Illustrator and storyteller Vesper Stamper returns to Spark+Echo Arts with this beautiful new work in response to the theme of “meals” and Esther 7:1-10, in which Haman is taken away to be hanged during a banquet.
1 So the king and Haman came to banquet with Esther the queen. 2 And the king said again unto Esther on the second day at the banquet of wine, What is thy petition, queen Esther? and it shall be granted thee: and what is thy request? and it shall be performed, even to the half of the kingdom. 3 Then Esther the queen answered and said, If I have found favour in thy sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request: 4 For we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish. But if we had been sold for bondmen and bondwomen, I had held my tongue, although the enemy could not countervail the king’s damage.
5 ¶ Then the king Ahasuerus answered and said unto Esther the queen, Who is he, and where is he, that durst presume in his heart to do so? 6 And Esther said, The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman. Then Haman was afraid before the king and the queen.
7 ¶ And the king arising from the banquet of wine in his wrath went into the palace garden: and Haman stood up to make request for his life to Esther the queen; for he saw that there was evil determined against him by the king. 8 Then the king returned out of the palace garden into the place of the banquet of wine; and Haman was fallen upon the bed whereon Esther was . Then said the king, Will he force the queen also before me in the house? As the word went out of the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face. 9 And Harbonah, one of the chamberlains, said before the king, Behold also, the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman had made for Mordecai, who had spoken good for the king, standeth in the house of Haman. Then the king said, Hang him thereon. 10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then was the king’s wrath pacified.
Growing up in a nominally Jewish home, the story of Esther was one of my favorites. In the celebration of Purim, Esther is commemorated as the liberator of the exiled Jews of Persia from the genocidal plot of Haman. The plot is uncovered at a meal that Esther hosts for King Ahashuerus (Xerxes) and Haman.
Meals can be occasions of either comfort or tension among family and friends. In this important meal, tensions are high between Esther and her husband, while Haman is settling into what he believes to be a comfortable position in the Queen’s favor. However, these roles are reversed in a moment—Esther regains her husband’s trust, and Haman is revealed and sentenced to death on his own gallows. Any meal has the potential to be revelatory: when people are about the vulnerability of needing to eat food, or if alcohol is being consumed and guards are down, anything can be brought into the light. How many times can we trace a moment of relational revelation to a meal? This was certainly true when Jesus walked the earth, and it is true of all of us.
In this painting, I chose to portray the moment just after the actors have left the scene. The rush of air from dragging out the schemer Haman causes the curtains to blow; Haman’s wine glass, a moment ago a symbol of comfort and merriment, is overturned, foreshadowing his blood that will shortly be spilt; the candle that represents his life has been snuffed out, while a candle representing the Jewish nation remains lit—a situation which moments before could have been the reverse.
In all of our lives, the daily and mundane have the potential at any time to become extraordinary, even history-changing. Think about this next time you roast a chicken.
My work draws on mysticism, by which I mean any person’s reconciling of their tangible surroundings and doings with the (I would argue) universal inner pull toward God’s personality. I respond deeply to archetypical story as found in dark and complex fairy tales, and the disparate impressions we see in our own nighttime dreams. I believe these can be seen as a window into the mystical nature of man. As with Biblical narrative, certain cultural symbols resonate with meaning, and I believe that at thirty-seven I am only at the beginning of my own understanding of them. In this sense my work is evolving with a guiding principle that I am only one person in a continuum of storytellers, and that I will be pursuing the meanings of these symbols well into my twilight years.
As an illustrator and storyteller, I feel a profound responsibility to communicate to my audience, beyond purely personal self-expression. This communication can be either on a visceral level or a clear exposition of subject matter, but as a Christian I believe I must be on guard against oversimplified dichotomies or propagandistic message-making. The best stories are those that have the most breathability—hence the fact that I am reinterpreting a passage which is around five thousand years old.
Currently I am about to enter the Master of Fine Arts program in Illustration as Visual Essay at School of Visual Arts, and am seeking agency representation. I am working on two illustrated novels, both of which draw on Celtic and Anglo-Saxon myth as the reality of the lives of ordinary women and girls who are reconciling tragedy with their own agency and identity.
Hopelessly lost among the wintry wardrobes of Pauline Baynes’ Narnia, Shaun Tan’s mysterious foreign lands, and the watery open spaces in Lisbeth Zwerger’s illustrations, Vesper Stamper’s calling as an illustrator began as soon as she cracked open Hilary Knight’s Cinderella and spent the rest of her childhood meticulously copying each graceful page. She earned an Honors degree in Illustration from Parsons School of Design, and, woven in with her visual work, Vesper is also a recording artist in the indie rock band Ben + Vesper, on the Sounds Familyre record label. Her career has spanned fifteen years, dozens of album covers, four picture books and countless other exciting projects. She brings a refined style and emotional depth to her work that goes beyond mere decoration to pay homage to the rich illustrative tradition from which she comes.
Vesper was named the recipient of the 2012 Lincoln City Fellowship for her upcoming graphic novel "The Sea-King’s Children," which will take her to the Outer Hebrides of Scotland this spring (2013) to research the book’s setting and folklore, and to write and paint for the book at the “edge of the world.” She lives in Jersey City, NJ with her husband, filmmaker Ben Stamper, and her two fairy children, who are grabbing the baton and can take an urban backyard full of dirt and recreate it as a world of wonders.