The devil may reach out with bristled claws to grab your hair. But, then again, he may not. It may be that butterflies carry you into the ether. It’s hard to say what happens after this life. But, either way, momento mori: Remember, you must die.
In Momento Mori, an exhibition at the POP Gallery in Santa Fe, Albuquerque artists Brandon Maldonado and Marie Sena join Juxtapoz feature artist Daniel Martin Diaz of Tucson for nuanced consideration of the Great Exit.
With artwork archived in museum collections around the world, Diaz’ treatments of religious themes look torn from ancient textbooks on alchemy and cosmic mayhem. In “OMCE,” a complicated new work of graphite on Mylar, a centaur strewn with arrows rears back against the assault of a bird of prey while a crowned, two-headed snake slithers underfoot. The scene is sanctified with a frame of Latin text.
While it is a treat to have an artist of international renown such as Diaz showing so close to home, it is even more exciting to see how well the visual meditations of locals Sena and Maldonado stand next to those of the established arts gentry.
Sena, both a tattoo and traditional retablo artist with a background in medical illustration, says the subject of death feels natural to her.
“Death images are part of Spanish Catholic upbringing, images of heaven and hell,” Sena says. “Saints are intertwined in our culture and our life. It’s all part of who I am.”
Sena will exhibit more orthodox retablos this year at Spanish Market (at the Santa Fe Plaza July 24 and 25), but for the Momento Mori show, she created artworks with what she describes as “a little fire and brimstone.” Her retablo “La Pieta” is profuse with blood.
It’s hard to say what happens after this life. But, either way, momento mori : Remember, you must die.
Earlier this spring, while she traveled through Spain as a visiting tattoo artist, Sena found the work of masters such as Titian and Caravaggio. Their styles added an emotive influence to her work. Sena was also inspired by a 17th-century oil painting hanging over the exit at El Hospital de la Caridad in Sevilla. “In Ictu Oculi” (“In the Blink of an Eye”), by Juan de Valdés Leal, shows a skeleton standing atop a pile of swords, crowns and other mortal idols, snuffing a candle with its bony fingertips.
“It was put at this hospital to remind us that we’re all going to die,” Sena says. “I wanted to translate it into New Mexican folk art because we’re also very close with death, we don’t fear it.”
Nevertheless, death can be shocking, death can be cruel, and Maldonado doesn’t hesitate to explore the grotesqueries.
His painting “Eulogy” is inspired by the creepy, contrived memorial portraits once popular in colonial Mexico. A dead child lays in awkward, sumptuous repose with a curlicue description of his demise printed above the body.
But, for Maldonado, death is not necessarily macabre. In fact, he says, there is no way to discuss death without also discussing life. The painting “Amor” shows two lovers naked, embracing with a gentleness that conjures a sense of higher love.
“From death comes life,” he explains. “Always in nature we see that.” He adds, “Death is the ultimate, but that makes you think about what matters in this moment. And what is more important in this life than love?”
Even though skulls and funerary scenes are found in much of Maldonado’s work, he says it would be a mistake to believe these images are merely morbid. “It’s just about the questions since the beginning of time: Who are we? Where are we going? It’s about the mystery of being.”