In Pursuit of True Power
Oh my oh my but I am excited to write about the collage “Power,” not only because it is one of my favorites but it also seems to be even more relevant today than when I created it in 2014. The relation of power and money has always been a topic I’ve been fascinated with but the connection between the two has never been as palpably clear to me as it currently is as expressed in the American political landscape. On a technical note, this work is equally as appealing to me because it was the first collage where I began to experiment with the actual shape of the collage itself rather than limiting myself to a certain size of a basic rectangular shape (the black background was added later for framing purposes).
The main impetus for this collage came from the image I found of the gold bar at the top of the work with the words “Only Gold Signifies True Power.” As with the majority of my images, this one came from an advertisement in a magazine and it absolutely stunned me when I came across it. The ad itself was fairly simple – a gold bar on a black background – but all the power of it came from this statement imprinted on the gold. What caught my breath wasn’t even the statement itself; the concept of money/wealth being the equivalent to power has been thoroughly discussed in philosophy from before Rousseau and in popular culture from before Gordan Gekko. This gold bar advertisement completely stopped me because, similar to Gekko’s “greed is good” speech, its assertion was stated so very brazenly and audaciously with no hint of apology or shame. The implication behind the statement that power is not only impossible but unattainable without gold (or wealth in general) brings with it a whole host of other inferences – those without gold are powerless; in order to have the power to effect any change, gold must be involved; there is only one consequential form of power and it is only accessible through gold; power and gold are both things to strive for. There are some collages I’ve made that gradually grow on me, with ideas slowly dripping in as I find more and more images that could potentially add to the central piece I’m gradually formulating. There are others though, that burst through a dam until it seems I can’t work fast enough to put them together. “Power” was one of the latter as soon as I saw this piece of gold and started dissecting the statement so powerfully imprinted upon it.
I had two main interests in this collage – the powerful who were most represented by gold, luxury, and unapologetic wealth, and the powerless who propped up the powerful, often through their labor. The most difficult part was how to connect the two in a way that didn’t just show how disparate they are but more importantly, how they are intertwined. The driving factor behind this connection is the concept that gold is a zero-sum game, that is, there is only so much of it available; if there are those who have so much of it, they are truly powerful, that would mean there are those who have none of it and are truly powerless, resulting in a continual tug of war.
As I began to gather images that represented the powerful, the powerless, and gold itself, I found that I kept running across particular time periods and institutions. The first became the organizational crux of the piece – the Egyptian pharaohs with their vast amounts of wealth held in pyramids built by slaves. The second was the institution of the church, especially from the era of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, in which the lavish luxury of the churches themselves as well as the lifestyles of the priests and bishops were provided for by the money collected from those who could least afford it. The third was the most recent institution of massive corporations which provide mass products for the developed world (formerly “first-world”) consumer, most often at the expense of the developing world (formerly “third-world”) worker who makes the products.
In order to connect these different time periods as well as the primary two elements of the powerless and the powerful, I had to let go of the idea that a piece of art has to be a particular shape and a particular size. This actually took much longer than I like to admit as I had become so comfortable working with those sizes and shapes, it was difficult to fathom anything else working. I kept returning to the concept of pyramids however and ended up deciding to just try it on a whim, it’d probably end up awful and I could start over.
To get past the stuckness of how to intertwine all these different elements, I began to research the structure of pyramids themselves – the geometry and symmetry that was involved in creating and building them, the different aspects that constituted a pyramid from the varying levels to the inner rooms to how people would access the different areas of this unique structure (and which people were allowed access to different areas). My collage work to this point had been fairly loosely formed rather than exactly measured, relying more on a piece expressing the idea or form of the theme in a general, visceral sense rather than trying to portray it exactly. By working in the opposite manner however, and forcing myself to conform to the exacting structure of a pyramid, I was able to use its inherent divisions to unite the separate elements I’d been struggling with into a cohesive whole while still maintaining their distinctions.
Thus, the images of the powerless and most vulnerable uphold the bottom of the pyramid, forming its foundations; the newest manifestation of the powerful, as seen in corporations, rest directly upon the powerless; the power as seen in the wealth of the church is woven through as steps leading to its completion as nearly the highest form possible; but the ultimate highest level of power however is gold itself. The ancient relationship of power and wealth as expressed in the Egyptians is found through the basic shape of the pyramid, as well as the gradually decreasing segments. The bones that are I added into the ancient section served a couple purposes though at the time, it was one of those decisions that “just fit” and it wasn’t until later I found justification for it. The primary purpose was an aesthetic and technical one – there wasn’t enough of the particular gold image from the Egyptian pyramid walls I wanted to use that could create a satisfying pyramid shape and I needed a “filler” image. The secondary purpose though is more due to my personal philosophy regarding power and money.
It is difficult to talk about my art with one hundred percent objectivity, without any discussion of my personal beliefs or views, especially because the majority of my art comes from those beliefs and my subjective view of the world. My hope is that the following explanation is not for the purpose of preaching, but to further explain part of what drove this collage. I do not see a life lived in the pursuit of money or power to be a life well lived. It is my personal view that the love of either one lead to a spiritual (in the most general sense) death and in many cases, an early physical one. There are so many incredible and meaningful pursuits, so many ways to enrich one’s own life and the lives of others around one that, to me, there are few things deeply sadder than hearing those realize once it’s too late they’ve spent their lives absorbed in something as capricious and futile as money or power. Thus the bones are not just representative of our physical passing, and with that passing both our power and money, but also a deeper spiritual emptiness that I believe to be intertwined in the pursuit of gold and it’s true power.