We are pleased to present the work of David Pettibone this week as he explores the theme of hands in the story of Jacob and Esau from Genesis 27:1-17.

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David Pettibone, Jacob, 2012, oil on canvas, 16 x 27 inches


From the Artist:

I consider myself agnostic and initially had superficial reservations about taking on this project. Yet I have a deep respect for religion and immeasurable appreciation for the good that can come out of faith and tradition. I also have always felt an intense connection and fascination with the iconography of the Catholic Church and would never deny the effects of nearly two thousand years of christianity on an individual, growing up in a western society. My stance on religion, I feel, is important to mention as it hopefully gives the viewer insight into the approach I chose towards making my painting.

I was initially drawn to the theme of hands for many reasons. As a painter, I create with my hands. The handcrafted, in the age of speed and overload, is almost a symbol of defiance. To create directly with the hands is to slow the world down and reconnect with all that is physical and sometimes primal. An unmatched level of craftsmanship and much beauty can come directly from the hand. And yet, at the same time, the hand is responsible for so much that is ugly and destructive. The human hand can nourish and save life and it can just as easily, sometimes with more ease, take life away.

I chose the following passages from Genesis 27:1-29:

5Now Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau left for the open country to hunt game and bring it back, 6Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, 7‘Bring me some game and prepare me some tasty food to eat, so that I may give you my blessing in the presence of the LORD before I die.’ 8Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: 9Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. 10Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.”

11Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man while I have smooth skin. 12What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing.”

13His mother said to him, “My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me.”

14So he went and got them and brought them to his mother, and she prepared some tasty food, just the way his father liked it. 15Then Rebekah took the best clothes of Esau her older son, which she had in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob. 16She also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins. 17Then she handed to her son Jacob the tasty food and the bread she had made.

In Genesis, through his hands, Jacob deceives his own, blind father, Isaac, in order to obtain the birthright that was to be his elder brother’s- to rule over his people. And it was those same hands, with which he later wrestled with an angel, thus becoming “Israel”, a prince with God and a leader of the Jewish people.

I chose the moment of deception as the subject for my painting as it is a moment that expresses the extreme contradictions that the human hand is capable of. Mores specifically, I chose to focus on the hands themselves. As it may look to a dying, elderly man, blinded by age, obscure hands come out from the shadow and are laid down on a blood-red table. Instead of goat skin, I chose lambskin to cover the backs of Jacob’s hands. Traditionally, the Bible refers to believers as Lambs of God, and I felt that using lambskin would bridge the identity from Jacob to all people. As all of us are capable of using our hands towards both deception and graciousness.


David Pettibone is a New York based artist focusing extensively on the medium of oil paint and the portrayal of the contemporary figure. He was born in Phoenix, Arizona and received his BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and MFA from the New York Academy of Art. Upon graduating, he stayed on at the New York Academy of Art for one more year as a Fellow. He has taught painting at Brooklyn College and currently teaches drawing and painting at Marymount Manhattan College, 3rd Ward in Brooklyn and Brooklyn Artist Gym. His work is included in various private collections with continuous growing support.


Image is copyrighted by the artist and used here by permission.

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