All too often, according to Adrian Waggoner, ideas are embraced and upheld without any criticism. Waggoner is a local artist attempting to tackle this issue with his latest project “Young Saints and Old Martyrs.”
The painting is what Waggoner calls “a 3-D diptych,” where two large paintings will be displayed on opposite sides of the room, activating the space between them and catching the viewer in their interaction.
The first painting (titled “Young Saints”) is 6 feet tall by 19 feet wide, and consists of seven young figures, four women and three men—each in a religious pose with a gold-leaf halo, wearing stark white underwear. Their eyes are fixed straight ahead, gazing across the room to the other painting (titled “Old Martyrs”). The other painting is 6 feet tall by 12 feet wide, and holds 4 nude male figures—each with a beard and a gold-leaf halo. The figures are distinctly modern, portrayed loosely but with careful attention to anatomic detail. The background is flat and graphic, what Waggoner calls a “non-space,” hearkening back to the Byzantine era and the work of Klimt and Mucha.
The piece underscores the interaction between new and old. The seven “Young Saints” represent the current generation and the four “Old Martyrs” represent the generations of the past. The new generation looks to the old, sometimes in acceptance and sometimes in rejection, for traditions, thoughts and opinions.
The idea for the project was sparked when Waggoner went to the museum of natural science and saw some of the first batteries ever invented. “The old batteries were comprised of cells,” Waggoner said, “and batteries today are still made of cells. [Then I thought] maybe that is the best way to store energy, but maybe it’s not. It seems like we take one idea and just go with it, and we can’t see past that idea.”
Waggoner’s piece challenges viewers to confront the origins of their own thought. The project is about self-awareness, and Waggoner hopes that each person who views the paintings will have a personal experience. “Even though I have strong feelings about what my paintings mean or say,” Waggoner said, “I try to keep them vague and simple enough to where people can come to it and interject their own meaning into it and take from it what they want or need to take from it.”
Waggoner is preparing the paintings to be displayed at ArtPrize—half art competition and half social experiment—in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The exhibit, featuring nearly 2,000 artists and spanning the entire city, boasts one of the largest rewards of any art competition in the world. Over 200,000 public viewers will vote on their favorite pieces of art, and $474,000 will be awarded to the top ten artists.
Waggoner hopes that the exhibition will give his work increased exposure and help him get a more prominent foothold in the fine art community.