Art’s last stand

By Trevor Ballanger

According to the now infamous Mayan calendar, humanity’s days have been numbered since the dawn of time, and come Dec. 21, all life on Earth will cease. For several Chicago artists, the apocalypse is a subject that inspires them to create new works depicting the end of the world and how it

will happen.

Richard Laurent, an illustrator and adjunct faculty member in the Art & Design Department, said people today have a more nihilistic vision of the future because of the media’s fascination with the Mayan prophecy. Films like “2012” and “Independence Day” along with TV shows like “The Walking Dead” also postulate the apocalypse’s imminence, he said.

Laurent has been to Chichen Itza, Mexico, a large Mayan city where the supposed apocalypse is more than folklore. He said the religions of native North and Central Americans, who still practice shamanism and foresee prophecies, inspired him to create work based on Armageddon.

His painting “The Simple Life” depicts a person standing idly behind a red curtain, watching as a dinosaur holding a Starbucks mug walks through a green pasture with a small cottage. A silver city sits in the distance as a representation of the future. He said the scenario is symbolic of the merging of the past and present and the shrinking middle class.

“There are elements that are symbolic, and they do relate to this conflict between the ideal and the real,” Laurent said.

Local artist Jason Hawk has a different take on the apocalypse in his work showcased in “Perceptions From the Parallaxis,” an exhibition at the Jackson Junge

Gallery, 1389 N. Milwaukee Ave., through Jan. 13. The exhibition also features the work of artists Jason Brammer and Keelan McMorrow, who both chose to exemplify different themes and emotions about the apocalypse. Hawk said the inspiration for his apocalyptic art came from doomsday themes like chaos, failing economies and war. He said although no one wants to see the end of the world, people should face death with courage.

Hawk added that he was able to focus on the positive aspects of death by using bright colors and chromes. The result is a conceptualized version of the bird of paradise flower, which symbolizes joy.

Hawk said his art forces viewers to look at death from a unique perspective that helps them feel at peace with their lives.

“This is probably true for every generation: The world’s always in chaos and immediate peril,” Hawk said. “Apocalyptic themes naturally happen because of us being right at the boiling point. It’s not like we’re on the brink of war all the time, but it’s something that seems we’ve always had going on.”

The apocalypse has also found its way into commercials. Stevens Point Brewery in Wisconsin commissioned a commercial for its black ale depicting Chicago’s destruction by way of an asteroid. Ritch Wedeking, executive producer of local production company Rascals & Rogues, which produced the commercial, said he and partner/director Kerry Shaw Brown wanted to make a video inspired by the Mayan prediction.

Wedeking said his company wanted to do something completely different with the end-of-the-world concept and yet remain Chicago-centric, so they filmed the commercial in the Financial District. Instead of the violent chaos associated with humanity’s demise, Wedeking and Brown depict the end in cold gray tones and soft snowfall set against the background of a riot.

The commercial captures a brief romantic encounter just before life’s chapter is closed. According to him, there are several subliminal Mayan symbols hidden in

the commercial. Even though he’s advertising a product, Wedeking said there’s artistry in the work.

“With some of the new cameras and editing systems and the ability for people to go out and shoot wonderful things that they probably couldn’t do before … you see a lot more artistic work within technology,” he said. “That’s something we really wanted with this project.”

Laurent said every generation theorizes what the fate of our world will be, and sometimes predictions can get out of control. However, he said art will survive the apocalypse.

“I don’t see an apocalypse for the arts,” Laurent said. “Art is part of culture. If there’s the last man or woman standing, we’ll be scratching something into the side of a cliff and that will be art. Art will be with us forever.”