Artistic Inspiration: Seldnec Ossuary

Artistic Inspiration: Seldnec Ossuary

“Bodies always speak to us in the language of love.” – Robin Rose Bennett, The Gift of Herbal Medicine

I haven’t yet written on this blog about why I chose to create paintings of skeletons with hearts.  When I decided to start selling art on a fence in the french quarter of Nola I was also taking an anatomy class as part of the process of getting my massage license transferred to Louisiana.  Drawing helps me to learn so I started making these little skeleton paintings to reinforce my studying.

“Falling In Love” is the design I used on my first Beautiful Bodies painting

One artistic inspiration for my love of skeletons in art came when I was 20 years old and got to visit Prague.  My mom’s people come from the Czech Republic, outside of Prague in the Bohemian region of the country, and this caused me to really appreciate having been able to experience something of this area of the world first hand.  The friend I was traveling with and I took a day trip too see the Seldnec ossuary which is a small church covered in decorative things made out of bones.

A photo I took at the Seldnec Ossuary from the year 2000
p. 119, Seldnec Ossuary, The Empire of Death
p. 123, Seldnec Ossuary, The Empire of Death
 In old graveyards people would rent a temporary internment space and after a certain numbers of years their remains would be moved into the ossuary and sometimes the monks would make sculptural things out of the bones.  I was so intrigued and inspired by the boldness of using actual bits of people artistically and the stunning geometry of what emerged from these macabre crafting projects.
Sites of other ossuaries from the inside cover of The Empire of Death
Sites of other ossuaries from the back cover of The Empire of Death

There are churches like this all over the world.  Unsurprisingly they were often built on top of sacred sites where people would go to commune with their ancestors.   In The Empire of Death Paul Koudounaris says that ”In western culture, the line separating the living and the dead underwent a fundamental shift during the Enlightenment.  The triumph of modern concepts of individualism and the exaltation of private ownership over older concepts of corporateness and community further changed our attitudes toward death.  As Baudrillard explained, we have undergone an evolution in which, “little by little, the dead cease to exist.”” p. 13

The Empire of Death by Paul Koudounaris, 2011

Creating skeleton art feels like a way to continue a connection to my genetic and spiritual ancestors.  The skeleton design that I use was something I starting painting during my MFA program at CIIS.  While I was working on my Rivers series I did a large painting of a cave with an underground river.  I wanted it to represent the metaphorical river Styx, which the dead pass over in greek mythology, so I added a little skeleton standing in a boat rowing to the opposite shore.

River Styx, acrylic on raw canvas, 7.5′ x 4′, 2011

At the time when I was deciding what to make to sell in the French Quarter I knew wanted to offer art which had a healing aura and inspired empathy.  The combination of a little skeleton with her heart seemed to be the perfect vehicle for this exploration.  When I used to sit on Pirates Alley, which runs along the side of St. Louis Cathedral, I would imagine my display of Beautiful Bodies to be an echo of that ossuary I had once visited.

p. 118, Seldnec Ossuary, The Empire of Death

I called the series Beautiful Bodies because I wanted to affirm that beauty is bone deep and is something we carry within us always.  I began with a few simple gestures and over the next year or so developed around 20 iconic images.  During the last year I have been attempting to broaden the landscape each character lives in by giving them a larger canvas size with backgrounds of bright color washes and nature scenes.

Here are a selection of some of my Beautiful Bodies paintings:

My first version of Cosmic Meditation

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