It's all about the boots... the ones that make you feel like you could take on anything.Read More
Dante Drawing an Angel on the Anniversary of Beatrice’s Death, 1853-54
Watercolor and bodycolor on paper, 16.5 x 24 in. / 42 x 61 cm
Ashmolean Museum, University of OxfordRead More
Caput mortuum (plural capita mortua) is a Latin term whose literal meaning is "dead head" or "worthless remains", used in alchemy and also as the name of a pigment.
In alchemy, caput mortuumsignified a useless substance left over from a chemical operation such as sublimation and the epitome of decline and decay; alchemists represented this residue with a stylized human skull, a literal death's head.
Caput mortuum (variously spelled caput mortum or caput mortem), also known as cardinal purple, is the name given to a purple variety of haematite iron oxide pigment, used in oil paints and paper dyes. It was a very popular colour for painting the robes of religious figures and important personages (e.g. art patrons).
The name for this pigment may have come from the alchemical usage, since iron oxide (rust) is the useless residue of oxidization. It was originally a byproduct of sulfuric acid manufacture during the 17th and 18th centuries, and was possibly an early form of the copperas process used for the manufacture of Venetian red and copperas red.
Caput mortuum is also sometimes used as an alternative name for mummy brown (alternatively Egyptian brown), a pigment that was originally made in the 16th and 17th centuries from ground-up mummies, and whose use was discontinued in the 19th century when artists became aware of its ingredients. -Wikipedia
My childhood was marked by an obsession with mummies. I lived in England until the age of seven, and one of my absolute favorite things to do was to visit the mummies in all of the various museums, especially the Ashmoleum. To think that paint was made up from ground-up mummies is macabre and disturbing especially given the ancient Egyptian’s belief that they would inhabit their bodies again. It’s interesting that once artists found out what was actually in their paint they sought an alternative, just as we do now. Did they struggle to give up this color? Is the synthetic as satisfying to the eye or on the brush?
The Caput mortuum pigment certainly does look as though it was made from something moldering. It is a strange color, which has captured my imagination. It’s muddy, earthy, and thicker than many other watercolors because of its tendency to be opaque. But when you water it down, it becomes more transparent, it begins to glow hovering somewhere between violet, red, and brown. It is a rich color that enfolds you, like a cardinal’s robe.
Strangely, it is a color that I would have considered ugly at one point, and still in moments I question if it is indeed ugly. Ugly seems a totally inadequate way to discuss how colors feel. I feel most comfortable around cooler colors, blues and greens. I love jewel tones and an intense red can captivate me like nothing else, especially that of a poppy. Muddy tones like Caput mortuum… well they are something entirely different. There is something uncomfortable and dangerous about this color, it taps into something that I feel entirely unable to name. The name alone inspires curiosity to know more. I’ve been using it in a number of compositions as of late (see above), it has a murkiness, it is undecided, it enshrouds, it is dark…
And then there is the alchemy aspect. Alchemy has always captured my imagination. A mysterious cross between magic and science, the alchemist seeking out the rare, and the unknown, laboring to create something from disparate elements. The romance of such a futile goal of creating the philosopher’s stone, appeals to me. I enjoy thinking about elixirs of life, immortality, the unattainable. Perhaps the search for the philosopher’s stone was worthwhile, and in the end, it was only the journey that mattered, not the destination. I can imagine that if I were left with nothing but caput mortem on my crucible, it might have spurred me on to delve deeper into the mysteries.
French artist Abraham Poincheval recently entombed himself in a 12 ton limestone boulder for a week in the Paris Palais de Tokyo museum in a piece he so creatively named “Stone.” From the picture of the artist with his stone, you can see there is a larger cut-out in the form of the artist’s silhouette where he was spent a week in a seated position. The rock was divided in two and then pushed together once the Poincheval took his place. There were air holes and a place for a heart monitor. Poincheval subsisted on soup and dried meat for the duration of the stunt. I don’t really want to know what he did with his bodily waste or how he dealt with the stench. I’m puzzled as to why anyone would put themselves at such risk for deep vein thrombosis.
