Nicholas Baxter

Blog posts tagged “ego”

New Vessels

Lately I’ve been brainstorming and refining a new artistic vision, taking the opportunity of any downtime between large surgery paintings to complete some smaller, fast-paced still lifes with a much different palette and ambiance.

These pieces utilize clean forms and simple compositions, attempting a confluence of opposites to symbolize the precarity of industrial civilization in the new millennium, the increasing sense of dread among many who see the global destructiveness and the coming end of late-stage capitalism:

Serenity and catastrophe…the mundane and the dramatic…solidity and ethereality.

Like much of my work these pieces are also influenced by Buddhist philosophy, with smooth surfaces representing the perfection of form that simultaneously experiences impermanence: smoke, flames, and ultimately, annihilation. These vessels are bodies facing their inevitable destruction through aging, inflammation and disease.  These vessels are the purification of the ego, burning away its own delusion and illusion.

 

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Endgame II, oil on panel, 6 x 7in, 2012

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Endgame III, oil on board, 6.5 x 7.5in, 2012-13

This budding series is an expansion and evolution of the themes broached in another less recent painting, which of course is also a metaphor for the edifices of civilization and their approaching collapse; the rise and fall of human achievement:

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Endgame I, oil on canvas, 5 x 7in, 2009-12

My plan (completely subject to change in the winds of artistic inspiration or be ground in the gears of other life obligations) is to continue to refine these concepts and build up to scenes of larger scale and higher complexity, as I wind down my Apostasy series this year.  Who knows what will actually happen, but I’m excited and nervous about finding new challenges. So stay tuned for more updates on both endeavors.

 

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Small, medium, and large…

 

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.