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  • Writer's picturekristinacampbell

A Reverence for Life

Man Alive! was conceived as a companion to Artful’s “Maiden, Mother and Crone” from the summer of 2021. I thought that the subject of masculinity had become particularly focused on ideas of toxic masculinity and wanted to shift to an examination of masculinity that focused on more humane qualities of masculinity, while not dismissing the exploration of the muck and murk of the subject matter. Gary Dillon’s triptych “Our Gods” provides a solid anchor to this exhibition, a reference point for this examination.

image (above) : Gary Dillon's "Our Gods Trilogy"

Combined, the three paintings contain 22 figures of men (and with more than a few goddesses for good measure). The central panel “Sundown Pieta” depicts the crucified body of Christ, violently penetrated by traumas inflicted by man. This event has become the central story of the redemption of man in the Christian religious drama.

I am often surprised by what occurs subconsciously as I curate an exhibition, and the irony that the central character of this exhibition is a crucified man is not lost on me.

image (above): Gary Dillon's "Sundown Pieta" (detail)

image (below): Gary Dillon's "Our Gods II: Tonantzin (detail)

Gary sees this work as his expression of the idea of reverence, male bodies expressing their full-bodied physical and emotional reverence for life – a reverence so compelling that they have fallen to their knees in a state of plentiful gratitude. Reverence, oft forgotten, under-developed, or under-deployed in this day and age as a genuine and serviceable capacity ultimately contributing to the lack of humanity with which the present world meets the day.

Gary quotes Albert Schweitzer:

“The beginning of thought, a beginning which continually repeats itself, is that man does not simply accept his existence as something given but experiences it as something unfathomably mysterious. Affirmation of life is the spiritual act by which man ceases to live unreflectively and begins to devote himself to…life with reverence in order to raise it to its true value.”

For the past four years Gary has worked to bring to fruition the ideas inspired by Mexican artsist Saturnino Herran in 1918. Herran died having created only the water colour sketches for a mural project, uncompleted due to his untimely death at age 31. The mural was intended to speak to the inextricably intermixed religious heritage of the indigenous gods of Meso America and the Catholic god imposed by the Spanish in the sixteenth century. This theme of the colonized and the colonizer has again reared it’s head these recent years, and this work speaks to the colonization of religions and their people.

Gary sees the reconciling force, the ‘Third Force’, at play in these images, evident in the overlaying of the crucified Christ on Coatlicue (the Mesoamerican Mother Goddess) in “Sundown Pieta”. The men in both side panels have fallen to their knees at the unification of the Christ and Mother Goddess in the central panel; with corn at her feet on the left, and the conquistador’s helmet on the right, as offerings. Blood spills and grief soaks the ground on which all must stand to ascertain their reliability as faithful witnesses to these spiritual cultures. Tonantzin (Meso American) and Guadaloupe (Spanish) present as one and the same source of divine succor, each representative of their world, in the encounter of the Old World and the New World.

image (above): Gary Dillon's "Sundown Pieta"

image (below): Gary Dillon's "Our Gods III: Guadalupe (detail)

In the panel on the left, the fullness of reciprocity as the gods are met with gifts, holds in stark contrast to the poverty of the Spanish supplicants on the right. Their hands offer only prayers, no gifts from the flowering being returned to the Holy one who tends the earth. In the bottom left of this panel, an ancient Demeter/Ceres weeps, draped with grapes and sheaves of wheat, gifts of reverence long since converted to the Eucharist. The bread and the wine now representing the body of Christ, and man’s need for redemption from sin.

Gary’s wish for his viewers is a return to the reverence for all of life, for courtship with the Holy, both new and ancient, in living a simple and decent life of service; a life of reverence.

image (above): Gary Dillon's Our Gods III: Guadalupe (detail)

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