This is the final painting in my COVID-19 painting series chronicle. While all «endings» of pandemics are qualified — due to the ever-present possibility of re-occurrence or new viruses/new mutations, the survival and future of Humanity is dependent upon science, technology, perserverance … and, of course, abstractions such as Hope. Hope is a universal conceptual archetype — not necessarily directly connected to any known entity or individual … and it is therefore represented here as a visual abstraction in the intellectual and sense-oriented «feel good» category — expansive, yet ordered; spiritual, yet not confined to religion; and inspirational, yet mysterious.
Let us face Reality. COVID-19 is not only about a virus that is out-of-control. It is all about our thinking and doing (our Consciousness) and the many consequential challenges thereof. Our lifestyles are not compatible with the here-to-fore intrinsic natural balances on Terra. We have abused the planet, its resources which sustain us, the Animal Kingdom, and much more. The animals are fighting back on Land, Sea and Air; as is the physical Earth itself. This is our «Moment of Truth».
After having made several paintings and self-portraits about living in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have found my way back to The Plague, by Albert Camus. This is a book I read way back then (many, many decades ago). About 1/4 of my way through the English translation it occurred to me that I could combine my reading with my French and Spanish studies by reading the book in all three languages.
Well, I can tell you that finding the book in French and Spanish is not so very easy if one wishes to purchase an edition that solely has the text of the novel and not adapted versions for students that include commentary, analysis etc. Many are reading and re-reading the book in the age of COVID-19, and copies of the book are sold out everywhere. I did finally manage to find a used copy on Amazon.fr which I have ordered. I have also ordered the Spanish audible book for La Peste (The Plague). Because the audible version is telecharged I have been able to access it immediately, and I am enjoying listening to the novel. The orator speaks quickly but I can follow it well, and reading the English version chapters beforehand gives me added understanding of words that may not be in my vocabulary. When my French edition arrives in a week or two, I will be able to re-read the novel for a third time — in original French.
I usually read contemporary books in one day, but the descriptive style of Camus is the entire point of the book and it requires doing just that: bathing in the subjectivity that he creates. I have read Reader Comments on Amazon.fr regarding the book, and it is interesting to read negative comments by persons who have not read the book previously and who are dissatisfied because the action of the book is “so damned slow”. That speaks to changes in society, time management, the need for fast-moving entertainment and brevity etc. in today’s readership. But here — existentialism requires freedom from time restrictions and expectations, because you are not going anywhere (by design). One must just “Be here, now!”
In their defense, I do understand the dilemma of creating a descriptive reading experience that can be accessed on the cellphone, iPad, Kindle, on the go, in minutes inbetween meetings etc. That is why I long ago drafted and discussed and wrote about the phenomenon and what it means for writing in this day and age. I first started to develop my own writing style with those thoughts in mind in my novel “Tunnel at the End of Time”, co-written with Rick Davis:
Since then — and particularly with electronic publishing — I note that many other authors have also adapted their writing styles to the “on the go” public.
But for me, basking once again in the existentialist style of the period of Camus, Sartre and many other favorites is a pleasant respite … a way of slowing down Time and conclusions. There are no thesis statements, conclusions after a timed build-up etc. There is only the state of existence itself … observation, without judgment or any other goal than wading through the swamp. And that corresponds quite well with my COVID-19 painting series because there my goal is precisely the same: to present a subjective glimpse of aspects of living in the Age of COVID-19. Any morals communicated are in the form of loose thoughts and impulses that hope to connect with others on an existential level.
The series is complete except for one final painting entitled “The Vaccination / The Hope”.
And it is there that I part ways with Camus, Sartre and other French Existentialists. Life may feel and appear meaningless, but it is our constant interruptions in the form of insistences of giving Life meaning that make living bearable. I will not give them up; as painful as it is to be shown time and again that Life is actually meaningless … a stage-act with no visible God directing or protecting. But Life is what it is … and it is, in part, what we make of it.
— Adam Donaldson Powell
“To be is to do”—Socrates.
“To do is to be”—Jean-Paul Sartre.
“Do be do be do”—Frank Sinatra.
”COVID-19 — fini les bises à la pelle !”, oil on canvas, 60 x 50 cm., 2020, is a self-portrait of myself hesitating to kiss my own death skull, and is surrounded by a ring of blue roses.
The blue roses symbolize the unattainable; here, an unfulfilled love-moment that is even too complicated to be described in words because our natural habit of performing the delicious bises à la pelle is abruptly stopped by the cold mental forewarning that “some doors should never be opened”. There is nothing to say, save perhaps “Oh, I almost forgot.”
This is, indeed, a challenging conceptual and technical study and essay. The image of a person kissing a death skull is an age-old meme (if not a cliché). Here the twist is to play on the concept of The Picture of Dorian Gray, whereby the death skull is the mirrored image of my true Self — i.e. that part of me that always remains constant, regardless of the « accoutrements » of fashion, disposition, or aging. In the Age of COVID-19 a simple kiss on the cheek can become the shovel that digs our own grave… Indeed we must all face our own Death, with eyes open or shut. And yet Death finds meaning only against the background of Life, though measured in mere years or breaths. Just as Light has no significance without shadow or Darkness, we cannot live Life fully being afraid of Death. On ne peut pas vivre en ayant peur de mourir …
In the immortal words of John Donne:
Death, be not proud
BY JOHN DONNE
Death, be not proud,
though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful,
for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more;
Death, thou shalt die.
