Showing posts with label Memento Mori. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Memento Mori. Show all posts

Sunday, March 31, 2024

In Life´s Tapestry


I like artwork that defies predictability and traverses emotional landscapes. Two recent paintings from our studio Dos Venados in Oaxaca, exemplify this art. 

Amy Córdova Boone has continued her fantastic storytelling through art in her latest piece, called El Peregrino Sagrado; “The Sacred Pilgrim,” (acrylic on canvas, 60 x 80 cm.) Her paintings emerge from deep within her psyche. This painting was inspired by a book she wrote and illustrated several years ago, entitled Talking Eagle and the Lady of Roses, published by Steiner Books, NY. 

The story of Guadalupe and Juan Diego is one of the most revered and iconic tomes in Mexican Catholic tradition. It dates back to December 9-12, 1531, when according to tradition, Juan Diego, a devout indigenous man, experienced a series of miraculous encounters with the Virgin Mary on Tepeyac Hill near present-day Mexico City.

During the encounters, the Virgin Mary, appearing as a young indigenous woman, instructed Juan Diego to go to the Bishop and request the construction of a church in her honor on Tepeyac Hill. Initially, the Bishop was skeptical of Juan Diego's claims, but after a series of miraculous occurrences, including the blooming of Castilian roses in the middle of winter and the imprint of the Virgin's image on Juan Diego's tilma (cloak), the Bishop was convinced of the authenticity of Juan Diego's visions.

The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe imprinted on Juan Diego's tilma became a symbol of faith and unity for the Mexican people. It is said to contain layers of symbolism that spoke directly to the indigenous population, bridging the gap between their traditional beliefs and Catholicism.

The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe was eventually built on Tepeyac Hill, becoming one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the Americas. The tilma of Juan Diego, with the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, remains on display in the basilica to this day, attracting millions of visitors each year.

The story of Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe is not only a cornerstone of Mexican Catholicism but also a testament to the power of faith, miracles, and the enduring presence of the divine in everyday life.

Oil painting by Steven Boone

Within my own oil paintings, I hope to surprise an audience, and do this by occasionally shifting artistic direction. The last few years my work has been somber and introspective. I made a series of "Memento Mori" paintings, where skeletal figures grapple symbolically with mortality. Recently, after I felt closure, my art has taken a dramatic turn towards vibrancy and celebration⏤exemplified by my most recent large piece, Two Dancers at a Fiesta, (oil on canvas, 80 x 100 cm.)  It is in a world bursting with color and life. The canvas pulsates with the energy of the dance floor, as two figures whirl and twirl amidst a jubilant fiesta atmosphere. The subjects dance along with the brilliant colors and bold twirling designs. Even the floor is bursting with vibrancy. Gone are the solemn reminders of mortality; instead, we revel in the joyous rhythms of corporeal existence.

This shift is not only in artistic evolution but also the embrace of multifaceted human experience. Through my paintings, I embrace both the darkness and the light, finding beauty and meaning in every aspect of life's tapestry.

To see Amy and Steven´s Mexico inspired work, go to Dos Venados Studio

Sunday, January 29, 2023

The Original Tin Angel

When our neighbor Mayolo understood that Amy and I needed frames for our paintings in our little village in southern Mexico, he said, “I can make them out of tin!” My first reaction was to say no. I had never shown a painting in a tin frame and considered it cheap material that is used to preserve foods. Mayolo insisted he could do something that would make us happy. We decided to try one.

Memento Mori,    Steven Boone

I don’t understand Spanish and Mayolo does not speak EnglishAmy does her best to interpret. 

We collaborated with Mayolo to use motifs from our paintings as frame elements, and, the magnificent results that Mayolo created are mind blowing.

Rooster Serendade,    Steven Boone

Mayolo delivers frames that truly delight, proving he is a master craftsman and ingenious artist.

The Key,    Amy Córdova Boone

Best Birthday,    Amy Córdova Boone

Since that first frame, he has delivered to us nine moreeach distinctly custom made with unique embellishments that enhance the art. In fact, each piece is itself a work of art and adds great value. Thank you, to our dear friend and brother, the one and only Mayolo!

