Ordinary Saints

2014 - 2018

Ordinary Saints is a collaborative project with poet Malcolm Guite and composer J.A.C. Redford. The poetry takes part in an ancient tradition called "ekphrasis" - poems written in response to, or describing works of visual art. Several of Malcolm Guite's ekphrastic poems in this series have been been turned into songs by Jac Redford--and additional instrumental music fills out the larger project of Ordinary Saints. The world premiere with full chamber orchestra, poetry recitations, and exhibition of the paintings is to be held in Oxford, England in late July, 2020. (if you are interested in attending, please contact us using the address on this site)

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Q U 4 R T E T S

2012 - 2013

QU4RTETS is a collaborative touring exhibition and performance. The project participants include painters Bruce Herman and Makoto Fujimura, along with Yale composer Christopher Theofanidis––all in concert–– interacting with T. S. Eliot's masterpiece , "Four Quartets". The project began in winter of 2009 during a conversation over dinner at the initiative of Walter Hansen. The artists and composer were eventually commissioned to create new paintings and a score for piano and string quartet--in conversation with many others, including the theologian Jeremy Begbie.
The exhibition/concert has been shown and performed at Carnegie Hall; at Baylor, Duke, and Yale universities; at Gordon, Wheaton, Westmont, and Roanoke colleges, and will finish its USA tour at Cairn University, Philadelphia in Spring 2014. The exhibit then begins its international tour: Hong Kong University in September '14; Kings College Chapel, Cambridge University Easter 2015; finally Hiroshima, Japan later in '15.
For more information visit http://fujimurainstitute.org/qu4rtets/

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Presence / Absence

2008 - 2009

Presence/Absence was a touring exhibition/installation that was comprised of 36 paintings on wooden panels––35 of which were abstractions based upon the geology and tidal areas surrounding The Great Ledge––a granite outcropping that ascends 70ft above sea level right at the edge of the Great Marsh (a massive tidal estuary that begins at our home in West Gloucester and extends half-way up the coast of Maine). This series featured (as the 36th panel) a naked male figure with his back to the viewer––a kind of "Everyman" or Adam type. The other panels formed an ambulatory installation (that was ideally displayed at the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester, MA). Cape Ann is a glacial moraine that was scoured by the retreat of the great Laurentide Glacier about 30,000 years ago. T. S. Eliot wrote of Cape Ann in the third section of Four Quartets––a poem that also inspired part of this series and the QU4RTETS painting series.

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2005 - 2009

Magnificat is comprised of two large altarpieces that were begun in a bottega style course that I taught in Orvieto, Italy in Fall of 2003. The panels were prepared by apprentices in the traditional manner: many layers of traditional marble-dust and chalk gesso, with each layer carefully sanded and prepared for painting. Townsfolk from Orvieto posed as models for various scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary––and students helped to interview, research, and participate generally in my research for the project. The panels were begun that Fall and were taken up again in summer of 2005 when I had a "Studio Aperto" during my exhibition at the Palazzo dei Sette in Orvieto. I had the ten panels shipped stateside to my studio in Massachusetts, and completed the altarpieces over the next couple of years. The final two pieces toured the United States after being installed at the Monastero San Paolo in Orvieto for two years between 2009 and 2011, after which they were returned to the States. They are, as of this writing (Fall 2013), touring in the USA again: Laity Lodge in Texas, New City Church in Phoenix, Canton Museum of Art, and the Marian Library at University of Dayton.

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The "Woman" series was a natural outgrowth of the Mary paintings (Magnificat). I found that as I meditated upon and attempted to paint the life of the Virgin Mary, I was drawn to reflect more on the nature of a woman's face and form––not as an object of desire but as an image of discipleship, strength, and a deeper form of beauty than is generally considered in our popular commercial culture. The models were family and close friends, and each of the woman and girls chosen has a interiority and strength I associate with Mary and her "Yes" to the divine.

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A pentimento is literally a "repentance" in artistic terms––that is, a major alteration of a given image that will often result in a residual image underneath the repainted ("repented") canvas. My Pentimenti series is meant to reference the architectural and artistic pentimenti of my own experience––the vestiges of layer upon layer of repainted surfaces of the works, along with a metaphorical meaning that addresses memory, genuine repentance of a religious sense, and the personal narrative changes of particular lives––and all the works in the series had either a personal friend or family member featured. I also included an abstracted space meant to evoke the memories or feelings associated with these close relationships.

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Body Broken

2002 - 2004

"Body Broken" (Corpo Spezzato) was a touring exhibition of large figurative pieces created to commemorate great saints or witnesses of the Christian tradition––figures like Perpetua, St. Christopher, St. Katherine of Egypt, as well as modern martyrs like Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I attempted in this series to articulate an elegiac sense of time and space and color––with a view to expressing something of the ineffable quality of lives that are laid down voluntarily as a witness to deep religious conviction. Beyond this, I was also trying to communicate the light and color and texture of my many sojourns in Italy, in particular Umbria and the beautiful hills and architecture of Orvieto.

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Building in Ruins

1999 - 2001

"Building in Ruins" can be taken both as a noun and as a verb–– that is, as a process of building amidst the wreckage and as a simple ruin itself. My desire was again to evoke the architecture and holy personages of the Italian tradition while remaining fully engaged with our own cultural moment. This might sound quixotic, but my conviction for many years has been that tradition is a living thing––and that the genuinely new art form simultaneously captures elements of the past and re-contextualizes them with a collage of modern or contemporary ones. Hence the "building" aspect. The ruins for me are the shards and fragments we've inherited and which we seldom fully comprehend or know exactly how to fit together.

