(KMSP) - He's painted portraits of presidents from Ford to both Bushes as well as British Prime Ministers. Now a world renowned artist from Minnesota is setting his sights on painting the pope.
Mark Balma grew up in the Twin Cities, but he moved to Italy to study art. His latest work of art, a portrait of Jesus, could be worth up to $18 million dollars which he wants to use it to make life better for the poor and disenfranchised across the globe.
"It’s really a social justice message of freeing prisoners in captivity healing the broken hearted. Feeding the hungry. The beginning of his social justice ministry."
Balma is one of a handful of people on the planet who practice the ancient art of painting frescos.
He created the largest fresco in the country at the University of St. Thomas as well as two more at the Cathedral of St. Paul.
But his portraits of presidents, celebrities, and heads of state have also left a lasting impression.
His painting of Cecil the Lion became an international symbol of outrage after the animal was killed by Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer.
"It was my personal protest. Silent protest of what I thought was a senseless killing."
Balma even got an audience with Pope John Paul II when he brought his rendering of the JFK assassination to Rome. Currently he is trying to get the Vatican’s blessing to have Pope Francis sit for him.
"He has seen the portrait of Jesus that I did. I'm working on portraits of the homeless right now which ties in with his mission and ministry to embrace the poor and broken hearted and marginalized."
Even in his secular work,Balma tries to capture the timeless spirit of his subjects, but using his art to imagine a better world could be his greatest masterpiece.
"I believe in the power of the portrait. Jesus can inspire us a young girl can inspire us to reach within ourselves and make changes for the betterment of our fellow humans."
Balma wants to sell 7 copies of the Jesus portrait named “Saviour of the World” to someone on each continent to raise $7 million for social justice projects.
For more information visit www.sixty-1.org