Paramount of Eternity
Paramount of Eternity is the title of my upcoming solo exhibition at the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art in Texas. The myth of Sisyphus inspired the title, and that is where I would like to begin. As we know from mythology, Sisyphus was a cruel Greek king whose punishment entailed pushing a giant rock up a steep hill, only to find it rolling back down when he neared the top.
That is what we know him for, and that became his legacy: tirelessly pushing the rock till eternity. The theme for the solo exhibition at the Brownsville Museum is about the sense of eternity that we experience during a lifetime. Timelessness is not necessarily a bad thing, but the main contribution to life. It might be as Albert Camus presented.
In his book Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus imagined Sisyphus smiling while pushing the rock, and embracing his situation without thinking of the past or the future. Sisyphus was unstoppable. He pushed the rock back up with unabated determination each time it went down. It makes me think that it’s not necessarily a bad story about a man who struggles with a rock. We cannot control our destiny, but we can control our present, and we do that by always trying to do what is right and what is best. Our attempts may be futile, but making the attempt is never futile, for it determines and simultaneously rewards our character.
Paramount of Eternity is about doing things that are in some sense metaphysically important.
It is important in life that we try to do what is right.
Paramount of Eternity means that the one focus and the one idea we follow in life become our life’s labor. It has nothing to do with the repetitiveness of the act, its difficulty, the brevity of its achievement, or its potential futility.
This exhibition is inspired by the myth, but also a direct reference to yearbooks that I found when I was staying at Fulton Alumni House for my solo exhibition in 2018. Williams Wood University in Fulton, MO was primarily for women, but that has changed over time. When I was looking at the photographs and faces in the old yearbooks, it appeared to me that there is much more to the history of it than just their stories and pictures itself.
Paramount of Eternity presents the achievement as an achievement in name only. The exhibition is a reflection on the images flooding today’s internet. The main question of each painting that I produced comes with the question, What value does painting bring to the world of images? Sisyphus added no value to the universe by taking the rock from the bottom of the hill to its crest. Is this equally true of posting images, or of creating another painting? Sisyphus’s crowning victory each time is an empty one, not because it does not last, but because it accomplishes nothing of value. His work, his success, his efforts are all in vain because the task is worthless. As artists, are we only making noise?
Perhaps everything about Sisyphus can be reflected in the age of the internet. But my question is, does the same hold true for painting? Do we accomplish nothing by painting today? Is painting simply the act of pushing the rock from here to there without accomplishment? Even if Sisyphus’s task were merely to get this rock up this hill one time, whatever amount of time he spends doing it, whether long or short, is time squandered; he could have spent it doing something worthwhile and useful. Even if it were to make him stronger, he would have been better off becoming stronger by doing strenuous work that was actually useful. Should contemporary painters ask the same question about purpose?
As a metaphor for frustrating and futile labor, the point of Sisyphus’s punishment is that it’s an eternal waste of time and energy. Shall I feel the same about painting? That it is repetitive makes it frustrating, because it is the repetition of something boring and useless. Do paintings uselessly occupy space and time in the age of digital imagery? If something is laborious, it’s only bad if that labor produces nothing of real value. It does not really matter that it is temporary, for even if it were permanent, Sisyphus would not be able to take pride in the fact that he has simply changed the position of a rock—a piece of furniture in the universe. Moving the rock makes a difference in the universe, but a difference that is without distinction, without merit, and without benefit.