January 2018

The Fall, or The Time it Takes Falling Bodies to Light

The Fall, or The Time it Takes Falling Bodies to Light
2004, acrylic on canvas, 78 x 48 in.

The Fall, or The Time it Takes Falling Bodies to Light

As in all my work, The Fall is conceptualized and constructed from a synthesis of many elements. They include my thoughts, feelings, and experiences related to the piece, in combination with an ever-changing personal visual language of forms and ideas. Two of the major elements that have contributed to the painting are my continuing focus on the ideas of change and transformation and my use of basic elements, like fire, air, and the human figure. From that perspective, one way of looking at the painting is as a metaphor for the birth, life, and death cycle. In it I omit a specific visual reference to birth but the figures falling through time symbolize life, while death is symbolized by them being consumed by fire.

That of course is just one reading of The Fall. Another one I see is purely descriptive. In it a group of nude figures fall through a dark, empty space. As they fall, they hold on to each other in a desperate but futile attempt to be saved. The figures in the bottom half of the canvas are being consumed by flames while those at the top await the same fate. The faces of the figures are obscured or hidden. I use this device to make their identities unknown; to have them represent "every man" in an attempt to make the overall image more timeless. In addition there are two light sources in the painting - one from above which is hidden and represents God and life, while the other, emanating from the flames below, represents hell and death.

In another reading I see The Fall as homage to the numerous art historical representations of the Last Judgment. In the painting I depict only the fragment of the Last Judgment where souls are cast down into hell. In doing so I construct a mystery in which one wonders what is happening above, below, and to the sides of the canvas. Questions arise like how did the figures start falling. Did a host of demons or some other unknown force push them? And where will they land, in hell or will they fall for all eternity?

I also see The Fall from a formalist point of view. The painting is fairly large 6 feet high by 4 feet wide and thereby has a significant physical presence. The image is dynamic, asymmetrical, and compositionally dominated by the groupings of four pairs of figures. They in turn create a visually interesting interplay with the negative space. The figures are dramatically modeled by an intense white light from above and a vibrant red light from below, setting them off against a dark background. The color pallet is fairly limited with the figures and flames articulated in warm and at times intense hues of yellow, orange, red, and pink, while the background color is cool and muted with a gradual change of tonal value from top to bottom. The tension of the piece is heightened by not only all these factors, but also by the expressive gestures of the hands and feet and the serpentine way the flames wrap around the figures and periodically blacken their flesh.

There are other possible ways to read The Fall. Maybe as a metaphor for Man's fall from grace or even a comment on the time it takes Man to become enlightened. But in looking at the painting I do not generally experience it in such clear-cut, analytical terms. I let my mind flow from one reading, one section, one idea, or one element of the painting to another, allowing them to merge or come to the fore front as I experience the piece.

It is my hope that viewers discern other themes as well. Because one of my goals is to imbue my work with multi-layered content that stimulates the viewer's imagination, enhances their interest and enriches their experience.

- Brian Mains, 2018