A triptych spanning 12 years and a few different eras of my painting and stylistic evolution, this trio of paintings addresses the tense and often fraught human relationship with power, and in particular the power of forces beyond our control–those within us, in our world, and the cosmos beyond.
The concept for the original version occurred to me in 2010 while working on a series of paintings featuring surgical subject matter as a metaphor for the reductionist, manifest destined worldview I saw as predominant in American culture at the time. In this first iteration, the massive hand of the elite neocon/neolib political and cultural caste imposes its will on the flesh of this world.
A few years later, in the wake of several natural and man-made disasters in the American Gulf region and beyond, while reckoning personally with the ideas of climate change and ecological destruction I saw as resulting from the worldview described above, I revisited the concept with another surgeon's hand, this time piercing the fragile veil of our atmosphere to wreak its destruction with pinpoint cruelty on the Earth. In this second iteration, the cosmic viewpoint of our planet leaves all of our insignificant and fleeting individual lives too tiny to be depicted or acknowledged. "The operation succeeded, but the patient died."
In the decade that passed since that 2013 painting, so much internally and externally had changed, that when the spark of inspiration for this concept struck me again I knew I had to act on it, if for no other reason than to ironically demonstrate that in fact, nothing has actually changed. Our planet is still being destroyed, still largely by our own doing, and those same powerful cultural forces I believe to be the cause of this destruction still exist, perhaps in new forms. The present always suffers the consequences of the mistakes of the past.
As if to drive this point home even further, in a regretful twist of life imitating art imitating life, a series of massive earthquakes struck Turkey and Syria at the very time I was painting the rubble of collapsed buildings depicted in the third Hand Of God installment.
This poignant connection of symbolism grew more monstrous still, when a train derailment due to greed and negligence caused a toxic chemical spill in Palestine, Ohio at the very time I was painting toxic waste oozing from a broken pipe into a pristine river.
At times like these, it seems as though the hand of God might very well indeed be that of a gloved cartoon mouse, amusing itself with sick jokes of frivolous caricatured violence that threaten our very existence. Finding reassurance amidst the destruction we are forced to bear witness to and solace amidst the shattered loves we must endure feels like a Where's Waldo search for our better selves.
“The nail that sticks up gets hammered down / the master’s finest, finest tools are found / slack-jawed and placid amidst the cacophony / of screaming billboards and Disney-fied history”
As a sensitive and perceptive person, the angst and despair caused by all of this is something I've always wrestled with, and in eras past I took these emotional states out on myself and my closest relationships. But I've slowly learned healthier ways of processing grief while examining my relationship to power and my attempts to control that which I fundamentally cannot. One of these methods is of course, to make paintings about it, to transmute the inner state of grief into an external communication that may draw awareness to the most pressing issues of our time so that we can continue to examine ourselves and course-correct where we're headed. There is a little flame of hope that burns at the heart of all that, and it's a feeling I try to guard fiercely while harnessing its warmth as a positivity that drives me onward, "unburied, death-defying, unbowed."