collage by nacrowe
when i think of the weimar-era german painter OTTO DIX, who famously depicted the WWI veterans as contorted, disfigured amalgamations of flesh and mechanical attachments, i think of someone interested in the idea of how identity is attached to one's physicality.
his work almost brings about notions of the paradox surrounding the Ship of Theseus, being that if you replace every piece of wood on a ship at some point it is no longer the original ship, except when exactly does that transformation happen? does it happen?
the german soldiers in his paintings are often seen to be missing limbs and parts of their face that have crudely been replaced by then-modern technology. even paintings showcasing soldiers in action on in the trenches find them wearing gas masks and charging towards the viewer like deranged madmen in a barren dream-like hellscape.
FRANCIS BACON used contorted figures to provide insight into his fragile mind-state and strikingly express the depths of his psychosis. with DIX i think that his use of body disfigurement was more to showcase the fragile collective german mindstate in the years after their defeat in WWI. along with the work of GEORGE GROSZ, i find his work endlessly compelling as it attempts to honestly channel psychological realism about the psyche of a nation. its power is what made it so dangerous to like of the third reich who later deemed it degenerate and attempted to suppress it in order to spin a much darker narrative with "realistic" historical paintings that were very much a quixotic fantasy.
ironically hitler's need to mock the work of DIX among others is what preserved their work. go figure.
i originally came across the graffiti patterns of 80s NYC street artist KEITH HARING from the charity christmas album A VERY SPECIAL CHRISTMAS in what had to have been the late 80s when i was still in single digits. in fact, hearing the EURYTHMICS rendition of "winter wonderland" immediately puts me in the yuletide spirit as only a child could imagine, even as a now-30+ year old agnostic in the middle of june.
HARING, much like british director DEREK JARMAN, is an icon of a place and time when creative homosexual men were navigating the line between commerce and identity and really struggling. also like JARMAN, he left this world too soon a victim to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the indifference of society at large during that period.
and its that indifference to the plight of others that makes me feel that his work resonates with me now in our current cultural moment. when i see his crude patterns of interconnected humanoid figures, full of movement and spontaneity, i am reminded of our collective kinship and our mutual obligations to each other. to me that was his message.
our humanity connects us.
that message was powerful in a NYC 80s art context where peers and loved ones were passing on from the new Black Death within a political/cultural/societal context that didn't recognize or have any compassion. reagan didnt give a shit. neither did any catholic priest.
feels the same way now with many families being separated, mothers and fathers having their children kidnapped in OUR NAME. that indifference kills me yet it perpetuates what i see in our media and in our culture. i had the pleasure of living in Myanmar and i witnessed this same indifference to their other, the ROHINGYA. living one lived reality while knowing full well that atrocities and war crimes where only a few hundred miles away.
no difference here stateside. we are deluding ourselves with our indifference.
RIP keith haring. thank you for your message of inclusivity and tenderness and continually reminding us of our obligation to each other.
Painting (1946), Oil on Linen, Museum of Modern Art
FRANCIS BACON was a 20th century british painter best known for his post-WWII work that often included crude depictions of animal carcasses, popes, and portraits of himself and his peers. it is often said that his work related an existential unease of many during the post-war period where many were forced to reevaluate their place in the world, both as individuals and nationally. being a highly intelligent homosexual man during this dark, less-enlightened period only further compounded such national and individual issues of identity.
i find his work fascinatingly inventive and gloriously opaque, its fractured nature almost the art analogue to LEWIS CARROLL, except way more self-examining in nature and more sinister in its implications for what constitutes human nature. essentially his beauty is visible in the grotesque and unsavory dark corners of the human psyche.
his work has influenced countless artists, a recent example being the MARK ROMANECK-directed 1994 video for the NINE INCH NAILS song "CLOSER" (embedded below).
if interested, i found this 1966 BBC documentary "FRAGEMENTS OF A PORTRAIT" to be particularly insightful into the psyche of this most impenetrable of artists.
Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da
"Judith Beheading Holofernes" (1598), oil on canvas, Galleria Nazionale dell'Arte Antica Rome
CARAVAGGIO was a 16/17th century italian painter during the counter-reformation. that's all well and good, but the reason i adore his work is the visceral realism they portray. his figures don't seem to be a part of some faint idyllic plane, as most religious paintings of the period i've experienced seeming do. in his paintings, CARAVAGGIO's figures deal with issues of aging, decay, indulgence, exhaustion and pain. especially pain.
his work is well worth seeking out if you get the opportunity. a few are scattered throughout the united states. luckily four of his works are part of the permanent collection at THE MET, two on current display being "THE MUSICIANS" (1597) and "THE DENIAL OF ST. PETER" (1610), but most of his notable works are at museums and catholic churches and cathedrals across italy.
embedded below is an excellent BBC documentary by COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY art history professor SIMON SCHAMA as part of his 2006 "POWER OF ART" series. it is worth watching.