Our final for Intermediate Painting was to create three projects that could serve as a body of work or series. This is the assignment where we were given the most creative freedom, the only requirements being to produce at least three works unified in some way, whether that was through concept or palette or something else entirely. Our series proposal also required two contemporary artists who would serve as sources of inspiration for our final.
I used the train ride to Chicago on my first day of Spring Break to sketch out some ideas, since I knew I would be writing my proposal as soon as I was back. It seemed like a natural step to begin working with bones after my paintings for ‘Making Meaning’ and ‘Large Work, Small Parts’, where I explored ideas of life and preservation in nature. In particular, these final pieces are meant to reflect the cycle of life and of minerals and nutrients, where the death of one creature can help another grow and survive. My primary goal with this body of work is to not feel creepy or unsettling – although skulls/bones often elicit those emotions – because everything that inspired this series is entirely natural. I want to acknowledge the way nature recycles and gives new life to decaying things.
I was in Chicago for another class, and we spent the entire week visiting art museums, galleries, and bookshops. It was a fantastic trip for many reasons: Fr. Neilson was our guide, we stayed in a gorgeous old mansion in Hyde Park, the group of friends and peers-turned-friend was great, and best of all, we saw so much art. I was feeling pretty burned out prior to my week in Chicago, having spent all semester preparing my senior show pieces, working on ART340 assignments, opening artlessBastard – not to mention all of my non-studio courses and work. This trip was exactly what I needed to start feeling creative again, because it’s kind of difficult to be surrounded by incredible art for five days straight and not be inspired. Thus, it was easy for me to pick my two sources of inspiration: Paul Heyer and Gerhard Richter. I used Heyer to inform my color palette, and was intrigued by his ability to include somewhat morbid motifs in a light-hearted way. Richter’s technique inspired me to become more comfortable painting in a looser fashion, blurring the lines and working less detailed yet still capturing the object.
The first idea I sketched served as the groundwork for Osteophagy, part one of my final project. I titled the piece after this phenomenon in nature where animals, particularly herbivores, will naw on and eat bones in order to obtain vital nutrients they don’t get from their regular diet, especially phosphate. I used a deer skull because that was the example I remember being given in my high school biology and anatomy classes to explain osteophagy. The mouse was to add a bit of humor to the piece and push viewers away from feeling creeped out by the empty room and skull. The pastels I laid over the skull was partially an experiment because I felt the painting needed more color – plus, I knew I would be using similar colors in my next project, so adding it to this one would be another thread through the series.
Despite feeling so inspired from my Chicago trip, I was frustrated with this piece for some time. I could not capture the painting I had created in my head, but after final group critique, I can see its value in its process. It may not be my favorite painting, but it was an important step in the process between my senior show pieces and the development of a new series. I’ll put it away for a bit, continue working on the second part of my final with some newfound vigor, and return to this painting/concept in the future.
Detail from Osteophagy (2018)