Modern Culture, the Afterlife and Contemporary Art


“…to him the wall / That sunders ghosts and shadow-casting men / Became a crystal, and he saw them thro’ it, / And heard their voices talk behind the wall, / And learnt their elemental secrets, powers / And forces;”

–Alfred Lord Tennyson

 

There’s a real ebb and flow to life as an artist.

The past few months I’ve definitely felt it. I haven’t been creating as much, but as my series on the afterlife continues, I can feel my work finally beginning to find it’s shape and depth. Little by little, my inspiration for this art is filtering through into the work itself.

As much as this work is a response to the loss of my father in 2013, it’s even more a response to the void in how modern culture treats dying and the afterlife. We have no narrative for the afterlife, no imagery to represent it (beyond the classic figure-silhouetted-in-front-of-a-bright-light) and no rituals around the moment of a person’s passing.

For someone navigating the death of a loved one without the benefit of religious faith or links to traditional culture, this void it can feel like an endless chasm. My work around the afterlife is about crossing that chasm. It’s about beginning to patch some of the holes modern culture, not with a singular narrative around dying and the afterlife, but with imagery that leaves itself open to many narratives, or even any narratives, including the beliefs that the afterlife can only ever be unknown or even that there is no afterlife at all.

I think one place–maybe the last place–where we can address big questions like this is through the arts. Art isn’t expected to be rational and objective like science, or private like religion. In a strange way, art acts as a sort of loophole in the linear, material, scientific world we Westerners like to pretend we inhabit. Like the crystal wall in Tennyson’s poem, art lets us traverse things that are otherwise blocked.

 

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Tiny inked molecules and organisms inspired by scientific imagery.

 

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Collage work in progress showing more inked organisms inspired by scientific illustration.

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Study in progress from my afterlife series.