Valley of Shadows

inspiration for new oil painting

While we were in Germany the last couple of weeks, one of the things I needed to do was to visit what remains of the concentration camp at Dachau, just outside of Munich. I needed to see it because several weeks ago, a gentleman visited my Asheville studio and asked me to consider doing a painting commission based on the Holocaust, which was the strangest and most daunting request for an art commission I'd ever received. But I felt like this was something I needed to do.

The commission itself did not work out, but the idea was planted in my head and it's been growing. It will be dark and disturbing, but artists before me have depicted dark and disturbing subjects before (Goya comes to mind). So I wanted to visit Dachau (since it's so close to Munich where we were staying) and soak it in -- let it do in my heart whatever it wanted to do so that I could then depict that in my future painting.

It was not pleasant.

The only way I could take it in was to not fully take it all in. I don't know how anyone can "fully" take it in. I felt myself hardening while I strolled slowly through the grounds. Row upon row of barracks foundations still stand, and I felt a horrible weight. I've never felt anything so miserable and dark and dreadful before.

Row upon row of barracks.

Close your eyes and you still can't imagine the pain of the place. These were real human lives and I wanted to hear them but again, I felt a self-protective "deadening" of my heart. It was the only way I could keep walking; could keep "listening".

It got darker still.

We walked into the very room where people were told to strip. We walked into the next room, tiled floor to ceiling as though it were a shower. I walked into that dark room, silent now but you can still feel a horrible weightiness there. Crushing.

We saw rafters in front of crematory ovens from which people were hung, so that the last thing on this earth they would see would be the open oven door.

No one speaks at Dachau. Communication is in short whispers. It is a holy and horrible place. No one knows how to take it all in and comprehend it. How can you? How can you even begin?

How did this happen? Germany was not a third world country full of back-woods people controlled by superstition. They were a major western civilization, full of creative people. It was a country full of world famous musicians, painters, writers and scientists. But it was a struggling country. They felt like they were not in control of their destiny anymore. They wanted Germany to be great again and they found someone who promised the moon. And then they turned their head when the horrors began to happen. How could this have happened? I think the scenario sounds hauntingly familiar. Similar things could happen anywhere in any generation unless we remember and learn from the past. If you listen, in places like Dachau, the past still has a voice and it is dark and absolutely crushing.

I know now what I need to paint. Some would say it's a waste of time because it may never sell. But art is my voice. And right now, I want to speak.

More to come.