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Sisyphus - Understanding the Myth

‘In this subtle instant when man looks back on his life, Sisyphus going back toward his rock, contemplates this chain of actions without links that has become his destiny’ Albert Camus tells us.

In the painting Vir Absurdus I tried to capture this moment, when Sisyphus lets the rock roll back down the hill and has the time to look at the Mediterranean shore and meditate on his past. We can imagine that it is because of his love for the sea, of his passion for the world of the Mediterranean, that he incurred the wrath of the gods. We see him looking at that shore that is forever forbidden to him and over which hang the clouds of Hades. He is turning into a rock himself. 'Having been so close to a rock for such a long time, one cannot but imagine that he is becoming rock himself', suggests Camus. The objects lose their meaning.

Greek mythology does not really explain why Sisyphus was punished, and from a philosophical point of view, it does not matter. What Sisyphus illustrates is that ignorance controls our lives. What is our purpose on earth? Even religions cannot explain that. What we can understand from looking at Sisyphus is that the promised land does not exist. Our promised land is right here under our feet - not in another world. Sisyphus realises this fully as he can only look at what was his home. He is left wondering to the end of days about the meaning of it all. The landscapes familiar to us all will one day become the familiarity of another generation. Wasn’t the mountain – the Tête de Chien above Monaco – the place where Roman legionaries once camped? Was it not the place where the lookouts lived during the Saracen invasions of the Middle Ages? And yet, of them we have no trace, not even a single name. We have forgotten their very existence.

The absurdity of it all is reflected in how the rock has turned into the five ball of a billiard set. Isn’t Sisyphus constantly behind the eight ball, as people say? But the eight had become a five to illustrate the number of letters in Camus name. The bridge leads nowhere, and the words Vir Absurdus (absurd man) hide in the background of a world in decomposition. Is it a storm, a war, or man’s absurdity that had denuded the landscape? The telephone wires are linked to nothing and reflect the isolation of Sisyphus. Far into the distance, he can see the lights of the villages coming on as the sun goes down. They are out of his reach – he will never go back. Does he even remember the reason of his exile?

And in the foreground, the plant gives birth to a deadly fruit, the hand grenade.

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