Is the bad one dead, or is ...
Tony Fomison


Tony Fomison
12 Jul 1939
Is the bad one dead, or is he still to reign? Is God to empty the bed but for him to rise again?
Production date:
Accession No:
760 x 605mm (sight size)
Oil on linen on hardboard

Collection Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth. Purchased from Monica Brewster Bequest with the assistance of the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council of New Zealand in 1979.

All the images in Tony Fomison’s paintings seem to be materialising from, or perhaps receding into, a dense, shadowy darkness. They dwell in the territory of mythology, where narrative is condensed into a series of potent symbols and archetypes. Evoking a dream or nightmare, the softly blurred lack of detail in Is the bad one dead focuses attention on the figures and transactions in the composition, investing them with symbolic significance. The central figure, with a face extremely foreshortened to exaggerate its skull-like quality, seems to be on the cusp of death while in the background an egg is passed between two figures through an open window.

It appears as if some mysterious rite of passage is taking place. In Fomison’s work, birth- and death-scenes and symbols are common, and often interchangeable. In Is the bad one dead, a death-bed scene is complicated by the presence of the egg, with its powerful associations of birth and renewal. The question in the title now takes on more significance — is the bad one dead, or is there a possibility of rebirth? The window also has a rich symbolic function, setting up a tension between inside and outside, enclosure and escape. The viewer is ‘positioned’ in this scene in close proximity to the figure in the bed. The window, the avenue of escape, is blocked by his grotesque, cadaverous face, which looms out of the bedclothes with the solidity of landscape. A sense of entrapment prevails.

Fomison’s painting seems to deal with themes of the transmission and break between generations. His title suggests the death of a patriarch and an old social order, but questions the totality of this ending. Is the bad one dead acknowledges the way that the present sits in judgement of the past, but also the way that the past continues to haunt the present.