I have a long history with the original painting by Couture. In my first encounter with the work in 2015 I came across the painting in an social media post online that displayed a photo of it as a backdrop in a travel article. I searched for more information about this oddly intriguing image, and as I learned more about it I became fascinated with the idea of an artist, who was essentially disgusted with and pissed off at his society attempting to present such a strong critique of his day using a time prior than his own and in such a large-scale historical painting format.
I had the privilege of making a trip to Paris specifically to see the painting at the Musée d'Orsay in 2016, and this began my interest in recreating this artwork. It was everything and more than I had imaged, a grand and sweeping gesture, heroically gutsy and important, and yet it has this odd air of being forgotten, overlooked, not taken to heart, as empires marched onwards after its creation, repeating the same mistakes; I am speaking specifically of the American empire. Additionally, the size of the painting, in person, felt off putting, as if Couture knew it was too much, like he was hiding a message that he felt might be too dangerous to make directly about the current powers that be, and yet he knew that with these almost absurd proportions that the viewer would be forced into a deeper read.
I began to understand Romans of the Decadence as a message across the ages, a dire warning from one era of empire to future eras about the lies built into our ideas about progress. It said to me very clearly and very loudly that all future generations should heed this warning lest they fall into the same trap of privilege and malaise that Couture was forcing us to consider with this massive work of art. He could have not been louder or clearer, and all I could wonder is: How is it that we don't talk about this painting more? How is it that it feels like somewhat of a marginal artwork in the history of art? Why is this not taught in every school, in every art and history and sociology class? I had never heard of this painting after having attended four years of undergraduate school at UC Berkeley studying history and philosophy and art. I had never once heard this painting discussed in three years of my MFA program at UT Austin which had a strong art history requirement built into the curriculum. I knew that I had to bring this work to life in the present, and that was when my journey with this artwork began in true, because I knew, and I know even more clearly now that Couture's warning was spot on; we haven't evolved at all beyond the time of this painting; today we are just as mired in our own decadence; drunk with malaise, a culture drowning in mindless consumerism and self-fascination, and at such a great cost to ourselves and the world. So, this has become my purpose and mission with recreating this artwork; I want to present a critical and sober view of American decadence today, so that we may hopefully see ourselves and move forward from it. This has always been a recurring theme in my work: the idea of complicity, of participation, of asking how much of the blame for any of our social ills can be placed on the system and how much can be placed on us, and where is that line exactly, if it even truly exists or matters.