Memento Mori: Trompe l’oeil & Vanitas



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ART 227 / Beginning Painting / Instructor: Samantha Fields

Project # 3: Memento Mori: Trompe l’oeil & Vanitas / painting from life

A Contemporary Version of a Basic Trope
Trompe-l'œil also trompe l'oeil: French for 'deceive the eye', is an art technique involving extremely realistic imagery in order to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects appear in three dimensions.

Vanitas: a type of symbolic work of art associated with Northern European still life painting in the 16th and 17th centuries. The word is Latin, meaning "emptiness" and loosely translated corresponds to the meaninglessness of earthly life and the transient nature of vanity.

Memento mori: a Latin phrase translated as "Remember your mortality", "Remember you must die" or "Remember you will die" It names a genre of artistic work which varies widely, but which all share the same purpose: to remind people of their own mortality. The phrase has a tradition in art that dates back to antiquity.
Tromp l’oeil is French for “to fool the eye”, and Memento Mori is Latin for “Remember Death”. Both have rich traditions in both historical and contemporary painting practice. Memento Mori paintings were meant to remind viewers that youth and vanity will pass, as flowers wither so shall you! These reminders were often meant to keep viewers on the “’righteous path”. You will create a composition using real objects, which will be attached to a board. Your painting will be an “exact” replica. The objects you choose should reference the fleeting passage of time, and serve as a contemporary reminder to “remember death”. You must include at least five objects.
You must also include:


  • Some kind of background on the board, fabric, paper, natural texture

  • One metal object

Also, this is different from the “food” painting because here, you will be painting from LIFE. When you work from a photograph, the translation of 3D to 2D has been done for you….all of the objects are flat and unchanging. When you work from life, every movement of your head, every passing shadow or change in light, every “wiggle” that disrupts the placement of your objects presents a new challenge. ALL painters need to learn to paint from life!



Materials and Equipment: Raw canvas and stretcher bars, 12” X 14" or 12 “ X 16", a board that is the SAME SIZE as your canvas, and objects to place on it, acrylic gesso, oil supplies and tools, CLAMP LIGHT and extension cord.) Galkyd Medium, Silicoil Tank Jar, gamsol, palette, wax paper, tape, camera (optional), X-acto knife and #11 blades, (optional), ruler.
Background Information: Slide presentation on memento Mori, painting from life

Vocabulary: Stretcher bars, gesso, staple gun, sizing, primer

Concept: Research, still life construction, painting from life, extreme realism, narrative, symbolism, metaphor

Skills: Brainstorming, collecting information, 3D to 2D translation, concept development, drawing, color-matching and blending, material manipulation, creative problem solving, critique.

Lectures and Demos:

Stretching a canvas



Process
1. Prepare your canvas, following directions from the demo.

2. Select your board. The board can be a found object, a piece of a cabinet, corkboard, wood, metal, anything! As long as it’s 2D and you can affix your objects to it.

3. Select your objects, photograph them or photocopy FLAT objects like cards BEFORE you secure them to your board. Some things to remember:

You need a minimum of 5 objects.

Don’t go overboard…too many objects, or things that are too intricate don’t work as well and will drive you crazy. Objects to AVOID: necklace chains, detailed patterns, feathers intricate jewelry, things that are too large to affix to the board, dried flowers, netting, transparent fabric, photographs.

Objects that work well: Flat, shallow objects, cards, ribbons, simple fabric, wood, small toys, game pieces, coins, yarn, cutlery, ticket stubs & memorabilia, thumb tacks, nails, anything with a good form that’s not too large and not too small.

Your objects should tell a story

One needs to be metal

You need a background texture…paper, fabric, etc.

Think about composition, use overlapping and the elements and principles of design, make sure you have a variety if sizes with your objects.

How are you securing your objects? Are the nailed? Tied? Hung? Glued? What does how you affix them say about your subject?

4. Set up your still life, and your canvas in the place where you want to work. This will be your workstation for the duration of this project, as you must keep your light source constant! Tape the floor and mark your easel with tape and your name in case it is moved between classes. I highly recommend that you lights your still life, the more dramatic the light, the easier it is to paint. TRUST ME ON THIS! To get a 3D illusion, lighting is key. I have extension cords but you need your own clamp lights. You can also put the still life itself in a cardboard box to control the lighting more easily.

5. LIGHTLY draw your objects on the canvas, too much pencil will be difficult to cover. Some “cheats”:

Some objects can be photocopied and traced: playing cards are a good example

Coins and other simple objects can be traced onto the canvas to make sure the size is correct.

Objects with a repeated pattern can be made into a stencil (like a playing card)



6. Once you have your drawing laid in, start to paint using what you have learned so far!
Artists to reference: Audrey Flack, Phillipe de Champaigne, Pieter Claesz, Jan van den Hecke, Jan Davidsz, Maria van Oosterwyck, William Hartnett, Richard Hass, John Haberle, Edward Collier

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