Friday, May 26, 2017

Norman Lewis at the Chicago Cultural Center (September 17, 2016–January 8, 2017)

(Norman Lewis - 1909 - 1979)
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The first big problem for Norman Lewis was that most of the Abstract Expressionist painters were drawing from their cultural capital as white, male and middle class to purportedly create art which was ‘universal’ to the human experience and which gainsaid the concept of gender, economic or racial difference. At that time the white, male, middle class perspective was dominant and taken for ‘universal’ – everybody was supposed to benefit from it and get on board that train (and some black and women artists apparently even tried to get on that train). It was Lewis’s goal, however, to draw upon his experiences as an African American in situations of oppression to create his pieces. His depth of insight coming from struggle and resistance was deeper and, ironically, more universal than that of his buddies in the Abstract Expressionist movement, but he was marginalized due to this orientation.

{{{Early figurative work}}}

Drawing from the black experience in America allowed for a greater type of universalism than the type the white guys falsely asserted that they, themselves, owned, but it relegated Lewis to nearly complete irrelevance among the established and respected critics of the time. Indeed, he is still referred to as, basically, the black guy who was doing Abstract Expressionism when, in fact, the current retrospective show, ‘Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis’, at Chicago’s Cultural Center, would seem to show that he should never have even been characterized as an Abstract Expressionist in the first place. Indeed, that Lewis was not an Abstract Expressionist seemed to be the opinion shared by the curator of the show Ruth Fine in a comment she made at the National Gallery of Art this year.

{{{Early attempt at abstraction - a Jazz Club}}}

The second big problem for Lewis was that wealthy white folks who bought art would often buy what they ‘liked’ and not what had universal or humane meaning. Once, after I wrote a review of an unrelated gallery show, the gallery owner emailed me and bluntly told me that the people who buy pieces from his gallery do so primarily because they like the colors in them. He prayed that potential buyers would not read my review because they definitely would not buy pieces if they realized there were controversial ideas in them. Some wealthy white guy wandering into the Willard Gallery on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in the 1950s was probably not going to buy a work that dealt with psychological responses to racial injustice or which referenced the struggle for human rights or racial equality.
{{{Kandinsky-inspired work}}}
Indeed, the range of content and themes in art has been severely limited, historically, due to first the patronage and then the market system. The anticipated taste of art buyers often determines what gets shown and then saved in museums. What the (white, male, affluent) art buyer does not like does not often go very far – this has been a limiting parameter throughout the history of art, especially since the market system took over, and it hurt Lewis severely.
{{{American Totem}}}
The third big problem for Lewis was that in much of his work he made no pretensions to abstract art being a bifurcation from or radically divorced from representational art. Abstract art, to Lewis, seemed to be a continuation or further development of representational art just as, as an analogy, infrared radiation is a continuation of the overall light spectrum. On occasion his pieces seem to be completely non-representational, as in his overt imitations of Kandinsky (seen in his piece ‘Fantasy’), his overtly geometrical pieces of the late 40s which spoke through line and color, his attempts to mirror the rhythms of music in some of his pieces or in his ‘Sea Change’ pieces. (Yet, even in his ‘Sea Change’ paintings you see egg-like or placental images intimating, perhaps, re-birth on a social scale.) That you could often see figures and that the figures sometimes seemed to allude to Klan meetings or cross-burnings or lynchings, again, supposedly limited the universalism that the Abstract Expressionists falsely claimed as their accomplishment.
The most interesting experiment I came away with from ‘Procession’ was how Lewis uses the repetition of human figures to create geometrical or organic shapes against contrasting backgrounds. In ‘Double Cross’ we see an image that very well could have been inspired by the phenomenon of cross-burnings with a thick, blackened concentric grouping overlapping an intense fervid background. Figures seem to be running toward the two crosses, creating greater and greater density and overall darkness. 
{{{Double Cross}}}
The power of hatred to awaken the worst in us, and to link us to others as a greater and greater organic mass of blind emotion seems to be implied (and is clearly applicable to a political and social phenomenon which reared its head in the recent American presidential elections). ‘Alabama’ seems to work from the same principle of either a gathering or loosening of social density, in this case the color white possibly representing the color of Klan robes.
{{{Journey to an End}}}
‘Journey to an End’ uses a similar technique as we seem to see one large Klan figure moving forward aggressively in a violent gesture (perhaps throwing something – his arm bent back like the common image of a baseball pitcher just before he brings the ball forward) who is comprised of numerous smaller white figures marching, carrying flags and walking with guns in lockstep.

