Sunday, February 9, 2014

Rite Of Passage

Yesterday afternoon I was in a movie theater with my family watching Frozen when an idea came to me. There was a scene in the movie where the young queen of a fictitious city state had come of age and the people of the kingdom were celebrating her coronation. I decided at that moment what the title of my newest painting, which was one night's work from completion would be.

The title has many meanings and many layers, the simplest of which is that I was about to complete a new work, which had come of age, and was ready to celebrate it coming officially into being as my latest work. But there's more.

The painting is adapted from a photograph I took in 2009 in the marshes behind the Vince Lombardi rest area on the New Jersey Turnpike. It shows a view of the Hackensack River, and on the horizon you can see a few buildings in the Meadowlands Sports Complex, including the Xanadu building. Not visible but adjacent is Met Life Stadium, which one week ago was the sight of the NFL Superbowl.

The Superbowl, aside from being one of the biggest sporting events of the year, is where the champions of American Football are awarded the Vince Lombardi trophy for their achievement. In our society, which is devoid of official monarchs, professional athletics are widely celebrated, and their champions are considered heroes. Thus, championship ceremonies such as the awarding of a trophy on the field of play for the winners has many of the hallmarks and pomp and circumstance as royal coronation ceremonies.

The title, The Coronation, is appropriate, and in this case pokes fun at the very idea of such a ceremony, especially since it is a painting of a sublime natural landscape instead of being an image of the ceremony itself. Our culture hails the rather ordinary and unimportant accomplishments of athletes instead of other achievements that could benefit humanity, so in this case the title is sarcastic.

I can go even further with this if I look at the rituals that human civilizations regard as important, and ask the viewers to consider how insignificant any of these celebrations really are, whether they are to crown a monarch or sports champion, in the larger universe.

Our culture, lives, societies, and histories on the Earth are only a tiny fraction of the history of our home planet. What happens on our home planet is only a tiny fraction of the events that occur in the universe as a whole. Therefore, anything we regard as important or worthy of a celebration is merely provincial, and won't matter at all in a million years.

Consider also how big these celebrations seem to those who are there. Big events such as the Superbowl seem larger than life if viewed from the right point of view. But if you were anywhere else on Earth except Met Life Stadium or at home watching on TV, you would never have known that the Seattle Seahawks had just been crowned champions of the NFL. Even in a spot where you could see the stadium, such as a location with a view of the the Meadowlands Sports Complex on which The Coronation is based, there would be no information that would tell someone that something great had just happened.

Getting back to the movie, Frozen, and the afternoon I was spending with my family, watching a movie and enjoying their company. It was a wonderful time, one that I'll remember for years to come. It was my daughter's first movie, and I insisted that we go see it for that reason. I thought of my painting, the one that was almost finished, and I thought about how important an event it was in their lives when I completed it. It meant one more for the inventory, another potential little chunk of cash to keep our family going. It was an event that served as a continued reminder of why I do what I do, and what's at stake at the end of the day.

Matthew Green, The Coronation, 44" x 48", oil on canvas, 2014

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