What would have happened if Monet or Pissarro had watched Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later? Maybe something a little like this: a series of impressionistic, pointillist paintings celebrating iconic scenes from zombie movies and TV.
The artist, George Pfau, is obsessed with zombies. Before creating Zombiescapes, his current series of oil paintings, he also created the Zombie Index, a huge interactive drawing of thousands of the undead.
Why zombies? In part, Pfau thinks they can teach us something about ourselves. "The tenuous threshold between self and other is at the heart of so many zombie narratives," Pfau says. "We see people transitioning from identifiable, named, humans, to infected, possessed, ‘dead’ members of an ever-growing zombie-collective. Our culture places extreme value on the identity of each individual, and when this is replaced by an overarching zombie-category which carries negative stereotypes, a lot of anxiety is produced."
And then there’s the flesh-eating, he says. "For me, zombies in their ongoing state of dismemberment bring up lots of bodily questions. If a part of my body comes off, be it an arm or a flake of dandruff, does that thing 'die' or no longer cease to be me? If that arm on the ground is still me, yet is dead, am I both living and dead in that moment?"
Pfau sees zombies as existing in a "blurry zone," and says he’s "interested in the boundaries that exist between life and death, self and other, healthy and sick, inside and outside, individual and collective, and the images society creates in this regard. I’d like to think that the zombie-obsession has to do with the accessibility of these ideas, and how they relate to the vulnerability of being human beings, constantly on the verge of being seen (or not), seemingly secure in our bodies yet always a blink away from death."
He chose this style of painting—which he first became interested in as a child, thanks to his father’s love of artists like Alfred Sisley—because it emphasized the hazy boundaries between the zombie and the environment. "The oil allows each figure (each zombie) to ooze into its surroundings," Pfau says. "As you can see on the Zombiescapes site, I’ve included photo enlargements of certain zombies, allowing us to see the loss of control that occurs with each brushstroke and how merged these bodies really are with their setting."
Maybe the zombie paintings can also make a sort of meta-statement about art itself. "In grad school at California College of the Arts in San Francisco, where I’m based now, my professors and I often debated whether painting could be considered a "zombie" medium," Pfau says, "with some art critics declaring it dead, while others saying that it has been brought back to life."