Last year, guest curator Eric Drummond Smith invited me to be part of the “historical” show Cherry Bounce/ The American Elections at the William King Museum in Abingdon, VA. It was historical in subject matter–its theme the history of the American elections from George Washington to Barack Obama, the 44th President. His well-chosen title Cherry Bounce, an Appalachian liquor, alluded to either hope or despair as we anticipated the yet undecided outcome of the November 2016 election. It was historical because I was assigned the Nixon/McGovern race of 1972 (the Nixon poster called for “a sense of history, not histrionics”), and historical also because my own Christian faith believes all of history is a story with a divine plot and the post-Fall battle for power.
I am a painter who is conscious of this “grand narrative” called history. My statement reads, “Bomer is concerned with the human condition surprised by the grace of God” (www.gracecarolbomer.com). This assumes the spiritual world and the God who is involved with history. In Psalm 2 God says, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and his Anointed” . . . but God in heaven laughs because his appointed Son rules and will judge the world in righteousness.
Christ’s birth happened in real history. His Incarnation is the focus of my work (see Abstract/Incarnation). Jesus, who is God made flesh, brings heaven and earth together. His death and resurrection ended the battle that began with Adam’s rejection of God’s authority, when God put enmity between those who follow Satan, the Father of Lies, and those chosen by God to be followers of Christ (Genesis 3:15).
This first piece is called Box of Lies. I used encaustic wax medium because it dries immediately as the beeswax and images are fused onto the surface with a torch–an important feature as I had an August deadline (and this was July).
At the top left of the painting, I positioned the image of Guido Reni’s, Saint Michelle the Archangel, a symbol of the promised Redeemer. His foot is on Satan’s neck, symbolizing who wins the battle while lips lie and cherries bounce.
The battle for power is further symbolized by the central Tower of Babel, which ironically looks like a large rat–its forked tail suggesting the infamous Watergate tapes.
The Tower of Babel painting by Pieter Bruegel (1563) has been an on-going motif of my Global City Babel Series. I find this Babel image particularly relevant to our culture and the postmodernist belief that language is power and necessary to create one’s own truth. Postmodernism is anti-foundational. It promotes relativistic language, where the meaning of words becomes merely a social construct and “the world is a text.” Lying is good if it promotes our cause. We design our image and construct “a name for ourselves.” Bill Clinton’s infamous phrase “It depends what the meaning of ‘is’ is,” marks him as our first postmodern president. God’s name “I AM” is the root of the verb “to be” or “is.” The God who is the author of language will judge every word we say. He is also called The Word of God.
I included text from John 1–“the Word became flesh and lived among us.” It is visible above the fiery tower of the second painting called Come HOME America, the title taken from McGovern’s anti-war poster in this 1972 election. I filled the central O with cherries.
I wanted the poster to become Christ’s call to “Come to Me (America) all you who are weary and I will give rest for your souls.” The red of the cherries is the color of God’s extravagant grace and the red apple (a motif found in both paintings) is a symbol of man’s fallen human condition.
The Nixon lapel button embedded in wax was from my husband’s political days and the “box of lies” image was taken from a story in the Asheville paper about a rigged 1964 election. In my process of arranging images, the shape of a large “Babel lizard” is rising out of the slime, its eye the burning civil war Henley submarine.
By combining text and image, both important aspects of my work as explained in my statement, the assigned challenge of combining history–the American elections with all its words and propaganda posters–into a coherent and meaningful work of art was challenging. Using beeswax and oils to embed images and words allowed me to create connections and metaphors that pointed to the mystery of the eternally relevant story–or history! Much of my work is more abstract, so this was a refreshing assignment in the midst of the contentious 2016 conflagration.
Russian film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky said, “Art is born and takes hold wherever there is a timeless and insatiable longing for the spiritual.” This longing for spiritual meaning makes sense because we are body, mind, and spirit, created to worship–to give worth to–the God who created us. If we do not give worth to God, we will worship something or someone else–yes, perhaps the zeitgist of the age and the belief that man can determine truth from falsehood without divine truth to guide him. The spiritual world is as real as the material world. And because there is a spiritual battle, the conflict of ideas and images will continue. I want my work to be art that wrestles with and acknowledges the spiritual–work that illumines the invisible world. Babel is in the heart of every man, but God’s grace is bigger. God rules over history and elections. America Come Home to this God who rules in the heavens and rules the affairs of men. Return to truth and righteousness found in his Word.
We do not wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places, (Ephesians 6:12 ).