The Landlord Meets the Serpent

The Landlord Meets the Serpent – from the 2004 exhibit Before the Eviction. The series brought 13 original works that illustrated scenes from the Garden of Eden. Most of the paintings featured, Adam, Eve or both, as they were “before the eviction.”

Shag’s interpretation of the Garden of Eden is bright and colorful, with fruit trees, fountains and pools. Of course, the Garden of Eden wouldn’t be complete without the representation of evil. In The Fall Will Not Be Televised, Adam and Eve are enjoying the modern-day indulgence of television. With very little digging, it’s not at all difficult to unearth the evil unfolding live on their television, a commercial jetliner flying far too low over a very modern skyline. In a post-9/11 era, there isn’t much left to the imagination. In The Fallen Fruit, Adam and Eve seem to be unaware or unconcerned with the three dead birds just beneath the fruit tree. Three more birds quickly peck away at additional forbidden fruit.

In my favorite painting, The Landlord Meets the Serpent, the title alone gives us an immediate and direct clue to the work. With clear inspiration from Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, the “landlord” of the Garden (God) is greeted at the door by Adam and Eve’s butler, the Serpent. Of course, in the bible we learn that the serpent in the Garden of Eden is no other than Satan himself. Satan didn’t entirely conceal himself here, as his horns are still visible in the form of the butler’s hair, and his tail is still visible through the butler’s coat. Adam and Eve are now dressed, quite formally, but in the Garden of Eden’s most plentiful textile, leaves. 

The Landlord Meets the Serpent represents a transitional period for Shag. This is one of the last few paintings with Jim Flora and Gene Deitch-like influence in the characters of his paintings. Many of his earlier works had stronger Flora/Deitch influence, like Three Musicians, “Departure”, The Chemistry Lesson, and Liquor. One of the very last paintings with such distinct influence was Valley of the Valet, also from 2004.

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