‘Ritual’, on the other hand, presents a mass of smaller human figures in colorful, African-inspired clothing, forming a crescent image below three ambiguous lines against a background of rich and soothing blue. It is as if this group - formed like a bowl or cupped hands - has come together to receive a blessing or higher influence and the implication is that this must happen as a community – a gibe, perhaps, against the lonely, alienated Abstract Expressionists who felt they each spoke for and to humanity from their isolation and individuality.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Plein air paintings: San Francisco/Hong Kong - Interview with Claire Lau

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Claire Lau is an artist known for her plein air paintings who was born in Paris and who has done work in Hong Kong and San Francisco. According to her statement, she “…explores the unique spatial relationship between nature and metropolis…cityscapes on a macro level; banyan trees and succulents on a micro level.”

The cities seem nestled within but autonomous of the surrounding landscapes – carved out of nature and not meaningfully integrated into it. Both Hong Kong and San Francisco are situated near mountains and these are spectacularly rendered by Lau even though the mountains near both cities may have become, in the popular imagination, more picturesque than sublime. Both types of flora (banyan trees and agave plants) once held deep mystical significance for the earlier inhabitants of these respective regions so a conclusion to be drawn might be that the modern city dweller wants the paradoxical situation of proximity to the sacred without the meaningful engagement of the scared. The once-sacred in nature merely catches and pleases the eye of the hurried city-dweller but no longer stimulates the imagination to the extent it once did.

The ability to introspect and examine aspects of our inner reality derived from the mediation of symbols and our earliest symbols came from the natural world. So, to me, Lau’s paintings seem to point to the fact that one thing which has been lost through urbanization is a desire to engage nature on a deeper interpretive level, a level which only comes from a type of integration that allows really seeing and trying to grasp the natural - having a direct and meaningful experience with nature which then throws light on our own humane development.

Why are you so committed to plein air painting?

Plein air painting is a process that forces me to study the world around me with intent, and to build a connection with it. It is a way for me to reflect on questions like ‘Why does this form interest me so much?’, ‘What are the movements that I see and feel here?’, ’How does this all fit together? What are the forces at play?’, and ‘How do I also fit in this space?’. After I’ve painted a scene or a tree, I have built a special connection with it that gets triggered every time I pass by. It’s like how Antoine Saint-Exupéry’s fox taught the little prince about “aprivoiser”. It’s “créer des liens” - to create connections - and that to me is through plein air painting. I find this particularly important today against all trends towards the digital world. I moved from Hong Kong (a place where everyone’s eyes are constantly fixated on a screen, whether it be a hand held device or TV screens on trains and buses), to the world’s tech capital, San Francisco. While I believe that technology has made our lives a lot more convenient and is attempting to solve some important problems, I firmly believe that we must not lose sight of and lose our connection to the world around us. This is everything from the trees, the plants, and the water around us, to the struggling families and homeless people on the streets. It’s about being observant, caring and understanding.

How did you develop an interest in your cityscapes?

When I grew up in Hong Kong, I lived on top of a forested hill. Over the years, I witnessed the forests next to my bus stop being completely removed for highways, the adjacent hill chopped off for skyscrapers, as well as the deteriorating air quality due to the industrialization of Shenzhen. This made me very aware of the relationship between human development and nature. By junior year of high school I made a painting of the chopped off trees next to my bus stop and a very grey painting of the valley called "A Sunny Day in Hong Kong”.

