BOOK OF REVELATIONS

"This edition of The Book of Revelation presents Los Angeles/Prague artist Barbara Benish's graphic interpretations of the final chapter of the New Testament. Her illustrations dramatize the horror and beauty of St. John's apocalyptic vision. By closely integrating her images and the biblical literature in a large format, and using the highest standards of craft in its production, every effort has been made to recreate a sense of the monumental that emanates from the texts of incunabula. Just as Benish's linoleum cuts gain strength from reference to previous interpretations of this text by Durer, Cranach, and Blake, I pay homage to the fierce beauty and sense of spirituality created by the perfection of craft fond in the printed book's rich heritage. Collaboratively, we seek to provide a link between the past and present which will nourish those who continue to believe in the transformative power of art and literature."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Robin Price
                                                                                                                                                                                                   Publisher and Printer 1993 
                                                                                                                                                                                               
www.robinpricepublisher.com

 

Barbara Benish Artist's Statement

on the Apocalypse series

Since my early undergraduate studies in art and ethnography, the cross-cultural richness of historical

and contemporary hybrids has inspired me. This has been a continuing spiral in my art for nearly 30

years. Raised a Roman Catholic, I was early on intrigued with the Bible. But it was in Hawai'i,

studying the Kumilipo, the Polynesian creation chant, that I came to appreciate this great work in the

Judaic-Christian world. The Bible is our creation chant, and surely one of the greatest pieces of

literature humans have created.

 

 My initial interest in the Apocalypse theme came from my studies and deep involvement in the late

1980's with the work of renaissance artist Albrecht Durer. (please see my catalogue furer melancholicus

from the exhibition at the Durer Haus in Nurnberg, Germany, 1992). Durer's graphic work after the

Book of Revelations was pivotal in art history not only because it was one of the early books for

private consumption (utilizing Gutenberg's revolutionary press ideas), but also his depiction of the

"Four Riders of the Apocalypse" remains to this day one of the most known depicted images of chaos

and fury in art history. It deals with a mind set that only the western imagination could portray:

Individualism, our personal influence on Destiny, and the idea of Hell.

B.Benish sketch after Durer. 1990

 

 Durer, and many of the hundreds of artists who have chosen the Book of Revelation as a theme to illustrate before and since then

(including Picasso, Cranach, Blake, Goya, etc.), portrayed John's text in terms of sin, punishment and redemption, good and evil; a

very classical, Christian, western approach. Yet,Durer was an artist bridging two worlds: the Old and the New, as what was to become

America was just being discovered by Europeans. The Reformation began just as early industrialization clashed with the

humanist tradition. John, too, was a poet-visionary-saint, of two worlds. A Jewish Christian, fluent in Hebrew, Babylonian, and the

extensive symbolic language of the ancient mystics, he was ministering in Ephesus, Asia Minor-the "East", before banned to

the island of Patmos. The text itself, truly divine in it's language, is a direct literary descendent of earlier Judaic apocryphal texts. In rereading John's Book, I was inspired by the original meaning of the greek word "apocalyptic", to "reveal", or "uncover". What was the

subtext here? The 1st C. AD saw not only the rise of Christianity, but the ending of an abstract representation of God. Amulets, symbols of 'heathenism' and it's matrilineal-based societies throughout southern Europe and the Mediterranean, were replaced by a new realism. Organized religion replaced individualized worship. This was the rise of Western civilization, as we know it, coming out of the

East. So in the early 90's I began a series of linoleum block prints based on my own interpretation of

John's words. The great master printer and publisher Robin Price published this work in a finely made,

limited edition of 50 hand made books. Our "Book of Revelation", finally released in 1995 after 3 years

of trans-Atlantic work, was based on the 1611 King James version of the Bible

 

from the Publisher's notes:

"...written while St. John was in exile, the Book of Revelation dates from the end of the first century, a

time of severe religious persecution. For Benish, St. John's vision of the Apocalypse bridges the

historic and very current struggles for spiritual and secular guidance. She writes, 'I began this series in

the summer of 1992. Riots had erupted in Los Angeles. A close friend was dying of AIDS. The war

broke out in Sarajevo and anyone remembering a fraction of European history heard the shots. My

work at the time commemorated the 500 years of violent fruition between European and American

cultures ( "Encuentro", shown in Los Angeles and Prague, spring 1992). It seemed appropriate to put a

knife to linoleum in the hot summer sun of an abandoned garden in Central Europe where the Golem

still roams and McDonalds just arrived.'"

 

In the words of Tomas McEvilly, "what is horrifying is also sublime". I continued working with the

theme of "Revelations", as I saw a beauty and cognizant quality of the text on a deeper level. The small

linoleum prints weren't enough. So I manipulated them into collages and paint, creating new large scale

paintings, called "Lines of Pleasure". The title to this series of 10-12 paintings is translated from the

czech "čáry pro přotešiní. The czech expression čary marí, now used in english by children pretending

to make secret incantations, comes from ancient times when female mystics would draw lines in the

dirt to prophesy the future. These reading of signs, based in ancient knowledge, is not far from John of

Patmos's extensive use of allusion, Greek and Egyptian mythology and religion, numerology, and

Hebrew vision literature.

 

Therefore, each painting attends to either a vision or a key phrase in Revelations. For instance

"Lambheart" revers to the end of the text, the "New Jerusalem", the Philadelphia (one of the 7 cities in

John's text). The four animals mentioned by John, which in turn represent the four elements, directions,

four beast, and four paths. It represents the pilgrim who may feel as outcast from his/her native culture

(and thus "leaves the city"), but ushers in a new way of life. The Lamb of course is the eternal sacrifice,

represented by Jesus Christ in this time. Each painting is a collage of many small copies of the graphic

works, melded and intertwined together on the canvas, creating an abstracted (less 'realistic') vision of

our original Book of Revelations, again echoing the process of the text itself.

 

In this way, the words of John "the Divine", come full circle into our contemporary post-modern world:

in painted simulacra of an ancient vision. As he said "Devour my words and then throw them away".

Do not take the Word too literally, which corresponds to today's deconstructivist theories on the text. It

is not necessarily the "What" but the "How", that matters. It is my hope these paintings, graphics, and

installations on the Revelation theme will open the viewer to a less rational spiritual awareness of the

Divine, than we have been given for 2000 years. They offer a perhaps more feminine, underground

sensibility and interpretation to a traditionally male-dominated discourse. Because, after all,

 

"...and every thousand years the devil must be loosened a little"