By Nick BirkheadI suggest that Ledger’s work owes something to the fantastical Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516). Specifically, the Garden of Earthly Delights comes to mind, with its lush depiction of organic sin. The world famous and brilliant forerunner of surrealism was, in his day, unique and radically different. Today Bosch’s work could not be more relevant, taxing and fascinating, revealing the folly and hypocracy of man. Bosch was born during the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, in the Duchy of Brabant [Netherlands]. Why are his paintings so powerful and why do I think there is a common thread between them and Ledger’s more dour pictures?

John Ledger | The Democratic Umbrella

Bosch places visionary images in a hostile world full of mysticism, with the conviction that the human being, due to its own stupidity and sinfulness has become prey to the devil himself. He holds a mirror to the world with his cerebral irony and magical symbolism, sparing no one. He aims his mocking arrows equally well at the hypocrisy of the clergy as the extravagance of the nobility and the immorality of the people. Hieronymus Bosch’s style arises from the tradition of the book illuminations (manuscript illustrations from the Middle Ages). The caricatural representation of evil tones down its terrifying implications, but also serves as a defiant warning with a theological basis.

John Ledger | Ill Equipped

The echos of these powerful works struck me immediately on viewing Ledger’s work. They were of a dark world in turmoil. Bodies and abandoned buildings were strew across the landscapes, which were more often than not cities; cities which had seen the apocalypse. These were pictures of a decaying world, where redemption was impossible. The doom presented itself as an all consuming and deadly force. There was a cruelty and even a vindictiveness which was apparent, and undeniable. Is this what Ledger thinks our world will be if we all continue on our selfish and consumptive ways? Or a portrait of the present state of affairs. To be honest, I don’t think there is much in it. If the date of his work, 2045, is anything to go by, I do not think much will change in the next thirty years..

John Ledger | The Index Of Child Well-being

From afar, these drawings are remote and almost picturesque; only upon intimate inspection do they reveal the tremendous horror of the truths they reveal. The macabre and the ironic and the droll all seem to be competing. Even more interesting is the methodology behind them. The fact that Ledger has chosen a biro as his instrument for these works is significant. If the biro is a symbol of anything it is transience. The throw-away nature of the pen indicates Ledger’s choice of atmosphere for his work; as if commenting on the idea that humans, like the tool he has chosen to depict, are useful but not permanent. As if the state employs us for a time, and then discards when we are empty. Such a picture of the world is not a pretty one. One which is filled with vices and death and decay. Physically, the pictures are very striking and the tone which is set by the biro creates great contrasts within the works. They are evidently a labour of love, and as I stood in front of them, entranced and appalled, I thought just how long and how much pain-staking effort it cost to produce such mesmerising effects. What on the surface may seem to owe something to the colourful and cheerful design of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine is in fact a violent indictment of the corruption which we encourage with our lifestyles.

John Ledger | In The City…
But what strikes most in these works is a barely contained fury. Fury directed at the system. The corpses or soon to be corpses in the pictures just claim one thing: not to live in vain! The works depict the world – the commercial public – as a machine which chews people up. Codes of behaviour and narrow mindedness are our worst enemies, according to the pictures. They represent a cycle of destruction which can only be resolved by a complete review of our values. Ledger is asking us what it is that we really value. I think the world today really is questioning itself and wondering whether it is really sustainable at the current rate of consumption; and the conclusion is clear. It is not sustainable. We are eating ourselves out of all the resources we take for granted and these works clearly have digested this feeling and aim to make us take note. Just as Bosch warned against the complete corruption of the spirit in regards to lusting after earthly pleasures, Ledger warns against the rising tide of consumerism. But is it too late? That is a question which maybe none of know the answer to. But by the stark images involved in these peculiar works might hint at a negative outcome!
John Ledger | I Believe In Capitalism
Perhaps the volcanic red image of I Believe In Capitalism is the most powerful: as if the greed of the public is the fuel for the poisoned economy which is then turned against the consumer with weapons of surveillance and paranoia, we seem to be contributing to our own downfall! I think we need to take as much care to heed the message in these pieces as Ledger has taken the time to articulate each serious line of his work. If we are to avoid the vicious cycles drawn in these works, we must take stock of our own priorities. Just as one critic has suggested that Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights serves as a multifaceted mirror for viewers to reflect on how humanity, while created in the image and likeness of God, in the course of history has lost its original identity and tends towards becoming one with a world that is susceptible to an all-perverting force of evil origin, we seem to have come full circle with Ledger’s work, and the conclusion is a grim one: we have not learned our lesson and seem determined to follow the course of self-destruction.

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