Tag Archives: Vanitas

Memento Mori

21 May

I spent some time last year working on mixed media pieces, trying out different combinations of materials and techniques. This one combined drawing, watercolour and screenprinting. I started with an A1 sheet of Somerset 250gsm and squeegeed some acrylic System 3 paint, mixed with Acrylic Medium across it, giving a randomised background colour. Then I made a photographic screen of repeats of a drawing I did of a human vertebra and printed it on top in a lighter colour, making a rather macabre wallpaper effect. I separately did two drawings in pencil and watercolour, one from a life model I work with regularly at the life drawing group at Swansea Print Workshop. The skull is drawn from a female skeleton who lives at the Elysium Studios. Her name is Felicity. I cut the screenprinted paper and mounted the watercolours from behind.

The piece is called ‘Two Women’ and is in the spirit of ‘Memento Mori‘, a tradition in European [and latterly American] art, dating back to Roman times, where the viewer is reminded that death is the inevitable consequence of life, typically by including a skull. Memento Mori often overlaps with the similar tradition of ‘Vanitas’ in European art. By putting the dead and living heads in the same pose, I try to emphasise that ultimately the two women are linked by death.

Nostalgia Is The Thief Of Time!

5 Dec


Mixed media: work in progress.
Here’s a large piece I started some time ago – over a year. Sometimes you just get stuck on something and have to put it away for a while. Apparently Titian used to work up his underpaintings then turn them to a wall for 6 months before completing them [and there the comparison ends – I wish lol]. I knew what I wanted to do with this piece but I just couldn’t get it right so I’ve done a lot more analytical study of anatomy over the past year, working from my borrowed skeleton Felicity and various anatomy text books, Burne Hogarth, Sarah Simlett and Gray’s Anatomy. I’ve also been doing more practice with paints and oilbars so that I can complete the flesh accurately. I’m getting there.
I’m very fond of the European tradition of Vanitas, where the artist reminds the viewer of their own mortality. Maybe I’ve taken it to extremes in this piece by dismembering my poor model! I started by colouring a large piece of Somerset Velvet with acrylic paint and medium, using a squeegee and then overprinted in a very pale grey/green with a photographic screen print I made from drawings of vertebrae, so there’s a sort of faint spinal wallpaper going on in the background. The figure is worked up in conte crayons and oilbars with oil paint in the details. The concept was of a ghostly presence brooding on the past and reading letters [hand drawn and written] from her long-dead love, whose flayed portrait is hanging on the wall. I was having a lot of trouble coming to terms with nostalgia at the time – I find nostalgia quite unsettling and I don’t like slipping into it, hence the title of the piece.
I think I’m ready to have another crack at it – there’s not far to go.


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