"God is Dead"
( Homage a Nietzsche)
Oil on Canvas , 60"x40"
A masterpiece in the continuity and evolution of Surrealist and Nuclear Mystical Art
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“To Find Some Meaning in the Suffering”
A review of the Louis Markoya masterpiece,
God is Dead
By Paul Chimera
As former collaborator and protégé of Surrealist Master Salvador Dali, Louis Markoya has been on a mission – the “continuity and evolution,” he says, “of Surrealist and Nuclear Mystical art.” Markoya’s latest painting, an approximately 3 ft. by 5 ft. oil titled God is Dead, represents a lot of things – including the evolution of Markoya himself.
The stunning canvas, which the Connecticut artist considers his masterpiece, is a far more pronounced and poignant open book of social commentary than any of his other works. Its unsettling title is quoted from the important German philosopher and writer, Frederick Nietzsche – especially known for his writings on good and evil – and Markoya’s overarching lament finds expression on two main levels.
But before we get to them, let’s put religion and politics aside for a moment. For now, let’s examine Markoya’s painting through a strictly aesthetic lens. After all, even if we don’t always understand art, we know what we like.
God is Dead is hard not to like. It is magnificently painted. The rust-smothered cross’s towering presence picks up where Markoya left off, nearly 50 years ago, when he began his own version of Salvador Dali’s 1952 painting, Nuclear Cross.
While we ultimately focus on the finished work of art, we must also fully appreciate what the artist goes through. An undertaking like God is Dead is hard work. One has to have, well, the patience of a saint in order to achieve the kind of painstaking precision Markoya has done so successfully here. It was a labor of love. His excitement during the several-month span that he worked on the picture was echoed in the effusiveness of Dali himself, when the Surrealist described in his Diary of a Genius his daily ecstasies each time he applied a new brushstroke to the latest masterpiece poised on his easel.
While not constructed as a hypercube, Markoya’s cross in God is Dead nevertheless recalls an even more magnificent Dali – Corpus Hypercubus (a.k.a., Crucifixion) of 1954. Further antithetical to the title of the Markoya painting is his spectacular treatment of the sky and the striking sunset. Both exude the “hand-painted color photography” Dali said defined his own work, and which appear to nod to Dali’s religious tour d’ force, Christ of St. John of the Cross.
The rays of light fanning out in God is Dead evoke a feeling of spirituality that may remind astute Dali aficionados of the Crucifixion in the upper portion of the immense and awe-inspiring Santiago El Grande. Or of the Art-In-Jewels piece, The Gold-Cube Cross.
As we now return to the principal message that informs Markoya’s masterwork, nothing can be more insightful than his own commentary. He explains that the “rotting and rusted remains of a cross” represent organized religion. “I see aspects of religion as machines that have been formed to generate money and power,” he says, “and not for the good of man, but to form boundaries that incite conflict.”
While Markoya calls the cross in the top section of the painting the “Maxim,” he refers to the bottom beach section as “The Proof.”
Now hold on to your seat – and your heart – because this is where God is Dead truly comes alive.
In the upper section, we see sheaths of rotted, rusted, corroded sheet metal. Contamination drips into the ocean, reaching virtually everywhere on earth. This is conveyed by the globe at the center of the cross (supplanting the circular bread loaf in the center of Dali’s Nuclear Cross, which of course helped inspire Markoya’s modern effort).
Moreover, he explains about the globe, there’s “a gigantic hurricane just off the southeast coast of America, depicting both the consequences of global warming and our declaration to not only disbelieve the scientific evidence, but to encourage industry to make things worse.”
In the shadow of the painting’s upper elements is a procession of haunting images, strewn about in a morass of garbage and “the plastic waste that pollutes and symbolizes the carelessness of man in relation to profit, and an uncaring attitude towards the species that global warming has affected or killed.” The detail here is exquisite.
Markoya explains the tragic symbolism of the two young girls with expressionless stares, seated at lower left, painted with near-photographic precision: “No god would allow innocent daughters to be sold into prostitution by their poor families…”
The beached, rotting corpse of a whale represents, says Markoya, “how we humans have polluted, overfished and over-hunted species….”
What god, he continues to contemplate, “would allow his so-called spokesmen to take advantage of children of both sexes, nuns, and other adults who are somehow distressed, for their own purposes – sexual and financial? The priest and altar boy represent a horror that religion spawns.”
Markoya points out that the Russian flag draped over part of the Facebook logo signifies “the manipulation of the public when it comes to elections.”
At lower right, an impressive rendering of the Wall Street bull (so realistic you can practically feel the cool smoothness of the brass) “symbolizes everything that is wrong with how capitalism has progressed…People and ethics used to mean something to industry; these have been replaced by greed and short-term profit.”
Not one to pull punches, Markoya even takes on the folly of certain modern art – specifically depicting Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog, listing in the water, in an indictment of the art world “which allows for the over-intellectualizing of complete nonsense and sells an item like this for $53 million. Evidence, he adds, that “something is very wrong.”
Nothing could be more wrong – and more haunting – than the frightfully malnourished image of the hollow-faced little boy, seated in squalor and waste, again leading the artist to question, “What god would allow for millions of children to die of starvation and plague through no fault of their own?”
Meanwhile, the tanker oil spill further underscores the mess man has made of the planet he calls home.
Nietzsche, whose impact on modern intellectual thought inspired Louis Markoya to create God is Dead in the first place, declared, among many oft-quoted sayings, that “to live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.”
Markoya’s artistic interpretation reveals a decidedly grim view of things, whether we take his title literally or not. But like most things in life, there are two sides to every story. It’s argued by many that suffering and pain can also help reveal who we are. And it causes us to consider eternity. At least one theologian put it this way: “One of the reasons we have pain is for God to reveal to us the consequences of sin.”
Louis Markoya tells us that his return to the Nuclear Cross-inspired design he started in the ‘70s both completes the project for himself and brings “a logical conclusion to Dali’s religious paintings, by modernizing it to include Nietzsche’s most famous maxim, ‘God is Dead.’” In a sense, then, it’s the evolution of mentor and protégé.
In God is Dead, we have a sad statement on modern society. But we also have what truly great art ought to feature: thought-provoking ideas, flawlessly executed. In short, a masterpiece.