death

Memento Mori

INSPIRATION

The inspiration for this piece began about three months ago while visiting a Diebenkorn exhibit. I overheard a comment by one of the docents referencing an object placed within one of the paintings (I forget which one) as a “memento mori”. Her utterance of the term immediately brought me back to my undergraduate art history classes. I was struck by the idea and wanted to begin sketching immediately but I hadn’ t brought a pen or paper because I had ridden to the museum on my motorcycle. I resolved myself to begin creating some kind of work around this theme as soon as time would permit.

About 6 weeks ago I began researching and sketching for the creation of my own memento mori. As I mentioned last month, I was later invited to submit a sketch for a South American “Day of the Dead” Pyramid tribute for Burning Man this year. The sketch was accepted and set to be placed upon one of the blocks which would comprise the pyramid. The image was to be printed onto a sheet of vinyl and then mounted onto one of the blocks of the pyramid. Unfortunately, finances and family commitments prevented me from attending the event, but I assume that everything went according to plan?

THE MEDIUM

Since this piece was much larger than the mock-up it took me quite a bit of time to complete it using scratchboard. In order to remain relatively consistent with the sketch I had previously submitted, I tinted the image with watercolor and color pencil after completing the initial black and white scratching process.  For those of you not familiar with the medium, Scratchboard is a white clay board that is blacked over with ink. The image is then scratch back out using various scratching tools (X-acto knives, scalpels, tattoo needles…). The process is actually drawing using a reverse, subtractive approach. When drawing with a pen or pencil one adds marks and shading – while scratchboard creates shading by revealing the white clay beneath the ink.

IMG_0321_edited-1

Completed Balck & White Image

When coloring the board it must first be covered with some kind of clear fixative in order to keep the ink from running when the dyes or watercolor are applied to the surface. For some reason, I wasn’t obtaining the effect I normally prefer and decided to add some color pencil for additional texture and opacity.

Memento Mori72.5

Memento Mori (final image)

SYMBOLISM

The symbols placed within this work all center around the theme of death. The animated skeleton sitting just outside of his open grave site (lower portion) hints at the notion of life after death, resurrection…while the comic caption-like heart shape spouting from his head is indicative of discussions regarding life review, judgment, and the undying power of love. I intentionally wanted some of the references to be more open to differing various mythologies concerning death and the afterlife.

The two standing figures on each side represent Aunbis (Greek), Anpu/Inpu (Egyptian) the Egyptian god of death. Anubis was responsible for: the protection of tombs and burial grounds/sites, guiding souls to the underworld, and judging their hearts upon the scales in order to decide whether or not the soul was worthy of eternal life. I purposely made the two images slightly different in order to create more variety in the composition. The function of Anubis as a guardian of tombs and judge fits in well with the imagery of the skeleton emerging from his tomb and conducting his own life review as seen in the caption.

The middle caption-like portion is an attempt to lighten up the theme a bit. It was added later in the design process after I began to deliberately link my design to the Burning Man project. Since the Day of the Dead carries more festive connotations I thought it would be good to lighten up the overall composition a bit. The skeleton below is remembering love in his life (the caption-like heart) but still doing so as if he were dead – hence the skeleton within the caption. In addition, he is seated next to a succubus. The succubus is a demonic mythical creature which was believed to seduce men in their sleep. During the act of intercourse, the succubus would drain them of their life force. In this instance, the skeleton is actually not remembering his life, but his dream through which he was drained of his essence!

The skull at the top of the image is representative of the traditional Euroethnic notion of memento mori that can be found throughout the euroethnic art-historical cannon. The symbol placed upon the skull’s forehead is the Japanese character for death.

 

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Ascension I: The Son of Man Ascends

INSPIRATION

Inspiration is a funny thing. It is often born from the most unlikely sources and flashes into consciousness at the worst possible moments. Yet these capricious insights are an integral  part of the creative process. To be inspired is to be “in Spirit” and that was exactly how the seeds of this image began to sprout.

Over the course of 3 weeks, I had been listening to several talks by various thinkers and intuitives on the topic enlightenment and the expansion of consciousness. The more I absorbed their perspectives and meditated upon the topic the more insights poured into my mind and spirit. Over those weeks, I felt a growing need to not only synthesize these insights but to share them with others.

As human beings, we often think of ascension as an upward, and often hierarchical  movement, but in reality, ascension is circular and holistic. Ascension is about expansion! The expansion and integration of one’s consciousness throughout all levels of self. Thus, one becomes fully self-actualized and self-aware physically, mentally, spiritually, and  energetically. From this perspective, one can only ascend outward and upward to the level or depth one has also gone downward and inward.

