I’ve often thought it’s unfortunate that people only think about death when they think of a mortuary or cemetery. Why not think about life…a place where life is celebrated in all its beauty? I’ve spent the last 9 years as a Funeral Celebrant and can attest to the power of a place that honors life, my thought is, let’s not just go to a mortuary in the wake of death, let’s also go in and enjoy life.
Several years ago I attended an art show held in an old mausoleum…in the middle of a cemetery…at NIGHT! It sounds a little spooky, but I was intrigued by the dichotomy of the idea. Here I was, viewing works of art by fellow artists, celebrating the beauty they saw around them; while just a hundred yards away was the site where the previous year, as a Funeral Celebrant, I had helped a family lay their teenage son to rest.
Since I’ve begun inviting people to my spring art show I’ve been getting a lot of this look: furrowed brow, pursed lips, eyes partially closed, head tilted down a little, perhaps slowly twisting side to side. Their look says it all, “Uh, what? An art show in a mortuary? . . . Sounds spooky.”
Granted there are some people who would rather attend a funeral than enter an art museum or local gallery, but as we ask the question, “What do death and art have to do with one another?” I’d like you to consider these beautiful works of art: The Funeral Mask of King Tut, The Pieta – perhaps the world’s most famous sculpture depicting the Virgin Mary holding the body of Jesus Christ after his death. Picasso’s Guernica showing the tragedies of war, At Eternity’s Gate by van Gogh, painted two months before his death, or Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait, Thinking About Death.
What can I say? I’m an artist, a writer, a storyteller; I’m always looking for the contrast that makes a story…an image…a life…unique. I find great similarity and contrast in the two fields in which I work: writing funerals and painting on canvases.
When I meet with a family in preparation for a funeral I listen intently as they tell me the many stories about their loved one and I begin painting a picture in my mind’s eye of what this person was like. Similarly, when I’m looking for artistic inspiration, I’ve found that I’m visually listening to the story around me and contemplating how I will bring meaning to it.
Whether I am creating a eulogy or a painting, my process is very much the same. Upon returning to my office or studio I sit with a blank sheet of paper or blank canvas before me and reflect. Then, the creative process begins. Setting my fingers to the keyboard or my hand to the brush I engage the skills I have learned as a writer and artist to create a picture with words or create an image with paint. Each medium tells a story in it’s own unique way.
As you can see, my path as a Funeral Celebrant and my path as an Artist are parallel in many ways. They are fundamental in my life journey for I could not do one without the other. On the occasions when the two paths cross the experience deeply nurtures my spirit.
On a trip to Paris a few years ago, I visited Père Lachaise, one of the most famous cemeteries in the world and the final resting place for more than one million people. Painters, sculptors, poets, authors, singers, musicians, composers and actors are buried among some of the world’s greatest names in science, politics and history. The cemetery is listed as one of the top 20 Parisian sites with 1.5 million visitors a year. It’s not a morbid attraction but rather an opportunity to pay homage to some of the greatest talent in this world (Oscar Wilde anyone?) while strolling among the most artistic tombs you will find anywhere.
While you won’t see any of the above-mentioned masterpieces on display at my show, I’m thrilled to introduce my paintings in a setting where I work as a Funeral Celebrant. I hope you will join me and the staff of O’Connor Mortuary as I present my spring art show “Two Paths – One Journey” on Thursday, April 3.
I promise you, it will be one of the most enjoyable times you have spent at a mortuary…and, I probably don’t need to remind you, but it’s not likely to be your last visit either ; )
|| what do you think?
– Do you express yourself creatively? What mediums do you use & what does it bring to you?
– How do you see art bringing life and death together?
– Will you be gracing us with your presence at the Art Show? I would love to meet you, hope to see you there.