About My Work

Memento mori art.

The amount of meaning is in exact proportion to the presence of death and the power of decay.
— Walter Benjamin

This project is my effort to channel a lifelong fascination with the macabre into a body of artworks that blend the philosophy of classical memento mori art with a visual aesthetic that is as much informed by the history of still life painting as it is by contemporary horror films.

I have drawn considerable inspiration from the ‘golden age’ Dutch still life paintings of the 17th century.  While those old paintings of fruit and flowers sometimes look quaint by contemporary standards, viewers at the time would have understood such works as a reminder that life — like the fruit and flowers — will soon be gone. In particular, I’m interested in so-called vanitas paintings, which drew their inspiration from the opening lines of Ecclesiastes. By presenting symbols of wealth and prestige alongside reminders of death and decay these still life compositions sought to remind the viewer of the certainty of death, the futility of pleasure, and the transience of all things.

My works stem from an attempt to modernize (and secularize) the philosophy and meaning of classical still life imagery. My imagery incorporates the iconography of traditional memento mori artworks, but presents these key visual elements in a more grotesque and confrontational manner.  As such, my compositions often employ repeated visual metaphors that are common to the genre. These include straightforward reminders of death — skulls, rotting meat, dead flowers, clocks, and extinguished candles — in addition to more esoteric motifs such as soap bubbles, and peeled lemons.

In his book Journey to the End of the Night the author Celine describes a man who has just died as being like “a stranger in the room, someone who had come from a horrible country and you wouldn’t have dared speak to.”  

This art project constitutes my own small efforts to open a dialogue with the stranger in the room.


All images © Neal Auch