Surreal Figures of the Afterlife

“…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


I found that quotation last week in a coverless, turn-of-the-century copy of Tennyson’s epic poem “The Idylls of the King” which I’ve been cutting up for textual fragments to use in my mixed media work.

The words leapt out at me as a wonderful (if romantic) description of what it’s been like for me making art about the afterlife.

The work I’m doing now is based around a set of surreal figures I’m creating through the process of collage, some of whom are shown in the photo above. To me, these beings (or non-beings) seem a lot like Tennyson’s “ghosts” behind the wall, inhabitants of a rich and secret world as real as our own but wholly apart.

Some of these figures I imagine representing the dead themselves, while others feel more like ancient guides or keepers of the realm beyond. Still others seem like both. I get the sense that they all have their own individual stories, parts of which are revealed to me as I work.

Over the past few months many of these figures have become like familiar friends to me. As subjects for drawings and paintings, they’ve grown and developed across different media in unexpected ways.

Throughout the fall and winter I’ll be posting more about these figures as well as sharing some of my drawings, paintings and mixed media work around them. I also have a larger assemblage-based project underway which incorporates some of these collages and I’ll be giving you a sneak peek at that in the coming months as well.

For now though, I think I’ll take a page out of Tennyson’s book and share a more poetic description of what it feels like to work with these subjects.

Often draped in flowing clothes, faceless and swathed in the imagery of nature, life, death, wealth, poverty, religion and even science, they loom out at me with a sort of casual indifference as I work.

To them, I am the ghost. The afterlife is a busy place and this business of death and dying is neverending.

I try to interrupt them as little as possible as I peer through the crystal wall and make my work of quiet observation.

I know I will be here watching and listening for a while.



Over the coming weeks and months I’ll be posting more pictures and writing about my work on the afterlife so stay tuned!