IF YOU GO
What: Chris Yambar’s “House of God” art exhibition
When: Opens Sunday with a free reception from 3-6 p.m. and runs through April 4.
Where: Soap Gallery, 117 S. Champion St., Youngstown (hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday)
Also: There will be a Jesus People concert at the gallery at 4 p.m. March 31, with Pastor Joe and musical duo the McCabes
By GUY D’ASTOLFO
In his upcoming exhibition, Chris Yambar started with two of the biggest pieces of his life – faith and art – and mixed them in a way that only he can.
For the new show, titled “House of God,” the Youngstown pop artist started with stark black-and-white photos of icons, statues and other scenes from some of the city’s more ornate and traditional churches and cemeteries. Then he colorized them in his signature style, lending a modern twist.
The show opens Sunday at Soap Gallery, downtown, and runs through April 4. It features 160 works.
Yambar said “House of God” celebrates Easter and the life and resurrection of Jesus by reintroducing viewers to age-old imagery with a contemporary yet reverent perspective.
An ordained minister, Yambar – he calls himself “an irreverent reverend” – said faith has always been part of his life. He was a Youngstown police chaplain for 15 years.
But the artist is best known for his eye-popping portrait art of celebrities and also his work on The Simpsons comic books.
He has been battling a series of health issues for the past three years, which seems to have brought him even closer to his faith.
Yambar, who is diabetic, developed a blood infection a few years ago after he fell and lacerated his arm. He eventually lost the use of one eye and a foot infection forced him into rehab to regain his mobility.
He developed peritonitis, and – after a lengthy period of dialysis – is now awaiting a kidney transplant.
Despite his health problems, Yambar remains upbeat and as amiable and quick-witted as ever.
“Strength appears when you have to endure something,” he said in a recent interview. He makes light of his troubles, and even sees a silver lining in them.
“It has given me sympathy and empathy for those who are going through health ordeals,” he said.
Yambar has been forced to stop drawing, although he is almost ready to resume. In the meantime, he has been creating art with a camera; his previous show also used photography.
The “House of God” exhibition is “extremely personal” to Yambar. He shot most of the photos in old Catholic churches but describes the art as nondenominational.
“It is my faith, my heritage,” said Yambar, who was raised in a Slovak Catholic church on the West Side. “It takes a closer look at the imagery.”
Traditional churches usually are full of ornate statuary, art and decor. “They were not mass produced,” said Yambar. “The old world craftsmanship was a form of worship. You can see the depth of their faith in the intricacy.”
His new exhibition is a way of seeing something old in a new way. “It is textbook pop art but with all the reverence kept in,” he said.
Yambar said he wants those who visit the gallery to feel as though they are in God’s house. He plans to have candles and incense at the show.
“I want viewers to get a brain tattoo,” he said. “If you can get past the defensiveness that most people have toward religion, you can give them a gift.”