While compiling my monthly calendar of events, I came across an art opening that I simply could not resist. The opening was an exhibit of Jack Kevorkian’s last 12 paintings at Gallerie Sparta on Sunset in West Hollywood. My first reaction was I had no idea that Dr. Death was an artist. My second thought was I wonder what these paintings could show about Dr. Death. My second thought was right on target. These paintings were both revealing and quite a mystery all at once because while there is so much to interpret, the person that was Dr. Death is still a person of such infamy that any kind of interpretation made will not necessarily bring us closer to fully understanding him. In fact, I must say, with this particular show, I believe it produced the opposite results.
Jack Kevorkian very famously fought for the rights of terminally ill patients to choose their death. He assisted in the suicide of 130 patients starting in 1990. Eventually, he spent an eight year prison sentence for his beliefs and actions. It is true that Jack Kevorkian stands in history as a controversial character, and at this point it is unclear as to whether or not he started a movement that will eventually (a long ways away) become accepted or if his beliefs will always represent a radical minority. In 1997, Oregon followed in Jack Kevorkian’s lead and passed the Death with Dignity Act which “allows terminally ill Oregonians to end their lives through the voluntary self-administration of lethal medications, expressly prescribed by a physician for the purpose.”
Jack Kevorkian’s beliefs and philosophies in life closely accompanied his work in art. While the paintings themselves were very interesting, what I found most interesting were the descriptions written by Dr. Kevorkian himself that accompanied them. They were the most revealing about the paintings as well as the artist. For instance, accompanying two paintings about music was a description that states that out of all historical events to witness, Kevorkian would have most liked to “[sit] motionless on a bench and [watch] Bach compos[e] one of his conciertos, which [came] closer than most of the frail works of man to deserving the term immortal.” Kevorkian’s belief in the terminal state of man ran very deep. This belief is apparent in his descriptions of his art as well as the artwork itself. There was a clear connection to the idea that we will all die, but it was unclear as to whether or not this connection brought Kevorkian closer or further away from his fellow man.
The paintings in which he showcases his beliefs about the terminal state of humanity are both graphic and powerful. Mainly they depict different states the body experiences in sickness, terminal illness, or other ailments. For example, here is Kevorkian’s depiction of paralysis:
In his description he wrote “a chained brain and spinal cord cannot motivate or empower…Despair and panic accentuate biological incarcerations as though trapped by dank encroaching walls. In time there will be atrophy, -- hopefully only corporeal, not of the spirit.”
Another bit that I found very interesting about this show is that amongst all these paintings that depicted the anguish of the body, there are two portraits in the middle of the show Kevorkian painted of his parents. And right next to that sits the Thanatron, which is up for bid starting at $25,000. The show in general is a very interesting study of the body’s effect on the human soul, but I found it to be an interesting showcase of Jack Kevorkian himself. It was not necessarily revealing, but simply interesting. Everyone will find something different in his art and everyone will experience something about Jack Kevorkian that they interpret individually. All in all, I'd say that point makes for a fascinating show.
The show runs until April 30th at Gallerie Sparta on Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood.
To find out more information, visit the event website here