Thursday, October 23, 2008

Seize the Daylily

This is a painting I am working on called "Seize the Daylily".

I have been fortunate in my life so far to have had very little experience with death and the loss of people I am close to but this year I lost two family members. They were both in their eighties so their deaths were not out of the blue, but this didn't lesson the enormity of the loss. I was also struck by my inability to comprehend what had happened. Death is too huge to put into the context of my daily life. I can't get my mind around the fact that one day our lives are full of details -eating, sleeping, loving, laughing, worrying, weeding the garden, doing the dishes - and the next day we can be dead. It sounds puerile to point out that mortality is a profound concept but it is a concept that I have been thinking about lately. And so I decided to paint a memento mori.
Memento mori was a subject popular in the European art world a few hundred years ago in which the figure of a skull or a skeleton reminded us that our time on earth was briefer and less important than our time in heaven. When they took the form of a still life these paintings were called "vanitas".

I chose to paint a huge tree looming over creatures who are too small to understand the enormity of the object behind them. As I painted though I realized that the rabbit-like creatures were wise to ignore their own mortality. What else could they do but live their tiny brief lives to the fullest, reveling in the wonderful details of life rather than moping around focussed on death. I realized I was painting a "carpe diem", not a memento mori. Carpe diem is usually translated from Latin as "Seize the Day" which is all we can do when faced with the incomprehensible enormity mortality.

I want to make the tree more misty and mysterious. And I am still debating whether there should be the one rabbit creature having a serious thought or if I should cheer her up. There is also something wrong with her paws that I will fix.

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