Updated: Apr 12, 2021
The following text is an artist statement I wrote early this year to accompany my latest series of paintings, which opens tonight at Last Rites Gallery in Chelsea, NYC.
I thought it wise to warn you, gracious reader, that the essay is intentionally provocative. Generalizing statements are made with the intentions of eliciting the emotions contained in the work, as well as inciting critical thought and dialogue about its themes.
It needs to be said that I don’t perceive all modern science and medicine as a negative force—on the contrary, there are a great many caring and compassionate doctors, surgeons and other practitioners trying to help people every day. In fact, in a tremendous twist of irony, the very hands I was fortunate enough to be able to portray in these paintings are those of a world-renowned surgeon performing a life-saving procedure.
But, that being said, the purpose of my art has always been “to confront the moral, religious, and aesthetic foundations of Western Civilization” (to borrow the recent words of photographer J.P. Witkin). It is a shot aimed at the constructs and constraints of modern life that so many of us take for granted, a plea for deeper understanding, and an attempted progression towards vast new dimensions of awareness.
By Nick Baxter
A·pos·ta·sy [uh–pos-tuh-see], noun, a total desertion of or departure from one’s religion or faith.
These images represent an inquiry into the medicalization of modern society. In our time, the specialized knowledge of an elite group has been canonized and made gospel, resulting in the learned helplessness of an increasingly ill populace. Surgeons and scientists alike have become the new priests of a material-industrial age, in which living organisms seem to be regarded as no more than an assemblage of mechanical parts.
Cultural edicts handed down have portrayed our bodies as flawed, as if still soiled by original sin and in need of salvation. So we prostrate before possessors of a seemingly divine knowledge, an authority built on the upturned ruins of the common sense that modern man has forgotten. With nature gutted and wild instinct thwarted, a remaining paper-thin veil of scientific belief is all that divides story and reality. It is mere faith that separates benevolence from malevolence.
Shrouded in mystery, alien hands descend from the darkness. Otherworldly appendages of the vicars of the corporal levy power upon trembling flesh. Sworn to heal, while possessing the means to harm, they are like iron fists in latex gloves.
Science is the new religion, Big Pharma is the church, the doctors are priests, pills our Holy Communion, and sickness is our only hope of salvation when diseases are dollar signs that fortify the edifice.
So this is my apostasy, my leap for sovereignty from the dungeon of a castle made of glass and steel sterility. A journey back towards wholeness in The Garden that made me. A breach of faith in hopes that I may rejoin the wild world and be healed in its immeasurable and immutable wisdom.
“We domesticated humans have lost our way. We have misplaced ourselves outside of the ecosphere. Like astronauts on a strange and foreign world, we have sought to create sterile bubbles of lifelessness in which to dwell, forgetting our interconnected, symbiotic reliance with all species of our planet’s life. This symbiosis is the umbilicus that feeds us the nutrients of joy, fulfillment, and thriving longevity that are the gift freely given to all of the children of our Mother Earth. …. Our collective expression of health is but an expression of our relationship to the ecosphere, as we can never truly exist independently from it.”
“Whatever medical science may profess, there is a difference between Life and survival. There is more to being alive than just having a heartbeat and brain activity. Being alive, really alive, is something much subtler and more magnificent. Their instruments measure blood pressure and temperature, but overlook joy, passion, love, all the things that make life really matter. To make our lives matter again, to really get the most out of them, we will have to redefine life itself. We have to dispense with their merely clinical definitions, in favor of ones which have more to do with what we actually feel.”
—CrimethInc. Ex-Worker’s Collective
“The human body is not a closed or static object, but an open, unfinished entity utterly entwined with the soils, waters, and winds that move through it—a wild creature whose life is contingent upon the multiple other lives that surround it, and the shifting flows that surge through it.”
“The word ‘health’ comes from the word ‘whole.’ In this holistic view, we can experience illness as an opportunity to generate spaces for transformation, create supportive rhythms and move towards balance. Symptoms of illness, then, are not enemies but friendly movements that guide us again towards wholeness. Healing involves re-balancing that which takes place in the spaces between formation and annihilation.”
“Illness should not be viewed as a curse, but as a challenge to the human spirit, a stepping stone in the process of soul evolution, a crack in the door that, when opened, reveals inspiring vistas of the mysterious workings of the universe. The doctor can give potions and guidance, but each patient must make his or her own pilgrimage.”
—Thomas S. Cowan, MD