“Pre-existing Conditions” oil on canvas • 36hx30w • 2014
I wanted to create a painting about healthcare in the U.S. using the figure as a metaphor. After exploring multiple ideas (off and on for three years), time passed while a national health program was created.
I began to focus on modern and ancient symbols of medicine. There are several Greek gods associated with medicine. They are named in the original Hippocratic Oath. Panacea, goddess of universal remedy, is one of them. Her symbol is a cup that provides a cure all for diseases. The term “panacea” means something intended to solve a large problem.
I played with the imagery of just the goddess, but her symbolism isn’t contemporary. The symbol for modern medicine featuring the two snakes around the winged staff, called the Caduceus, came to mind.
Staring at the symbol, I asked myself, “What kind of snakes are those, anyway?” At that point in time, the Affordable Care Act was becoming law and there was a lot of controversy about its implementation. I concluded that rattlers were an option.
I decided that Panacea could be the name of a snake charmer at the circus who’s venomous snakes are wrapped around her body, mimicking the Caduceus . She stands in front of her poster, which reads her name, “PANACEA”. The letters “ACA” are decorated. Her eyes are closed, concentrating on managing her snakes.
Step Right Up!
I did most of my research on circuses and medicine shows using Google for images and old poster art. I was really thinking “Snake Charmer” more so than “Medicine Show”. A note about Medicine Shows… one questionable medicine offered by vendors was snake oil.
Sideshow freak incident
Oddly enough on my quest for imagery, I came across a book in a lobby of a health club I was signing up for. It was an oversized book of circus art and photos. The book appeared at a time when I was having some trouble with a decision about the painting. The coincidence of finding that book was very strange (I couldn’t find it in any library!), but it helped solidify some ideas I was wrestling with. A gift from the art gods, I guess.
Q & A about the ACA
In future years I would like this image to still ask a question. Does her cup hold a remedy or snake oil?