homages to Joseph Merrick, a.k.a 'The Elephant Man'

February 25, 2014  •  255 Comments

For an upcoming show at Spoke Art Gallery where the theme is of tribute to David Lynch, I new upon invitation immediately that I was going to paint the Elephant Man. This was an early film of Lynch's, made in 1980 which is loosely based on the life of Joseph Merrick.  Merrick was born and lived during the 19th century with severe deformity resulting from massive tumors that covered most of his body, which only progressed over his short lifetime. The name elephant man, was the result of a stage name where he was exhibited to the public as a 'human curiosity'. This is how he made his living.  The film uses Merricks life, as a foundation point and adds to it characters and situations that reflect on the nature of various social archetypes of human interactions with that of a severly deformed individual. Myself, I saw the film as a child and have revisited time and time again since. As a child, the only lasting effect it had was that it terrified me. I was disturbed by the image of the elephant man, too young to comprehend its psychological layers. Years later, it is these deeper psychological reflections that has me watching the film time to time. Characters relations with the elephant man range from pity, prejudice, exploitation, curiosity, repulsiveness, and so on. What I love about films with such an array of archetypes is that though we tend to want to identify with only those that are positive, and condemn those that are negative, if one is honest with themselves one generally experiences the variety of themselves in all the characters. I feel that is what makes such a film as this so deeply beautiful. We are capable, as well as guilty of a lot more than we care to admit. And if one interacts with such an art piece, so as to put their barriers down one can walk away with more than just an entertaining experience. I did. Its aided in the deeper awareness of myself.
    Relating to this piece, but the show itself aside, I have been working with the theme related to the grotesque for the past few weeks. The grotesque as beautiful that is. Participating in a series of exhibitions these next few months, from unrelated resources the themes have been coincidentally similar in working with the grotesque. What I enjoy about working with themed shows, is that it tends to create a playground of sorts where I further explore what I have been, yet within subjects I would have otherwise perhaps not done so personally. For example, I am exploring the nature of all things at the moment, where I have focused on the nature of love, reality, mind, spirituality, and so on. But for the time being it has become about the nature of the unconscious, dark matter. The grotesque. This piece of the elephant man, is based on a subject matter that is to be direct about it, disturbing. However, paint itself in all its colors, forms, textures. strokes lends itself to beauty. Not that I am working with any juxtaposition, but it is there. Though I have chose not to incorporate text into this piece, reflections are a natural occurrence of the subject that I am expressing. Though I do not relate physically to the elephant man with his ailments, like many perhaps, I relate to the experience of being judged or even felt to be outcasted as the result of appearance. A few years ago, I had the unfortunate experience of having an abscess in my mouth gums, which grew to nearly the size of a baseball. It deformed my face, and I can recall feeling so self conscious walking the streets prior to going to the emergency room for treatment. People stared. It can't be helped. For whatever reason, it is in within us to react toward others that have exaggerated appearances. Their is even the milder occasions, where I have been on both sides. Laughing and pointing a finger at someone's fashion attire which is in opinion 'bad taste', and having been mocked by the public in regards to my own. Though situations like these occurred in younger years, it is reflections such as these that are inspired by the elephant man. Obviously the nature of his appearance was not the choice of his will, and brought on everyday reactions of unfortunate negativity daily I could only imagine. And as I write this, I think that is the tragedy felt at the heart of the expression… that one can be made to feel so ugly, not by actions they have exercised as the result of will, but as the result of nature itself. Being born in such a way that has the world one lives in despising one's self. Yet the beauty in the tragedy being where the elephant man, in the film, lived with sincerity, forgiveness, and exercised the will to live for the sake of living appreciatively. It is these last few sentences that has me so inspired by such an archetype of a man. elephant man headpiece, watercolor on yupo, 9"X 12", 2014elephant man headpiece, watercolor on yupo, 9"X 12", 2014


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