The Garden of Earthly Delights: Earth

Shag’s large re-creation of Hieronymus Bosch’s famous triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights  (c. 1503-1504), which was the centerpiece of his The Flesh is Willing exhibit at the Laguna Art Museum, was actually three individual large works depicting Hell, Earth and Paradise. The center panel, as in Bosch’s work, represents Earth as it is interpreted by the artist in modern times.

Like his other two panels (Hell and Heaven), Shag’s interpretation of Bosch’s Earth is considerably different than the original piece. One of the main reasons for the contrast in the works is simply due to the fact that the modern time of Bosch’s work depicts life as it might have been in the early 1500’s (albeit a surreal 1503), whereas with Shag’s piece, Earth is depicted with a greater span of time including, and up to, an era where vice consumptions are marketed by brands such as Jim Beam, Jack Daniels and Marlboro.

In Bosch’s Earth, there is a tremendous amount of symbolism in life itself, represented by animals of all sorts, such as birds, fish, cows and horses. The conception and sustainability of life is also symbolized throughout, with the nourishment of fruit and fish, and the depiction of life spawning from cracked eggs. In Shag’s Earth, it would seem that the sustainability of life is represented more so through the vices of smoking an alcohol consumption. The troubles of life in 1503 may not be so clearly understood, but in more modern times, Shag may have identified several beyond the branded vices. Is deforestation and wastefulness being represented by the man and woman sitting on tree stumps, while the woman empties a bottle of alcohol atop her head? Are the issues of vandalism and lack of parental guidance found in the young boy holding a lit match to the base of a tree?

With the differences between the two works, come many parallels as well. On the far left side of Bosch’s painting you’ll find a woman embracing an owl, and in Shag’s piece the woman and owl become a prominent element to the work. In the lower center portion of Bosch’s work a nude figure is carrying a large fish, and the same symbolic element becomes a focal point in Shag’s painting. In Bosch’s work there are many flying fish and winged men taking to the skies, and Shag has captured the same symbolism in his work.

Of course, in present times on Earth, we get to experience technical advances that simply didn’t exist 500 years ago, like scooters and paved roads, sky-lift gondolas and hot air balloon rides. Shag captures all of these modern day advances along with one of the greatest contrasts of all – Entire cities that reach to the sky, creating man-made horizons that rise with the mountains, as found here with what appears to be the great skyline of Seattle off in the distance. And symbolic or not, it’s hard not to question the clever representation of man’s quest to search the heavens for life beyond Earth. Take a look at what Shag has placed atop the highest peak over modern-day Earth – a look to the heavens, the next and last panel in the triptych.

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