Sacriligious

A Collection of Easter-Themed Vanitas Still Life by Neal Auch

Still Life with Crucified Rat: This piece is now  available for purchase .

Still Life with Crucified Rat: This piece is now available for purchase.

“They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.” — John 19:17

My work, like the 17th century vanitas paintings that are my primary source of inspiration, often incorporates religious iconography. A common thread with this type of imagery is the juxtaposition between the dead flesh (a reminder of transience and decay) along side the crucifix (an image associated with salvation and rebirth). In this post, in honour of the season, I’ve decided to collect some of my Easter-themed still life work together. As of the time of writing all of these images are available for purchase in my online store; direct links are placed in the caption or else in the text just below the image.

Easter Vanitas: This piece is now available for purchase in my  online store .

Easter Vanitas: This piece is now available for purchase in my online store.

In the above image the pig intestine stands in for the cloth that would normally be draped over the cross. (In the Catholic tradition the colour coding of the cloth carries meaning; normally a purple cloth is draped on Palm Sunday as a symbol of Christ’s royalty, black on Good Friday as a symbol of death, and white on Easter Sunday as a symbol of rebirth.) This image also incorporates several of my favourite recurring motifs: the tipped cup (a symbol of the fragility of life), and the extinguished candle (a symbol of death).

Still Life with Clock and Crucifix: This piece is now available in my  online store .

Still Life with Clock and Crucifix: This piece is now available in my online store.

Vanitas still lifes frequently employ visual metaphors that make reference to the passage of time. Candles, fruit, and flowers all serve this role to some extent. But the clock in the image above is perhaps the most straightforward representation of this idea from the history of memento mori art. Note that time on the clock has been set to 3pm. This corresponds to the (approximate) time of Christ’s death. (The only Gospel writer to make note of the time of day of Christ’s death is Mark, who states that Jesus endured the torment of crucifixion for about 6 hours from the third hour — roughly 9am in modern parlance — putting his time of death at about 3pm.)

This triptych of images are somewhat older works, but have been made available for purchase due to renewed interest at shows and on social media.

The first image is a pieta of sorts. Here a porcelain statue of the virgin mother lovingly cradles the severed foot of a dead chicken and is draped in pig bowels that spill around her form like a dress (or perhaps suggesting blood).

The second image depicts a crucifix framed against an assortment of organ meats and dead flowers. The dead flowers suggest the biblical quote "Like a flower, he comes forth, then withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure." Job 14:2. The thorny rose stems, on the other hand, might suggest Christ's crown of thorns.

These same themes are, again, echoed in the third image of the triptych.

Happy Easter everyone!

The Crucified Rat: A New Easter Vanitas by Neal Auch

Still Life with Crucified Rat: This piece is now  available for purchase .

Still Life with Crucified Rat: This piece is now available for purchase.

“Our Saviour.  Two thieves.  One is supposed to have been saved and the other…damned.” — Vladimir, speaking to Estragon, in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot

As the story goes, Christ was crucified alongside two thieves. One thief mocked Jesus in his agony, while the other used his final moments to beg for forgiveness. This he was granted; Christ promised the second thief salvation. (“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” Luke 23:43)

This episode is often interpreted as a call to piety. “Do not despair,“ St Augustine tells us “one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume, one of the thieves was damned.“ My take on the story of the two thieves is rather closer to the musings of the derelict vagabonds in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. For them, the story of the two thieves illustrates only that the whims of fate are arbitrary and capricious.

This new still life image was composed specifically with Easter in mind and draws considerable inspiration from the story of the two thieves. (The piece is currently available for purchase in my online store.)

Taking a cue from Beckett’s taste for ambiguity, I will leave it to the viewer to decide which of the three men crucified at Calvary the rat is intended to represent…

Happy easter friends!

Still Life with Clock and Crucifix by Neal Auch

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They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. — John 19:17

This new still life composition is, perhaps, a bit off season. Easter would have been a better time to be displaying a vanitas style image that references the crucifixion. That being said, the themes of mortality and transience that undergird this composition are fairly universal — both in my work but also in the human condition — so I feel like it still makes sense to share the piece.

Vanitas still lifes frequently employ visual metaphors that make reference to the passage of time. The candle is one obvious example, because the melted wax keeps track of the hour while the smoke from an extinguished flame is a clear reminder of death. Flowers, fruit and meat serve a similar purpose, of course, because these items and the pleasure that they bring will soon disappear. The clock is yet another (not particular subtle) motif that reminds the viewer of the passage of time and, in doing so, becomes a symbol of transience and mortality.

