Fantastical Paintings Update Greek Mythology for Modern Times

Riot cops meet Heracles while a BMW runs into a 17th century painting in Jake Scharbach's time-bending art.

by Andrew Nunes
Oct 22 2016, 11:55am

Reciprocal Determanism, 2016, Jake Scharbach. All images courtesy of the artist and Brilliant Champions Gallery

References to classicism and antiquity are paired with a diverse range of imagery from the 21st century in the paintings of Jake Scharbach, a unison that is aesthetically harmonious but ultimately disheartening. There is a strong sense of cultural disillusionment and this intersection is reflected in the title of his ongoing exhibition The Echo’s Decay at Brilliant Champions Gallery. The show eels like a symbolic prophecy exploring how the past reverberates today.


The artist’s process involves an intense amount of research and mental pairing. “I start out by printing as many images as I can; stuff from my own travels, pictures I take in museums, and lots of Google Image searches. I put everything on the wall and just look for a long time until I begin to make associations,” Scharbach tells The Creators Project.

INSTINCTUAL DRIFT, 2016, Jake Scharbach

“It’s like trying to put a puzzle together. Sometimes a combination will leap out right away, sometimes it takes more effort. In the end, I try to come up with as many possible scenarios as I can, then edit. The final image has to attract me, be intriguing for reasons I can’t explain. I have to want to spend time with it, to know more.”


In one half of the painting UNCONVETIONAL PARTICIPATION a figure that appears to be Dionysus, the Greek God of wine and fertility, prepares his fist to land on an unseen figure while the other half of the painting reveals a riot police officer grabbing a civilian by the head, as if positioning him to receive the blow. Peering into INSTINCTUAL DRIFT, what looks like some sort of leisurely feast from ancient times cracks into various fragments that reveal a congested traffic jam, rendered in black and white as if to emphasize the dull, pointlessness of the situation. In ENDEMIC the decimated hood of a BMW crashes through a Rubens paintingThe Massacre of Innocents, where children lie helplessly in pools of their own blood.


Scharbach’s comparative study of past and present culture was initially about revering the past and having disdain for the present. “In the beginning, I was thinking more about the contrast between beauty and horror. Classical art looked beautiful to me, representative of a type of culture that valued the aesthetic of a sublime experience and a relationship to nature,” the artist explains to The Creators Project. “And all I had to do to find the opposite of that was walk out of my front door. Auto body shops, piles of tires, traffic belching black smoke, chemical factories…”


“Lately, I have become aware of another level of analysis where the two halves are actually reuniting two parts of the same timeline. There is common shared behavior,” Scharbach adds. “Civilization has a trajectory and by making these kinds of comparisons, it helps to clarify the direction we are headed.”

MODIFIED DURATION, 2014, Jake Scharbach

The Echo’s Decay will be on view at Brooklyn’s Brilliant Champions Gallery until November 19th. More of Jake Scharbach’s paintings, as well as videos and sculptures, can be viewed here.


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Modern Art
contemporary art
solo exhibition
brilliant champions gallery
Jake Scharbach