A photo of Stephen Sawyer's painting “No Appointment Necessary” shows a man in blue jeans and a white t-shirt, flexing his right tricep and showing off the tattoo on his right arm. The man in the painting, who has a beard and long, brown hair, is strong and masculine – and his name is Jesus.
The 58-year-old Christian artist's goal, according to his "Art for God" website, is to use his paintings to “reflect the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in the 21st century.” The painting described above has appeared in hundreds of different newspapers around the world, Sawyer says, including the Jerusalem Post.
"Those people who have tattoos, many of which are bikers, who have turned their heart over to God ... instead of them being embraced by Christian fellowship ... they had Leviticus being spouted out at them,” Sawyer told The Christian Post on Tuesday while explaining the purpose of the painting.
"That was my open hand slap to say, 'Stop judging people based on the outside of their cup,’” he said.
He was referring to Leviticus 19:28, which in the New International Version says, “Do not ... put tattoo marks on yourselves.”
Another of Sawyers paintings, “Undefeated,” portrays Jesus as a boxer in the ring.
"Originally I did that for young people because I felt like they needed to see Jesus not as an emaciated, thin, worn-out, sometimes overly-effeminate looking savior,” he said, “and I wanted to do something that would give them a new way to interpret their love for Jesus of Nazareth.”
Sawyer says that he's been an artist since he was in kindergarten, but he's taken “a couple of detours” along the way while he sought out the career that was right for him. He is a graduate of the University of Kentucky, where he studied architecture and engineering.
Though some people are offended by the way he portrays Christ, Sawyer says that “95 percent” of the people who see his work relate to it in a positive way. Those who don't, he says, are generally “modern-day Pharisees” who “create a very judgmental God based on the fact that they're very judgmental.”
He uses a real-life model, Tyrone Dove Gardner, as a visual aid when creating his Jesus paintings. He looked through thousands of potential models for over 20 years before he found the right one.
"What I wasn't looking for was a historically accurate representation of Jesus, because I have no idea what Jesus looked like,” Sawyer says. “It's just pure speculation."
He added, “I was looking for a beautiful specimen of a human being and I feel like I found it.”
In addition to showing Jesus as a modern-day man, Sawyer has also conveyed issues like sexual abuse and drug addiction through his art.
"I've tried to tackle what I consider are some of the very important issues that help keep Christianity relevant instead of in the past,” he said.