THE GRIM EXPLORATION
In art, the vast space of that which is previous, and all that will be realized adheres itself to the demi-collective of a creator’s being. In this sense, indeed, in this age, the effort to achieve a statement of expression becomes a dialectic of the cycles between life and death. The great beasts tattooed on the myriad of cave walls across the globe attest to this fact. The spires of cathedrals, the Modernist literature of the early 20th century, and the working and re-working of Cubist theories, all share the conscious or subconscious human need to record a life and somehow, through art transcend death. Of course, at its apex, an object of creation re-defines immortality; the art itself becoming a vessel of trascendence along the continuum of reference.
For some artists, death, itself, becomes the muse, or, if you will, an abstract hypothesis of form. Today, on the cusp of a millennium pre-recorded by our literature and cinema, the artist entwines hiw will and being to the benefits received from the bounty of history. Just as the early Pop artist drenched his expression in the oil of commercialism and irony, today with the backdrop of urban and suburban violence flickering in front of us, a genre develops based on the most basic tenors of death: an exploration not of philosophical meandering, but a display and acquiescence to a social hunger for the new macabre.
England’s Damien Hirst immediately comes to my mind, with his organic or biological installations. Hirst’s work is a cartoon of all things artistic and modern, a hieroglyph of an age where the food on your plate is liable for protest and a life is the cost of what you have inyour pockets. The ratioinale for this art is irony; now, as much a tool, or medium, as oil, clay or a typewriter. From Duchamp through to Warhol’s extremes, the last two generations of mature artists have confronted the gem of irony and its grim recognition with a halting enthusiasm. Indeed, Lichtenstein’s irrelevancies constitute for many a logo of art from 60’s and 70’s. We’ve been allowed to caricature our motives and structures, but at what price? Even in the art world, there seems little respect for the gristle of art, the sinewy struggle to create. Silence could simply be a conceptual installation of personality crisis on display. The walls of the galleries left bare as statement. Nietzsche wrote that, “the habit of irony, like of sarcasm, spoils the character; it gradually fosters the quality of a malicious superiority: one finally grows like a snappy dog, that has learned to laugh as well as to bite.”
Death and degeneration have voiced more profound and lyrical works of art, however, the grace of Carson McCullers’ body of work follows her fascination with the grotesque, as did the art of Poe before her. The great French Symbolists ran a course of beauty over a map of mortality and deprivation. The sculpture of the contemporary American artist, Christina Bothwell, inhabits the same shadowy glade as her predecessors. Her charred images of ghost-like children and the imaged lineage of her installation illustrates the possibilities of our era and its violent fetish with mortality.
To an artist, life and death loom over a more strident field, the necessities of existence become, at times, the obstacles that denied Hart Crane and Mark Rothko further greatness, taken as they were by the hand of destined suicide. Suffice to say: that the intensity of a creative life inspires an amplified dread as well as a more rigorous affair with the day to day. Even in our world of faceless technologies and derivative forms, the artists looks into the cave of death and the flower of life with a smirk carved from sheer will; an explorer of the fathomless and unending.