as from a model that Nickerson used while creating the painting in his studio.
“One of my students said her boyfriend looks like Jesus,” Nickerson said. “We met and I was in total shock. He was perfect, and he was the same age as Christ when he was crucified. It’s funny how things kind of fell into place.”
Nickerson studied pictures of different types of clouds but found his inspiration while on a trip to Disney World with his family this summer. They were having dinner in a restaurant in Disney’s Contemporary Resort, which offers sweeping views of the landscape from high above the theme park.
“The sun started setting and it was amazing,” he said. “I had never seen the sunset from that vantage point, being up so high. It’s exactly what I wanted.”
He snapped a few pictures on his cellphone, as well as pictures of the clouds below on the flight home. Nickerson worked on the 10-foot tall and 6-foot wide painting throughout the summer, painting day and night to have it completed for an early September installation.
“I had to switch from my usual medium, which tends to dry glossy,” he said. “I didn’t want it to reflect off the lights in the church. I painted with very little extra oil to keep it on the matte side.”
The painting was unveiled to the students at Holy Cross School on Sept. 14, which was the Feast of the Cross and the first school-wide mass of the year. Behind the painting is a stained glass window with a sunburst design that lets the light in from above.
“It was very important that the painting have the right feeling and I think it came out beautifully,” said Teresa Makin, public relations coordinator for Holy Cross School. “It’s very peaceful.”
The portrait complements the new look of Holy Cross Church, which was first dedicated in 1884 and underwent a major expansion and renovation in 2015.
“The painting concludes the story of the cross, incompletely told by the art in the church until now,” said Manning.
Arts and entertainment writer Mary Ann Bourbeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was first published in the Oct. 18-24, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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