The banyan tree has aerial roots which can point upward while other roots drop to the ground forming new trunks. The banyan tree can therefore be considered ‘upside down’ – roots going upward and trunks/branches downward - as if it were being reflected in a river. So the tree once was a reminder to Buddhists that all is reflection and that even the real or permanent is merely a concept deduced from reflection (a reflection of a reflection). What does it mean to you?

The banyan tree’s forms remind me of life and its cycles, connecting earth and sky with their air roots. They’re a visual embodiment of sustainable systems. They flow, roots like rivers and air roots like arteries; they stretch, they lean, and they dance; they show strength, show support, and are grounded.

A lot of the plants you highlight in your SF paintings are agave plants. Did you do research into this plant and its use before the urbanization of that area of the US? 

I did not do in-depth research into the agave’s use before the urbanization of the US, but I did know that it was used for medicinal purposes, consumption, and daily use. I grew up with my mom cooking me aloe vera soup when I was sick, and using its skin to treat burns. I chose it because I found it fascinating that such a majestic and purposeful plant would be growing around the city like a weed. Formally, they demand attention through their layers unfurling from their core (like a rose), yet with their rigid strength and spikes they recall resilience, especially during California’s historic drought. As with other succulents, they remind me of the beauty and adaptiveness of nature, of how wondrous life forms will continue to exist even after human beings make this planet uninhabitable for their own species.

What have been some of your influences?

I'm influenced a lot by my physical environment, the spaces, the plants, the light and colors. In terms of artists, compositionally I've been very interested at how David Hockney and Rackstraw Downes explore space - the compilations of multiple fields of vision as your eyes move, creating an experience of a space much more fluid than the Renaissance theories of perspective. Nowadays people call it "fish-eye", because they are all conditioned by cameras. But how do we describe the full experience of being in a space?

Artists you admire?

Other artists that I admire include Wayne Thiebaud and Sébastien Mahon (color, exaggerated space, giving personality / energy to landscapes), Sangram Majumdar and Suzanna Coffey (for color, touch, composition, visual abstraction). I also can't deny that having spent my childhood in the Musée d'Orsay and Pompidou, I had always admired Cézanne. Even though I only really came to the conclusion that plein air painting was for me in my final year of college, after experimenting with many different ways of painting, I think my childhood in France affected me tremendously.

Chow Chun Fei, from HK, recently had an opening at Klein Sun Gallery in NY City (one of the best galleries to see contemporary Chinese work in the US).  There are actually a few galleries devoted to mainland Chinese art in NY and this seems to be meeting a growing market in the US. Are HK artists a part of this trend or do you folks see yourselves separate from this new wave of mainlanders?

When I was in high school and was asked what I wanted to study in university, my classmate (herself going into art) was extremely surprised by my answer and exclaimed “But your grades are so good, shouldn’t you be studying something other than art?”

In Hong Kong, I think there is still very little respect for fine art as a career, and thus less resources put into nurturing local artists. The situation is slowly improving, but even projects like the new West Kowloon Cultural Centre so far mostly benefit real estate developers, tycoons, politicians and those in the top of the art market rather than any local emerging artists. With the insurmountable cost of living in HK, it’s often difficult to survive as an artist. Consequently there are fewer artists that can rise to attention internationally. I think as there is a greater ‘thirst’ for Asian art in the US, Hong Kong will start to benefit from this trend, but I don’t think it will produce the same number of artists per capita.

When you are not painting, what do you like to do? Books you like? Movies? Music?

I am a singer, used to be a composer and have done a lot of a cappella arrangements for groups that I've led. For the past year I've been extremely busy being a political organizer and volunteer for the Bernie Sanders primary campaign, and I'm currently the co-founder and co-Chair of a progressive political group in San Francisco. I'm also part of a political club for Hong Kongers in the Bay Area. I'm currently writing a graphic memoir on my participation in the Umbrella Movement and my grandma's escape from China to Hong Kong in the late 50s.

