Plague Faces No. 14
June 2020. Acrylic on canvas, 10 x 8 in.
This project – the Plague Faces – has repeatedly been outrun by events. But the dead, which they memorialize, are outside of time.
In mid-May the nation was “opening up”, seeming, to my amazement, to believe it could just move on. On May 21 I created the first of the Plague Faces paintings, and I finished the last on June 16 – not quite a month. The paintings were rushed, roughly done – a kind of accounting that couldn’t wait for refinement. I posted the first of the Faces on social media on May 23. By May 27 there were already 100,000 dead.
On May 30, as the protests against police brutality swept the nation, I posted, “In the short time I’ve been working on this series, the ‘crisis’ to which I referred has been subsumed by national emergencies of almost every kind. Mourning those who are dying in the pandemic seems almost a quaint sidebar. But it’s not; it’s one more tragic, unnecessary face of our disintegration.” The losses in the pandemic reflect the injustices that have been with us all along.
And now we are at 137,000 covid dead and counting. The dead and those yet to die are already lost to history, while we are doomed to still live it, because we are doing the single worst thing we can do for them: not learn from their deaths. When I started painting the Faces I could not guess at the future because the present itself was unacceptable, beyond comprehension. But that time just barely past, as spring moved into summer, now seems a faded relic too exhausting to recall. We are no longer suspended in disbelief as we slide toward the unknown. We are now fully in the abyss. We are in the embrace of the devil.
I feel a new set of Prayer Flags coming on.
I paint this series to recognize those who have died or suffered grave loss in this crisis, and, further, to accuse those who have knowingly, willfully, or carelessly pursued polices, actions, and inactions that allowed these deaths and suffering to happen and who continue to do so at this moment.
Plague Faces No. 20
June 2020. Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 in.