Memento Mori

About My Work

Memento mori art.

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Memento Mori

 

All still life compositions include, to a greater or lesser extent, a lament about the transience of all things and the inevitability of death.  

While those old 17th century "golden age" Dutch paintings of flowers and fruit baskets can sometimes look quaint by contemporary standards, viewers at the time would have understood such works as a reminder that life, like the fruit and the flowers, will soon be gone.

Much of my work derives from the idea of appropriating the iconography of classical Dutch still life, but presenting these key visual elements in a more macabre and confrontational manner. My compositions often employ repeated visual metaphors that are common to the genre.  These include more straightforward reminders of death and transience — items such as human or animal remains, rotting foodstuffs, and dead flowers — in addition to somewhat more esoteric motifs, such as extinguished candles, tipped cups, clocks, soap bubbles, and peeled lemons.

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

Nearly all of the images on this website — my still life compositions, my portraiture works, and the more abstract close-up imagery of flesh and gore — are unified by an awareness of death. 

Awareness of mortality is arguably at the very core of the human condition — death is the “worm at the core,” as William James put it. In spite of this, it seems that much of our contemporary discourse around the subject is polarized between sensationalism and silence.  My effort to engage headlong with mortality and transience stems from a long tradition in art and philosophy; it is referred to as memento mori (Latin: “remember that you must die”).

I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.
— Ecclesiastes 9:11
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Memento mori art has historically had a spiritual element, often closely tied to medieval Christianity.  In the classical approach memento mori art pieces were more than just an invitation to contemplation; they were a call to piety.  In my work, I broach the themes of memento mori from a more contemporary secular worldview, and with a visual aesthetic that is as much informed by art history as it is by modern horror films.

For those wanting more information, I have written fairly extensively about death, transience, and decay over at my Blog; there I often also discuss the meanings of specific images in some detail. I’m also broadly interested in the commodification of suffering, the grotesque aspects of quotidian life that are often hidden in plain sight, the subversion of religious iconography, and pretty much anything surreal, transgressive, or macabre.

 
 

All images © Neal Auch