During the summer of 2006 Herach created his most ambitious painting by producing the story of humanity in four large oil panels which sit adjacent to each other producing an overall image that extends 16 feet long and stands six feet high.
Across the four panels Herach depicts the journey that mankind has taken from its origins - both biblically and otherwise - to it's awakening, enlightenment, industrialization, destruction of the planet that sustains us, to a universe of emptiness in which mankind no longer exists.
Herach was fascinated with mythology - its gods, goddesses, tales and wisdoms. References to classical Greek as well as biblical mythology are pervasive in his work. The story that he felt most clearly articulated the joys and tragedies of humanity was that of Oedipus.
Oedipus was the son of the King and Queen of Thebes, Laius and Jocasta, who unknowingly marries his own mother after murdering his own father. King Lauius visits an oracle who prophesizes that if Laius has a son, the son will kill him and marry Jocasta. In order to prevent this prophecy, when Jocasta does have a son - Oedipus - Laius gives the boy to a shepherd to abandon him to die in Corinth. However, rather than leave the child to die as Laius intended, the sympathetic man lets him live. The boy grows to be a man unaware of his parents' identity and comes upon the same oracle who king Laius had spoken to and he reveals the same prophecy to him - that he is destined to marry his mother and kill his father. In his attempt to avoid this fate he flees from Corinth directly back to Thebes. Oedipus encounters the Sphinx who asks all travelers a riddle. If the travelers are unable to answer correctly, they are eaten by the Sphinx. The riddle was: "What walks on four feet in the morning, two in the afternoon and three at night?" Oedipus answers, "Man; as an infant, he crawls on all fours, as an adult, he walks on two legs and, in old age, he relies on a walking stick." By defining in its simplicity and essence what mankind truly is, Oedipus defeats the Sphinx that has tormented the people of Thebes for so long. In gratitude, the people of Thebes make Oedipus their king and offer the recently widowed Jocasta as his queen. Later, as a result of this unnatural union, a plague of infertility strikes the city of Thebes and it is destroyed.
Herach saw this painful story as a perfect metaphor for the profound accident of humanity as we stumble through our existence leaving love, tragedy, beauty, and destruction in our wake. An homage to Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres' painting Oedipus and the Sphinx (c.1805) in the second panel is just one of the many famous references to the world of art, religion, and commerce to be found in Herach's painting.
To the extreme left, the first panel (The Past) begins with blackness to reflect the emptiness of the universe. The universe then immediately fills with colors fed by the energy of life. Herach's choice of natural colors here reflects the beauty of nature and mankind as part of its origins. The color of the earth with its many trees, oceans and skies are rendered in warm, lively greens and blues. As you follow this lush landscape through the other panels, the trees become more sparse, the land begins to lose the green color and as the earth extends into the future the color green completely disappears and the land is barren. This is the artist's way of reflecting how part of the story of mankind is of the destruction of our natural world through pollution and the abuse of our environment.
In the center of the first panel a blind beautiful queen sits. She, like queen Jocasta cast here as the mother of mankind, is blind as she is unaware of the great tragedy that awaits her and her child. On her knee sits Tiresias, the prophet. According to the myth, Oedipus went to Tiresias to learn the truth of what happened to the last king and then realizes the traqedy that his life truly is. In the image he tries to warn her of things to come. Herach’s goal in comparing mankind to Oedipus is to identify how our rise to domination of this planet was essentially doomed to tragedy from the very beginning.
Herach paints a meticulously designed tree of life bearing the pearl of life and harboring the full apple. As you progress into the second panel, the apple is now half eaten hanging from a string held by Oedipus as he consults with his God Sphinx.
Herach begins to confront the evolution of mankind and its industrialization in the second panel (The Present). Here he looks at the often tragic and unequal way humanity has dealt with members of its own race. He paints the working class above Oedipus’s head but he paints them upside down chasing that half eaten apple. He paints soldiers, sailors, white and black people. He hints at slavery as the white figures put their arms around the black ones yet they carry the golden coin to show the enslavement of the black race. The wealthy people hold their hands out while the wealth of the world pours into their hands. The petty thieves on the lower part of the panel try to fill their hungry stomach while the big thieves - a symbol for the imperialistic countries - do the same yet attempt to appear civilized in the process. The artist depicts this as a man wearing a suit and a hat, yet he has his back to us and, conceivably, to the good of all mankind.
Images of war extend from the first panel (The Past) into the second (The Present), and inevitably into the third (The Future). At the centre of all this war, Herach recreates a new image of Rodin's The Thinker (c.1902). In his contemplation of war he sits in a pool of oil carrying the mark of oil corporations on his arm. A tree grows from his head carrying symbols of religious and political ideologies. All of these forces weigh equally on the role war plays on our humanity. Herach uses the color gold to surround him as a symbol of wealth and he uses the Turquoise blue color to represent the ozone layer. This previously unbroken line crumbles over the head of the figure as it runs into a broken clock. This furthers the image of how our war and greed has caused our environmental destruction and that time is quickly running out.
As this image of war extends in the upper portion of the first, second and third panels, he uses two symbols to show his disgust at war. He recreates Picasso's famous anti-war painting, Guernica (c. 1937) in its mirror image to show how this image of war is reflected repeatedly through time. Secondly, he finishes this portion of the painting with the mother of humanity as the last person to be mutilated during the war of humanity.
In the third panel (The Future) the dominant figure is of a mother and child standing naked from the wealth of the world. She resolutely directs her child to go forward further into the future as humanity has always headed, yet her head points the opposite direction. The child too feels the draw to go back, yet clings in terror to his mother while both seem unsure of where to go next.
Further right in this panel, Herach depicts the end too of the beauty that humanity has created. The violinist looks at music notes and the strings on her violin, both torn to represent the end of music. Herach paints the river of life as it extends from the past into the present and ends in the future. This river - initially a source of life that feeds the green earth and its creatures in the first panel - slowly dries up into nothing in this panel. He paints a misshaped bird with a tin can on its head holding the book of human history as he tries futilely to wash it with what remains from the river of life. The expanding and exploding red sun stands for the ultimate final destruction.
The final panel (The Post Future) depicts a vast emptiness - a deep black future in which all colors will end and humanity becomes extinct. The only figure in this final panel is John the Baptist. He stands headless praying in the absolute darkness for a new creation and beginning. Herach paints the new creation as the formation of a new star and super nova in the upper part of the last panel of his painting.
In this major work, Herach manages to tell a compelling and prophetic story of humanity while at the same time offering a love letter to the art and artists that have made existence beautiful.