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Piper’s Medley 2020

'Piper's Medley', 2020, oil on linen, 58 x 72 inches

‘Piper’s Medley’ is a multifigured composition about connectivity and disconnection.

My professor Tom Lapierre used to say “Everything happens at once”, and as I’ve matured I understand exactly what he meant. With things such as disaster, pleasures, aging, obliviousness, service, folly, diversion, division, disparity, and consumerism all a part of the human condition, somehow the madness of man-made systems continues to function. It is said that to maintain our sanity and hope, we have to tolerate cognitive dissonance, to fiddle as we burn Rome ourselves, or somehow make adaptations as we understand more. Maybe things are not bleak, maybe everything is a gift.  Perception is everything. My wish is that as humans  “We got this”.

‘Piper’s Medley’ evolved from sketches and thoughts about different perceptions of reality, mixing anxiety and humour (not unlike my twitter feed), and juxtaposes elements that aren’t often painted let alone portrayed together. This includes: a servant, a sleepwalker, an aging man, a nurse, a great ‘machination’ trampling the naked masses, natural disaster displayed on the horizon, a jogger, a loving orgy, a person protectively walling himself in, a buxom young ‘Kardashian-esque’ shopping lady, a ‘bin diver with bottles, and a bleary-eyed ear-plugged bag piper playing a weary song. Each character or grouping of characters is in their own headspace or ‘bubble’ as it is now so often referred to. I had fun with proportions and distortions for psychological effect, composing the image to lead the viewer’s eye around the canvas, and took pleasure in getting the colour and lighting just right.

I often get the feeling that something has been silenced in the contemporary art world. In recent a conversation with a friend we were discussing how artists, art fairs, galleries and museums have to ‘play it safe’, dealing with art as wallpaper decor in a million varieties. Somehow meaningful content went by the wayside as commerce took over from storytelling. We are offered dazzle or blandness. There are now balloon dogs, polka dot paintings and oversized chia pets to coax one into thinking everything is alright. Artists are to present themselves as recognizable brands instead of as lateral thinkers. Soma for the masses has replaced philosophical inquiry, rational thinking, social commentary, and social and spiritual interests. William Hogarth, the great satirist and painter, had similar feelings a couple of centuries ago.  He created a wide variety of images that can be relatable to political, social and economic challenges playing out at the current moment. Maybe it’s the nature, privilege and obligation of the artist to be consumed by the world, to create images that find truth in the nature of life irrespective of their time in history.

'Great Machination' sketch for 'Piper's Medley' painting

I wanted this painting to be a personal letter of hope, and my contribution to meaningful content ready for discussion. Some of my favourite works are large multi-figured paintings by artists like Max Beckmann, Peter Breughel, Stanley Spencer, and George Tooker, all great figurative artists. I was also inspired by the idyllic painting called ‘The Golden Age’, painted in 1862 by Ingres. I originally thought of giving my painting the title, ‘After the Golden Age’.

One of the central characters is the beast who stomps along, with a child’s sticker-book neon smile, and as I conceived the painting I wondered “does he not know what he is doing”, or “does he know and carries on anyways?”  I think the grotesqueness of the beast is gently portrayed but the questioning message is still strong.

“Maybe there is a beast… Maybe it’s only us.” William Golding, Lord of the Flies.

Art has a relevance to the soul, nourishing thought and feeling the way food nourishes the body.

– Michael Abraham – May 2020