Photo Essay / Skeletons Of The Feast




A few years ago, I was between jobs in Paris and spent the day at the Louvre. As I was wandering, I came to the Dutch master’s wing. After being swamped by the huge political and religious paintings in the main halls, I was relieved at the human scale and realism of the Dutch works, and I ended up spending the whole day there. Without being an art historian, all I could do is take what I saw from images. With their works, I saw what seemed to be a preoccupation with the fulfilment that a secular, everyday working life can bring. God rarely featured, but demonstrations of wealth and enterprise did, and they seemed to be coupled with an acute awareness of death. But death here, particularly in the still lives, is beautified and presented as though it too is something to be acquired and experienced perfectly. To me, there is something very prescient about this, it feels very modern. And maybe it is, but what I was seeing wasn’t far-sightedness. It was the reaction of the Masters to a similar political and financial environment that all of us now live in. One where the church had receded somewhat, and acquisitiveness has gained pre-eminence. That’s quite exciting to me: the sense that beauty - and meaning as well - don’t necessarily need to be handed down, they can be invented, drawn out from anywhere as needed. I think that’s quite positive and possibly even important as the world continues to change, potentially not for the better. That’s why I’ve used so much plastic in my images over the years, and that's why I tend to lean toward a harmony between beauty and death in the compositions throughout all these works.