Acrylic on Wood, 4'x4'2'', Feb-May 2016
Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor Op. 64 Movement IFeaturing Hilary Hahn

In 2015, the Syrian Refugee crisis stunned the world and continues to beg response. World Vision News states the facts: ‘13.5 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance due to violent civil war. 4.8 million Syrians are refugees, and 6.5 million are displaced within Syria; half of those affected are children.’


A dynamic web of research, inspiration, and experiences inform this painting. Key inspirations include hundreds of real photographs and stories, my time studying abroad in Paris Fall 2015, and music. Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto E minor Op. 64 intricately compels the left side (Movements I, II, & III), while a plethora of cultural songs inform the right.

The broad narrative juxtaposes the refugee crisis against the industrial, consumerist world, begging an inescapable question: how are countries, societies, and individuals responding? Better yet, how are you responding? There is clear moral and physical tension. The great chasm and culminating bridge decry an ignorance, distraction, and rejection all too poignant amidst the chaos. Much symmetry and contrast intertwines and compels the narrative through various sub-narratives, social discourses, and symbols. Children are a key component, revealing and imploring truth. We must be mindful of the times we are living in—ready to act where history calls. For these refugees are our neighbors, and let us be wary of embodying a perspective in crisis.


It would be quite the feat to explain every facet of this painting. Simply every stroke embodies a call to meaning that is both intricate and broad, creating a holistic yet personal cry to humanity. The original painting is 4’ x 4’ 2’’, painted directly on wood with acrylic, fitting its raw nature. A dynamic web of research, inspiration, and experiences inform this painting, creating both an emotional and intentional response.


Key components include hundreds of photographs of the refugee crisis—whether fleeing their homes in rubble, cramming into boats, or pushing against barbed wire and national troops at sovereign borders. Almost all prominent characters in the painting are pulled directly from real photographs of real refugees as well as real city folk. The others are inspired.


Another key component is my time studying abroad in Paris, France 2015. Juxtaposed against the décor and romanticism that permeates Paris’ entire being, is the jarring reality of beggars sitting stagnant day after day. Such deeply moved me, and I was distraught when my first plane back in the states publicly recoiled at the sight of a refugee family. They were unwelcome.


The last important inspiration is the music I listened to while painting. For the left side, I listened to Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto E Minor Op. 64 over fifty times, striking my brush violently or softly with each corresponding note. For the right side, I listened to my personal chill playlist, engaging a hedonism, consumerism, and capitalism that distracts, enriches, or divides.



The broad narrative of this painting juxtaposes the refugee crisis against the industrial, consumerist world of countries disengaged, ignorant, or divided in welcoming refugees. Much symmetry and juxtaposition intertwines and socially engages each side (use of parents, children, movement, color, dogs, chaos, irony, etc.), supporting the ultimate point of tension between the two worlds: the bridge, where refugees push against the wall against adamant national guards. The capitalist “Open” sign on the right is directly, ironically speaking to this.


There is a great chasm between the two worlds, embodying a great divide that ironically reminds us that these are still our neighbors. Closer to the foreground, a loner floats between the two worlds, paddling out to sea with a heavy heart on what to do. Yet, out to sea and beyond the bridge is yet another world: a loose allusion to refugees sinking in a hopeless raft wreck. Hope resides in one figure praying and the bright light beyond the dark clouds.


Children play a great role in this painting, reminding us that although children may not understand it all, they often carry truth and empathy better than adults. On the left, the small girl in pink beckons the viewer for response. Her little brother peers over her father’s shoulder at the other side. Another boy being tugged in the middle ground points out the bridge in the distance. On the bridge, the boy climbing the wall calls out, embodying a plea and rage for not knowing where to run. On the right, a young boy being tugged by his father reaches out to the other side, as if he is the only one to see them.


Other social issues are also discussed in this painting. The refugees in the foreground on the left are intentionally a Muslim refugee family, pushing against Islamophobia in the name of neighborly love. The domed building in the background on the right is purposefully ambiguous, embodying the divided reaction and actions of the church and state. Various consumer qualities are engaged on the right: nice clothing, bags, cell phones, coffee, and a bar or restaurant.


Hence, the purpose of this painting is to intricately yet holistically engage this highly relevant issue in a way that beckons deep human response. Yes, to live and love is good, but we must be mindful of the times we are living in—ready to act and help where history calls. For these are our neighbors, and let us be wary of embodying a perspective in crisis.