My favourite painting: The Bishop of Warwick

'I asked him to create a simple, uncomplicated image depicting God’s unconditional love and mercy offered to all'

The Bishop of Warwick

The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1989, by The Rev Dr P. Solomon Raj (b.1921), 52in by 34in, Collection: Rt Rev John Stroyan, Bishop of Warwick

The Bishop of Warwick says:

I commissioned this batik from Solomon Raj while I was working in an inner-city parish, near a large prison. In the traditional Indian caste system, Solomon comes from among the Dalits or “untouchables”. His work, like much of Luke’s Gospel, reflects Jesus’s particular love and compassion for the marginalised and the rejected. I asked him to create a simple, uncomplicated image depicting God’s unconditional love and mercy offered to all, not least the most marginalised. Inspired by the parable of the Prodigal Son, Solomon focuses deliberately only on the forgiving father and the returning prodigal, who, in his depiction, could be male or female.

The Rt Revd John Stroyan is the Bishop of Warwick

John McEwen comments on The Return of the Prodigal Son:

The Rev Dr P. Solomon Raj is not only a pastor, but is internationally known as a poet, sculptor, author, teacher and administrator. He was Professor of Communications, Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham, 1978–83, and a lecturer in the USA, 1984–85. Currently, at the age of 95, he is pastor of the Protestant Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church Society headquarters in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, southern India.

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He was born in Andhra Pradesh, where his father was a schoolteacher, and first learned art at Sunday school. Later, he studied under the artist Damerla Rama Rao and passed a state examination in drawing and painting. He has exhibited his work since the 1960s, showing and lecturing in the Far East, Europe and the USA. He is best known for his work in batik, in which selected areas of cloth are blocked out and then painted or dyed. The waxed parts resist the added colour.

Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son illustrates the biblical text more faithfully by including the disappointed elder son, whose behaviour had been blameless. The Rev Dr Raj confines himself to the father and the prodigal or wastrel son. The father is seen as Jesus and the prodigal could be any repentant. Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Penance, or Confession, when he told the Apostles and hence their priestly descendants: ‘Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven’ (John 20:23). It is a broader interpretation befitting an artist who is also a pastor, with an evangelical mission to spread the forgiveness that is the essence of Christianity.