on death and grief

My father died from cancer in 2007, at age 64. Only three months passed between diagnosis and death, and those months and the following years were emotionally charged and often isolating. But through that experience—through his death—came life. Something was born within me, and I began to create around it.

Dying and grief are universal human experiences—we’ll all be lost at times in the darkness of loss, we’ll suffer through the deaths of those we care for and eventually will face our own. Yet talk about these things gets buried under the weight of cultural and social taboos—and held tight within our individual emotional distress. Within this silence is lost opportunity for connection and understanding, for collective growth. And creativity.

I’ve longed to get people talking about death, grief and transitions, through a series of oil paintings, illustrations, and writings anchored in personal experience. The work was begun, and then set aside as other more immediate circumstances took precedence… but it is still there, waiting to be birthed into the world. My hope is to create a body of work that will encourage people to explore their own emotions and in the process circumvent the taboos attached to talking about death and grief, initially by not talking, but by looking. For me, this is about human connection—one human being to another within a social community—but it is also about humanity, and our place within life’s natural cycle.

This project began with a spark—an imagined painting about a specific moment in the dying process—and was built around narrative paintings. But I’ve come to recognize that it is incredibly useful, necessary even, to have a counterbalance to the heavy human emotion entangled with difficult topics, and thus the project grows. Close observations and written and visual studies of a habitat or landscape’s transitory nature will take this project beyond the human experience to our connection to life cycles in the wider world. Transitions in nature provide a side door to enter into a dialogue about death, and provide respite within the discussion.

The Girl Who Carries Her Burdens in Her Hair