The seemingly disconnected spirits of English Romantic poet John Keats (1795–1821) and American anti-establishment artist Paul Thek (1933–1988) unite in Virgil Marti’s Ode to a Hippie. An homage to Thek, Marti’s inspiration lies in a nineteenth-century Keats Death Mask he discovered in the Wadsworth’s collection. The worn plaster cast conjured the image of Paul Thek’s sculptural self-portrait effigy, the centerpiece of his most significant work The Tomb (1967), also known as Death of a Hippie.
With the addition of a Keats Life Mask, Marti’s site-specific installation explores life and death through an inventive evocation of an English garden with shrines, a faux natural setting embellished with “hippie-craft” elements including stained glass, macramé, airbrushed paint, and velvet fabric. Marti regularly combines seemingly incongruous subjects and objects in elegant and witty arrangements, revealing surprising affinities. Through the spirits of Keats and Thek, Marti’s Ode to a Hippie explores the lingering romantic notions of tragic artistic geniuses.