Neo, 2003 Oil on Linen 14 × 34 inches
Neo, 2003
Oil on Linen 14 × 34 inches

This is an early painting really from the Hamlet 1999 series that preceded this one, but I couldn’t help putting it in as it always has put a smile on my face, and more than this, truly has been a protector of sorts for my world and me. I love Keanu Reeves, and have employed him in my star system since I began showing my art in graduate school. He is the consummate Gen X Masculine Dude, who is able to be a man without being a dick, who is a gentleman but can show his strength when it counts, could hypothetically be any sexuality, any ethnicity, but a post-slacker man who may or may not be a great actor, but has been around for so many years and has made so many countless iconic films with great directors that to some degree he has earned his star to be undeniable. In The Matrix, one of the great films of the 90’s, the Wachowiski siblings (who also have their degree of pulpy greatness) turned Baudrillard on its head and made him culturally relevant. In this great false consciousness narrative, we wake up to find that we have been just mere cogs in a post-capitalist regime, sedated by machines to do their bidding, human batteries who mere purpose is to service the corporate commodity rule of robots. Keanu awakens as Neo, brought on by Morpheus, to save the vestiges of humanity, and like a steam punk William Blake, to bring them to a New Jerusalem. Keanu in this role was perfect—his stiffness appropriate to the Keanu School of Acting—maybe in this case like a living Buddha who kicks ass when he has to. I also love and teach Japanese Anime and Manga, and since the decline of their Emperor in WWII, they have been at a loss of a Patriarch and what it means to be a Man, John-Wayne style, striving instead perhaps, at least in the best of anime and manga, to be bishonen, beautiful men who get in touch with their embedded gender codes of femininity, and visa-versa for the women, who strap on masculine codes with kick-ass allure. Its no wonder that Lana Wachowiski became trans, as the gender bending of even a hyper action film happens as easily as a telepath considering the reality of a spoon, which bends at their will. In any event, this is the great scene where Keanu as Neo is positioned exactly right in front of Art Deco-esque glory emanata, as he recognizes the bullets, rendered in my case like the surface of Monet’s lily pads in the foreground, considers whether or not the bullets or even the attack is even real, and in so doing, allowing the bullets in his mind to be arrested in motion and fall to the ground before he turns on his heels to fly across the world and help to save the world. I teach comics at SVA and the power of icons and allegory, can be edutaining in pulp narratives that are divorced from religion and extreme ideology, but still carry truths in their pulpy assertion of their own intrinsic mythos. The Matrix hit a deep note in me when it most mattered, and still is one of my favorite films, where I really gave it my all to create an icon painting of an iconic character—he might not be a real Buddha or Savior, but he is more real and palatable to most for our time, more relatable and savvy to what was happening at the end of the 20th Century and the beginning of the 21st.