I think everyone should read ‘Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed’ by Jarred Diamond, and watch Miyazaki's films, especially ‘Mononoke Hime’ and ‘Nausicaa'.

Claire Lau can be contacted through her website:

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Tom Duffy: Man in Nature at ARC Gallery, Chicago

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Humanity’s relationship to nature involves a type of cognitive divorce from nature, which then allows individuals to display what Marx called their capacity for creative production – the ability to directly shape nature to one’s needs and desires (instead of just assuming a predetermined role within nature). In Tom Duffy’s current show at ARC Gallery, he examines two extremes involving “man in nature” in America’s heartland, or, more precisely, he looks at extremes involved in the ability of humanity to extract sustenance and wealth from the land through labor. One extreme presents a rare remnant of the working class in the USA, still existing due to the physical inability to outsource their type of job, while the other extreme is a direct result of outsourcing and a creative attempt to adjust to the new circumstances established through the near-destruction of the working class in America.

One of the more iconic images of the American industrial worker is Lewis Hine’s ‘Steam Fitter’ (1920). Hine has his worker bent over, conforming to the shape and demands of a machine from which he derives his livelihood; yet, the subject also shows an immense amount of masculine will, strength and mastery. The worker thus forms a perfect symbiosis or mutualism with the machine. Whereas Hine had become famous for leading a crusade against child labor through his photos of children working in factories, his photos of adult workers became more ambiguous in their judgment of human labor and exploitation in the industrial process.

{{{Steam Fitter - Lewis Hine}}}

Indeed, Hine’s various photos of working men seemed to impute dignity to the process of industrial toil, as opposed, for instance, to Marx’s belief that the industrial worker was alienated from his very ‘species-being’ through this type of work and thus became a sad object of financial exploitation.   In Hine’s work the men are clearly not objects of pity since the jobs seem suitable to their strength and backgrounds and, consequently, these photos ignite little more than a quiet sympathy for those doing exhausting and tedious work instead of moral outrage. Since industrialization had been legitimated as a necessity, the use of workers in this manner could be tolerated as long as they were perceived as grown men giving outlet to their masculinity and thus securing dignity (and most probably supporting their families).

Hine’s photos reflected the American attitude toward industrial labor at that time and it is useful to begin with this iconic work as a type of normative model or ideal type from which to view Tom Duffy’s photos of the men who work in Indiana’s limestone quarries. Has our conception of the worker changed since Hine? Has it changed since the outsourcing phenomenon of recent years? Which emotions might be elicited now in viewing men at hard work: work requiring, perhaps, little more than physical skill and endurance?

In one of Duffy’s photos we see a man with bulging and rippling muscles, gripping a system of drills, knees bent, body twisted, cigarette stiffly protruding from his mouth. In fact, cigarettes are ubiquitous in these photos of the quarry workers, betraying extra attempts by the quarry workers, perhaps, to handle the physical and emotional stresses of the job. The cigarettes could also serve as sardonic phallic reminders of the fact that this is a place of purely masculine labor, where men can still prove themselves to be men like Hine’s male workers, the cigarettes looking like the penises from stick figures in prehistoric cave paintings.  

Like the worker in Hine’s iconic photo these men are clearly demonstrating and affirming their masculinity through their jobs, as the drilling into the rock contains its own priapic symbolism, but the symbiosis that Hine modeled, and which possibly eased our consciences a bit toward the working class, now seems lost and perhaps no longer necessary with the passage of time and acceptance of so much more than was accepted back in the day. 