                                                                  Amy Córdova Boone

Sunday, January 01, 2023

Summoned to a Reckoning

Vanitas, Noche Encantada, oil on linen, 30 x 40 inches (completed 12/25/2022)

In my recent painting, streaking comets represent the brevity of life. Clouds drifting past the half full moon indicate mystery, and how light of knowledge is obscured. The skeleton blowing the trumpet makes an announcement of death. Two other skeletons dance happily. They are dead and testify happiness exists in the next world too. The lone skeleton on the right is the observer representing reflection. The church setting is from where I live in Oaxaca, Mexico. It is the Santo Domingo churchcenterpiece of the city. A church represents devotion, spirituality, the connection between earth and heaven.

Lastly, at the foot of the trumpet player, a dog, man’s loyal companion, is looking on with great attention. The breed is xoloitzcuintli. Amy and I have one. “According to Aztec belief, the Xoloitzcuintle dog, whose history dates 3,500 years, was created by Xolotl, god of death, to protect the living and guide the souls of the deceased through Mictlán, the underworld or the city of the dead. The most important function that the Xoloitzcuintles were believed to fulfill was to help the souls cross a deep and mighty river that crosses the Mictlán.” Mexico Daily Post (see an article for more about Xoloitzcuintles)

“O Son of Being! Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds.”  —The Hidden Words of Baha’u'llah”

Last night was New Years Eve. I walked out on our roof veranda just at midnight as the valley where our house in the village of San Pedro Ixtlahuaca shook with reverberations.


Sunday, October 02, 2022

Dance of Death

Over the years I have come to realize my best artwork elicits strong reactions and not necessarily favorable. People have cried in front of my paintings. I have been assaulted in fury, with invectives hurled. Folks have swooned. 
Most of my career has been as a landscape painter. From the start of life I have been a nature boy. In school I often gazed out the windows to the landscape beyond, wishing to be free as a bird. I am tactile, feeling things to help me connect and understand. Thankfully the world has responded to my creative efforts and I have been able to make a living as an artist all my adult life. 

Keeping Score, oil on linen, 28 x 22 inches  c. 1996 

I struggle to make work that pushes boundaries and reaches into human psychology. A painting series called Hangups, begun in 1993 and continued for a decade were faces hanging from clothespins suspended on lines. The images originated in my subconscious. With the contortions and props, they elicited a wide range of emotions, from happiness to comic laughter, frustration, anger and repulsion. One, called Van Gogh All Hung Up, is in the permanent collection of the Foundation Van Gogh, in Arles France.

French, Middle Ages

Here in Oaxaca, Mexico, I have been working on a series of “Memento Mori” paintings. The Latin phrase literally means, "Remember that you must die." Each time I begin work on one, I touch raw feelings such as sadness or grief. Also come feelings of closure, laughter and relief. 
The famous French painter Matisse made the statement: “Art should be something like a good armchair in which to rest from physical fatigue.” I say that is not all art must be.  

The biggest annual festival in Oaxaca is Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead. It is time of remembrance and celebration of souls departure from this earthly existence. Most Mexicans consider death as not just a misfortune but also an ultimate state of liberation. Many positive images associated with the skeleton can be found in Mexican culture.

Skeletons in art have a long history. Some of the most memorable works in my mind are by Albrecht Durer, Pieter Breughel the Elder and Hieronymus Bosch⏤famous artists from medieval times. In the Middle Ages the skeleton started to be used artistically as a personification of Death, i.e. in Dance of Death artworks, and as a symbolic element in other 'macabre' artistic themes with memento mori content, such as the Triumph of Death.

Detail from Pieter Breughel the Elder, Triumph of Death, 1562

In these contemporary times, the dance of death continues with different plagues: world wide pandemics, global warming and the ensuing natural calamities, wars, famines . . . you get the picture.  Death does not care, it comes to all that live. The skeleton represents spirit released of the body; a medium that connects life and death, conscious and unconscious. 

Sunday, March 13, 2022

A Way of Life

A painting that began 23 years ago has been completed. July 5, 1999 my oldest daughter died of cancer at the age of nineteen. Numerous times through the years I thought to do a symbolic painting expressing the grief inside and transition which occurred. And yet, something held me back. My life as an artist has been for the most part painting landscapes.  

