Thursday, January 08, 2015

Butterflies and Elk Mount Vanitas - Memento Mori

Butterflies and Elk Mount Vanitas
20" X 16" X 2"
Judy Vars

The pretty butterflies with their ethereal nature float upon the air and seem to enjoy their happiness; they fly about on their gossamer wings dancing around the once proud elk. They both remind us of the paradoxes in life and death and give us a vision of some of mother earths delights.

This is my latest in a series of memento mori paintings (translated to remember that you will die) or vanitas paintings. Vanitas art explores the age old theme of resurrection, transience and transcendence.  Up until recent history death was seen as a motivator to live a good and meaningful life. To help men remember artists created paintings depicting skulls, and other symbols of death. The skulls and skeletons on some grave markers remind the visiting family members to get right with God before they bit the dust.  So quit wasting your time on stupid stuff and start living your life the way you want today.

We acquired this European elk mount at an auction held to raise money for dying friend’s medical expenses.  My husband the carver is going to carve Celtic patterns onto the skull but in the mean time it resides in the corner of my studio, the only problem with this is it is as big as a lazy boy! The antlers have poked me while trying to find a book or get my supplies.  So needless to say I was cussing the elk daily, after spending some time painting this once proud creature we are on better terms.

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty."  Maya Angelou

"If we catch a glimpse of freedom, we wish to possess it; if we catch a glimpse of death, we want nothing to do with it." One we cannot have, the other we cannot avoid.  Jeremy P. Johnson

Monday, December 29, 2014

A Modern Fayum Portrait
Encaustic Beeswax
20 x 24

Around the time Cleopatra committed suicide with the asp 100 B.C. to 300 A.D. in the fertile Nile Delta region of Egypt lived a cosmopolitan blend of Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Africans and Europeans. In the practice of the day they built huge necropolis and practiced some of the same spiritual beliefs and used similar funerary practices of the Egyptians. Evidence shows preparing for the afterlife was a huge industry with embalmers, craftsmen, stone masons, mummy wrappers and artisans.

Grave robbers were the first to find the mysterious Fayum portraits thousands were carelessly burned and tossed aside because it was the dried mummy the grave robbers wanted for poultices and potions. Later early archeologists discovered the huge cemetery complexes and with a little more care and skill saved some of these portraits (estimated only about 1,000 in existence today). Some of these portraits were simple and crude and others were rendered with such skill it would have been painted by Leonardo or another such modern day master.

These portraits over 2,000 years old give us a window in which we can look upon the face of an ancient ancestor. The eyes were usually exaggerated to emphasize the spiritual and as a window to the soul. These paints are made more alive because they were rendered in beeswax and attached a human person. Some were painted while the person was still alive and kept in the home in a simple Oxford frame (like this one) until the persons death. In some cases it was a practice to keep the embalmed loved one around for years afterward and dance them out for festivities when later generations didn't care about Uncle Flavius they tossed him carelessly into a grave with others like him.  The artists whose stock and trade was to paint these never signed their name because it was not about the art or the artist it's about the afterworld, the artist hand meticulously tried to depict the likeness and nature of the departed loved one.  I assume also they did not expect them to be dug up someday and placed in hermetically sealed Plexiglas boxes so we could come to museums and stare back at these humans that lived in the time that Jesus walked the earth and performed miracles.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Halloween Vanitas Painting with Black Bird and Butterfly

Halloween Vanitas Painting with Black Bird and Butterfly
16 x 20

A vanitas painting flourished in the Netherlands around 1612-1656. These paintings contain an elaborate pictorial message, which contain moral undertones, such as relinquish earthly pleasures and pursue a meaningful spiritual life. Usually contained in a vanitas painting are skulls, books, clocks, shells, candles and other symbolism, the meaning obviously the impermanence of life, flowers and fruit in a state of dying or decay.

Although vanitas paintings have gone out of style, perhaps because in this modern fast moving world people do not want to be reminded of their mortality.
As an artist I believe it is my obligation, my mission if you will, to ask you to stop for a moment and reflect on the everyday treasures and understand that life is transient, like the butterfly we are born from a supreme struggle and emerge our cocoon live for a beautiful moment and then return to the earth.” Whether or not we join the procession or just let it happen, “life keeps on lifeing” and there is no cheating death. So enjoy the life we have and remember to be kind to all creatures great and small.