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Lanesville Murals


The Lanesville Murals, "Portraits of Our Redemption", was a collaborative project undertaken with the Old Testament scholar and pastor, Gordon Paul Hugenberger (currently Senior Minister at the historic Park Street Church in Boston). Dr. Hugenberger and I worked over a two and a half year period on a series of exegetical sermons and paintings that engaged in biblical typology––presenting the Old Testament Prophets and Judges as "types" of Christ, who is the fulfillment or ultimate antitype and Messiah, or "Second Moses" prophesied in the Torah. I did a series of eight large, vertical triptychs (for the Orthodox Congregational Church of Lanesville in Gloucester, Mass.). Each triptych had a main panel featuring an Old Testament figure such as Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, or one of the Judges. Beneath the main panel was a "predella" or smaller monochromatic image from the New Testament that fulfills the elements of prophesy in the main panel above. Above each of these eight large paintings was a lunette (semi-circular panel) featuring either an open hand for the mercy of God, or a fist representing the wrath of God--or occasionally both an open hand and fist (as in the piece entitled "In Wrath Remember Mercy" - Habbakuk 3: 2)

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Prophets, Angels and Strangers

1993 - 1995

This body of work is quite diverse––and was generated by a desire to see if the supernatural and prophetic element in the Bible still has visual power in our lives. I found myself drawn to Old Testament figures particularly (Elijah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, etc) and their powerful symbolic communication: Ezekiel spending a year living on almost no food or drink in order to symbolize the fact that his people had cut themselves off from the source of their wellbeing––God; or Isaiah prophesying that the Messiah would come in an exceedingly strange way––as a suffering servant rather than as a triumphant king. These stories and the many instances of angelic or demonic appearances in the Bible gave me much to reflect upon and generated a great deal of creative energy. These pieces eventually gave me the impetus to do the Lanesville Murals (see above).

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The Golgotha series began as a project devoted to a particular church service––the celebration of Good Friday and reflection upon the sufferings of Christ, his passion, and his death and burial. I avoided leaping into the imagery of resurrection because it seemed too easy, too glib––and I wanted to explore the territory surrendered by by Protestants, namely the imagery of the Cross and the agony of the Savior. When I showed these works to a museum director in Boston who had asked to follow my work and potentially display it, this person said to me, "Bruce, how can you waste your time painting sincerely intended religious images in our time? Don't you realize that this is anachronistic? No one believes these things any longer." My response to the museum director is the same now as it was then––I do not believe that it is possible to exhaust the imagery of the Cross, nor do I think that non-ironic religious imagery is off-limits for a contemporary artist. Quite the contrary. Since much of modern and postmodern art is involved in being "transgressive" of taboos––perhaps the real taboo these days would be to make images that convey sincere religious meaning.

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Man and Machine


In the mid 1980's I began searching for imagery that communicated what I was thinking and feeling about technology, the city, and the profoundly inhospitable world that we sometimes create for ourselves. A slew of dystopic technology films came out around that time: "Blade Runner", "Brazil", etc.––and these movies accurately captured our misgivings about the built environment and the coming digital age (which is now fully upon us thirty years later). At the time, I wanted to convey the ambiguity and mystery that attaches to man-made worlds that become anti-human. I also wanted to show that the innate religious impulse that all people have gets subverted by our grasping attempts to control of the natural world. Our machines become us and we become our machines...unless there is some sort of breakdown or reaching out for divine intervention.

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Dream of Wet Pavements

1988 - 1989

The Dream of Wet Pavements series takes its title from an apocalyptic poem by the Australian poet Francis Brabizon––and was an attempt on my part to come to grips with our near-decade of living in the crowded and sometimes toxic urban world. In this group of paintings I attempted to evoke my sense that our cities are places of grace as well as violence. The image of a city flooded in light and water became for me a symbol of simultaneous melancholy and hope.

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Cape Ann

1984 - 1987

After graduate school and eight years of living and working and exhibiting in Boston, we moved back to Gloucester––to the north shore where the light and air are conditioned by the north Atlantic. I tried to capture some of that light in this series of paintings, and I was seeking a means of re-connecting with the place and my roots in plein-air painting. Many great painters have recorded their vision of this place: Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Reed Kay––and many other painters have drawn inspiration and energy from the raw beauty of the cape: Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, Stuart Davis, and Marsden Hartley to name but a handful. I too have found Cape Ann to be an enduring source of inspiration and energy for my work––as the more recent series "Presence/Absence" reveals.

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Myths, Dreams and Eden

1982 - 1983

I've put most of the paintings completed right after graduate school into the category of "myth and dreams"––because all the images that came to me at that time contained dream/nightmare content and heavy psychological freight. The influence of Rouault, Beckmann, Guston and others is easily seen in these early works.
I include them here because they show a lineage and a pathway.
I've always desired to tell a story, but as the great poet Emily Dickinson wrote "Tell all the truth but tell it slant/Success in circuit lies." These early pieces painted right after I finished studies at BU all have the implicit psychological narrative derived in part from studying Beckmann's triptychs and Rouault's religious images. For those great painters I am utterly grateful, even as I needed to work through their heavy influence and find my own voice.

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Graduate School

1977 - 1979

All grad students try to break away from the constraint and predictability of the classroom or teaching studio. I was no different. I tried, in the variety of techniques and kinds of images I took on, to explore new (for me) territory: the world of interiority.
In many ways to look back is a bit embarrassing...but the bread-crumb trail is an honest one.

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Undergraduate School

1975 - 1976

Dutiful studies. Not a lot more. Yet, as an undergraduate I did stumble upon moments of expressivity that began to clue me in to the real purpose of painting for me: getting at the things that are invisible––to paint in order to reveal intuitions, hopes, fears, dreams...not simply the thing in front of me.

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