“La mort rappelle une vie passée”, 60 x 80 cm., huile sur toile, 2020.
“La mort rappelle une vie passée”, 60 x 80 cm., huile sur toile, 2020. Voici un nouvel autoportrait, qui est surprenant, puissant et bizarre. Il présente la mort — symbolisée par un crâne. Ètonnamment, le crâne ouvre sa fermeture éclair pour révéler sa dernière incarnation … c’est “moi”, bien sûr.
“Death recalls a past life”, 60 x 80 cm., Oil on canvas, 2020. Here is a new self-portrait, which is surprising, powerful and bizarre. It presents death – symbolized by a skull. Surprisingly, the skull opens its zipper to reveal its latest incarnation… it’s “me”, of course.
“Corona: In the Eye of the Storm (We Can’t Breathe!)”, oil on canvas, 61 x 61 cm. This raw, mechanical, and spontaneous painting portrays: “A naked eye — whose hopeful eyelashes have long since been singed away — strives to peer out of the cotton bedding with which the enclave’s psychic environment is upholstered. The dizzied prisoner of this padded cell is searching for grounding; but the floor is in a constant state of movement, change, and insecurity. It is an asylum and is thus meant to keep us locked inside … as much as to keep outside the World. We cannot escape The News, the media, the opportunists, the fear, the meme, the boredom … or our own futility in trying to forever hold off the inevitable. And the written warning scrawled in Day-Glo Green resonates and resounds in the most powerful and succinct language possible: QUARANTINE!
Roll of the dice: The dilemma of losing our sense of touch, 60 x 50 cm., oil on canvas, 2020. COVID-19 can affect our senses, notably the sense of taste and the sense of smell. But avoiding the virus also entails restrictions upon another important sense: that of touch. Scientific study indicates that affectionate touches can affect the nervous system’s rest and digest mode, thus reducing the release of stress hormones while bolstering the immune system, and stimulating brainwaves that are linked with relaxation. This self-portrait (my sixteenth) is a commentary on the dilemma of avoiding touch, an activity which we sorely need in order to boost our life quality, our sense of well-being and our ability to maintain a strong immune system. We take chances with a mental roll of the dice: “Does this person have COVID-19, or not? I need to give and receive handshakes and hugs. But do I dare do so … or not?!!” The handshake doubles as hands being constantly cleaned with disinfectant (the most popular Norwegian brand being AntiBac), and the self-portrait is in complete darkness. The study of Light reflection in the bottle, and the negative light/shading in the cat-like curious yet restrained eyes were also challenging… as well as the sickly pink polka dots, which symbolize the COVID-19 virus cluster model wantonly spreading in a surrealistic background gives a psychedelic and psychological effect.
“Coffin Portrait / Lockdown — Summer fun”, oil on canvas, 55 x 46 cm., 2020, the second title is perhaps self-explanatory. But it doubles as a Coffin Portrait (see https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffin_portrait). This painting is a continuation of my self-portrait series, in which I explore different ways of seeing and presenting myself — with various styles and painting techniques.
«Vanishing Act», 46 x 55 cm., oil on canvas, 2020, is a raw self-portrait about being careful what we wish for. While many would wish for the rapid disappearance of the CoronaVirus (COVID-19), it would presently seem more plausible that such reference is most applicable to the Fade-Out Star (R Coronae Borealis). In the upper left corner, one can barely make out a vanishing star, consumed by the Darkness of Uncertainty — truly Hell in its most natural form. The raw background hints of that in many well-known paintings by Old Masters, but here there is a messy disharmony that is threatening to consume the figure in the painting and the viewer — like an unavoidable train wreck … in slow motion. There are many important lessons yet to be learned from the COVID-19 experience. It is karmic, and in that understanding lies a solace that enables us to adapt to both life during struggle … and to the inevitability of Death. The figure — itself already vanishing behind protective gear — is waist-deep in the mire, but is yet optimistic — if not aloof to the dangers of chance and folly. The true challenge is perhaps not how quickly or how completely we can return to normality, but whether the former normality is actually the problem itself.
“Masquerade: COVID-19”, oil on canvas, 46 x 55 cm., 2020, is self-explanatory at first glance. However, here I have left certain features slightly unfinished: the naked eyes, the disintegrating painted frame, etc.; this to suggest vulnerability and a sense of incompletion. COVID-19 presents the unanswerable questions of how effective we really are at masking fear of the unknown, and which “me” peers out from behind the superficial protective covering. This painting is a continuation of my self-portrait series, in which I explore different ways of seeing and presenting myself — with various styles and painting techniques.
«Winds of Hell», 65 x 90 cm., oil on canvas. “Les vents de l’Enfer”, 65 x 90 cm., Huile sur toile; basé sur les six faces par lesquelles nous percevons la mort — La mort en tant qu’ennemi, La mort en tant qu’étranger, La mort en tant qu’ami, La mort en tant que mère, La mort en tant que voleur et La mort en tant qu’amant. 💀💀💀💀💀💀 Writing about Death is not foreign to me, but I have only approached the theme once before in my paintings. Thus, I have made a new painting about Death (which for we who survive others becomes a personal Hell for a time). And regardless of how we see Death, the Hell of loss is still there gnawing away at us … underneath the masks we put on to shield ourselves and others in our grief. 💀💀💀💀💀💀