Mon Valley Apocalypse

After every huge painting (see “Trains/Dragons”) I promise myself I’ll never sink so much time into a painting again. Usually, my huge paintings end up being weirder and more experimental than my little ones.

This painting is both weirder and more ambitious, in at least content, than most of the rest of my work. It’s both a social/theological statement as well as a glorified “Where’s Waldo” of the rest of my show. Can you find King Fear? How about knotweed? Or bee balm? A knight on a horse? A jumbly, overgrown mess of a car? All I need is an astronaut and I’ve recreated my whole lexicon.

I wrote this a couple weeks ago, and I honestly considered putting an astronaut in there. Hard to justify.

This painting is a lot though. It’s pushes forward the concepts from “The Empty Church” and some of the autobiographical symbolic stuff I was working on. I think it inherits from “Starbucks Astronaut” just as much as it does from “Angels Over Taco Bell”.

Some things to pick out about this painting. First, its’ five feet high and four feet wide. Second, the shape and structure of the painting echoes the structure of the church at the bottom middle. This is partly a result of me wanting to have a triangle structure at the top, but is also reflective of the Genesis creation vision of the universe being a temple for God.

Also, Jesus’ eyes are about 15 tiny pieces of glass each. I wanted to call that out- it was a two hour process and I want people to know that I’m stubborn I guess.

I wanted to make this painting as a validation of the area. I’ve been thinking about two huge concepts that interlock. The first is Utopianism vs. Christian apocalypse. The second is material/spiritual warfare.

The Christian Apocalypse:

I think that this concept is of imminent importance. When I hear people reference the Apocalypse in Christian circles, it’s either in a sort of numerology, fortune telling way or in a confused, frustrated way. Revelation is a warehouse of bizarre Christian concepts, a book that I don’t want to pretend I can fully explain.

If one believes, though, that the Bible is for all people in all times and that “not even the son knows the hour”, then it seems to me that Revelation should be helpful, normal part of Christian discourse. One thing I think it can do, in the hear and now, is provide a framework that allows for hope without demanding utopia.

Utopianism has in the past led to despair. Human effort can change many things except, frustratingly, the disappointing qualities of human nature. In the recent past, people believed that the internet would fix society. Remember when people thought the internet would be an unqualified good? The thought was that it would democratize and connect, speeding up technocratic fixes to our society. We did get some of that, but we also got new, faster versions of the same human mess. How do you push for things to be better while acknowledging the intrinsic nature of human self interest and sabotage? What if things don’t turn into the utopia you’ve envisioned but get lost in a quagmire of new, intractable problems?

The best thing about a Christian Apocalypse is that it empowers the process of seeking good without expecting humans to become something else entirely. The Jesus who appears with flaming eyes in Revelation is the same one who admonished during the sermon on the mount to walk the extra mile. There is both a mandate to improve as well as second coming- the effort, while important, is not expected to fix things on its own. The process is the goal for the Christian- it’s God who fixes the world.

Material/Spiritual Warfare

This will be shorter- I think one thing that is frustrating about people who talk about “spiritual warfare” is that it’s often abstracted from the material world. When I’ve heard people talk about the concept of “powers and principalities” in scripture, though, they’ve always been tied to places, real life concepts (like wealth and greed), political positions, or people. This should be…weirdly encouraging I think.

There is an unsexyness to fighting intractable problems that can be difficult to place. Why doesn’t fighting the good fight feel more like a narrative from a movie? I think this feeling comes from a fear that an issue will die in the dark. The off-camera action of committee based anti blight measures resist even the most skeletal montage.

For me, respiritualizing the mundane is a way of having hope. Providing a dramatic context or narrative to something that is, on the surface, unexciting can uncovers the true reality of that work. And, ultimately, that’s what the apocalypse is- an unveiling.

Conclusions:

I know that for a lot of people this painting will mostly be strange. I think in my past, I wanted to see a painting like this- I would have found it encouraging from high school on to see a weird religious painting. I know that’s not where everybody’s at…but I appreciate you reading through. I’m going to follow this up with simpler portraits and landscapes, get back to the basics. In the meantime, enjoy the apocalypse.

4 thoughts on “Mon Valley Apocalypse

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