Art Made in the Image of God


Welcome to the first post in IMAGO INDEX, a monthly newsletter about creativity in the church curated and run by Josh Warner (this is me).

Right now there is more talent and creativity in the church than ever before. Great work is created all around the world every week. Unless you're following every church or church creative it can be hard to keep up, and even then a ton of work goes uncredited, or we see it briefly in our Instagram feeds and then it's on to the next post. We stop appreciating the now while we pursue the new.

I want to take a slower approach, to try to document the art created and the artists creating it. There's no way to cover everything, but I'll do my best to get to the things that inspire me, that I believe push the church into its calling as a space for creative excellence. A lot of the work documented won't necessarily be crafted for churches, or even explicitly Christian, but it will point to the artistic spirit of the Creator.

A disclaimer before we get started: this is all based on my personal taste. You might disagree with my choices to feature some work over others; that's fine, I don't pretend to be the final say what's good and what isn't. I'm just here to shoutout good work.

The Eye of Paul Rivera

It feels a little like cheating to include an Elevation creative right at the beginning. Elevation has established itself in the last few years as the leading creative influence in the church at the moment, at least in the U.S. I'd say even more than Hillsong. While some of that can be attributed to resources, all the money in the world won't help you if you don't hire the right people, and Elevation has shown they have an eye for talent and a willingness to let that talent cook.

One of those talents I've followed for a while is Paul Rivera, an art director and photographer based in Charlotte, NC. A frequent collaborator with Jacob Boyles and Mait Hudson, Paul's photos have been the basis for much of Elevation Worship's award-winning artwork in the last few years, along with artists Atreyu, Brandon Lake, Bryan & Katie Torwalt, and others. Most recently he took some stunning shots for a Hypebeast / HBX New York clothing drop.

Paul moves seamlessly between faith-centered and commercial projects, but his eye for color, form, composition, and texture stands out no matter the subject. 

Dario Prieto's Unique Vision

It feels a little like cheating to put Dario in the first post as I know him personally - he joined the Bethel Music creative team while I was there, and continued on as the sole designer (for awhile) when Stephen Hart and I left. Honestly, we were lucky to get him. At the time the team was searching for another designer to replace Taylor Sabo (who left Redding with now-husband Christian Ostrom, who is currently the creative director at Bethel Music). BM put out a job ad for the design position, but had a hard time finding a good candidate despite getting a ton of applications. Dario was doing Bethel's School of Supernatural Ministry at the time and ended up connecting with Stephen. Despite being in school and mostly focusing on music (he's an amazing drummer), Dario's work showed a level of talent that exceeded all the applicants we got before. One thing lead to another, and he ended up joining the team. Sometimes just a small connection is enough to pull you in a direction you never expected.

Years later, Dario's work at Bethel Music has defined the look for several conferences, tours, and especially album covers. His art for Homecoming (2021) under Christian's creative direction established a new direction for the Bethel Music brand, following its establishment as a visual leader in the Christian music space under Stephen Hart. Homecoming's light-in-the-dark motif continues with the artwork for Bethel Music's Come Up Here album releasing in March. 

Dario's Instagram account highlights his range: while his work for Bethel Music is on brand with heavy blacks contrasted with pops of color and light, Dario's personal work is often very colorful and bright, taking full advantage of the forms, light, and color possible with 3D. The cleanliness of the imagery stands out as an outlier in the Christian music space heavily dominated by photo collage, Helvetica, and BLKMARKET texture. Where a lot of artwork in the space rips Elevation's aesthetic without the thought behind it, Dario's artwork stands as an example that there are other directions to explore.

Noted Work

Some images and work that stuck out to me this month:

It is extremely difficult to make Christian merch (or art in general) that isn't cringe, but so far Philip Bowles and Selah Clothing have done an excellent job navigating that minefield:

Welcome back to the legend Stephen James Hart, back in the game with new artwork for Gateway Worship's new album featuring his adorable pocket Statue of David bust:

Love all the work from designer and illustrator Josiah Goldsmith, but these little finger-paints over mundane scenes struck me as extra nice.

The sheer volume of quality work from Kevin Hackett at Reach Records is both inspiring and humbling. This is just from 2022:

That's all for this month. Make sure to subscribe to get next month's post in your inbox and share with your friends so good work gets seen.


Submit Good Work

Know some good work that needs more eyes on it? Send it to me at [email protected] with as many details (especially the artists involved for proper credit) and images as possible. Please don't submit your own work, that's gross. Shout out your friends.