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July 25, 2013 Repository 79: Requiem for an Artist’s Dream Posted In: art practice, community, contemporary art, perspective, philosophy

Cleaning My Own Head 2011, Oil, ink, and coffee grinds on canvas, Courtesy of the artist Anitra Haendel's web site

Cleaning My Own Head
2011, oil, ink, and coffee grinds on canvas, Courtesy of the artist Anitra Haendel’s web site

Death. Death. Death. Life. Life. Life. I consider both, both in all of their preciousness, both in all of their urgency, both as passages in a larger scope of existence I can’t begin to describe, though I feel it always. Over the past two weeks I’ve had to navigate the consequences of two terrible deaths, both suicides of people, who while I was not close to, I had close associations. The first was the older brother of my daughter’s play mate – he was only 14 years old. The second, just yesterday was an artist colleague – we both share mentors and many friends. Anitra was in her late 30’s.

Two people who were too young, too precious, too sensitive, too talented. The young boy was new to the area, his family had recently moved from a southern region of the state. When I had his mother over to get to know them, she told me all about his interest in theater and his intuitive and artful ways.

After learning about Anitra’s death, I plowed through her web site to see what she had been working on. There I found the remnants of beautiful childlike and ghostly work. Oil paints that were veneers on the page coupled with loud subject matter that seemed almost too loud for such a soft finish (e.g. Shit Cleaners).

As I start to focus on death, my entire world is colored with this theme – while I understand these are disparate events I can’t help being reminded of the idea that what you put your attention on grows stronger.  Yesterday I watched “A Band Called Death” (a tragic tale ensconced in the history of a failed band), an NPR special I listened to in the afternoon was about the “death” of mental health support systems currently in the US, and this morning while researching a course I will be taking in the Fall I happened to uncover a course in the philosophy department on yes, death.  Last week I just finished a series of drawings on 30 deaths, one drawing per death (pictured below). And 15 minutes ago I was digitally invited to a reception at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery in Portland where the artist Isaac Layman has titled his show “Funeral” – all of the installation and materials will be exploring loss. That’s next week,  and I’ll be in attendance.

OSHA Drawing 2, pencil and mixed media on paper, courtesy Catherine Haley Epstein

OSHA Drawing 2
2013, pencil and mixed media on paper
Courtesy Catherine Haley Epstein

There is a history of young artists dying, and leaving us wishing we could have watched their evolution, wanting more. The list is endless and includes most famously and visually:

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)
Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907)
Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)
Francesca Woodman (1958-1981)
Ana Mendieta (1948 – 1985)
Egon Schiele (1890-1918)
Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan (1971-2007)
Dash Snow (1981-2009)
Keith Herring (1958-1990)
Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996)

I wrote an article a short while ago about the death of some artists and how their works may have pointed in imagery to the untimely death of their maker. Looking at Anitra’s imagery there were many people who were nude – a very vulnerable and courageous position – however they had only eyes and no mouth or nose for that matter. They couldn’t speak or smell. Could Anitra’s inability to speak some truth to herself or others cause her to make such a conflicted decision to end her life? Her web site is also very thorough, as if she was giving direction for viewing posthumously. Everything seemed included in the work projects including raw descriptions, an archive and even source material descriptions.

With such a healthy and organized art practice couldn’t this cushion her from feeling untethered to anyone or anything? What could have changed the course of these events?

I suppose these questions belong in my work moving forward to some degree, where I can further examine consequence and choice. After all one can’t understand and fully embrace life without accepting and exploring death.


A video of Anitra talking about her work a year ago for Projekt Papier can be found here.

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