Artist and musician Perry Vásquez recently released a concept album designed to prod at the listener’s sense of morality, justice, and personal responsibility.
The Gates of Heck began as a visual arts project in 2008, when Vásquez re-invented Auguste Rodin’s Gates of Hell sculpture with Rodin’s tortured souls replaced by comic-book superheroes and pop-culture icons. The collage was distributed as a silkscreen print and, starting in 2012, a canvas painting that took two years to complete.
Vásquez — a teacher at Southwestern College, director of the Southwestern College Art Gallery, and founder of artist collective Border Corps — illustrated The Gates of Heck’s 120+ figures. He also composed a ten-song adaptation of Dante’s Inferno that would be recorded with Matt Resovich (The Album Leaf) on guitar/percussion and John Meeks on drums. The Gates of Heck is an acoustic guitar-driven minimal blues odyssey that runs Dante through the modern-day tribulations of corporate greed, border politics, and Comic-Con.
CD: The Gates of Heck has been nine years in the making. How are titles such as “Bourgeois in Hell” relevant to current events? How have their meanings changed over the years? And what does that say about our ascent into heaven or descent into hell?
PV: “Greed incurs Dante’s wrath like few other vises because he saw it as the root of moral and political corruption in his own society. In 2008, when I first began this project, society’s anger was directed at wealthy bankers and other Wall St. types who brought down the housing market.... Today, the meaning of corruption hasn’t changed but there is a new cast of villains, some of who have been swept into power by the Trump administration.... Unfortunately, I don’t believe in Dante’s Hell, so I don’t think these greedy people will be punished in their afterlives the way Dante envisioned.... Actually, I think that people not believing these myths could be a good thing if it makes us realize that heaven and hell are only projections of the reality we create for ourselves on Earth.”
CD: As illustrated in your painting of The Gates of Heck. Superhero characters from your youth are what you choose to project onto Dante’s (and Rodin’s) Hell?
PV: “My first exposure to superheroes was through TV. I loved the Batman show growing up in the ’60s and to a lesser degree the Spiderman animated cartoon.... What I love about Rodin’s Gates of Hell is that his figures are sculpted in an extremely dynamic style with exaggerated physiques. The continuity between classical art, Rodin’s sculptures, and superhero comic books just hit me one day. The creator of Batman, Bob Kane, had a Rodin-like style that had been smoothed out. It was simplified. His drawings seem primitive by today’s steroid-driven standards, but I actually prefer them.”