Creating art about the end of the world doesn’t seem the most cheerful or popular subject, however, this past weekend, I was reminded it’s a theme that is often used for artistic inspiration. As much as I’d like to compose a multi-page paper on the topic and do my BA in Art History and Dr. Ayer proud, I’ll keep myself in check and limit this to a very brief overview.
This past Saturday, a friend and I visited the Maryland Renaissance Festival, as part of an annual ladies’ outing (yes, we dress up, it’s more fun that way. You should check out my ridiculously awesome hat in Woolly’s Facebook album.) One of the first booths you encounter through the gate, to your right, is Pyrated Prynts, a fine purveyor of Renaissance reproductions. I’m always drawn to the store, particularly the Albrecht Dűrer prints. He was a German engraver, painter, and printmaker who lived from 1471 to 1528 and is considered one of the primary artists of the Northern Renaissance. While Dűrer’s artwork addressed both secular and sacred topics, he did a series of 16 woodcuts with the Apocalypse as the subject, one of the most recognizable being The Revelation of St John: The Four Riders of the Apocalypse.
The print depicts, from foreground to background, Death, Famine, War, and Conquest. John’s writing in the Bible describes the riders on varying-colored horses but as the piece is in black and white, Dűrer relies upon symbolism and personal characteristics to identify the riders. Death and his horse are emaciated and he carries a trident, which has now been replaced by the more commonly used scythe. Famine carries scales that would be used to weigh bread during times of need. War carries a sword and wears armor while Conquest holds a bow with arrow drawn. I really enjoy this print, not so much for the subject matter but for the incredible amount of detail, the impact of the black ink and white spaces, and how dynamic the characters are. I think the Beast eating the clergyman in the lower left-hand corner is a nice touch, commenting on the equality of the end times affecting both the weak and the powerful.
The following day, Sunday, we hit up the Smithsonian American Art Museum and browsed several exhibits. On the first floor, they have a great permanent display of American Folk Art. These were folks that, unlike Albrecht Dűrer, did not study under great artistic masters and have workshops or studios devoted to their livelihood of creating pieces. These were people who often created art with found materials in their spare time, drawing from their personal experiences and basing them on subjects that meant a great deal to them. There are several pieces that have religious themes, particularly about the Apocalypse, Revelations, and the Tribulation. The work And the Moon Became As Blood by the Reverend Howard Finster is particularly striking.
Painted in 1976, Finster illustrated passages from Revelations, incorporating the text into the painting. Although, if you were unable to read, you could gather very quickly that the work was primarily about blood and that the end of days would involve a large quantity of it. The cartoonish quality of the art and the addition of color makes the painting less intimidating than Durer’s print. For people who are unfamiliar with the Bible, this might be more approachable and render an audience more open to Reverend Finster’s message of redemption through Christ.
It’s very easy to type “apocalypse” into Google and plethora of images are the result. As I was doing research for this post, art from the video game Fallout 3 would come up and I was reminded of the controversy about the promotion of its release in Washington, DC. Bethesda Softworks, the company who wrote the third installment of the Fallout series, bought out the Metro Center station for a month around the release date of October 28, 2008. There were floor clings, banners, and, probably most attention grabbing, illuminated dioramas containing screen captures from the game, which happens to take place in a post-apocalyptic, nuclear-ravaged Washington, DC.
The reaction to the ads was mixed which reflects my own personal feelings to the ads. On one hand I really like the muted color palette, the creativity of distressing items with which many of us are familiar, and the social commentary that nothing is sacred, buildings are not indestructible, even landmarks. On the other hand, it’s disconcerting to see the city I live and work in destroyed. In today’s security climate, is a genuine possibility we all live with every day and we’re reminded by the suspicious packages, the bomb threats, the white powder, jersey barriers, bollards, checkpoints, and law enforcement with tactical shotguns, to name a few.
In reminding us of our mortality, these images from a video game are really no different than the enamel painting on fiberboard of a Southern preacher or the meticulous woodcut print of a Renaissance-period German. Whether or not the agent or agents of the end of civilization are four horsemen and rivers of blood or a nuclear explosion, the apocalypse has been and will continue to be a subject that compels people to express themselves through many artistic media.
~ Kate Ahern Loveric, Graphic Design & Web Manager