October 2018

Lamentation Triptych

Lamentation Triptych
2000-2007, acrylic on canvas
overall 66 x 150 in. (center panel 66 x 78 in.; side panels 66 x 36 in.)

Lamentation Triptych

As with all of my work the Lamentation Triptych developed over time during a process I like to think of as "building a painting". The process starts with a basic idea, or group of ideas, that are built upon by adding, subtracting, and merging elements until a unified whole is achieved. It is a dynamic creative process which can be simple or complex and where the whole is not pre-conceived.

The creation of the Lamentation Triptych was a fairly complex process that took close to 9 years, from the initial sketches to the final painting, to complete. During that time I took breaks from finishing the piece and did others works, but given its size and complexity that was a normal situation.

The Wall(Man)
1999, acrylic on canvas, 66 x 48 in.

The piece began as two ideas that were separately developed and later merged. The first idea took the form of a preliminary study that subsequently became the center panel of the triptych. The study came about when thinking a previous piece, The Wall (Man). It explored the idea of the wall as a metaphor for an object that confine us in our earth-bound existence. From that painting I imagined a new work using the wall motif constructed of prone, decaying, and intertwined human figures instead of the typical one made out of brick or stone. As the study developed I also introduced a portal at the center of the wall as a way to provide a view to a transcendent space.

Lamentation Portal (preliminary sketch)
2000/2017, graphite on paper, 7 3/4 x 9 3/4 in.

Lamentation (study)
1998, graphite on paper, 8 x 3 3/4 in.

During the same period I was doing the wall study I also began working on another study. That second study later became the foundation for the side panels of the triptych. It consisted of a figure with his head bowed, weeping into a cloth he held to his face while standing within the embrace of the spiraling branches of a tree. I see the figure as the representation of the act of lamenting the evils of the world - a sorrowful figure distraught by the misdeeds of others while trapped within spiraling branches. It is an image that references the figure's double helix DNA prison and is symbolic of how we are all inextricably bound to the physical realities of nature.

At that point in time, having not yet thought of merging the two ideas, I started a painting based on the wall study. As the painting developed I focused on the light source emanating from the center of the composition, hoping it would magically illuminate the scene and give the piece an otherworldly glow. The presence of the light source at the center also led me to omit the portal. This omission allowed me to focus on the unrelenting horror of a solid wall of decaying figures and use the light at the center to function as the transcendent space. The light source also prompted the introduction of vines that are woven through the figures in concentric circles thereby entangling them and reinforcing the idea of being inextricably bound to nature.

During my work on the center panel I had occasion to review some previous studies, which included reviewing the lamentation studies. To have more than one work in progress and to think about and develop new ideas is a common practice of mine. Upon seeing the lamentation studies again I immediately thought that a pair of them, a male figure and a female figure, would be the perfect side panels to complement the wall painting. Merging the two was an exciting discovery that added a new and visually dynamic quality to the piece. A triptych was born.

The side panel paintings came together quickly. To complement the solidity and shallowness of space in the wall painting I decided to create a deeper space in the side panels. This took the form of a landscape, which also served to give spatial context to the lamentation figures entwined in a tree while also heightening the idea of being bound to the forces of nature. Other landscape elements, like the flowing stream (life and the flow of time), the single flower (rebirth), and the decaying logs (death), reinforce that concept.

The Lamentation Triptych began as just another, but albeit highly complex, painting that slowly developed into a major work. The process I used in its creation plays a significant and informative role in the understanding my art making and potentially the art making of others.

- Brian Mains, 2018