This can be evidenced not only in Jesus’ life and ministry but in the writings and biographies of all the spiritual masters. We see what can best be described as a kind of implosion. Each master first begins by going within in an effort to know the self’s inner world and locate that quiet, silent place of inner spaciousness. But in each instance, the master begins to discover that the journey within is simultaneously connecting her/him more deeply to all that is without and beyond. Paradoxically, each one discovered that the universal resides within the particular. Yet each reached a point upon the inward journey where there was no further they could go. The journey inward was then replaced by an opening, a flowering, or a rapid outward expansion which completely altered their way of being. This transformation occurs as a result of the inward exploration and is directly linked to the act that we refer to as ascension.

SYMBOLISM

I chose Jesus because he is the most easily recognizable figure within my particular context. Since Jesus’ ascension is directly linked to his death and resurrection, I felt it was extremely important to make reference to these events within the work so that one can see the continuity between them. I began researching Jesus and the ascension using various theological texts and the biblical narratives. The main features of the biblical narratives are Jesus ascending up into the heavens, the presence of heavenly beings, the elements, and the disciples who stand in witness.

Materials

The image is painted using acrylic paints on a large solid wood board. I actually found the piece of board lying outside near a trash pick-up site. I was walking down the street and noticed this large piece of wood supported by a couple of trash bins. The wood’s surface was distressed by scrapes, peeling layers, and various rippling textures. Normally I wouldn’t even have paid attention to something like this but the surface was so intriguing that I decided to take it to my studio.  It literally sat in my studio for a month and some days I would just sit in the studio and stare at it. I felt a connection to it in some way but I had no idea what to do with it? It wasn’t until I was halfway through my sketches for Ascension that I understood why I had been drawn to this block of wood.

The panel is 1.5 inches thick and weighs about 80lbs. Its surface is rough, pitted, and unfinished. This large piece of wood is reminiscent of the Jesus’ death on the cross. Its surface and texture are not only symbolic of a cross but it is earthy and grounding just as Jesus’ death truly was. It reminds me that life, death, and ascension are not heavenly conceptualizations to be spiritualized, but real-world, natural, embodied experiences that are played out within the earthly realm.

Ascension I: The Son of Man Ascends

Imagery

The two angels found on the upper right and left portions of the composition are representative of heavenly witnesses and guides. The angel on the left holds an ankh which symbolizes rebirth and new life. The angel on the right wields a spear which makes reference to Jesus’ death by human hands and the piercing of his side by the Roman centurion’s spear during his crucifixion.

The elements of cloud and sky have always held a prominent place in spiritual symbolism. The clouds symbolize both the divine presence and the biblical narratives’ description of Jesus ascending up into the clouds as he entered the heavenly realms. In the biblical tradition, the divine presence is often symbolized by clouds so I felt they were appropriate for this image. The golden-yellow sky is symbolic of light and spiritual illumination. The divine light pours forth bringing both physical and spiritual illumination to Jesus and the disciples who see and comprehend the events with supra-natural clarity. The symbol floating in the sky above Jesus’ head is the West African Adinkra symbol for transformation.

The silhouetted figures found in the bottom portion of the composition represent the disciples who not only witness the ascension but later receive a portion of Jesus anointing and divine power with the arrival of the Holy Spirit as it is described within the biblical book of Acts. These figures are in various positions of prayer and supplication as they worship their ascending master. Each figure is not only connected to the next, but each is connected to Jesus through the orange mandorla which surrounds Jesus who is ascending up above them. The deep blue depicts the figure’s silhouettes since they are surrounded by the dark clouds of divine presence. They are also encircled by red and orange halos (respectively). The former represents Jesus’ shed blood which covers the figures and provides both protection and connection with the divine presence. The orange halo is symbolic of the disciples sharing in the same spiritual power that Jesus himself possesses.

 Jesus is depicted within the very center of the composition floating upon a cloud as he ascends into the heavenly realms. The viewer’s eye is directed to this focal point by the use of an orange mandorla surrounding Jesus. The same orange also surrounds his actual figure as an aura. Orange is an expansive color that is often used to symbolize energy and power. Since ascension is expansion I thought the orange was an appropriate means of symbolizing this reality. In addition, the biblical narrative clearly connects Jesus’ ascension with the notion of power, both spiritually and physically (“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me…”). This power pours forth from the figures’ eyes and body (if the eyes scare you stop watching so many horror films).  The symbol that accompanies this new state of ascended transformation is the reiki symbol for enlightenment emblazoned upon his forehead in red.  The red robe is reminiscent of Jesus’ death and the blood he shed upon the cross. His sacrifice will be the catalyst through which those who follow him will gain access to the heavenly realms. His hands are outspread in a gesture of welcome as his forefingers grasp his thumbs to form a mudra.

