News: Beast Jesus

By Sophie Keane

For those in search of a new religion founded on the popular culture of the moment, consider The Beast Jesus Restoration Society: the Church of Cecilia Gimenez. You saw the SNL skit—Gimenez is the well-intentioned Spanish amateur painter who attempted to restore the fading 19th-century fresco of Jesus entitled “Ecce Homo” by Spanish artist Elias Garcia Martinez. The eighty-one year old arguably ended up ruining the piece by distorting the face of Jesus. The re-modified work is now often referred to as “Beast Jesus.” It didn’t take long for someone to seize the moment and create a Tumblr glorifying Cecilia Gimenez, or, as her followers call her, “The Restorer.” More than 6,000 people follow the blog on Facebook. There have been countless postings of the “Beast Jesus” face superimposed on famous artworks; there are Beast Jesus candies, a Beast Jesus Halloween costume. Around the world, hipsters, bloggers, cynics and artists are finding the positive in Gimenez’s arguably ruinous actions. Only arguably ruinous, though. The BBC’s comment regarding Gimenez’s work – “it looks like a hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic” – seems to hit the nail on the head for most. But others, like Forbes contributor Jonathon Keats, believe that Gimenez’s restoration epitomizes what religious painting should be all about: the individual affected by the faith, not a conventionally correct or academic style of painting. Keats explains in his piece “Why Every Church should be Blessed with a Muralist as Uncouth as Cecilia Gimenez” that Gimenez’s interpretation brings more than the purely “aesthetic” or “psychological” power of a religious masterpiece like The Last Supper or The Sistine Chapel. In Gimenez’s restoration, “we gain access to one woman’s vision of her savior, uncompromised by schooling.” Cecilia Gimenez is near hysterics in interviews, desperately defending that she did nothing secretive or illicit with her restoration. She appears genuinely mortified that her faith-driven act went so horribly awry, skewed by the entire world into an artistic nightmare and media frenzy. Confronting Gimenez’s reaction to her would-be act of goodwill, then, perhaps Keats is onto something when he talks about the real meaning of religious artwork. We are mildly shocked, or maybe even disgusted, or maybe simply amused, at Gimenez’s work. But whatever we are doing – gasping, cringing, laughing – we are openly doing so in the face of one person’s personal faith, in fact in response to that person’s faith. Cecilia Gimenez was deeply upset at the steady fading of the fresco at her local church; something deep inside her compelled her to do something. And most likely, that something was her faith – but even Cecilia Gimenez wants money. Now she is demanding compensation for her work, which draws hundreds of tourists (including, probably, some members of The Beast Jesus Restoration Society) to what would have otherwise been just another small neighborhood church in Spain. And Gimenez wants the money she feels is due for drawing so many visitors to her church. A legal battle is likely to ensue between Gimenez and her house of worship as both sides assemble lawyers. A legal battle, all over a senior with the passion of Christ in her heart and some painting supplies in hand. Well-intentioned, maybe—but it all comes down to money in the end. Perhaps, in the midst of this small-town church crisis that somehow became an Internet sensation, we all just need to ask ourselves: What would Beast Jesus do? refresh –>