Byzantium Furioso, 1995
oil on cotton
84” x 84” (213.36 x 213.36 cm)
Byzantium Furioso, 1995, is a painting inspired by a visit to Soviet Moscow in 1989, while en route to (then Soviet) Lithuania for an exhibition of my Children of War series. Aside from this particular occasion, the sense of Moscow had a magnified relevance for me. It was the forty-eighth year of Russian Soviet destruction of my birthplace, family, and culture. My life had gone on in adjustment to that psychological assault on my early years. I looked for Russian brutality and saw signs of it everywhere in its cultural artifacts. The grimy, heavy buildings of gray lumpy stucco or the fancy ones in dirty pastels, with gilding in grandiose nonsensical curlicue, expressed a power of the clumsy sort. Teeming Moscow masses moved sluggishly down treeless streets; cautious fear and apathy was on every face and body movement. Their depressed submissiveness, without any hint of optimism, turned irritable with crude exchanges in subways, streets, museums, and snack shops. I wondered why a people had not resisted this dehumanizing seventy-year totalitarian bullying. I saw this same acquiescence in the darkened Byzantine churches. The interiors seemed layered in deposits of black candle wax; candles having flickered and dripped and smoked for a thousand years, illuminating the gilded and silvered frames and halos of otherworldly monster saints (those of flattened silhouette and harshly creased draperies). A hysterical religious mysticism was the architecture for this mindset. Millions of murderous events, tortured and hateful atrocities, could be rendered in this pewter-gray reality. Unlike the Italian version, the Byzantine afterlife appeared as a dark stew, studded with flickers of gold and jewels, and twisted humanoid configurations. This spirituality is a deadly burden to bear, its comfort ice cold. The human brute could be conjured in this ethos. The painting Byzantium Furioso, which I worked on for several years, mixes an oppressive darkness with these associations. Saintly bejeweled superstitions twist and churn, while a glittery, poisonous, black hell of inscrutability surrounds them.
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