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The Resurrection of Love: Birth, Death & Resurrection

INSPIRATION

As I sit here contemplating what I would like to share about this triptych, I am filled with a sense of wonder and irony. It was around this time last Spring that I was inspired to create these panels. I was compelled by my own personal desire to receive and express love more deeply in every aspect of my life. What better time to do so than the outset of Spring – when the earth itself is being reborn from winter’s death-like grip. A time of rejuvenation, rebirth, and resurrection. There is something about Spring which never fails to revitalize the spirit and fill the air with excitement and anticipation.

As I began to think and read about love, I was drawn to the words of Rumi, “I have no companion but love, no beginning, no end, no dawn. The soul calls from within me: ‘You, ignorant of the way of love, set me free’.” Love has no beginning or end because love is all there is. Love is free for the taking if we would just open ourselves to receive it. But we often travel through life as if we are completely void of the very thing we crave so desperately. If we would simply take the time to look within, listen to our souls, and set free the love already within us, we would surprisingly find more of it everywhere we look.

From a metaphysical perspective love never ends. But it is often born, dies, and is resurrected within the context of our material human experience. This realization was the impetus for my decision to depict the cycle of love in 3 stages: Birth, Death, and Resurrection. The symbolism here lies within the number 3 and the connection between the Christian Trinity, and Jesus’ own birth, death, and resurrection here upon the material plane. It also mimics the cycle of nature (Summer, Winter, Spring) and many of our relationships with others.

SYMBOLISM

Colors

The color palette was chosen based upon the following color symbolism: white = pure spiritual light which like the sun contains the entire spectrum of colors, purple = a karmic and auric color which is indicative of spiritual depth and power, pink = associated with spiritual enlightenment and the crown chakra, lavender/deep rose pink = is often associated with divine love, red = the root chakra which is associated erotic love and life-force, and deep purple = which is often associated with death or the absence of light within the cosmos.

Imagery

Given the metaphysical nature of the subject my initial inclination was to use abstract imagery, or to work with a more Jesus-like figure to represent love. However, as I continued to read and meditate upon the topic, I came to the realization that the characteristics most associated with love are more easily recognized within the feminine. Openness, expansion, mutuality, inclusion,  sacrifice, nurturing, care, acceptance…are all characteristics which led me to personify love within a female figure.  I often speak with God using female metaphors, so it was/is easy for me to translate this use into feminine imagery.

The aureole which surrounds each figure is symbolic of spiritual power surrounding and sustaining the physical form. Despite the figure being human it is filled with  supra-natural power that manifests itself in the aureole-like form.

Birth

Birth

“Love is the path and direction of our Prophet. We are born from Love; Love is our mother. O Mother, hidden behind the body’s veil, concealed by our own cynical nature.” Rumi

Although “Birth” is the 1st piece in the tryptic it was actually the second image I created. My process is often very intuitive and I work upon whatever image or concept I feel most drawn to in the moment. This image is primarily about incarnation as Love is birthed into physical form. The nebulous darkness represents the spiritual realms, the unseen from which Love fashions itself ex nihilo (out of nothing). The viewer is here to witness love’s creation and evolution into physical form. That which is eternal in power and principle, without flesh becomes incarnate to dwell with and among its creation as Love, in love. The remaining pictorial landscape is purposely nondescript and abstract in order to maintain the figure as the primary focal point within the visual narrative. The aureole manifests itself from the portion of the figure which has become flesh (right side) since it is not needed within the spiritual realm.

Death

Death

“Come and be Love’s willing slave, for Love’s slavery will save you. Forsake the slavery of this world and take up Love’s sweet service. The freedom of the world enslaves, but to slaves Love grants freedom. I crave release from this world like a bird from its egg; free me from this shell that clings. As from the grave, grant me the new life. O Love, O quail in the free fields of spring, wildly sing songs of joy.” Rumi

In this image Love is surrendering its’ self to the forces of nonbeing. She is not being killed or forced to surrender herself, but does so of her own volition. Thus Love’s death represents a sacrificial act of self-emptying and surrender of her own physical presence. She does not do so alone as she is surrounded by, and presided over by the four spiritual beings whom are depicted in silhouette in the darkness above the figure.  These faces watch and preside over this act of holy sacrifice as guides and witnesses. The aureole is now red in association with the exiting life force/spirit and the passion of sacrificial death. Notice Love’s Spirit (in red) rises up to join the other spirits as both physical being and eternal observer.

Resurrection

Resurrection

“The moment I first heard of love I gave up my soul, my heart, and my eyes. I wondered, could it be that the lover and the beloved are two? No, they have always been one. It is I who have been seeing double.” Rumi

Although last in the tryptic, “Resurrection” was the first panel I painted.  In this panel Love has been reborn within the physical realm. The solitary figure stands alone striding between the sensual and supra-sensual realms. Once again the aureole is now present in pink and white. Loves physical presence casts a shadow upon the shores as her feet leave traces in the sands. In this panel omniscient divine eyes both see and know self as eternal lover and mortal beloved.

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