Another memento mori on its merry way toward an end I can't quite visualize yet. Just a few days ago it looked like this. . .
Right now I'm just allowing this to be a reactive sort of process- with decisions made as they often are in life, in the wake of other decisions, some of which are good and some less so. You can try to whitewash certain elements, or perhaps scrape them away, with the hopes of starting fresh but ultimately some trace of what has come before always remains.
Dance of Death (1493) by Michael Wolgemut
An excellent article regarding the relationship of dance (and its employed Eros) and death appeared in the Guardian today. . . soldier through the first paragraph and you'll be rewarded with some excellent analysis of the danse macabre, including the supposition that the x-ray instantly became a new form of memento mori for the modern era, and some exploration of examples in literature where the masques and ballroom antics of the elite are especially fecund ground for Death's harvest.
Read the complete article here. . .
For those who know me well my inchoate foray into the memento mori genre will come with little surprise on the decline of 2012. It is a theme that somehow seems more relevant now that I'm a bit older-- less saturated with the laughable melodrama that infused so many early works of art when New Wave Goth and Anne Rice novels seemed like fine company any time I was without a girlfriend.
Which might be more candor than you're really seeking here.
So, with regards to the memento pictured above, you are seeing a work that is very much in progress. A diptych created from two reclaimed canvases over a decade old, with the left being leafed in silver and awaiting an image from the hillsides that make up Cascade Head. The skull is derived from a photograph I took in France many years ago. It rests atop a bit of IKEA fabric that has been thoroughly permeated with powdered graphite.
There are so many subtleties to gray and few better places to appreciate this fact than Oregon. This photograph is both homage to Harry Callahan and an excellent candidate to be the sample image I'll use in teaching acrylic transfer techniques this coming spring in Portland.
It amazes me what I forgot to bring to an arts residency-- you would think things like a sketchbook and palette would be no-brainers for a painter. Equally surprising is the one item that made the trip by stowing away in a box without my being aware- Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt's OBLIQUE STRATEGIES.
For the past two mornings I have pulled a card from the top of the deck thinking that there must be some reason the STRATEGIES were welcome when a sketchbook was not.
On the first morning I had been struggling with the notion of working in the studio rather than taking the day to hike (keep in mind that all signs pointed to this being the very last sunny day of autumn). I pulled a card as I walked by the dining room table: "Go outside. Shut the door"
When great artists speak, mere artists listen.
I awoke the next day to the sound of rain on the roof. You should know that for some time I'd been mulling over the perceived difficulties of effectively beginning my work when so few of the materials I commonly used were on hand. In fact, I'd begun an inner monologue to campaign for the benefits of such a situation (after all, I've long been a proponent of artists establishing parameters, for reasons best expounded upon in the company of bourbon) but with the true beginning at hand I could feel myself faltering. I made a cup of coffee and pulled a card. "Simply a matter of work"
And so it has been. Which isn't to say that Eno and Schmidt's sagacity has spared me the difficult first steps of reacquainting myself with a creative practice that has been all but dormant for four months, but they helped open the door by pointing out that ultimately, the best step might simply be to "toujours travailler."
When was the last time you awoke with no obligations? No commitments and no task list to complete? It is a startling reality when it comes-- your habits have no relevance any longer and your decisions seem little more than expressions of whim. In the final sunny hours of autumn on the Oregon coast my whims are all outdoors, traipsing about the exposed hillsides of the Cascade Head preserve or stopping in woods riddled with squirrels in furious fits of activity that may or may not serve them in the bleak months to come.
In the morning mist yesterday, with the drone of the Pacific Ocean a companion far below, a small portion of the dry headland on which I stood seemed to shift at the point where vision became guess work. It took a moment to discern that a herd of elk were making their way for a copse of birch. That evening, as I left my cabin to give a short artist talk, two deer paused in their foraging by the front deck to look up and ascertain the nature of my intentions.
One cannot have a flock of birds enfold them and avoid feeling moved to some swelling of spirit. And to regard the way that the spirit is moved; to categorize the magnitude of profundity in any given moment, that takes time which cannot be already monopolized with task lists and the steady pressure of other's expectations. What arises in days of utter freedom is a gradual letting go of the false friends: Routine, Obligation, Expectation. In their stead one has to listen to the whims, and accept them for more than that.
What books shall one take on a creative retreat? Growing up in a household with two librarians, it stands to reason that this might be the first item addressed when planning for some quiet time among the evergreens. Below is the list:
My Antonia | Willa Cather
The Spell of the Sensuous | David Abram
Holy Bible (NRSV)
American Visions | Robert Hughes
The Picture of Dorian Gray | Oscar WIlde
The Book of Common Prayer
The Gift | Lewis Hyde
Some are to reference and some to inspire. Some are there as a reward for waiting so long and some to make good on my claim of being the type of friend one might want to have.
For over a decade Jeffrey T. Baker has explored the elegiac and sublime through his mixed media artworks. He harbors an unapologetic predisposition for the decayed and imperfect.
Presented here are his thoughts on artistic process, inspirations, tutorials, and information about related upcoming events.
Posts prior to 2011 visit Subjective: The Artful Life