(click above for larger image)




 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   

3 thoughts on “vanitas

  1. I really love it and want to see it in person. There is something about the combination of the bubbles and the skull that suggests laughter to me–ephemeral laughter, giggles in the dark. The viewer’s eye doesn’t easily settle anywhere in the painting either, which I like. And the diagonal composition, that feels right too.

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