Monday, November 2, 2009

The Affliction of Job: Hope for the Battered and Bruised

I began planning my Affliction of Job series in 2003. That was the year I took the reference shots for the paintings. I didn’t actively paint works for the series for several years. I drew the images but time constraints kept me from completing them. I have recently been finishing up this project and have been able to digest the concept more thoroughly. The ideas always evolve over time.

I have been painting on a variety of old book pages over the past several months. The way each book’s pages reacts to the watercolor is unique. Some pages are slick and the color sits on top of the words, pooling up in halos of pigment. Other pages are over-absorbent. With them, it is difficult to control the intensity of the color and retain precise edges.

The Hebrew Bible pages used for the Job series are brittle with age (printed in the 1880s). They can crack or chip. They are also yellowed from time which causes the outer edges of the pages to produce a duller color than the one applied. The fragile quality of the paper is a perfect match to the story of Job. Our frail physical bodies are pushed and pulled in this world, showing the effects of time and wear to all who observe.

This series was always about suffering. And while the human body is utilized as the primary vehicle for the expression of that suffering, the works do not solely reflect the physical. The full anguish of Job was presented in the entanglement of his physical pain, along with the losses of material possessions and beloved family members. It was psychological and spiritual grief, too.

The solitary images of the Job figures, shrouded in darkness, convey his lonely plot in life. He suffers alone. His wife and friends abandon him. They cease to console him as insult is added to injury. At last, Job is isolated in an abyss where he finds that it seems even God is mocking him.

Job is that first literary figure to experience a dark night of the soul. He is the shining example of one confronted with the inevitable truth that we are utterly alone in the universe. Well, maybe not fully alone. You see, Job realizes that, while he needs people, he can’t ultimately count on them. He also understands that he is more than a mere physical body. When his frustration gets the better of him he presents his argument to God. God’s response is that Job is not the Creator nor the Sustainer of life. His mortal existence cannot fathom the intricacies of the universe and the reasons why life might seem unjust.

One thing that marks this series is that Job, as a figure, is never fully separated from God. Like the pigments on the paper, he is pushed and pulled. His form becomes misshapen, flattened, wrinkled, and flattened again. His form bears the marks of this abuse and in his torment and shame, he hides his face from view. Yet Job, like all of us, is never abandoned by God. The very words of God are woven through his being. And this is the hope of the story of Job—no matter how abandoned and dejected we feel, we are never really alone.

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