Ode to Pestilence, 2020.
Today, we can look back and reflect upon humanity’s responses to pandemics across history, documented by our great writers and historians. The similarities we see between our experience and those of the past can be either consoling or troubling to contemplate. This recurrence of disease presents an artistic genre in its own right, ever relevant in a time when a widespread awareness of its effects across the globe is made possible by the information technologies of the age. Part of an art history course project that connected our studies with our contemporary and personal experiences, this painting takes up some of the literary and pictorial traditions from the 1300s to the present which I had been thinking about, reworked to bring to mind the present pandemic experience.
The central panel presents a “mask” ball, inspired by Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death,” the contemporary fashion/necessity of hand-crafted face masks, and the 2020 Venice Carnival, the costumes of which incorporated hospital masks for the first time. The left panel is a pastoral storytelling scene, inspired by Boccaccio, in which an actor fends off death (from a meaningful distance). The right honors artistic production, literary and pictorial, in solitary refuge.