Showing posts with label vanitas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label vanitas. Show all posts

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Venetia



To be honest, the skeleton motif took me by surprise here in Mexico and then I stayed with itcreating about a dozen paintings so far. Certainly there are those who have followed and collected my artwork over the decades who are bewildered and perplexed by my departure from landscape painting. All I can say is this is Oaxaca, Mexico and I have been influenced and like it. People ask when I will go back to landscapes. I don’t know.


My latest is called Venice Vanitas. It shows that even in one of the most desirable places, Venice, Italy, amidst youth, luxury, pomp, √©lan, gaiety and romance, death is a commanding presence. 


Everyone is always aware of death on an unconscious level. It is omnipresent. We are born with our days numbered. A germ can take over the body and cause it to fail. Sudden accidents occur. People can even die of melancholy. In the 18th century, death certificates signed by the British clergy listed as many as 41 different causes of death, including 'suffocated by wet nurse or mother'. 


Not that we dwell on all this and live fearfully. That is perhaps why I am bringing death to the fore. As if to say, “I see you, and I am okay with you being always around.”


In the painting Venice Vanitas, a lovely young woman is enjoying a gondola ride on the grand canal. She holds red flowers, symbolizing life. A mask is nearby, symbolizing deceptionlife can be deceiving. The water is flowing life force; bringing us from birth to death and always onward. The bridge is passage from one world to the next. The skeleton gondoleer is death, determining when life will eventually end.


A story:


Once upon a time in Venice, there was a young woman named Venetia. She was known throughout the city for her beauty and her love of life. One sunny day, she decided to take a gondola ride on the grand canal, the main artery of Venice.

As she drifted along the canal, Venetia held in her hand a bouquet of red flowers, symbolizing the beauty and vitality of life. But nearby, a mask lay on the seat, a reminder that life can be deceiving, that appearances can be false.

The water flowed around her, a reminder of the life force that carries us all from birth through death. A bridge she passed often spanned the canal, a symbol of the progress from one world to the next, from the living to the dead.

Guiding the gondola stood the Grim Reaper, a reminder that death is always with us, determining when our time on earth will come to an end.

Despite the reminder of death, Venetia was not afraid. She knew that life was meant to be lived to the fullest, and she was determined to enjoy every moment of it. She smiled at the skeleton behind her, knowing that one day they would meet again, but for now, she was content to enjoy the beauty of Venice and the joy of being alive.

As the gondola glided along the canal, Venetia breathed in the salty sea air and felt the warmth of the sun on her face. She knew that life was fleeting, but she also knew that it was beautiful, and that she would always cherish the memories of this moment. And so she continued to smile, holding her bouquet of red flowers, enjoying the ride, and living her life to the fullest.

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.