The late Dr. Jack Kevorkian, known for his life’s work of advocating assisted suicide and for helping to end over 130 lives with his ominous-sounding Thanatron, or “machine of death,” was also an oil painter. The doctor, who spend 8 years in prison, created a little-known body of work tinged with the horror of pain; illustrating his controversial ideas on compassion, the paintings take aim at his religious critics and appeal to a nuanced moral ideal where death is seen simultaneously as a terror and an escape.
Kevorkian’s Thanatron takes its name from the ancient Greek personification of death; in his paintings, he also uses mythological themes. In “Fever,” he illustrates a hell composed of the ill and suffering; like Dante’s Virgil, he leads his painted patient through the depths of agony and fear with wide, sweeping brushstrokes. The Christian Brotherhood is reimagined as a monster characterized by multiple grotesque, sharp-toothed heads vaguely reminiscent of Inferno’s Satan.
Seemingly drawing inspiration from symbolist painters like Paul Gauguin and Edvard Munch, the artist, often referred to as “Dr. Death,” distorts the form of his subjects so that they might express psychological despair and heightened anxiety. In one image, titled “Coma,” a man, draped in a bed sheet, is inhaled by ghostly skull, his body absurdly foreshortened and his lined feet disproportionately swelled to express profound weariness. As the monstrous spirit of “coma” sucks him in, his tiny, darkened eyes beg for release. In “Paralysis,” the body becomes a prison, the brain removed and bound in chains.
When exhibited alongside the doctor’s paintings illustrating his love of music (Johann Sebastian Bach, a treble and bass clef), as they are at Gallerie Sparta, the more frightful images take on a strange operatic quality, evoking eery tonal climaxes with expressionistic bursts of color. 11 of the doctor’s paintings will be on view through April 30. (via Huff Post)