This painting by German artist Ben Willikens is haunting in its familiarity as it harkens to the image of the Last Supper by Leornardo DaVinci. However it is startling, almost offensive that the room is empty; Christ and his followers are missing. Instead, we are presented with a cold and sterile environment, completely devoid life. Standing in front of this painting many years ago, in the Beyond Belief exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, my initial response to this artwork was a sense of sadness and loneliness, as if I came to a party too late and everyone had gone home. Staring from the shadows I can almost hear my own breathing echo in this room. This artwork, to me, was an anti-God statement.
Recently I came across this artwork in a book and I was filled, strangely, with a sense of awe. Around the same time, I had been contemplating the idea of what it means to encounter God. Someone had suggested to me the idea that we find God in the void, that God is the void. We are so desperate to fill the void because we are told that being alone is bad or success is to possess. We become afraid when we stare into a space that we cannot control. But, what if this void is an invitation into a spiritual place, where silence is the language and mystery is a friend? I didn’t see the empty space of Willikens’ painting this time. If you look beyond the empty table and dark doors the space calls you out. Christ has moved, the disciples have gone; a new story is being written beyond this room. Don’t mistake this as a call for action, it is a whisper, a gentle suggestion to stop running, stop striving and encounter the void, perhaps to confront the parts of you that you don’t like and a God you can’t manipulate. DaVinci’s Last Supper will always be a more famous representation of Christ’s life but Willikens’ version points me to the work that continues in all of us.