Sasha Chaitow, Artist

Sasha Chaitow: Memento Mori Art

Sasha Chaitow: Memento Mori Art

Memento mori art, both historical and contemporary forms, serve to remind us of our own mortality. Instead of contemplating on this reality as something to be feared or to cause despair, the art of Memento Mori challenges us to use the knowledge of the limited time we have as mortal beings to live a worthy life. A reminder that death is inevitable and cannot be contained also encourages us to treasure the time we have left with our loved ones.

Artists who create beautiful works depicting the inevitability of death will be featured as part of Circus Living's sideshow 'Memento Mori Artists' in the weeks to come. Chosen artists and their works will be posted conveying information about their thoughts on ‘Memento Mori, the art of dying, and their own mortality.

And without further delay, Circus Living presents Sasha Chaitow, our first featured ‘Memento Mori’ artist.

Can you tell me something about the works you submitted, what inspired you to make them, and how they convey death and its meaning(s)?

In my art I try to deal with some of the darker deeper aspects of human thought and the human condition. I use symbolism and imagery drawn from the deepest reaches of time - avenging angels, flawed gods, and I have a particular connection to the idea of creativity being the only remedy for mortality. I am a firm believer in the hidden messages within nature so I use floral and animal symbolism to remind the viewer of just that...bones, corpses, disease, are all part of a larger pattern. There is beauty and life within the darkness, and ultimately, it is what we do that gives it meaning. That's why I focus on ideas like "the gift of writing" to mankind in the painting "The Sacred Ibis" - it is one of the many forms of immortality, and the painting shows that even gods can die and be reborn (but need a human heart within which to do so). Atropos is the third of the Fates of Greek mythology, the one who cuts the thread of the human lifespan. She wears the clothes of medieval "plague doctors"; crow's feathers for mortality and the mysteries of the beyond. This is a portrait of Death - who does however carry summer flowers and spares those who toil for immortality by exploring the power of nature and our own existence.

The Sacred Ibis

How do you perceive death? How do you perceive your own mortality?

Most of the time I see life - and certainly society - as an illusion a place we come to learn, grow, but only one stop on our journey. I believe we're all here for a reason, but I don't take life too seriously. I'm not at all bothered about my own mortality; my only regret would be that there is so much I'd like to get done before my time's up and I always fear I'll run out of time. Other than that, it's just the next step in a much bigger story. However, humanity has built up so much of a mythos around death and cheating it, that it's an endless source of inspiration and imagery. Immortality comes from what we leave behind - the lives we touch and the art we create. Remembering that can put things in perspective...

The Nursery

Have you ever visited a bone church, crypt, morbid museum, or a famous cemetery for artistic inspiration? If so, can you tell me a little bit about your experience?

Not really. The closest thing I can think of is a lavish exhibition in Strasbourg in 2009 dedicated to the "Memento Mori" form of art through the ages from prehistoric forms of burial to Victorian era mementos. It was incredibly inspiring in that you could see how our view of death has changed through the ages, how it has been forged by culture and in turn, affected cultural production. There were some truly inspiring pieces there...

As an artist who creates morbid works, have you faced any challenges exhibiting them to the public? How did you overcome these challenges?

Many people find my art too dark or frightening, and it depends entirely on the locale. It used to bother me that they couldn't look at it as it was meant to be seen, but I do deal with difficult ideas, so that's an occupational hazard. Now such reactions just amuse me. I offer short texts that accompany my paintings (such as the ones above) to explain the rationale and symbolism, and from there on, I seek out the audiences who I know will understand - and many do. The worst reaction for an artist is indifference, and I am glad to say that never happens...if it touches them, even in a dark way, then that's fine with me, it's simply a reflection of what they are carrying within. Even my darkest paintings have a note of hope somewhere in them - many viewers see that and have responded positively, because it gives them a chance to confront their darkest thoughts and a way to work with them. Nature is something that we can all relate to, it is within us all regardless of our background or culture...for me that is a touchstone that I hope comes through in my work - spring will always follow even the darkest winter.

If another artist asked you to destroy their works of art after their death, would you? (question from Morbid Curiosity game)

I think it would depend on my own attachment to the artist or to the work. In most cases, I would only promise to do so if I intended to follow through. If I had a sentimental attachment to a piece or to the person, I would say that I'd rather keep it and attempt to persuade them to allow it...

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Atropos Medico

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