To me, for instance, there is no clear masculine and muscular domination of machinery or tools – some tools are so loud they require protective headsets and many of the tools depicted obviously entail physical wear and tear on the body. It is not symbiotic mastery we now see, but benign struggle with the machine. We can be made to realize, perhaps, that these men are not demonstrating the free and creative productivity which Marx believed to be our essence, but toil in the destructive process of cracking and removing tons of limestone blocks from the earth to provide beautiful veneers for various buildings – these are high-end luxury items used for decorative purposes. The Empire State Building and the Pentagon, for instance, are covered with Indiana limestone from this quarry.

In another photo we see a giant limestone slab that has been separated and is falling while nearby workers pensively stare at the result of their work, shoulders slumped in sudden, short-lived relief (kind of the way a boxer will let his shoulders slump immediately after a knock out). Duffy seems to be asking how visible or invisible this labor is to us. It is as if he is saying that the working class still exists, even if we do not read the stories of workers jumping from factory roofs in developing countries. Indeed, we have not completely ended the problem of one segment of a society laboring for the pleasure and luxury of another segment – try as we might there are some working class situations still among us and we have never adequately responded to this situation.  

Duffy might also be asking: What psychological mechanisms are at play in each of us when we assess who these guys are and what the work might be doing to them?  We assume they are well-paid and happy, and, indeed, I even felt compelled to ask Duffy at the opening, “Are these guys happy?” with Duffy indicating that they were not only happy but proud to be involved in working at the quarry. Duffy spent 5 months with them and told me that one big source of pride comes from the fact that this quarry work has been ‘generational’ with some men following in the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers.

Along with these images of limestone quarries and their workers, Duffy provides images of various ghost towns he has visited, as well as some American towns in decline, along with scenes from a 3-person family organic farm. The photos of the dying or dead towns serve the function, within the context of this show, of expressing the social pressures which are pushing individuals to reflect on the possibilities for employment now that the industrial sector is shrinking in the USA. 

{{{Photo of a little kid who has, apparently, just slit the throats of several chickens - they are upside down to allow the blood to drain from them...this is a way to ensure the meat is 'kosher'.}}}

This pressure, ironically, has pushed this one family away from the apparent trajectory of history, back to the countryside, exploiting the trend among affluent and educated city-dwellers to prefer the meat of animals which are raised in a more humane and ethical fashion. Duffy’s photos attempt to capture the integrity and joy he found in this family, which goes to extremes to ensure that their livestock are treated as well as possible, even though they are barely eking out a living in the process.

ARC is one of Chicago’s more amazing galleries and has been contributing meaningful art exhibits since its inception in 1973. It is one of the oldest co-op galleries of its kind in the USA and functions as a non-profit, woman artist-run cooperative which provides exhibition opportunities to exceptional artists without discrimination in regard to “…race, age, class, physical/mental ability, sexual, spiritual or political orientation.” Tom Duffy’s show runs there until November 19th.

ARC Gallery:

Tom Duffy: 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cons and Pros - John Harlan Norris at the Memphis College of Art, Memphis USA

{{{Naturalist - click on images to enlarge them}}}

The French have a concept called 'professional deformation' (deformation professionnelle), which is actually a sarcastic play on words based on the concept of professional training (formation professionnelle). In essence, they say that any profession changes a person if he/she works at it long enough, so that, after a while, everyone in that profession seems to look and act like everyone else in that profession.  Every profession ‘deforms’, alters or limits a person’s perspective on the world as well as his/her manner of acting within the world. At the Memphis College of Art, John Harlan Norris seems to play with this concept in his show called Cons and Pros, possibly questioning the overreliance on professional development to the neglect of the development of more humane values in our society. 


In the mid-to-late 19th century, in fact, a type of occupational portraiture was all the rage in America after the invention of the daguerreotype. Blacksmith, carpenter, cooper, drover…folks who had developed specialized skills were eager to be photographed with the tools of their trade. These daguerrotypes show no psychological insight into the sitters since that was not the point – the point was to document this person’s attainment of a niche in the social structure through his/her mastery of a skill set. The facial expressions are nearly the same in numerous cases, sometimes showing over-the-top solemnity, sometimes self-satisfied pride, sometimes just an empty stare into the camera by a person surrounded by the stuff of his/her profession.


