Author: Riley Meachem
1. A bloodstained crib. While ambiguity is one of the strengths of this portrait, the small, doll-like leg with a protrusion of bone removes all chance of a misunderstanding, or some sizable coincidence. The child is dead. Vaguely humanoid shadows play across a beam of light which splits the side of the crib while fully displaying the rich, fresh blood. Does one of the shadows belong to the killer? We don’t see, and some have implied that this picture represents the horrors before the calamity, adding a dimension of judgment to the other pictures. Others see it as the way most people experience a calamity, first as personal, then as existential.
2. In contrast to its predecessor, which showed so much of the personal without depicting a person, this painting estranges us from the subjects by creating a mass of them locked in conflict. So intertwined with the hordes of the dead are the living, it is not immediately discernible who is alive and who is dead. On closer inspection, they can be differentiated by faces. The living are gripped with fear, whilst the dead have a look of slack, lethargic obedience. One wonders which state is preferable.
3. The bright whiteness of the room is the first and most notable aspect of this picture. A shade of bright paint cuts away at the shadows and edges of the shapes it shows. Bright lights illuminate white walls and men, this glare making visible all their imperfections; Ingrown hairs, vacant or crafty and often bloodshot eyes, wrinkles, missed stubble, sweat stains, every wart. With the eyes of the world on them, these men had failed, and the only comfort that can be taken is knowing they too shall be expunged for their failure, not just the innocent. The destruction of their repugnance is hardly a satisfactory reward.
4. This painting does away with concrete figures entirely, instead depicting a chiaroscuro of reds, oranges, and yellows. This may represent hell on earth, or the scorched earth tactics used by the men in the previous snapshots. At the top of the canvas, clouds of smoke can be made out, proving the fire does have an end, and it has not yet consumed the sky. But the sky and the world beneath it are still obscured from view.
5. In contrast to the painting before- a theme we haven’t seen the last of- this picture is a different version of hell, or else the consequences of the tactics employed during the rise of the host of ghosts. The scenery is rocky, but not majestic. The sky, earth, and stone are different shades of grey. There is one tree, but it appears to have been petrified. A figure, ostensibly human but rendered uncannily and hobbling on all fours, is in the left middle ground. It is emaciated, and the comparison one instantly makes to the dead, a skeleton, a ghost, cannot be coincidental. It does not look directly at us, but instead the tree, bearing no fruit, a look of despair on its harsh thin features making it seem even more piteous. Hunger, desperation, and fear have taken the human attributes of its body and mind.
6. We see now, ostensibly, the remnants of our species. The figures shown here are simian, brutish, and have long canines and square, flat faces, possessing a dull, cruel vacancy. Their garments are composed of foil, leathery plastic substance, some polyester, polymer substances, things the painter evidently feels will be plentiful. Our perspective is facing them, on a slight incline. Though they appear hostile, they do not attack, and one of the eight men, positioned so his face is visible in profile, looks genuinely alarmed.
7. This is the image most widely distributed in popular media, and thus the most “famous” internationally. We are positioned this time just behind the subjects of the last portrait, staring up what turns out is a sharp incline. On the top of this hill? Well, that’s anyone’s guess. It’s black and angular, and maybe a writer on some stead, an alien creature, an odd piece of rubble, an altar to a new god, or any one of the other theories offered. Almost anyone you ask will have a different interpretation. What is not disputed generally, are the dire and terrifying implications of such a thing. We see the other side of the scared figure’s face, and up close his visage has an amalgam of cowardice and dread.
8. The ocean. The sky above is periwinkle, indicative of either dawn or twilight. No land nor a boat of any kind can be seen, though there is a living thing: a seabird, off in the right background so small first-time viewers often mistake it for a speck of some sort of dark spackle. The dead are not visible, but the turbid green-brown of the close-up sea in contrast to the wider blue makes us wonder if the waves shelter some unknown, swimming monstrosity. It’s not our fault; we have been conditioned to anticipate monstrosity even in the beautiful—perhaps especially there. We can know so little out here. Somehow, looking at the vastness of the water, this doesn’t seem important.
9. The rotting dead. Their bones and what is left of them have been disintegrated, withered away, now part of a valley with significantly better soil. It seems that, with nothing left to sustain them, the hosts of hell either turned on each other, starved to death, or were relinquished and fell like puppets. More birds, this time carrion eaters, accompanied by hyenas, coyotes, rats, and flies, swarm about proving to us life has survived all of this.
10.Certainly the most controversial of the 10 paintings. It is an entirely white canvas, save for a large splotch, shaped, surely coincidentally, like a plume of flame. The rust red color is due to the oxification of the iron in the artist blood and brain matter. Notoriously, the unidentified woman called the police after setting the other nine canvases in order, and explained “a crazy bitch got a gun,” before sitting in a chair in front of the blank canvas, putting a 30 .06 in her mouth, and blowing her head all over the final piece.