From David Hayward, "The Naked Pastor":
Friday, October 8, 2021
Here are some samples of this semester's demo paintings so far. I paint these for my students live online.
They are all acrylic on canvas panels, 11 inches by 14 inches.
Friday, October 1, 2021
Today the death toll in the USA from the covid pandemic officially exceeded the death toll from the 1918 - 1920 Spanish flu epidemic. The catastrophe we are living though now is the deadliest in American history. The Spanish flu epidemic claimed 675,000 lives in the USA from 1918 to 1920. My great grandmother Bertha Klitzing died of the Spanish flu in 1920, among the last casualties. And now, my mother died of covid in the current epidemic in January. We are not yet through the second year of our epidemic and the death toll stands at 700,000 close to the death toll at the end of the Civil War that lasted four years. The USA leads the world in total deaths from the pandemic, and this despite superior medicine to that of a century ago, not one but several very effective vaccines, and bottomless pockets to finance the response to so massive a public health catastrophe.
Why is this outcome so bad despite advantages that are the envy of the world? I can only conclude that the response to the epidemic got caught up in the tribal politics and perverse incentives of the 21st century USA. We genuinely do not care if our neighbors live or die, and we proved it in our confused and conflicted response to a major catastrophe. Even with the world crashing down around our heads, we are too selfish and self-absorbed to be bothered.
Around 1562, Pieter Bruegel the Elder painted this powerful, angry, and deeply frightening painting of the Triumph of Death. He combined the tradition of the Dance of Death that appeared in northern Europe with the Triumph of Death created in Italy, both in the wake of the Black Death in the mid 14th century, the deadliest catastrophe in the history of the world perhaps claiming almost half the world's population.
Bruegel's painting is no Last Judgment. There is no final settling of accounts. There is no restoration of a primeval goodness to the world. God and His agents are conspicuously absent in this painting. The painting is not a view of hell, but is set on earth. All life on earth is simply nullified. The mighty and the humble, the innocent and the guilty, the good and the bad all are cruelly destroyed together by the irresistible agents of death. The dead rise up not for resurrection and salvation, but to make war on the living and destroy all life on earth.
Bruegel almost certainly found his inspiration witnessing atrocities in the decades of sectarian warfare that ravaged a once prosperous Flanders. Pious people turned on each other with savage fury convinced that their souls were at stake. Famine and plague followed in the wake of warfare killing thousands more. It must have seemed that all life was simply exterminated right before the artist's eyes. Cities lay in ruins. The countryside was laid waste. Forests burned to ashes. Corpses from war, plague, and famine lay everywhere. We may be on the cusp of another such savage age of annihilation as a third of our population appears determined to wage war on the remaining two thirds. Plague continues to ravage our cities and countryside. The climate catastrophe dries out and burns one end of the world while flooding another.
Sunday, September 26, 2021
There are a lot of articles and essays out there now extoling the redemptive qualities of quiet and solitude. They fall like a thud on me after almost 2 years of pandemic isolation. After so much quiet and solitude over the last 2 years, I’m as messed up as I’ve always been. My always abiding depression is through the floor these days. I’m back in therapy to handle it. The solitude of monks and hermits is one thing. The solitude of quarantine and enforced confinement is quite another. From what I can see here in my corner of New York, people – especially young people – crave noise, crowds, and going out after being confined for so long. The bars and cafes in Williamsburg and Greenwich Village are full and noisy again on the weekends (and some weeknights) even with pandemic cautions still in place.
The whole issue of solitude in pandemic stifled New York makes me think less about Caspar David Friedrich’s solitary wanderers than Manet’s last great painting, The Bar at the Folies Bergere completed in 1882 a year before he died. In that painting, a solitary bar maid stands leaning forward on the bar, the lavish excitement and entertainment of the Folies all around her. Gas light globes glow. Massive chandeliers sparkle. People dressed to the teeth watch each other as much as they watch the show. We get a glimpse of the entertainment in the legs of an acrobat hanging down from the top of the painting on the left. All of that appears in a large mirror behind the bar. On the right reflected in the mirror, a gentleman looks at her searchingly for another kind of sale. She seems as engaged with him in the mirror as she appears detached in front of us. Much has been said about the off-perspective reflection in the mirror. The still life objects on the bar are as off perspective as she is. Manet did this deliberately, perhaps to highlight the contrast between what customers and her employer expect from the bar maid and what she actually experiences. She stands amidst the Bass Ale, champagne, crème de menthe, liqueurs, mandarin oranges, and flowers for boutonnieres that she sells. She wears a revealing lowcut dress with a corsage, herself available for sale just like all the other items around her. For all the lavish sparkling excitement around her, she stands alone and unmoved.
Manet's Olympia painted almost 20 years earlier.
Sunday, September 19, 2021