First published: Summer 2023
When a café owner asked cook Jeremy Twiss to roller-paint over the walls inside her new building, neither of them expected what was to come
High above the heads of patrons in The Tabernacle Pub in Buffalo, New York, a naked, ripple-muscled Adam in Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling pose seems to reach for temptation: a glass of red wine held out by a shapely female nude with a sword, green eyeshadow and dyed red hair, recalling Eve, forbidden fruit and the Holy Grail. Echoing God’s heavenly portal in the original, the pair are suspended in an oval shape filled with swirling graffiti-mural style clouds.
The artist in The Tabernacle. All photos: Fred Scruton, 2018
Centred in the next of the ceiling’s five massive sunken panels – each framed by intricately decorated nine-meter beams – an amber ceiling medallion, surrounded by a field of deep Renaissance blue dotted with gold leaf stars, radiates ancient Egyptian sun rays. Each ray ends in a stylised, wrench-like hand holding an ankh (key of life). Between the spoke-like rays are 16 additional hands, some forming Buddhist or Hindu mudras (gestures). As if enlivened by its primal power, two life-size, mirrored pairs of featureless, clay-grey archetypal male and female nudes with exaggerated musculature seem to tumble in free-fall orbit around the sun medallion.
Twiss created a different painting for each of the five sunken panels on The Tabernacle’s ceiling
Built as a church in 1922, the Tabernacle building has since been a bank, dance hall and bakery. In 2013, Jeremy Twiss, then 26, was hired as a cook in the adjacent café. Five years later, his boss Prish Moran needed to make staff changes. Having purchased and renovated the vacant Tabernacle building next door, she asked Twiss to take on the job of rolling base paint over the freshly repaired walls and ceilings. They joked about adding Michelangelo references – “God and Adam cheersing beer glasses” – but he had never painted and Moran intended to downplay the ceiling and offer the walls to local artists.
left and right: on an east-wall panel, a Christ-like figure holds a philosophy text and a lightsaber, while a velociraptor is led by a Buddha
Twiss had studied philosophy and comparative literature but dropped out of college due to a lack of funding: “I left University of South Florida and came back up here and started reading like crazy (including Nietzsche, Proust, Joyce, Pound... ).” He had some drawing materials from when his high-school art classes had sparked a creative interest but had not used them for years. While working at Moran’s café, he lived alone in a studio apartment and, bored a lot of the time, he started drawing. “It’s crazy how bad I was,” he says – but Moran saw promise in those early figurative sketches.
By FRED SCRUTON
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #115.