The Messages of Bones

Welcoming Death in Life and Art

Earth is a diverse planet with numerous life forms. We are as different from slime mold, or a cabbage, as we are from termites or wolverines. But there are two experiences that unite every living thing: Birth and Death.

Birth can take numerous forms including cell division, budding, propagating, sporing, splitting, and making fertized embryos or seeds with or without sexually dimorphic combining (gamete fusion.) Death is much less diverse. Dying organisms stop being able to consume and process gasses or minerals, disabling all life sustaining systems, resulting in “the permanent cessation of all vital functions.” Aka: Death.

In Hinduism, for instance, a person’s atman (essence of being) is reborn, often immediately, into another body. This process can be repeated numerous times, or the atman can exist in alternate spirit realms. In Christianity, death is a one-time affair after which your soul goes to Heaven or Hell. Mesoamerican Nahua cultures believed the dead travel to an underworld place called “Mictlān” where they live a relaxed afterlife, returning each year to the land of the living to visit their loved ones. This tradition is practiced today in the form of Day of the Dead celebrations popular across the US and Mexico.

Many beliefs center around a Universal life-sustaining force known as Qi, Prana, Anima, Mana, Orenda, or Od. This force is eternally present, and can not being created or destroyed. It transitions from matter to energy and back to matter again as living systems come and go.

In some forms of Buddhism, a being’s death starts with the cessation of life supporting systems but continues on from there. When the life force leaves the physical world, it goes to an in-between place known as Bardo. This is a realm of transition, uncertainty and confusion which can be, according to people who claim to have been there and returned, very scary and disorienting.

I have experienced times when the death of the status quo led to big growth and transition. The most dramatic of these was when I decided to end a toxic relationship, quit a dead-end job, and leave a very-affordable-but-depressing basement studio apartment all in one week. I had $500 to my name and used half of it to buy a last minute, one-way ticket from Newark to LA, a place I had never been and where I knew exactly 1 person, an old friend from college. That person let me couch-crash for a few weeks, after which I was on my own. But that gave me enough time to find my feet and chart a new direction. Releasing my fear of the unknown and opening up to change pushed me towards a dramatically better place, and made me a big advocate of bold, scary jumps.

In my paintings I often investigate the idea of transition and transformation, acknowledging the presence of Death as both biological fact and metaphor. The painting below is about endings leading to new beginnings. It is an idea adapted from the Tarot Death card. Often interpreted to mean literal death, the card actually refers to a symbolic death, maybe of a relationship, system, or situation that no longer serves you. Death is a force that can move us through doors and into much needed change.

The below painting had been accepted into a Dia de Los Muertos show at a local art gallery, and I was anxious to get it finished and delivered. To expedite drying, I laid it, still wet, on top of my car to dry in the hot October sun. I went inside to clean up and after a while I went back out to see how the drying was coming along. I discovered to my horror the painting had blown off the car and into the adjacent roadway where it had been run over by one or more trucks. Vitam Mortem was completely Mortem, smashed into oblivion, and my spirits crashed with it. After a short period of gloom and despair, I found another panel and started over.

The new, one could say reincarnated painting, went much faster. I spent less time figuring out the composition and more time enjoying the process of painting. “The Disappearance of Absence,” as I named it, turned out much better than the painting it replaced. And, it did dry in time for the gallery show without any more mishaps.

The words on the banner mean “Life from Death.”

The Disappearance of Absence

24" x 18" x 2”

oil on cradled wood

The painting shows an organic, plant-like skeleton with flowers emerging from its branches, under the glow of an all-seeing eye. A small chrysalis, encircled by the skeleton’s living roots, awaits it time to emerge. The “skull” head mimics the form of a columbine flower, a plant that prefers growing in shade.

Find out more about the artist at these links:




Shop link: The Disappearance of Absence

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Omnium Gatherum is the nom de plume of CA painter, muralist, habitat gardener and stray doggist, Sarah Stone, @sarahstoneart

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Omnium Gatherum

Omnium Gatherum is the nom de plume of CA painter, muralist, habitat gardener and stray doggist, Sarah Stone, @sarahstoneart