This painting by Chicago artist, Joseph DeVelasco, was inspired by Romans 7:24, “O wretched man that I am! Who will free me from this body of death?” What follows is an analysis of this painting by Cheyenne DeVelasco, Joseph’s granddaughter, who went home to be with the Lord in August of 2017 after battling cancer through most of her teen years.
This Bible verse is used to describe a chilling painting that was done by Joseph E. DeVelasco (1933-1999). O wretched Man gives an overwhelming feeling of the death and decay of man. Joseph DeVelasco uses dark colors to give emphasis to the painting and hit home the message that he was wanting to unfold. Using black as the background, an endless time of darkness is presented; gray as the color of the old man sitting, while holding in his hand a skull, gives the fact that the body of this man is without life. The old man is wearing very old fashioned clothing, with ruffled sleeves and collar that is reminiscent of how men were once dressed for display in their coffin before buried in the ground. That however, is not the main focus because when looked at closely, the painter purposely highlights the face of the skull and man that are facing each other telling us that this old man faces an imminent death. But his left hand is highlighted with a different color along with the words of the book his hand is resting on. The words are Holy Bible and both his hand and these words are given a more fleshly color as though life has been given to this dead man through this book.
The painted framing around the old man does not lighten the mood of the painting, instead it just reassures the overall eeriness that is portrayed. Joseph DeVelasco created this painting as though it was a photograph of an old man staring at death in a finished framework, ready to be placed or hung in a household without the typical wood framework. The painted on frame has entangled ribbons that have been painted with a rusty brown color. They vary in depth with no start or finish, portraying the infinite chains sin has us caught up in. Camouflaging within the ribbons, there are men intertwined desperately trying to break free but cannot. Throughout the entwining ribbon-like structures, at the top are the words, “O Wretched Man that I am” then continuing at the bottom with, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death”. A frontal view of a skull interrupts these words, placed right in the bottom, center of the frame. There is a second skull in the bottom right corner but unlike the center skull, the right skull appears to have an airier feeling to it.
I believe this is a representation of how man is unable to escape the sting of death with their own righteousness. We are dead without believing in the Lord, who died an unjust death being without sin. We stare death in the eyes and are entangled with our sins, they are endless without an escape. We may try to live a righteous life through our own good deeds but even then, they are over shadowed by the immense transgressions we have tainted our lives with.
This brings in the description that is given with the verse, that seems to flawlessly tell the story behind this painting. That the old man is dead but through the Word of God a new man is born and faces an eternal life with Christ. “For the corruptible must put on incorruption…….”, this is saying how we sinners must believe in the one who gave us the ability to be perfect and only then will we have victory over death.
In this depiction we are the old dead man, unwittingly living our everyday lives apart from God. Joseph DeVelasco has painted a spiritually dead man, a man that lives and breathes every day like normal but doesn’t get the connection of being with our Father in Heaven. The hand that is placed on the Bible is showing the connection that he finds and him then being spiritually alive. Every day we go living without knowing our personal Saviour is another day we live in the hands of death. “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Never knowing what a life with Christ is like is the same as being dead for eternity, we can try to substitute him with anything and everything in this world but the part that most spiritually dead people feel is larger than worldly things that we try to fulfill our lives with.