Posts Tagged ‘Memento Mori’

GC myers- Memento MoriAccording to its Wikipedia entry, Memento mori (Latin ‘remember (that you have) to die’ ), or also memento mortis, “remember death”, is the Latin medieval designation of the theory and practice of the reflection on mortality, especially as a means of considering the vanity of earthly life and the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits.

I was originally going to use the term for the title of this new painting, a 16″ by 20″ canvas.  It has that sort of feel, from the Red Tree’s skull-like shaped crown  ( the skull is the classic symbol of a memento mori) to the darkly clad figure in the field looking downward.  It surely could be a reflection on our own mortality and the transient nature of earthly pursuits.

But I instead opted to use the flipside of this term, memento vivere which means remember to live.  I see the Red Tree here acting as a vibrant symbol of life, of glorying in the moment despite the constant specter of our inevitable mortality.

Actually, it just occurred to me that there is a yin/yang thing working here with the Red Tree and the figure acting as opposing forces.  I hadn’t noticed this before but it appears even in their physical relationship in the composition.  The Red Tree is the light, the imperative to celebrate life and the lone figure is the dark, the admonition to remember the ephemeral nature of our existence.

And with most things, treading the middle path between two opposing forces is the healthy way to go.  And maybe that is the message here– that we must remember our own mortality in order to live each day as fully as we can.

This painting, Memento Vivere,is part of Into the Common Ground, my solo show at the Kada Gallery which opens December 5, 2014.

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At the End of the Road

DSC_0042_01 smallIt’s the time of the year when the leaves are turning and dropping to the ground, leaving the bones of the tree exposed.  The deep green of summer is fading and being replaced by a stark grayness which changes the mood of every view.

I was thinking about that when I was nearing the end of this piece, one I’m tentatively calling At the End of the Road.  I had everything in place  except for the trees that I knew I wanted, to balance the weight of the composition.  I could easily imagine my typical red tree in place.  It would fit and the piece would have a certain brightness of tone, a dark optimism.

But placing only the bones of the trees changes everything for me.   It changes the mood of the piece as the starkness of the trees contrasts against the vivd colors in the sky, tempering it’s cheeriness with a grim reminder of time passing.  A sort of memento mori, letting us know that our time is fleeting.  This is reinforced by the relative emptiness of the landscape and the open mailbox in front of the windowless house, which is exaggerated in its proportions in a way that makes it seem less sturdy, less likely to stand the test of time.  There is a sense of abandonment of place, of desolation.

For me,  I think this piece, as much of my work is for me, is about the perception of memory.  How we see what is behind us, in what light the past remains in our minds.  It also acts as a reminder that the past cannot be reinhabited, no matter how we view it.  I’m not saying that this the reason that my houses seldom have windows or doors but that would be an interesting psychological viewpoint of that fact.  Perhaps the houses represent the past but have no doors or windows through which to enter.

I don’t know.

But I do know that this new piece, a 12″ tall by 24″ wide canvas, has a lot of things to ponder in very simple composition.  And I like that.

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Far WatchI use a single bird sometimes in my paintings.  The most common meaning for me is of the bird being the watcher, overseeing everything.  It represents patience and wisdom in this case.

I see the bird most often as a hawk but sometimes it’s a crow.  I admire both, the hawk for its physical prowess and the crow for its intelligence.  I remember watching a group of crows chase a hawk and when it appeared the hawk had nowhere to go he started leading the crows upward in  long loops.  As he rose, the crows closed in and just as they were about on him he made this powerful dive that carried him from above the spot where I was on a hillside to a point in the valley below, nearly a mile away.  The crows couldn’t match the dive and were left so far behind they gave up the pursuit.  It was an impressive escape.

Sometimes the bird represents to me a type of memento mori, a reminder of our mortality.  The bird is still the watcher but more of a spirit guide.  

In the spirit of this meaning, I’m segueing into a video of the old gospel song I’ll Fly Away sung by Allison Krauss and Gillian Welch. It feature scenes from the movie from which was taken, the Coen Brothers’ O Brother Where Art Thou?, one of my favorites.  It’s one of those films where when I see it’s on television will turn in it at any point to see what point the movie is at.  I particularly like the look of the film, the way they pulled a lot of the color out, replacing it with a sepia tone that kind of gives it a dated look.  The title of the movie is taken from the great Preston Sturges  film, Sullivan’s Travels.  In it, Sullivan is a movie director of mainly comedies who wants to make a deep, socially conscious film chronicling the poor and downtrodden, to be titled O Brother Where Art Thou?  He sets out disguised as a tramp to get a first hand look at the conditions of the poor and encounters many obstacles along the way.  Ultimately, his film is not made.  That is, until the Coens took the baton and finished the job.  Both are great, great films.

Anyway, here’s I’ll Fly Away

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Memento Mori

The Writing's On The WallThere are days when I get up in the morning and the normal aches and pains of my middle age seem a bit different.  A little more pronounced and in spots that didn’t seem to hurt this way before.

At these moments, a phrase always comes to mind.

Memento mori

Remember that you are mortal…

The thought doesn’t frighten me but only serves as a reminder that I have a finite amount of time here to learn what I need to learn, to see what I need to see and to say what I need to say.  A limited amount of time to leave a reminder that I have existed in this world.

A short time to create what I feel needs to be created…

So I get up in the dark most mornings and trudge, sometimes achingly, to my studio and feel reinvigorated because today I live. Today I work.  Today I leave a mark on this world.

And that is a good thing…

Memento mori.

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