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Modern Inferno: Post-9/11 Paintings

ISSUE:  Fall 2004

With the Twin Towers tragedy the American world fell from heaven to hell. The attack created unprecedented ideological, moral, and spiritual chaos, along with physical and mental security issues. Our world became Dante’s Inferno. Morally and spiritually we sought resolution and answers. Each of us struggled. The dark memory of 9/11 continues to cast a shadow, particularly on people who travel. We are reminded of the tragedy each time we go through a security check.

Along with 9/11’s colossal collisions, another kind of cultural calamity surfaced—a spiritual crisis as the media exposed Catholic priests caught in child sexual abuse cases. My recent visual narrative work reflects all of these issues. In a larger sense, 9/11 was a warning for Western society. Her cultural values were challenged where sexual ethics, sex abuse issues, and seductive consumerism struggle amid unimaginable and unprecedented chaos.

Weaving news media reality with visionary fantasy in a complex of humor, commentary, line, form, and color is a challenge. I try to focus on current issues articulated on a metaphorical level rather than recreating a mere copy of reality. Each narrative creates a fantastical aesthetic world where human folly and dilemma are expressed in such a way that the beauty and ugliness of the human psyche thrive in the context of a poetic visual statement.

[Teraoka 01]
Post 9/11 / La Specola Inquisition, 2002. Oil on canvas in gold frame, 19 1/2” x 23 1/2”

[Teraoka 02]
Semana Santa / Cloisters Workout, 2004. Oil on wood with gold leaf frame, 38 1/8” x 44 1/2” x 2”

This painting depicts struggles between sexual pleasure and chastity. The settings are at opposite ends of Manhattan—the downtown World Trade Center and the uptown museum of the Cloisters. In the top triptych, against a backdrop of 9/11 chaos, a full-on battle over sexual ethics rages. Ideology, spirituality, and sexual ethics writhe in a hell pit like Dante depicted in the 16th century. On the bottom, a modern St. Catherine has caught archbishops in sexual abuse scandals and leashed them to her wheel. Meanwhile, in a workout room of the Cloisters, young women and a boy are taking sexuality suppression workout classes from priests.

[Teraoka 03]
Venus’ Serpentine Confession, 2003. Oil and acrylic on board in gold leaf frame, 38” x 44” x 1 1/2”

In the top part of this triptych, priests confess in London red boxes (telephone booths). A woman who responded to one of the priests’ calls is now running away from him because she discovered his breast implants. In the lower part of the triptych, an archbishop at a podium apologizes to women who were sexually abused by priests. In the center, women impregnated by a bishop are accusing him while he interrogates another woman on a burning iron rack. In the right panel, a priest is trying to seduce a woman atop Damien Hirst’s sheep sculpture.

[Teraoka 04]
Semana Santa / Venus’ Security Check, 2004. Oil on wood with gold leaf frame, 119” x 96 1/2” x 2 3/4”

London landmarks set the scene for the bottom triptych. Venus has been stopped at a London airport’s security check. Although she showed her ID card (the seashell) to a security guard, she was still treated as suspect. Humiliated and dehumanized, Venus was strip-searched as if she were a suicide bomber. The top triptych, inspired by priests’ sexual abuse revelations, is set in the Tuscan or Spanish countryside. Chastity is a tough assignment.

[Teraoka 05]
Venus’ Serpentine Confession (closed), 2003. Oil and acrylic on board, 38” x 22” x 3”

The backside of this triptych is a travelogue. Last spring I visited the Tate Modern, walked along the Tower Bridge, and later visited Madrid and the headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition in Toledo. I also visited Naples, Pompeii, and Ireland in 2003. Elements of each place are depicted in this composition, but wherever I went memories of 9/11 intruded.


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