Nicholas Baxter

Blog posts tagged “Death”

Endgame IV: Epilogue

My previous post ended with a question, which, unknowingly, had already been answered by the time I’d committed it to words.

Two days prior ecological disaster struck the Gulf region again, this time in Arkansas. I saw the news in my Twitter feed as I prepared to make my morning juice and first my heart sank, then my rage boiled over. I stood in my kitchen with clenched jaw, squinting through unexpectedly tear-blurred eyes. Momentarily overcome with grief as I realized the unwanted tragic correlation between real life and my post the night before, I pounded those veggies extra hard into the uncompromising Vitamix blade of progress. Slightly amusing in retrospect, though it begged the question as I filled my mason jar with liquid: if not returned in kind on the perpetrators of the Death Of All Life, where does the great anger of our age find release?

Green blood of the Earth, received gratefully. Gulp it down, steel resolve, and onward. Raise awareness through this microscopic voice in the online cyberia, and continue the mission no matter how discouraging: to create art and life of meaning here in the belly of the beast, with whatever broken pieces of heart remain. “We do what we fucking can.”


Exxon’s gift to Mayflower, AR (Photograph: Tar Sands Blockade)

Reflecting further on all of this, I’m reminded of a poster I designed based on some recent graphic experimentation. To be unveiled soon as a promotional item for my other website,  it incorporates a poem I wrote to help dispel the monumental postmodern malaise most of us who care find ourselves mired in:


Influences 1

“Denial Vanitas” Redux

You know that thing that happens when you stare at a single word for too long, and the letters start to separate themselves, become individual symbols, and your brain starts to mistakenly think you’ve misspelled the word?  The original form and meaning of the word dissolve into the existential void and our primal phenomenological sensing ability comes back to the forefront, from the recesses of our “reptile brain.” (Comedian Chris Farley’s hilarious take on this concept from the incredible movie Black Sheep featuring the word “roads…rooooads…rowads…rroowwads” comes to mind…)

Well, um, anyway. That happened. When I was composing my last blog entry about my new painting, I kept staring at the words “Denial Vanitas,” checking for misspellings before going live with the post, and this psychedelic subconscious shift took place:

Denial Vanitas

Daniel Vanitas

Daniel Vitalis

I’m a huge Daniel Vitalis fan so this is not nearly as surprising as it is amusing. Just thought I’d share.

“Re-wild yourself.”

And while I’m at it, I should share another amusing corollary: there’s an excellent documentary about the death-denial work of Ernest Becker (mentioned in the previous post) called Flight From Death that was envisioned and co-produced by a longtime acquaintance of mine, Greg Bennick.

Painting: the quest for immortality.

I’m also a huge Greg Bennick fan.  But I originally know him from his long run as vocalist for the seminal hardcore/punk band Trial–one of the most inspiring hardcore bands ever. Here’s why, some sample lyrics:

In The Balance

while i choke strangled by the hands of time
my life slowly slips away
the dollars i save aren’t worth the days i’d spend
with images of freedom as lies in my head
the hand that feeds will always bleed me dry
though these hours, these minutes, these moments, are mine
no one else will guide the way
break the silence before it breaks us…
down to a point from where there’s no escape
where regret destroys whatever life remains
and you, when you’ve told yourself a lie
the path of least resistance destroys you in time
is it heresy to want to live today? that’s not asking too much
so many are barely getting by, and starving in the streets
while in denial of death, yet still afraid to be free
we grovel beneath the pantheon of security
assured as we sell our dreams to buy our pain
that “the meek shall inherit” when only the strong will reign
all life hangs in the balance, i won’t wait until it drops
i can’t wait, they might not have another day
i have to live, i might not have even one more day

Live in Chicago. I am buried somewhere in that pile of humans.

I find it interesting how my influences–both personal and artistic–show up in everything I create. So maybe this is all more proof that everything is connected? There are no coincidences.

Second Skin Group Show: Denial Vanitas

Below is a preview of my submission for the Second Skin group show opening this weekend at Copro Gallery in California.

Previously I blogged about the technical process involved in creating this painting here and here.

