Expulsion from Paradise, by Michael Sandle, on display at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2007
I guess you’ve seen this in the news last week. It certainly says something about public perception of the UK’s involvement in a deeply unpopular war.
The centre-piece of the Royal Academy of Arts.summer show is this enormous triptych, with the Prime Minister and his wife portrayed naked as Adam and Eve being expelled from 10 Downing Street.
Interesting how readily the Bible supplies relevant imagery for contemporary truth-telling. What truth, though? It is intended as a judgment on Blair’s support for the invasion of Iraq. The artist, Michael Sandle, said that he was so angry with the loss of life, the chaos and the futility of the war, that he had dashed off the huge work, measuring 4m by 1.3m, in a matter of days.In the central panel, Tony and Cherie Blair are seen leaving Downing Street, in a chalk and charcoal sketch inspired by the Old Testament story of Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden. They are flanked by one panel showing a British soldier beating Iraqi prisoners and another showing corpses piled up to the windows of Downing Street.In the Telegraph Sandle is reported as saying that as a lifelong atheist he was outraged by Mr Blair’s recent remarks that God would be his judge on the morality of going to war and he decided to take the story of Paradise Lost and Adam and Eve’s temptation by Satan as his inspiration. It’s a deeply unpleasant picture. But then sometimes truth is, isn’t it? Make no mistake: one is right and one is wrong. Blair intimates that God directed the military intervention and Sandle suggests that Satan tempted him. In a strange way, it reminds me of Picasso’s Guernica. Guernica was another massive mural (quite a bit bigger, actually, at 7.8m x 3.5m). They both assail you with an overwhelming sense of pointless suffering. They are both black and white,. Somehow this contrasts with the intensity of the scene depicted and invokes the immediacy of a newspaper photograph. Sandle actually used photographs –perhaps to create something of this very effect.One vital difference though: Guernica presents a scene of death, violence, brutality, suffering, and helplessness without portraying their immediate causes. The Blair Triptych provides no such ambiguity. In Sandle’s mind the villain takes centre stage.And this brings the second connection to my mind: the old Bob Dylan line from the angry invective that makes up “It’s alright Ma” (1965):
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have
To stand naked.
The idea is that be you so high and mighty, you cannot evade the final uncovering. Truth will out. “There is a day for all that is proud and lofty.”
So maybe Sandle and Blair are in total agreement after all. God will certainly be Blair’s judge, even as he is ours. We are all accountable for what we have done. What do you think?