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Artist Statement

Patrick Merrill

Meditations on the Apocalyptic

The source of my images/ideas is the compelling need to know myself; my place in the world; the nature of my relationships with others. We often encounter the phrase “discovering one’s identity.” This doesn’t sit right with me. We don’t discover identity; we construct it. As an addict I would add “destruct” and then a re-constructing through self-determination. I mean think about it, we aren’t born with some essential “me” and that life is all about unfolding that “me.” No, right from the beginning we are being constructed by our parents, by the culture and by the behavior patterns imposed by tradition and institutions of power (church, government, economic, judicial etc.).

While I‘ve been an artist most of my life and even took formal training through the 70’s, it wasn’t until I started my recovery from drug addiction in 1981 that my art could take a determined direction. In the early years of recovery my art was wholly emotional and entirely gestural, the figure distorted and monstrous. The source and subject of my art was internal. I was seeking through my art and my studies in psychology a synthesis. As an addict my initial work, all self-portraits, was an effort in self-analysis in order to understand why I am an addict. Integrated synthesis was my goal but after a few years of studying and accepting this Jungian notion, its homogenizing blend of opposing elements struck me as wrong. My studies in philosophy were directing me to ideas about simultaneity. Suspending polar concepts, attempting to comprehend both/and rather than either/or. I still sought synthesis. In 1990 I developed the idea of a conjunctive synthesis that continues to govern my aesthetic and conceptual decisions. In my more recent work, the larger narratives I embrace require my image to function as a model for others. However since I intend my body, my image to be seen as a mark of complicity in the more open political works, the figures still retain some self-reference.

The title Meditations on the Apocalyptic is meant to both invoke the spiritual connotation of “meditation” as well as the 17th century term for philosophical investigations. Both connotations work in extreme contrast to the foreboding imminent disaster evoked by the “apocalyptic.” Many of my first works after my investigation of the “Self” dealt with war, famine, disease – man-made catastrophic deaths. The ultimate deathblow to the species is the nuclear bomb. If the full effect of that terror was ever to be released Death would weep because his job would be finished. Many of the earlier works in this exhibit investigate humanity’s inhumanity to itself. From subjugating imperialism to the Oedipal inheritance of “power” - the psychological foundation of hierarchical domination as I see it. My current investigation is a reevaluation of themes from The Book of Revelations first presented in the Medieval and Early Renaissance periods.

The first work in this project was the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Famine, War, Death, Pestilence. From the beginning this project has been my Guernica, my reaction to the war mania, revenge mind set, rising Nationalism – the fear, the anger in the air. At the moment of “911” I got very angry – not at the then unknown assailants – but at my government. It wasn’t just that I felt they had brought this on us through decades of imperialism, economic domination and exploitation but that I knew they were going to use this attack to further their own ends. They would not take the moral high ground, using the international good will to organize the world in a joint campaign to fight the criminals and terrorists. No! They wanted Biblical revenge. In their self-righteous outrage they would drive us to war. Citing the same biblical language used by the religious Right, the Four Horsemen are iconic symbols from the old text of the Judeo/Christian Bible. The images of the Four Horsemen have been used for centuries – as prophesy, as warning. They represent the beginning of the “end game” - Armageddon. They speak of an exceedingly vengeful God.

The Masters of War continues my meditations on The Book of Revelations and its deliberate use in the political maelstrom of American imperialism. I believe there was an overt alignment between American Cold War cultural politics and Revelation’s demonology of the Antichrist and its various beasts. (e.g. Ronald Regan’s notorious identification of the USSR in 1983 as the “evil empire” and the current demonizing by Bush of North Korea, Iran and Iraq as the “axis of evil.’) This choice of language was developed by Bush’s speechwriters in order to match the theological language used by Bush since the September 11, 2001 attacks. The warriors in Masters of War are modeled after medieval depictions of Archangels. The innocents are naked, vulnerable and are modeled after the classic images of the fallen angels. The warriors wear U.S. camouflage uniforms; demon masks conceal their faces. They wield spears driving the vulnerable victims of war down to Hell in a reversal of the traditional presentation of “good vs. evil” drama of “Michael and Lucifer.” The nuclear explosion filling the background represents the ultimate apocalyptic image and my greatest fear. The anxiety of that potential is the constant background thrum of my life.

As cultural critics artists need to create a vocabulary of dissent, of resistance to dominance. My choice of Revelations as a metaphoric structure for my project was intended to engage both the Right and the Left in a dialogue. We have so little discussion about difference and precious little compromise on those differences. The visual structuring of the iconic images described in The Book of Revelations, while beginning in the Middle Ages, were formalized by the 16th century. Western culture has internalized them and can readily identify them. They are ideal for appropriating and re-contextualizing.

One could also use Revelations as a metaphor to meditate on one’s own life. As Frances Carey in his book The Apocalypse postulates, the life history of an individual whose personal fall (an addict’s crash), while not redeemed according to the promises of Revelations, can never the less be redeemed. Apocalypse thus becomes a psychomachia: each person struggling with his/her own Beast and Whore (of Babylon) to find redemption within. What needs to be determined is not only the nature of each personal beast but also what defines “redemption?”

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