Amy and I moved to Oaxaca, Mexico one year ago. For months I did not paint, mostly because we were settling into our home. When I began making art again, everything depicted figures from life down here. And then the “muerto” or death symbols, which are widely accepted in Mexico as themes for remembrance of the departed became a staple of my paintings. 

"Watermelon Man," oil on canvas, 24 x 28 inches

When I finished my painting of a skeleton man eating watermelon, I began gathering ideas for the next work. A mural downtown caught my eye. It included a crowd of people, with a man carrying somebody on his back. That gave me an idea to have death carrying someone.

I researched for pictures of a grown person carrying a child. 

When I began my painting, I quickly realized it was autobiographical. 

To begin, it brought up strong emotions of darkness and grief. My artist wife Amy had trouble painting in our studio with my dark artwork next to her. The war in Ukraine had begun and so had the period of Bahaí fasting we observe. Nineteen days of no food or water from sunrise to sunset. This is my last year⏤after having practiced the annual event fifty years⏤those over 70 are not bound by it. I have dedicated my efforts to the people of Ukraine.

I am pleased to have made another “memento mori” work. It reminds us of the ever presence of death and its inevitability. Down here in Mexico it is a way of life. 

Sunday, February 06, 2022

Inside Your Darkest Everything

It started a couple of years ago when I made an oil painting of a young Frida Kahlo,_(Mexican,-6 July 1907 – 13 July 1954)with a skeleton whispering in her ear and wrapping his arm around her shoulder. I copied her own self-portraither first of many, then added a skeleton and a quote of hers: “I want to be inside your darkest everything.” I have tried my hand at painting skeletons and find that I like it. 

Amy and I have lived in our home in Oaxaca, Mexico going on one year. There are many festivities during the year, but undoubtedly the biggest, most famous, is Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, that occurs at the beginning of February. Significantly it is time for prayer and remembrance of friends and family members who have died. Its universally observed in Mexico, but also regions with large Mexican populations. In Oaxaca, skeletons and skulls are widely depicted as emblems of death and afterlife, and can be seen year around on walls.

This past year, as Dia de Muertos approached, I had an idea for a painting with skulls. With a bit of trepidation I began work on it. After overcoming some negative emotions, I continued until it was finished. Standing back, I liked it very much and determined not to sell it. It is called "Memento Mori", meaning an object serving as a warning or reminder of death, such as a skull.
My neighbor Mayolo stepped into the picture when he made a fantastic tin frame for me, complete with skulls, crossbones and roses. 
Recently Mayolo made another masterpiece frame for my next muerto painting. It has sculptures and engravings with incredible filigree work in tin. At the top are two miniature violins with exquisite detail.

It seems I am in a process of making a series of muerto paintings.
The one to the left is my latest and almost finished. Many ideas come to me. 

Twenty one years ago my daughter died of cancer. It has taken me this long to make a painting that includes death as protagonist.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Dia de Muertos


Dia de Muertos, or “Day of the Dead,” always sounded strange to me; like a zombie movie or something. In English, the word ”dead” has a lifeless connotation. “Day of the Ancestors” is really the meaning. I like that. We honor our ancestors and want them always near us. We hope to have good relationships with our loved ones that have gone before us. So we talk with them. They pray for us and we pray for them.

Seated at our table, (for awhile).

Now that Amy and I are living in Mexico, we are adopting the celebration whole heartedly. Not just as spectators. This year we are making an ofrenda: a home altar with a collection of objects placed on a ritual display during Día de Muertos celebration. The ofrenda is presented to commemorate the souls of loved ones in the family and to welcome them to the altar setting.

Although we are going into our dry season here in Oaxaca, fields of color can be seen. Marigolds bloom to be harvested just in time for Dia De Muertos celebrations. Also Cockscomb with its brilliant crimson color. 

Detail from "Memento Mori" by Steven Boone

Covid precautions are still in place but excitement is building and celebrations will occur. After all, Dia De Muertos is a Mexican national holiday.

Detail from a painting in progress by Amy Cordova Boone

Amy is working on finishing an ofrenda painting. I just finished “Memento Mori,” a painting with the theme of the inevitability of death.

Stay tuned for next posts . . . 

More about Dia De Muertos 

More about Ofrendas