Friday, December 23, 2016

A Frank Auerbach Christmas?


My wife has been getting into the British painter Frank Auerbach lately, so I thought I would post an image. I plucked this one from the Tate Britain website, which hosted a large Auerbach show in 2015. I chose this portrait because it's a particularly arresting image and also because I'm a sucker for the prominent use of white in oil paintings. Then I started to reconsider. I mean, this is the holiday season, the season of good cheer, and this painting is hardly cheery, nothing if not turbulent. But wait. The impact of Jesus, or the idea of Jesus, or the experience of what is perceived as Jesus, has also been turbulent. How else could an entire civilization be built around such a source? We do know that Jesus was a philosopher of nonviolence and common dignity, but we also know he said, in Matthew 10:34, "I come not to bring peace, but a sword." This is a metaphorical statement regarding the wrenching process of transforming society from the (small 'p') politics of domination to the politics of brotherhood, a process which has proceeded in fits and starts but which has also carried us a mighty long distance from the Roman Empire. The portrait above also conveys ambivalence (Is the figure emerging or dissolving?), which also describes the state of peace-oriented spirituality in today's world (advancing or in retreat?). It sure seems like Rome is ascendant now, with belligerent top-down governing and corruption the flavor of the moment.

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