vanitas

August 10, 2008 § 3 Comments

(click above for larger image)

 

Vanitas

 

 For the past few years Gamblin, the artist’s oil paint company, has sponsored a painting competition.  The competition focuses on Torrit Grey, a color Gamblin makes by combining all the pigment caught in the Torit-Donaldson filtration system Gamblin uses to keep the air clean from the (sometimes toxic) pigments.  Basically Torrit Grey is a combination of all the colors Gamblin produces.  The resulting grey is rather dull & it’s hard to believe it’s the synthesis of all the (or a good part of the) spectrum made by Gamblin.  Other details of the competition have to do with using Torrit Grey, black, & white oil paint only.  This will/should produce a value only painting.  Value can be black & white & every shade in-between.  Colors can also have value; say a light–green to a dark-green.   Essentially artists are being asked to create a black & white painting.

 

    Making a black and white painting got me excited to enter the competition.  I have used very little white paint in the painting; most of the white is just the primer/gesso showing through the Torrit Grey & black.  Considering its small size (1 sq. foot), this painting took two months to paint—give or take a day or two.  As of lately I’ve been painting in a somewhat photo-realist vein & I can’t say I’m a strict photo-realist, rather I work in a photo-realist style.  For the subject of this painting I used a photo where I arranged the objects, rather than photographing what-ever chance or circumstance presented.  Usually when an artist paints a still life with a skull & or objects symbolizing mortality & the ephemeral aspects of life, it’s a still-life yes, but it can be also be called a vanitas painting.  The vanitas theme was popular in 15th & 16th century Holland.  Vanitas paintings are said to be statements on the vanity of life, the transience of life, & indeed the end of life.  They are reminders of our eventual end & can urge us to celebrate the moments (the momentary aspects) of life as well. The term ‘vanitas’, is after the biblical quotation from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes (1:2): ‘Vanitas vanitatum… et omnia vanitas’, translated ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’.  A vanitas painting is a moralizing painting, something to learn from, a way of illustrating the frailty of life & how attachment to material things is somehow an empty fulfillment.  This idea is not without contradictions, take for example the notion that the painting itself might become valuable someday & then it might in turn become a vanity statement itself because of its precious & unique qualities. With my vanitas painting I’ve selected little things that symbolize some activities/interests/passions that are important to me & that fit into the tradition of vanitas painting; such as a (plastic) skull (to represent mortality), apples (to represent food & its fragility), bubbles (to represent transience & the fleeting moment).  Other inclusions were just as symbolic, as in the I-pod (to represent music), books (to represent learning), paintbrushes (to represent my love of art) orbs (to represent the mysteries of life) &c. &c. &c…

 

Aurelio Madrid   

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