Details14×14″, oil on linen on panel, 2012
This painting has been featured in International Artist Magazine and will appear in The Contemporary Vanitas edited by Rodney Davis (publish date to be announced).
The Vanitas theme is a meditation on the futility of life and the omnipresence of death, but the typically grim mood found in such paintings has no appeal for me. We live in a happier time than the days out of which the Vanitas genre blossomed, days when a sickness could wipe out a village and famine was routine. The human skulls featured in the Vanitas paintings of the 16th and 17th century were not the curiosities they are today, but instead were easy enough to find at the side of the road where criminals were hung out to die from exposure.
If art reflects the psychology of a people and an era, then it makes sense that the popularity of the Vanitas theme has waned and that modern variations of it are not so somber. The development of modern medicine and science has made death less mysterious and arbitrary. Life is not so precarious as it once was, and our mortality is not a dominating and ever present worry. My observation of realist art today is that it rarely meditates on the subject of death, and when it does, never with such explicit and melancholy imagery. Instead, art today has been freed to celebrate beauty for beauty’s sake.
My conclusion is that the Vanitas genre has changed as people’s attitude towards death has changed. Out of respect to modern civilization, the technology and science of which has made death less gruesome, my painting is light, bright, colorful, and clean. Death is not so obscure and absolute as it once was.