Death Walks into a Bar

This semester I began a new series of work that puts classic religious imagery into a contemporary context.  Since moving to Kansas, I have had reoccurring Apocalyptic nightmares. Considering that these dreams have been a part of my life for the last four years, I wanted to do something inspired by them. I frequent a bar in Emporia called “The Noose”. I often go in alone, have a beer and draw. While this is an interesting atmosphere to sketch, it unfortunately tends to draw unwanted attention. After many nights of brainstorming ideas of how I would approach this work, it dawned on me that the bar itself would make an excellent setting for a series of religious imagery.  I decided I would do four small works (3.25 x 4.75) similar in scale to Durer’s small passion series. I also decided that I would use the renderings of the four horsemen from Durer’s famous woodcut.

My first idea was “Death Walks into a Bar”. Located in the bottom left of the Durer woodcut is his rendering of Death (sometimes confused with Famine, who is holding the scales).  My goal was to render this figure standing in a different position.

I took source photos and drew multiple angles in the bar to determine the setting. I also took liberties with the setting, taking small elements out and adding new ones. I used my sister (Summer Schmitz) in the foreground. My brother (Chris Ehlers) and I are in the background. My initial study did not initially include him, as I could not find a good photo of him. He should get on facebook.

I transferred the image to my plate and began engraving the piece. At one point I had the image proofed and one my students said to me, “I’ve got to be honest…it just looks like an old man with trident.” This made me begin to question rendering of death. At this point he was engraved into the plate and I did not want to bother scraping him out. My breaking point though was when another student said “oh….it’s a teacher and their student”. Not sure where that came from, but it made me decide to scrape it out and replace it with Durer’s other rendering of Death.

In photoshop, I placed the new head onto the study to see how it would look. I then felt that the figure would be more recognizable as death like this. In the final image, I also reluctantly took the trident out and used the traditional scythe in its place.

I had gotten very occupied with work during the semester and put this print on hold. As incentive to finish the work, I elected to include it in a show that Brandon Sanderson was curating at UNC – Pembroke. This means I HAD to finish it. So 2 weeks before I needed to complete it, I came down with a nasty cold and engraved a lot of this print while I was fatigued and strung out on cold medicine. In the future, I might end up doing a little more on the image, but below is the work that I sent to Pembroke, NC.

Currently, I am working on two others – famine and war.


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