With roots in 16th and 17th century vanitas still life painting, from Rembrandt to Hirst, flesh has been treated as a metaphorical vehicle and worthy subject matter in its own right, apart from moralizing narratives. My paintings recall this rich tradition with a contemporary voice, embracing issues of beauty, death, and the material physicality of paint as a metaphor for temporal physical existence. For the last five years, my work has involved a focused, up-close examination of flesh ranging from what can be found in supermarkets to more exotic and less palatable animals.
As a starting point, it is vital that I have the sensory experience of physically handling my subjects before I paint them, as this contact informs the way I approach the paintings. By using close-cropped compositions, I seek to retain a sense of immediacy and mystery regarding the identity of the subject. The lighting and space also remain ambiguous to enhance the sensuous qualities of the flesh. I develop the body of the paint and the richness of the surface to emphasize the tactile qualities of the subject and the material of its representation. Through the process of working on multiple components simultaneously, the final pieces are composed organically of multiple panels united in polyptych format to imply a sense of movement, the passing of time, or a transformation.
My most recent paintings explore containers of flesh as metaphors for bodies. The series is entitled “Snarge”, a term referring to soft tissue that is removed during dissections. This material is collected in plastic bags, frozen and eventually incinerated, and the paintings capture specific fleeting moments along the way. The appearance of the bags changes as the dissection progresses: first they are filled with skin, fur, and fat, and later with muscle, tendon, and ligament. Droplets of water and the plastic itself reflect light from the outside while bubbles, beautiful reminders of transience, float within. The paintings reference close-up photographs of the bags, questioning the relationship between interior and exterior and examining the boundaries between microcosm and macrocosm.
My interest in this subject is rooted in the realization that all living things are made of transitory material, bound in the same inevitable cycle. This developed as a result of an acute awareness of my own mortality and my struggles with an upbringing that valued spirituality at the expense of corporal experience. I do not believe in a necessary opposition between flesh and spirit, but rather that flesh itself can transcend the merely physical through recognition of its material beauty. With this consistently in mind, I create my work in homage to beautiful corporeality.