All is vanity

Work by Sarah F. Burns

So said Solomon, and Sarah F. Burns appears to agree. You can drop in and see a painting by her in progress on her blog. I believe it’s a part of a series of vanitas images she’s doing on commission, not the sort of job one gets hired to do every day. You can read about it on her blog: Sarah F. Burns. She’s also offering a great photograph of a young Francis Bacon holding up two carcasses: Bacon bringing home the bacon, maybe. I’ve gotten behind with these posts, being involved in a writing project this month, and not painting much at all, but I took the time to do a little email with Sarah on the subject of skulls. I’d considered a collaboration with someone on some work based on skull imagery, and it struck me that if I were to do a painting of a skull from life, it would be cheating to use a plastic model, though I couldn’t find any source of actual human skulls on the web. It turns out there are at least one or two, The Bone Room, for example, and the skulls come from China and India, but laws prohibiting their sale have been enacted there so if you’re going to buy one, you’re choosing from the limited and dwindling inventory. So, as it turned out, I found myself debating whether to own the skull of someone who once had a name and had walked around on the planet for a while. It seemed somehow wrong to just buy what remained of this poor fellow’s head, though I don’t know why. He certainly doesn’t need it. It’s costly, too. Looked to me as if $800 was the lowest I could pay. I visualized a box arriving in the mail and slowly opening it to lift the gray dome of bone and hold it in my hand. Why am I still tempted to do this and still feel I’m contemplating something almost immoral, or at least disrespectful. As Sarah put it, it’s “creepy but cool.” Like a vanitas image itself: the whole skull search brought to mind the transience of life, and how little time there really is to get done whatever it is I hope to do, both in this coming year and the following ones. Painting constantly forces you back in touch with your limits on so many fronts: money, skill, physical space in which to work, imagination, and most of all, time.



2 Responses to “All is vanity”

  1. Sarah F Burns

    Hi Dave,
    Thanks for posting my progress! I love the thought of you getting a human skull in the mail – so strange. A friend of mine came over with a paper grocery bag the other day and said “I have something for you for your painting series (she meant this Vanitas/raw meat series),” and for a second there I was frozen, I was thinking, “what disgusting thing is in this bag?”, I opened it and it was a really cool deer skull she had found and bleached. But that moment of anticipation was memorable for sure.

  2. dave dorsey

    I wondered where you got it. That’s great. We get by with a little help from our friends . . .