Norris seems to use this as his inspiration for a contemporary take on the desire to be defined by one’s profession and how this solemn pride in professional attainment can mask and trap the humane development which becomes lost or unattained through the consequent deformation professionnelle. In Norris’ work the tools of one’s trade and other ‘visual signifiers’ of one’s profession become this mask and it is stifling and suffocating to the wearer as well as monstrous and oppressive to the viewer. What is meant to be impressive to the world now appears to be highly ridiculous. The obsession with mastering one thing, instead of blossoming in a more universalistic manner, makes these subjects grotesque instead of admirable.

This criticism of one-sided professional achievement is, of course, generally silent in a society where professional deformation is the highly lucrative goal. These practical skill sets are what confer status and, often, self-worth and the valuation of an individual within a society. Yet, concomitantly, compassion, insight, altruism, real charity and various other humane predispositions are not only downplayed but viewed contemptuously. The absurd situation where the more inhumanely deformed you become the more prestigious you become now predominates in our technologically developed society.

Norris seems to document the Mephistophelean deal everyone is confronted with – cripple your humanity, throw yourself unthinkingly into a profession, master it and gain the world’s riches, power and admiration. (Then, of course, do not be surprised when your only choices for leader of the free world become Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.) Each of these occupational portraits is a type of portrait of a type of Dorian Gray. They reflect the expectations of our society obtained through our educational system, our mass media, our deformed religions and even our intimate relationships. They call for us to reflect, therefore, on how or even whether it is possible for us to retain a type of humanism in a predatory and competitive economic and social system.

Norris’s exhibit runs through November 8, 2016 at the Memphis College of Art in Memphis, Tennessee.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Susan Kraut: In Rooms at Addington Gallery, Chicago

Dordogne Window - click on images to enlarge them

Susan Kraut is a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the premier art schools in the United States. Her current exhibit at the Addington Gallery, in Chicago’s historic River North district, runs until the end of October.

At their most basic, these paintings possibly could be interpreted as reflections on the relationship between our outer and inner reality. All of our dealings with aspects of the outer world, perhaps, result in attempts to attain to an equanimity or calmness about what we experience or in action to resolve situations into the less painfully provocative. Thus the order, cleanliness and the furniture geared to maximize comfort and acceptance represent the basic (inner) structures with which we receive information about that which is outside of us. The paintings could, therefore, be visual allegories about the integration of the outside world into our inner reality.

In Brock's Studio II

The outside clearly intrudes on the inside often in these paintings, with the same kind of atmospheric foreboding that was first displayed by Giorgione in his Tempest. One implication might be that we have an inherent striving for comfort which controls our cognitive/emotional functions and our actions are guided to this end. There are, however, paintings in the series in which the outer frenzy overwhelms the tranquility of the room. Complicating this simple model further, moreover, is that the integration of the outside into the inside can be construed as being initiated through an illusory process – we sometimes see outer-world patterns reflected from table tops in Kraut’s work, cluing us into the awareness that, basically, everything is reflection.

In a Swedish Room

In one of Kraut’s few paintings with a human figure, this interpretation of an outer/inner relationship might gain greater substance as we see a man absorbed in his newspaper with his window wide open to the world. The outside has intruded into his peaceful sanctuary mirrored in the fact that he sits in his comfy chair absorbing it all, half a glass of water nearby representing, perhaps, the only ‘reality’ as presented by Schopenhauer – that of our bodily needs, or, perhaps, more optimistically, our need for inner purification and fulfillment.

