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Matthew Shepard was a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming on October 6, 1998, when he was beaten, tortured, and left for dead after being crucified on a split-rail fence in a remote prairie near Laramie, Wyoming because he was gay. Eighteen hours later, he was found barely alive by a cyclist who was riding through the area. Matthew died 6 days later in a hospital in Colorado from severe head injuries that led to severe brain stem damage. Matthew Shepard’s legacy continues to be a linchpin in the crusades of the religious right, especially the Westboro Baptist Church, who regularly organize protests against any kind of artistic or documentary telling of Matthews death and its aftermath.

This image is a pastiche of The Crucifixion of Saint Andrew (ca. 1651) by Mattia Preti. was struck by how similar this crucifixion looked like the crossed legs of the split-rail fence that Matthew spent those eighteen hours on alone in the cold prairie in the fall. 

Although reporting indicates that Matthew’s murderers only took his wallet and shoes before abandoning him, I chose to depict him naked. In renaissance art, it is notable that the human sexuality of Jesus is explicitly visible or at least alluded to in images of Jesus as an infant, and at the moment of his death. This detail is intended to indicate the element of humiliation that was intended with this kind of crime, and the helplessness of his situation while also paralleling him as a Christ figure. According to the police report, Shepard was beaten so brutally that his face was completely covered in blood except for the places where his own tears had washed the blood away. I chose to cover his face in crimson watercolor and then dripped clean water from his eyes to give the appearance of his tears washing away the blood, but also leaving the trail of those tears visible on the picture.

Notice how the pastels at the top both allude to an eclipse while also serving as an unconventional kind of halo and imitating the conditions of the sky in Preti’s painting. The cherub at the top is flying in with a crown of imitation gold and copper leaf to place upon his head, crowning him forever the king of hate crime visibility. “Pray for us…Matthew” in Greek on either side of Matthew.

The Crucifixion of Matthew Shepard

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