We all know there’s an element of cynicism and snobbery involved in viewing art. Even those who count themselves among the most liberal and enlightened are occasionally guilty of closing their minds. To some degree, we all possess the culturally determined tendency to categorize, to quickly file things where we think they belong. Had I not been looking for a subject to write about in conjunction with Halloween, I might’ve dismissed Jeriah Hildwine‘s work without a second glance. The guy paints zombies, after all. But then I would’ve done his art a disservice.
Zombies are the stuff of comic books, low-budget horror films, and uninspired Halloween costumes. They enjoy a cyclical popularity and are presently registering on our collective radar thanks to a spate of baffling conflations with literature (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) and history (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). And of course, AMC’s version of The Walking Dead has helped catapult zombies from the confines of nerdy fandom into the average American living room.
Hildwine acknowledges the zombie’s pop status and says he began painting them in an attempt to break free of the theory-heavy critiques of graduate school. Like a teenager escaping the confines of his parents’ authoritarian home, he seized the opportunity to make his own rules. To him that meant focusing on “the pure physical pleasure of figurative realist painting and the voyeuristic pleasure of enjoyable subject matter.”
In other words, Hildwine wanted to paint what he wanted, how he wanted, without having to justify the work in an academic context.