Agnus Dei

Agnus Dei

Oil on Braced Birch

65" x 105" x 3" 2020-21

 

For the better part of 2020 I toiled away on my largest work to date, which took 1700 hours to complete. As the finale to my Streams in the Wasteland series I ‘called back’ all of my animal characters––seventeen animal species in total.

 

I drew influence from historical paintings that have depicted the symbol of the Lamb of God, such as Jan van Eyck’s Adoration of the Lamb and Francisco de Zurbarán’s Agnus Dei.

 

My painting is also a critique of the human-centric bias within Western art history. This is best seen in Renaissance paintings where animals seldomly appear, and if they do, it is simply for allegorical purposes. By enlisting wild animals as protagonists with intrinsic value amidst the wasteland of human existence, I endeavour to revise Western art history through a zoological lens, liberating the Judeo-Christian worldview from its perversion at the hands of anthropocentric Greek philosophy.

 

This altarpiece triptych is a musing on the moral innocence of animals, something we as humans cannot claim for ourselves. In the biblical book of Isaiah, chapter 53, we read a prophecy about a Suffering Servant likened to an innocent lamb. Throughout history this prophecy is believed by Messianic Jews and Christians to be fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth, a morally perfect substitute who died for the sins of humanity to bring us into right relationship with our Creator. The effect of this reconciliation is also cosmic in scope — the future hope of a “new heavens and a new earth” where “the wolf will live with the lamb.”

 

In the meantime we must recognize that the “whole creation has been groaning,” as a result of the curse from humanity’s sin, witnessed in the the horrors of deforestation, oil spills, and rapid species extinction. In my altar depiction I have employed elephant tusks, representing modern-day animal sacrifice, such as the illegal ivory trade. Likewise, the bloody slain lamb alludes to the cruel practice of vivisection (animal testing) and cloning for biomedical experimentation.

 

Whether you believe in God or not, we can all be involved in rectifying the harm humans have done to nature and animals both in the past and in the present.

 

(This is an excerpt from an essay that appears in the Streams in the Wasteland monograph book)

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