Chicago Living Room With Paris He Said

Another interpretation could be that the individual room in these paintings becomes the relative permanence against which biological change can be perceived, felt and mourned. This interpretation resonated with me deeply as I recently returned to Chicago, after many years away, and I live in a house where I had interacted with many loved ones who have departed. These rooms in this house may remain for the next 100 years, far after I have departed, and the current emptiness of them reminds me keenly of my sense of loss as well as of how fleeting my own life has been and will be. Kraut’s paintings, for me, represent the same sense of loss so beautifully expressed by the Polish poet Jan Kochanowski (1530 – 1584) when he wrote of his dead, infant daughter: “This house grows empty now you’ve gone…and there is not one among the many who remain with me who can replace your vanished soul, or free us from the misery of your absent song…” (Translation by Jerzy Peterkiewicz and Burns Singer)

New York Dining Room

I think this interpretation holds in that many of the interior scenes in these paintings show places that have been recently vacated, papers lying around, uneaten fruit on tables near half-drunk glasses of water…These images could represent loss or the ephemeral – how we flit about these spaces which will exist after we are gone and how these more permanent spaces magnify and lengthen our grief.

New York Kitchen I

Another focus of this artist is windows, which literally frame the apparently permanent in the outside world but also reveal the permanent as that which changes appearance as lighting and other conditions change, thus revealing that the permanent is merely a concept deduced from reflection (and is, therefore, a reflection of a reflection).

New York Kitchen II

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Steve Moseley - Patience Bottles; Curated by Leonard Cicero at INTUIT (Chicago)

Bourbon is a type of whiskey originating from the American South (made from corn), deriving its name from the Bourbon dynasty in Europe. Steve Moseley has been taking empty Bourbon bottles and creating little religious and socio-political dioramas inside of them. 

{{{click on images to enlarge them}}}

Here we see a child confronting an evangelical minister with the question of whether cavemen had souls or not. Moseley seems interested in presenting the drama of a child asking a type of question she is not supposed to ask, since either a "yes" or"no" from the minister would undermine the entire belief system he has been promoting (If cavemen did have souls, why send Jesus to earth? If they didn't, why would God sacrifice zillions of pre-Christian people to oblivion?).

Actually (exercising my pedanticism here), as a guy who has studied the evolution of religious thought, the religion of hunter-gatherers was 'shamanism', which was not a religion of 'self-development'. It was a religion involving specialized holy men/women who could connect to the spirit realm to gain very practical help for hunting and gathering societies (the curing of illnesses, success in hunting, pain-free birth for the women of the group etc.). The concept of the soul and spiritual development only happens when cities begin to arise and ethics gets tied up with religion. Hunter-gatherers believed/believe their spirits survive death, but they do not believe in souls that will be judged. But, pedanticism aside, Moseley's little drama works fine as a little peek into the religious life of the deep South.

Here is Jesus playing basketball against some demons.

Moseley can be satirizing the extent to which our concept of spiritual development is tied up with notions of competition. If we want to gain salvation we must literally "beat" the devil.

Here Moseley pokes fun at the out-dated values concerning women found in the Bible as Adam tries to hand Eve some dish-washing powder.

This bottle is labeled: If you vote for Trump you will receive no absolution (forgiveness).

Here the Pope is asking Jesus to wear nicer clothes.

So why create these scenes in Bourbon bottles? Well, Moseley is from the South and he could be equating the absurdity in the bottles to the potency of this very Southern liquor. This is part of the culture of the deep, white South and it is absorbed as easily as Bourbon. The scenes definitely are surrogates for the Bourbon.

What is interesting to me is that wine is very symbolic in the Christian religious tradition. When one drinks wine, one becomes becomes more tolerant, loving, social, forgiving; wine was the blood of God that changed us for the better. Jesus was the true vine and one drank wine to remember Him. Bourbon, on the other hand, with its ties to Southern culture and history, seems to be a corrupter of God's true word. It seems to indicate that man cannot live on an alcoholic beverage alone - along with the intoxication one must have a sound intellectual and moral basis in place, or one might be drunk enough to vote for an utter buffoon like Trump, and rightly lose all possibilities for forgiveness.

Close-up of Adam/Eve in the garden

Adam and Eve after eating from the apple:

Your basic evangelical snake-handler: