For the last two decades, John Bakker has painted portraits of hundreds of people who represent neighborhoods, institutions or entire towns. The paintings become a catalyst for community building across economic, racial and social divides. That is because the time and energy is takes to paint a portrait, by hand, is a way of paying concentrated attention to a single person. It is a performance of the person's intrinsic value as a human being without regard to status; the time it takes to paint a wealthy lawyer or his indigent client is exactly the same. Painting portraits is a way of valuing people for who they are, not what they achieve or the money they make.
Further, painting a portrait that is designed to last for several hundred years, challenges a culture of awash in instant, disposable images. It also confronts the highly manipulated advertising images that destabilize our sense of dignity in order to entice us fill that lack with products purporting to confer status.
In contrast to the people of ancient Babylon, who believed that where drops of blood from the war god, Marduk, hit the ground humans sprang up as his slaves, Ezra, the scribe who gathered the Jewish scriptures together following Israel’s Babylonian, made sure that Genesis asserted that men and women are made in the image of God, i.e., humans are not slaves. By the middle ages, theologians replaced that negative assertion arguing that the positive attributes we share with God are compassion, critical intelligence and creativity. Compassion, critical intelligence and creativity enable people from any background to find common ground.
To value one another is our deepest safety, to treat one another with fear and contempt our gravest error.