John Halaka

Graham Gallery

What does it mean when an artist inserts himself into the political envelope of Jacques-Louis David’s emblematic painting Death of Marat, 1793, in such a way that we, in turn, are enticed to stand in his place “contemplating revolution?” This latter phrase is the double-edged title of the key work in the series “Prelude to a Pacifist Revolution,” 1985–86, John Halaka’s latest group of encaustic paintings. In Contemplating Revolution, 1986, Halaka excises the body of Marat from the David painting and literally incises it as an ambiguous glyptic image in the middle ground of a horizontal rectangle. To the right, comprising the foreground, a vivid-blue straight chair hides Marat’s left hand and Charlotte Corday’s petition, which he was reading when she assassinated him. On the left, behind Marat’s draped tub, stands an ocher figure, hands on hips, with its head cropped by the upper frame.

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