Ezekiel Resurrection by Richard McBee

Richard McBee

Ezekiel Resurrection, 1980, Oil on canvas, 172.72 x 213.36 cm, Collection of the artist, Photo by R.McBee

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A Holocaust Vision

Commentary by
Read by Lydia Ayoade

Ezekiel: Resurrection (1980) by Richard McBee presents a bleak monochromatic landscape, reminiscent of a post-war battlefield shorn of foliage and life.

Along the curved horizon suggesting an omniscient view, cragged, burnt trees are outlined along with silhouetted guard towers and the regular verticals of barbed wire fences. Ghostly skeletal shapes stir along the bottom edge; some just awakening, others slowly rising up as though a breeze of life is animating them. One blackened figure gestures while a surprisingly fleshy couple seem to have ascended to a standing position. While the female clasps her hands to her chest and looks imploringly at her mate, the male is reaching out to a third figure. His gesture simultaneously embraces her while lending life-giving support to the ascending figure whose skeletal bottom half is contrasted with a skinny pink-coloured torso and head.

In this depiction of Ezekiel’s Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones there is clearly a glimmer of hope in an otherwise harsh and sombre present; and yet the prophet himself is nowhere to be seen.

McBee is haunted by the victims of the Holocaust in this image, part of a series of biblical paintings that date from early in his career. That interest in the biblical narrative seen through contemporary eyes continues to the present day. The two subjects that preoccupied his work in the 1980s were the Binding of Isaac and the Vision of Ezekiel, both of which he saw as reflections of the Jewish Holocaust experience. For the believing Jew the notion that God had somehow abandoned his people to the Nazi fury feels all too similar to God’s horrific command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Equally, the creation of the State of Israel in the shadow of the Holocaust summons up Ezekiel’s vision of the resurrection of the Jewish people after the first Babylonian exile.

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