Poincheval said "The purpose is to feel the aging stone inside the rock" prior to his entombment. After he spoke of his experience as "There is my own breathing, and then the rock which lives, still humid because it was extracted not so long ago from the quarry. So there is that flow, that coming and going, between myself and the stone." Last time I checked rocks were not living.
Although the argument can be made for the stone as a sculpture, this wasn’t the focus of the art, it was merely a prop. I have trouble considering this performance art. Some of Poincheval’s past works include a two- week long stint inside the belly of a taxidermied bear and living on top of a platform for six days. Poincheval has been likened to ascetics living on pillars or stylites in the practice of subjecting themselves to great personal discomfort, danger and the elements on raised towers to reach a deeper connection or understanding of God. I can see that comparison, but why is it in a museum? I see ‘Stone” as more of a feat of endurance than art, and although extreme, a form of posting your workout stats for everyone else to enjoy on facebook. In my opinion “Stone” is more about headlines, notoriety, and the myth of the artist than anything else.
The viewer sees nothing of the main event which is Poincheval’s experience or communion with the stone. On the contrary there seems plenty for Poincheval in terms of engendering a unique experience for himself. I’m playing devil’s advocate in my head. Much of art created signifies a personal journey on the part of the artist, which has little or nothing to do with the viewer. By defining art we shut down possibility of what it can be, we close down the world and this seems dangerous especially in light of the current ideals about freedom of expression and the self. Yet, his work irritates me. I find it ridiculous that Poincheval’s next “piece” called “Egg” will consist of him sitting on chicken eggs for twenty days for 23.5 hours a day in order to see if they will hatch. If they do, the chickens will go to live out the remainder of their lives on his parent’s farm.
“Egg” seems to me to be the lowest common denominator designed to grab headlines because it’s weird, rather than actually asking an interesting question. I might even go so far as to say he is the Kim Kardashian of the art world. Frankly I think it’s hilarious that the BBC even took this seriously, this article seems respectful and is uncharacteristic for the network, which usually has a sense of humor. I prefer the Guardian’s handling of the subject which seems to quietly suggest the absurdity of the work.
The real value of Poincheval’s work may lie in people being able to one-up each other with stories of the ridiculous, guess what I saw “A man sitting on a nest!” I can make the argument that this man, not having the ability to become pregnant has decided to dedicate almost three weeks of his life to nurturing embryonic chickens with his own body (he plans to eat a lot of ginger to keep his body at the proper temperature) and connect with his fellow creatures and therefore it is profound, but it just seems such a hollow silly stunt to me, I won’t.
I will give him this, he took my mind off of the travesties occurring around the world for a brief moment.
Check out this Complex Style post for more bizarre performance art. I actually think the Courbet Origin of the World performance makes a good point. I HATE that painting.
Hello and welcome to my art blog! Here’s my first post. Stay tuned for more in the future.
I went to the Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirrors exhibition at the Hirsshorn Museum with friends on Sunday. We waited hours to spend just 20 seconds within each room. The rooms were stunning and unlike anything I have ever seen. I found them vaguely unsettling, in that my sense of space was so distorted that my brain wasn’t quite sure how to tell my body to feel. It was odd to walk into a space so clearly suffused with otherness and to hear the muffled but energetic crowd without. I was quite taken with Kusama’s use of glowing colors.
I was dazzled by Kusama’s paintings. The depth she achieved while depicting repetitive shapes and motifs was impressive. Again, her use of color was striking and often unexpected. Her sculptures appeared to have wills of their own, like they might reach out and grab a hold of your clothing if you passed within their reach. Or, they might jump up and begin spinning around raising their appendages up and down – hopefully not the phallic ones. There was such energy and potential movement in the works.
If you know me then you might know that I hate waiting on lines and feel uncomfortable in very crowded spaces. These two things generally put me into quite a mood, yet I didn’t experience that yesterday, in part due to the company of my friends. I was so pleased that people were lining up and willing to endure hours of standing on unforgiving concrete floors to see and experience art for a very small fraction of their wait time. It warmed my heart to see such enthusiasm for an art exhibition. People were dressed up, dots, bright colors and most memorable to me was a beautiful Japanese woman in a Chinese red suit wearing red and white Adidas sneakers to match. It was quite the scene.