The Hero of Canto Six

Here’s a painting by a guy who dared to paint Jesus Christ. Joachim Probst was his name, and he did it in the 1950s.

I could go on and on about Probst. But, instead, I’ll give you a brief stretch of autobiographical writing by the man himself:

“I was born September 1, 1913, in New York City. Self-taught. Through my endeavor to seek self-esteem, I became a misanthrope with a firm hand on delusion. This brilliance soon introduced me into poverty, and with so fearful a future granted me, I coined and struck this phrase, ‘Art is the stand against decay.’ And with this in mind, I entered my paradise of immortality. And with this paradise came my hell. And in hell I called on Satan.

O noble Son of God
‘Consider my madness.
I am a lunatic without an asylum,
Even a cripple without a crutch,
Surely the angels must weep for me.’

I feared, I trembled, and I painted. I stood in dark places (clothed in black) calling, ‘Would’st that I could take a sure step in a sure direction.’ Alas, Satan spoke. ‘God thou shalt never know, guilt is thy name. Art thou shalt have, best be thy lot an instrument to uphold the faith, Art thou shalt have. Sing thee Christ forever. Will is woe, woe is thy will, change “me” to “I,” brevity is thy purity—Seek the pact, turn not from gloomy madness. Despair is thy mother.’”—From an article in Contemporary American Painting and Sculpture, University of Illinois, 1959.

In the catalog for an exhibit of Probst’s work at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco in 1962, the Rt. Rev. James A. Pike, Bishop of California, wrote:

Joachim Probst is one of the few contemporary artists who has recklessly committed himself to dealing with the ultimate symbols themselves; the Christ, the Mother, King David…and Ahab. These are some of the figures he dares to paint.

“Christ painter, go away,” was the epithet hurled at Probst by some of the Greenwich Viallage habitues who paint. Our Cathedral church again pushes the lesser over and makes room for the Christ painter who uses the contemporary idiom that few others can handle with any but non-objective work. This artist with unique defining power comes among us. His Christ will cause many of us to tremble as we are confronted by Him.

Canto Six of Huncke, titled “The Studio of Probst”, pits Probst against the New York School. Our hero triumphs at some cost. But everybody pays in Canto Six.

Painting: February Christ by Joachim Probst

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