Thematically, the painting and its title “Denial Vanitas” refers to the pioneering work of Ernest Becker, cultural anthropologist, who studied the phenomenon of mankind’s denial of death.  He came to believe that each individual’s primal fear of death is a subconscious motivational factor in nearly all of our actions–especially in aggressive or violent ones–which culminates, finally, on a societal scale in the form of wars, bigotry, or genocide.

Download the full map of Becker’s ideas here.

This theory coincides with Buddhist teachings on the nature of self, or Ego, as a psychological construct constantly seeking to substantiate itself in concrete terms, as an (ultimately futile) antidote to the fundamental groundlessness and impermanence of existence. A human ego (either individually or collectively) reaches a pathological state when it resorts to acts of aggression or violence in order to claim power and thus prove it exists.

I worked these concepts, using very non-traditional subject matter, into the long tradition of Vanitas still life painting as a statement on the tragic ironies of postmodern consumer culture.

“Denial Vanitas”, oil on panel, 11 x 14in, 2012

Death permeates our lives in these times where everything seems designed and destined for the dumpster, quickly disposed of, after a short and meaningless servitude. Yet surprisingly, a collective denial deepens as the energetic, smooth-skinned bodies and carefree attitudes of the young are fetishized and promoted as the ultimate achievement.  Death is taboo, a relic buried under layers of styrofoam and sealed in cardboard boxes, forgotten in dusty attics and closets. But skeletons emerge from this denial, as wars rage across the earth and the planet’s very life-sustaining capacity threatens to collapse from our industrialized aggression.

Only after we’ve uncovered the denied aspects of our motivations, finding wholeness in a once-fractured psyche, can we truly embrace each fleeting moment and deeply appreciate the preciousness of all life.

Death & Rebirth

I’ve noticed throughout the various efforts of my life that the completion of any large, time consuming project ushers forth what I’d like to call an energy vacuum.  In this cosmic void is where, given the abrupt surplus of “free time” and mental energy, I suddenly grapple with all manner of restless limbs, anxious neuroses and existential crises which had no life in the formerly airtight seal of goal-oriented focus I’m capable of (for better and, clearly, for worse).

I’d compare this phenomenon with what many historians and political scientists refer to as a “power vacuum.”  This comparison, to me, seems obvious, as I believe the phenomenon follows the fundamental metaphysical principles of the universe–and of all matter, for that matter.  Life, or energy, rushes in to fill all voids; the kind of energy involved is irrelevant, as is whether it’s great or it sucks for nearby humans.

Anyway, this time around, trying to avoid the free-fall after a steady climb up to that cliff called “achievement,” I seized the opportunity to run off the fumes of my recently finished painting series and finished some older abandoned pieces, a few random and experimental “lesser works.”  One of which was the topic of a recent blog entry.

Here’s the end result of that experiment:


"Rebirth" Oil on Canvas, 18 x 36 in, 2011-12

Which segued perfectly into remembering I had a tiny 5 x 7 inch half-assed underpainting laying around the studio, mocking me for the past 3 years.  So I silenced its unconsummated, jeering voice and finished that sucker, thus reversing the Bad Artistic Karma I’d accumulated from that former abandonment. (Note: Artistic Karma is a concept I explain in my painting book that I put out in 2010.  Look for a future post on that. But for now, how’s this for some more good Artistic Karma: my previous post featuring a reference to Leonardo Da Vinci was written and made live–unbeknownst to me at the time–exactly on Da Vinci’s birthday.)

Endgame 1

"Endgame 1", Oil on Canvas, 5 x 7 in, 2009-12

A barren, scorched landscape dominated by a central phallic symbol, imposing and rough.  The aftermath of mankind’s masculine aggression against Mother Earth. The finish line of industrial civilization’s race to oblivion. Totally Fucked.  Still unsure of what to call it… “Endgame 1”?  I like the sound of that for now. A little nod in the direction of one of the more important contemporary writers on this topic.

Nothing too impressive, but nonetheless, a satisfying little exploration of atmospheric effects on a small scale.

I can see some more experiments with this theme and subject matter in my future…I really want to tackle some realistic landscapes–with a twist. But for now, here’s to beating ennui and apathy and Living Without Dead Time.