JAWSUS: Religious Iconography as Secondary Source

Prior to completing my poster assignment I was aware that the visual language of religious iconography is very powerful. There are numerous thematic and stylistic elements that have been appropriated by many artists and media producers in the past.

There are recent appropriations in film that are often used to draw parallels between the new materials and characters and those of the Bible. If a character has supernatural abilities then there is particular emphasis on portraying these abilities through the visual languages that are normally used to portray Jesus. These appropriations of visual style are usually not subtle, which is reasonable as the films are from these genres are generally not known for subtlety or nuance.

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Raphael’s Transfiguration of Christ, 1515

Raphael’s painting is in my opinion one of the most successful treatments of this specific theme. The floating effect of Christ and the other figures are are well executed through the atmospheric qualities of the painting. The back-lighting effect coupled with the billowing clouds and garments help the artist to achieve a realistic portrayal of a floating human. Other painters struggled to achieve this realistic flight effect due to their negligence in depicting the atmospheric qualities. The result is usually something that appears like an amateur collage.


Raphael Sanzio, Resurrection of Christ, 1499-1502

Film makers have borrowed heavily from this type of imagery and have also used a cruciform pose in order to draw further comparisons between Christ and their own protagonists. Brian Singer and Zack Synder have both helmed Superman films and their use of green screen technology, wire work, back lighting and artificially generated wind help their characters achieve a similar level of realism.


Superman from the Brian Singer and Zack Snyder films

The comparison of Superman to Christ is well documented. He is after all, an alien offspring with supernatural abilities that was adopted by earthling parents and who may be the saviour of mankind. He even died and was resurrected in the comic ‘The Death of Superman’. My research has lead me to discover that some Christian groups even support these comparisons. I imagine they are motivated to do so in order to appear ‘down with the kids’ and therefore acquire more followers.

Christ-like figures appear in other films and media such as The Matrix and Watchmen. In the Wachowski’s Matrix series, Neo a low level office employee, learns that he may be ‘the One’, a veritable saviour of mankind. The fact that ‘Neo’ is an anagram of  ‘One’ confirms that contemporary film-makers have little time for subtlety, they even have him dressed like a cleric much of the time. Neo possesses supernatural abilities including flight and ultimately must give his own life to save mankind.

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Neo from ‘The Matrix’ franchise

Frank Miller’s graphic novel ‘Watchmen’ which was faithfully translated to the screen by Zack Snyder also contains a Christ-like figure. Dr. Manhattan was a nuclear physicist that is transformed in a work-place accident. He becomes god like in his abilities which are exploited by President Nixon in the Vietnam War, Enemy Viet-Cong troops  revere and fear him in equal measure.

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Dr.Manhattan from the film and graphic novel ‘Watchmen’

The ‘Watchmen’ graphic novel also contains frames that may have drawn inspiration from stained glass works most often seen in churches.

manhattan jesus stained glass

Dr.Manhattan and Christ in Stained Glass

Bill Viola is a video artist that has self-confessed obsession with images and sensations of submergence in water. The look of his works seem to draw heavily from the Christ-like poses that his submerged figures present. The floatation of his figures may be compared to the images of Christ’s resurrection.

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Bill Viola, Video Art

Drawing from these themes I have moved forward with my own appropriations of similar themes and motifs. I remain within the primary material sourced from the film Jaws.

I began this remediation by altering some previously made drawings of the film’s three heroes. I made a drawing  of a shark’s tooth with which I made a circular array in Photoshop. This array was then added to my original drawing of the ‘Three Heroes of Amity’ which transforms the image to ‘Three Saints of Amity’. I feel that this remediation works well as some saints are often depicted as soldiers or in battle. Adding a yellow colour to these array certainly helps to transform them to the characters halos.

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saints of amity

‘Saints of Amity’

I have previously made works of swimmers on the surface of water so I was immediately drawn to the images of swimmers in the film that are from the shark’s perspective. Legs dangle as the swimmers are suspended in water with their arms stretched out in cruciform poses, a mechanism of swimming of course. A second set of stills were also taken from the film scene which features the early video game ‘Killer Shark’. Presenting these with the swimmer stills may be something to explore further. Many pictorial elements are too similar to ignore.

victim 001
killer shark attack game02Victim 001 and Killer Shark, Jaws,(1975)

From these stills of the swimmer I made some sketches which were then scanned to Photoshop. The image was then coloured using some of the source colours found in the water. However I felt that in order to achieve a floating image the body should be colured with more flesh like colours. My aim was to create a Christ-like floating figure that drew also inspiration from stained glass works.

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jaws victim saint copy

I could develop this stained glass effect even further but I am happy with the effect achieved in this initial exploration. Moving forward with these images I would hope to explore making patterns from the swimmers are seen from the sharks perspective. One major exploration I would wish to make would be to project these images and scenes to external walls. I imagine that controlled lighting effects with add to the mood of the projected image. I think projected stained glass could potentially be a very exciting medium as stained glass is something that is light activated.

One further exploration I would wish to pursue is in making a hologram of a swimmer. I looked at various Youtube holograms that project into a plastic pyramid that has a flat top. I made one of these by cutting the shape from a plastic sheet that sits on my phone and I was surprised with how effective this type of projection is. The room does need to be sufficiently dark but I believe the effect has potential. I have included a link below that shows how to make this 3D hologram viewer.

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