zimou tan

An artist who converted to Christianity and lets faith infuse his work has a powerful story to share. Zimou Tan, a portrait artist, shared his inspiration as well as his decision not to show Jesus’ face in his religious-themed works.

Tan told The Christian Post, “It’s kind of ironic in the way that I painted Jesus because I never painted Jesus with a straight-on portrait. A lot of times, I either put Him under shade, under the shadow, or thinking really small, but the face is not clear enough. I’m a portrait specialist. Portrait is my specialty, but I do not have that courage. I don’t think that I have that right to narrow down how Jesus looked like.” About a month before his solo exhibition billed “The Lord was there” opened at the Arkell Museum in Canajoharie, Tan had a completely different vision of what the show would look like. Initially, he planned to display 15 pieces from his portfolio, split between his religious paintings and his portraits. But God, he said, interrupted everything.

Tan explains, “After a sermon that I heard about, maybe two months ago during our Sunday service, the pastor mentioned that the Lord was there. The whole sermon revolved around the idea that the Lord was there. Every part [of what] we do, Jesus is with us. Tears came out of my eyes nonstop. My heart felt that I was called to do something different for the Lord. And I decided at that moment the whole show is dedicated [to the Lord].”

Tan, an award-winning traditional fine artist specializing in portrait and narrative figurative painting and drawings, would later find out that instead of getting space at the museum to display 15 paintings from his religious collection, he could only put 10 pieces on display, and the 10 he selected reflect how deeply his work is inspired by his faith and Scripture from the titles to the narratives behind them. Tan, 50, says he converted to Christianity in 2013. Though he was always a spiritual person with Buddhist influences, his work was mainly rooted in a philosophical exploration of life without any specific faith tradition.

Since his conversion to Christianity, he says he has been on a different journey with his art. Tan’s origin story started in China. He quipped, “I always joked around that I was made in China and improved in the United States.” He recalls the first time he went to school at age 8. He remembers when his teacher asked what he wanted to be as an adult and how he never hesitated to tell it. “People say, ‘I want to be an astronaut,’ ‘I want to be a doctor,’ ‘I want to be a lawyer,’ I didn’t want to be a scientist,’” Tan recalls. “I was the only one with my hand raised, saying, ‘I want to be an artist.’ I remember that because that was the first time I went to school.”

Though Tan’s previous work has attracted some acclaim in the art world over the years, he doesn’t see himself as famous, nor does he seek to be. Since he converted to Christianity, Tan says he has been on a journey to reflect more of his faith in his work. “I was [leaning] more towards Buddhism before. And then 10 years ago, I had an encounter with Christianity,” he says.

More from Beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad