Friday, August 20, 2010

Heaven and Hell

Recently, Bravo had a show on their schedule called "Work of Art," which was a reality show for artists. I took interest in this show because, being an artist, I find it challenging to illustrate emotions and ideas that are hard to convey in words. One of the tasks the contestants had to illustrate was "Heaven and Hell" in an episode about contrast. After watching the episode, I found it interesting that the artists who had this particular challenge had received the critique that their work was "cliche". Many times we artists fall into a trap of trying to make a work of art that is recognizable to the point where we unintentionally make things that don't provoke thought, but meet the viewers expectations, leaving the viewer with nothing to think about.

I thought hard about that particular episode. How could I illustrate "Heaven and Hell" without creating a work that was just "light and darkness", "joy and pain", "fire and ice". To add to this desire, a few months ago, Tia and I went to a religious conference in North Carolina where one of the points of emphasis was "the arts in the church". They stressed the importance of art and music as an influence in the church. I found it funny that in history, theology influences art and vise versa. How many times when we think about a topic or subject have an image of that thing in mind? This encouraged me to use my art in ways I usually don't.

Here is the product of my brainstorming on the subject of "Heaven and Hell". I wanted to do a traditional piece, since recently I've been spending a lot of time doing photo manipulation via a computer. I thought about, not so much, how to paint the "places" of Heaven and Hell but what is the mindset or direction of those destinies. Jesus' parable of the "sheep and the goats" has taken on a new life to me in the last few years. He makes the distinction between those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and so forth and those who neglect the needs of others. He makes the point that the sheep are gathered into his father's house and the goats are cast out (through similar parables). I wanted to convey the idea that it was the actions of a man in this regard that set him on the path to one place or the other. Also, I found it important to make this have it's anchor in the physical world. Many times in life I've heard people say that this parable was spiritual and not physical. I'd have to argue with that because Jesus himself fed the hungry even before he spoke one word of truth. In this way people were more receptive to his message because if their physical need was met by him, so perhaps he could fill their spiritual need as well.

Also, the light and the darkness coming from the doors had the same intensity as it reached the man showing how both Heaven and Hell were not far off but met the man where he was and it was up to him to walk toward one of those doors. There is a thin sliver of red above his head between the light and darkness illustrating that what separates the two is the blood of Jesus. As you look at the hand on the left coming out of the ground, it is holding an apple and has a venomous snake wrapped around it's wrist harking back to the "Garden of Eden" marking the start of human history and the vanishing point of the painting (the doors) is the end of the man's life. The hand on the right is rejected by the man. The wrist of the neglected hand is pierced, illustrating what Jesus said, "if you have not done it to the least of my brethren you have not done it unto me". The chain represents the hold the mentality of the world has on the man as he clenches his hand for his own self sustainment.

I hope you enjoy this painting. Feedback appreciated!