One of the satisfactions of research is unanticipated discovery. By chance I found that the 20th-century German artist George Grosz had, in 1943, created illustrations for a new printing of Dante's Divine Comedy. It seemed odd for an artist who aimed to chronicle the horrors and intolerant path of Nazi fascism to delve into a 600-year-old poem. Grosz's illustrations, predominant in the first section of the poem, the Inferno, suggested an alternate reading of the Divine Comedy, one equally applicable to a world pulled through a violent socio-political hell rather than the spiritual journey of Dante.
Three years ago, I began a series of nine paintings chronicling the journey of a young man, its idea springing from illustrations and a re-reading of the Divine Comedy. These paintings do not follow any literal representation of the Divine Comedy but focus instead on the path of individuals beginning to understand their relationship to communities both familiar and diverse. The young man's journey begins in his small home town and follows him to a large city. The narratives provide moments of contemplation for the young man, even as he surveys evidence of conflict or traumatic events. There are also bits of wonder, near and distant, to be discovered.
Three of six completed pieces are included in this publication. A Child Offers a Keepsake for Comfort on His Journey is the second in the series and depicts a moment of hesitation as the young man decides to embark on his journey. Traversing the Lane of the Destitute and the Affluent, number four in the series, brings the young man to the city where he is confronted with a more extreme range of social strata than he has known. Past Grievances Recede Before Immeasurable Distance comes toward the end of the series and was begun and completed during the summer of 2020. The young man stands confronting prior destruction under a bright night sky and full moon.
The journey is reflective of personal passage, one of individual growth, maturation, revelation, and a widening of one's circles.
Born in Austin, Texas in 1959, Mark Cervenka is currently Professor of Art and Director of the O'Kane Gallery at the University of Houston Downtown.