Perhaps surprisingly, this is my first time incorporating a clock into my own still life work. Here I decided to blend the clock with some religious iconography. The memento mori meaning of the clock in this composition is reinforced by the placement of the crucifix, which has been arranged to act as a kind of mirror image to the timepiece. Note that time on the clock has been set to 3pm. This corresponds to the (approximate) time of Christ’s death. (The only Gospel writer to make note of the time of day of Christ’s death is Mark, who states that Jesus endured the torment of crucifixion for about 6 hours from the third hour — roughly 9am in modern parlance — putting his time of death at about 3pm.)

The last item in this still life that I haven’t discussed yet is the music box that the crucifix rests upon. The music box is, for me, a stand-in for the role that a lute with broken strings might play in a more classical composition; typically this would symbolize death and discord.

I’ve already spoken at length about the metaphorical content of this image. From a purely aesthetic perspective the guiding principle behind this piece is the mirroring of the two key focal points (the clock and the cross). This mirroring of composition is, in turn, mirrored in the colour palate by the contrasting of the red tones in the clock frame, music box, crucifix and fresh pig intestines on the left against the white of the clock’s face and the rotting pig intestines spilling out on the right of the image.

Enjoy!

New Still Lifes Available in my Etsy Store by Neal Auch

"My days are like lengthening shadows, and I wither away like grass." -- Psalms 102:11

I've added prints of these two images to my online store.

Both of these images draw inspiration from classical religious art and also from 17th century Dutch vanitas still life compositions. Here the Christian icons of the virgin mother and Christ on the cross -- respectively symbols of birth and rebirth -- are juxtaposed with rotting animal organs, as a reminder of the proximity of death and the transience of all things.

The first image is a pieta of sorts. Here a porcelain statue of the virgin mother lovingly cradles the severed foot of a dead chicken and is draped in pig bowels that spill around her form like a dress (or perhaps suggesting blood).

The second image of this series depicts a crucifix framed against an assortment of organ meats and dead flowers. The dead flowers suggest the biblical quote "Like a flower, he comes forth, then withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure." Job 14:2. The thorny rose stems, on the other hand, might suggest Christ's crown of thorns.

As in my last blog post: both of these images are a few years old, but neither has been available for online purchase until this moment. In fact, the image with the crucifix was made all the way back in Christmas of 2016 and this piece was initially constructed as a Christmas gift for an old friend, back when this art project was still in its infancy.

Enjoy!

A Vanitas Composition for Easter by Neal Auch

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"Now from noon until three, darkness came over all the land. At about three o’clock Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.”  Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink.  But the rest said, “Leave him alone! Let’s see if Elijah will come to save him.  Then Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and gave up his spirit. Just then the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks were split apart.  And tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised." -- Matthew 27:45-53

Christian imagery shows up fairly regularly in my works, and I've recently developed something of a fixation on vanitas compositions.  With Easter at hand, it was only natural to combine these elements.  As I have discussed previously on this blog, the extinguished candle is a frequent visual metaphor for death in vanitas compositions, and the tipped cup is a symbol of the fragility of life.  The reddish intestines spilling from the cup suggest blood, but also wine, and have always reminded me of the last supper.  I added the intestines draped over the cross  as a final touch.  (Readers who, like me, were subjected to a Catholic upbringing may note that the colour of the draping is off: traditionally the cross would be draped in black on good Friday, representing the death of Jesus.)  Enjoy!

New Still Life Arrangements by Neal Auch

Crucifix with chicken feet and pig casings.

Crucifix with chicken feet and pig casings.

I've added several new arrangements to my Still gallery.  Probably my favourite is the image above.  For whatever reason the arrangement reminds me of Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi,  a nun and Christian mystic who would be canonized as a saint some years after her death, in the late 1600s.  I've always been fascinated by de Pazzi, whose self-flagellation and nail-lined corsets suggest something more like masochism than religious ecstasy.  The Wiki page on de Pazzi contains this delightful quote about her death, from Armando Favazza's Bodies Under Siege:

At about age 37, emaciated and racked with coughing and pain, she took to her bed until she died four years later. Her painful gums were so badly infected that her teeth fell out, one by one. Her body was covered with putrefying bed sores, but when the sisters offered to move her she warned them off for fear that by touching her body they might experience sexual desires... A large statue of her holding a flagellant whip can be seen in her church in Florence, where people around the world still come to pay her tribute.

Enjoy!

Book bound in sheep stomach with dead flowers and sheep stomach lampshade.

Book bound in sheep stomach with dead flowers and sheep stomach lampshade.

Dead flower with chicken feet and cow tongue.

Dead flower with chicken feet and cow tongue.