Vesper Stamper has returned to Spark and Echo Arts with this beautiful new work in response to the theme of “meals” and Esther 7:1-10, in which Haman is taken away to be hanged during a banquet.
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Haman’s Last Meal, 2014, watercolor, 22″ x 15″
From the Artist:
Growing up in a nominally Jewish home, the story of Esther was one of my favorites. In the celebration of Purim, Esther is commemorated as the liberator of the exiled Jews of Persia from the genocidal plot of Haman. The plot is uncovered at a meal that Esther hosts for King Ahashuerus (Xerxes) and Haman.
Meals can be occasions of either comfort or tension among family and friends. In this important meal, tensions are high between Esther and her husband, while Haman is settling into what he believes to be a comfortable position in the Queen’s favor. However, these roles are reversed in a moment—Esther regains her husband’s trust, and Haman is revealed and sentenced to death on his own gallows. Any meal has the potential to be revelatory: when people are about the vulnerability of needing to eat food, or if alcohol is being consumed and guards are down, anything can be brought into the light. How many times can we trace a moment of relational revelation to a meal? This was certainly true when Jesus walked the earth, and it is true of all of us.
In this painting, I chose to portray the moment just after the actors have left the scene. The rush of air from dragging out the schemer Haman causes the curtains to blow; Haman’s wine glass, a moment ago a symbol of comfort and merriment, is overturned, foreshadowing his blood that will shortly be spilt; the candle that represents his life has been snuffed out, while a candle representing the Jewish nation remains lit—a situation which moments before could have been the reverse.
In all of our lives, the daily and mundane have the potential at any time to become extraordinary, even history-changing. Think about this next time you roast a chicken.
Vesper Stamper: My work draws on mysticism, by which I mean any person’s reconciling of their tangible surroundings and doings with the (I would argue) universal inner pull toward God’s personality. I respond deeply to archetypical story as found in dark and complex fairy tales, and the disparate impressions we see in our own nighttime dreams. I believe these can be seen as a window into the mystical nature of man. As with Biblical narrative, certain cultural symbols resonate with meaning, and I believe that at thirty-seven I am only at the beginning of my own understanding of them. In this sense my work is evolving with a guiding principle that I am only one person in a continuum of storytellers, and that I will be pursuing the meanings of these symbols well into my twilight years.
As an illustrator and storyteller, I feel a profound responsibility to communicate to my audience, beyond purely personal self-expression. This communication can be either on a visceral level or a clear exposition of subject matter, but as a Christian I believe I must be on guard against oversimplified dichotomies or propagandistic message-making. The best stories are those that have the most breathability—hence the fact that I am reinterpreting a passage which is around five thousand years old.
Currently I am about to enter the Master of Fine Arts program in Illustration as Visual Essay at School of Visual Arts, and am seeking agency representation. I am working on two illustrated novels, both of which draw on Celtic and Anglo-Saxon myth as the reality of the lives of ordinary women and girls who are reconciling tragedy with their own agency and identity.
Photo by Ben Stamper
Image is copyrighted by the artist and used here by permission.