No, I don’t mean vampires and zombies. I mean the type of horror that Colonel Kurtz talked about in Apocalypse Now (based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness). It’s not supernatural, but the subverting of the will to something happening which it dreads. It is an eventuality which is unacceptable to the mind. It’s what wakes you up in a bad dream when you reach a point that is untenable to endure.
Recently, despite my conscious waking relative optimism, because I’ve moved to a new country and am a bit vulnerable (mostly financially), I’ve had some difficulty sleeping and one nightmare. I’d wake up and start worrying about the cost of living in Cambodia (relatively cheap), and do faulty math to determine how long I can last without my first paycheck after finding a job… The subconscious tends to lag behind the waking mind, but it also didn’t help sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings, and not my own bed. None of this was anything serious, and my generally good attitude would return on waking. In fact, I’ve been feeling quite good lately, and have moments of unusual well-being, usually in the afternoon when I take a short rest on the couch under the ceiling fan and unwind a bit. but after the one nightmare, about which I remember nothing, I had some insight into my latest work, and horror.
The thing is that we tend to understand things abstractly as ideas, but I use the word “realizing” to mean really getting something. So, for example, it’s one thing to understand that you are going to die one day, and another to realize it in the moment. One is a conviction, like 2+2=4, and the other is closer to an experience. The magnitude of this divide can be seen in the global situation of the human race blithely making plans to tackle global warming in coming decades, when the hard science already conservatively concludes civilization itself is not likely to make it to the next century due to the repercussions of the already increasing incident of extreme weather. We defer to a veneer of reality based in language, habit, unquestioning faith in business as usual, an inability to break through consensual reality, and conformity in general. To quote T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, “human kind cannot bear much reality”.
Horror can be the unmitigated reality that cares not for all of our plans, intents, or our particular vision of the universe with ourselves at the center of it, believing we are in control of circumstances. To imagine the breadth of reality, I like to recognize that it would have to encompass the combined experience of every person, past and present, experienced all at once. Dealing with THAT could be like piloting one’s rocket ship into the sun.
Most of the time we are fairly in control, and I believe with have free will within the boundaries of what the laws of physics allow. We play life like a game, and that works just fine, more so if you live in the developed world and have at least a middle class upbringing.
So, in this nightmare that I don’t remember, something unconscionable was about to transpire. Maybe I was about to be shot myself. I’ve been shot before in dreams, painfully, and realistically. Whatever it was it made me more vulnerable to my own art, because what occurred in the dream circumvented the normal workaday force-field of waking, abstracted, mediated consciousness. I had a brush with horror, and an experiential affront to my human dignity/wholeness.
As I lay there unable to sleep, I suddenly recalled the paintings of executions by Manet and Goya, and realized how similar they were to my EUOF (Excessive Use Of Force). There is a tradition in art to grapple with the horror of the cruel indifference of reality, and the purpose is to give us a bit of a jolt and get a thumb hold on the real. Of course it doesn’t always need to be markedly unpleasant, and it could be a blissful spring day, but usually it’s that which we do not want, and cannot avoid that forces us into acknowledging something bigger than ourselves and irresistible.
What I found difficult to bear in my own piece is that the victim was pleading at all costs, “don’t shoot”, and was riddled with bullets as a perfunctory matter of course: the execution of an equation by a calculator. All the mental might of the victim, his will and every bit of energy it could marshal were helpless against bare circumstance – an unfortunate and irreversible role of the die.
I tried to capture in the glint of the humanoid’s still looking eye the horror and dawning resignation: the horror of war, executions, torture, and heinous injustice.
Later, I hope to make this into a color digital painting, much like my other recent work.
Your independent artist stationed in Cambodia.