May 2019



Beset by Demons

Beset by Demons
2010, acrylic on canvas, 66 x 48 in.


Beset by Demons


Beset by Demons is a visually dynamic work. Its active composition, array of color and high contrast passages makes the eye jump from one section of the canvas to another. It depicts a fantastical scene of a man surrounded by seven demons. The demons, with their multi-colored desiccated bodies, hideous faces, translucent wings, bifurcated tails, and fur-covered thighs, dominate the picture. All but one of their bodies extend beyond the edges of the painting implying there are other demons lurking beyond the frame. The demons have bound the man's hands while a snake, which could be the devil in disguise orchestrating the event, has wound itself around the man's leg, torso and neck. The demons can also be seen clutching at the man, clawing his face, gnawing at his foot, and grabbing and pulling his hair and beard, while others lurk in the background waiting their turn to taunt and violate him. The reaction of the man to this assault is one of passive tranquility as if he has somehow spiritually transcended his horrific situation.

The composition of Beset by Demons is made up of two basic parts: a background, which is symmetrical and simple, and a foreground, which is asymmetrical and dynamic. The background consists of a deep dark space with a glowing circular aura, while the demons and the man populate the foreground. The circular aura backlights most of the foreground action and serves as a de facto wheel form that helps organize the composition. This organization can be seen by how the man's bound hands are positioned at the hub of the wheel, how the rope and some of the arms, legs and wing sections are positioned as spokes, and how most of the demon's heads and the man's head and feet reside on, or close to, the rim of the wheel.




Beset by Demons
2010, graphite on paper, 11 1/8 x 8 1/8 in. (sheet: 12 x 9 in.) in.


Beset by Demons
2010, acrylic on canvas, 66 x 48 in.

As is the case with all my work Beset by Demons can be read in different ways. On the surface the painting can be read in purely visual terms. That is, as only a depiction of a man being abducted by a group of demons and nothing more. Viewed in art historical terms however it can be read as a visual telling of the temptation of Saint Anthony story. In the fourth century Saint Anthony the Great, or Anthony Abbot, who is considered the father of monasticism, decided to live alone in exile in the desert for 20 years in order to confront and overcome the temptations or "demons" of the flesh. Throughout art history this story has been depicted by a myriad of artists, including Martin Schongauer, Matthias Grunewald, Hieronymus Bosch, Michelangelo, and Salvador Dali. These works typically focus on the drama of Saint Antony being preyed upon by a host of nefarious creatures that try to tempt and undermine his spiritual quest. Inspired by their work I have used the same basic thematic drama but at the same time have secularized it by both omitting specific religious and symbolic references associated with the Temptation of Saint Anthony story and substituting my own inventions. In doing so I have attempted to make the image more universally accessible. Finally Beset by Demons can be read in personal terms. Meaning that we are all confronted by "demons", and whether they are physical or psychological, they take a toll on us and we cannot help but identify with the demons, the man and his predicament.

- Brian Mains, 2019