One People, One Planet, HON!
Age of Decadence
1967, poster, pen and ink, 21 7/8”x16 7/8”
In the Spring of 1967 Hieronimus designed this poster for an exhibit of his work arranged by the University Chaplain at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Chester Wickwire. At this early point in his career, Hieronimus was still an “angry young man,” and the subject of his artwork was heavily critical of the current state of affairs in this country. Three of his most controversial pieces were on display in this exhibit, and as several newspaper reports accounted, the Hopkins establishment was thrown into an uproar over them. Leading the attack was a group of faculty wives who did not see the purpose of the social commentary and “found-art” sculpture works like the “Rosy Crucifixion” which featured an African-American crucified on a clothes pole, crowned by a child’s cash register, and featuring a bombshell for a penis. Nor did they see the humorous political statement in the “Big A,” an illuminated metal and glass “A” harboring a George Washington statue resting upon a small circus wagon. And they just didn’t know what to make of the “American Express,” a coffin on wheels with a flag-draped eagle inside. What Chester Wickwire and other art critics found innovative, “very worthwhile”, and compelling, brought threats of incarceration for religious blasphemy from the faculty wives and the state’s attorney’s office.
Hieronimus decided to title this exhibit “The Age of Decadence,” and with this poster he illustrated the exhibit’s meaning with a series of symbols. The central symbol is a flower, symbolic of the impermanence of material existence. Within its three petals at the top of the piece are the letters USA – meaning this is America’s flowering. As his defenders said in the news reports on the charges of blasphemy “Hieronimus feels that America, and not himself, has desecrated these symbols.” The “U,” symbolic of the mother or uterus (united), contains a five-pointed star, a symbol of the microcosm or man. Within the “S” petal are lunar crescents as the “S” stands for the soul or septenary principle, sometimes referred to as the serpent fire of kundalini. The third petal is the “A,” or the absolute. It contains the six-pointed star, symbol of the macrocosm or universe. The translation of the symbols in these letters can be that America is the mother birthing the soul of the absolute.
The pistil of the flower contains the name of the exhibit, “Age of Decadence.” From the flower’s stem emerge six leaves, which contain information on the location and time. They read: “Paintings and sculptures, Johns Hopkins University, Nov. 5 – Dec. 3 Sherwood Room, 2-5 PM.” The leaves symbolize humanity or the multitudes. The stem is filled with 8 hearts containing the symbol for the Sun (A), also a mystical symbol for the Deity. The hearts symbolize love, which is the cohesive force of the universe. The number eight refers to infinity, which is symbolized by a horizontal number 8. Thus this infinite love traveling up the stem gives nourishment to the multitudes (leaves) and is energized by the five hearts below in the root. The earth/soil below is formed by the artist’s last name “Hieronimus”. All that is found within the flower is an expression of the impermanence’s of the physical material world, which in time bears seeds, gives birth to other flowers, and decays.
To the left and right of the flower are the external forces that are bringing about its decay. Hieronimus uses the same contemporary symbols used in other works of this time to stand for the negative forces which malnourish the very air we breathe. Under the “U” is a dollar sign decorated in a checkerboard pattern, indicating it can be used for good or evil. Beneath the dollar sign is a black heart. Below the black heart are the letters “GM” (in tiger stripes for Exxon’s “Put a tiger in your tank”) for General Motors, both symbols for the combustion engine and America’s great love for the automobile.
Beneath the “A” petal is the word “Coke,” a reference to non-nourishing food, which diminishes the span of human life when consumed daily. Beneath “Coke” is the word “Yes” standing for the lack of control on desire. Beneath “Yes” is another black heart containing the word “Mom.” Hieronimus is using the letters MOM here to stand for “Mother of Matter,” the mother of materialism.
Though his symbolism in these earlier works is more obvious and allegorical when compared to his later works (which use symbols from the esoteric traditions), the message is remarkably similar. America is flowering from the internal energies generated from transcendent powers. Its growth has been stunted, however, by an environment corrupted by the love of wealth, junk food, the “anything goes” philosophy, the pollution of combustion energies, and corporate dominance of our media and politics. These pollutants will shorten America’s life expectancy. Surrounding the big picture, however, is the sea of vibratory energy. All things are vibration. All things are change.