Terry Hays, “Swimming to Salvation”

Terry Hays, “Swimming to Salvation” (acrylic on wood)

I can’t claim I understand Terry Hays’ work, not even a little bit. But the Christian-ish allegory with an Eastern flair of the above is striking. Those flames at the upper right look like they could have been spewed by these sorts of demons. The ichthus design residing in some sort of creature accompanying our swimmers might guide, support and propel them, given their locations. But although those arrows suggest the current is against the swimmers, where is salvation? The swimmers do not seem to exist outside of the water. The left half of the panel glows with something brighter, interspersed with what remains of where the swimmers were. It looks curiously like the land masses one might see on a map.

The other works on his site are definitely worth perusing: “Grass Fire” has my attention at the moment.


  1. Curiously, I don’t see any Christian symbolism here at all. It seems straight Buddhism to me.

    On the right, we have a burning shore – a world of fire. A world of fire is a standard Buddhist trope expressing the hungers & desires of worldly existence as well its impermanence. One should flee it as one would a burning house (another common expression).

    On the left, you have salvation and liberation. In between, there is the ocean of ‘practice’ which will eventually lead one to the other shore.

    I think they are even associated left/right like in the painting. (At least, my vague memories of the end of Wu Ch’eng-en’s A Journey to the West seem to suggest it.)

    I have no explanation for the arrows, unless they are supposed to be a school of fish.

  2. Yup, I think it’s more symbolic of Buddhism. Buddhism has a phrase “swimming to the other side of the ocean” of serenity and enlightenment, away from the world of form and reaction.

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