Shadows in Time

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“That fate awaits all roses, all roses are open to the elements. They bud bloom and fade. The rose grows entirely unaware, changing naturally from one state to another and although the elements may treat her cruelly, she knows nothing of it and continues to her end without judgment on her beauty. Alas, it is not the same for us. If such a rose could speak, she would say : “Yes I am here, and gave service under natures eye. And after me my children will be. Is there any greater contribution or more graceful end?” – A Little Chaos.

I have always found my outlet in figurative painting, specifically portraits. When deciding on a subject for my Maters degree in 2004, I decided to explore my immediate environment for inspiration. During this deliberation, my elderly mother moved into my home and for a decade I watched the process of her aging, her final transition . Her routine became a part of mine and the subject matter organically evolved. I haven’t lost interest in the elderly, in fact, I have only dived deeper into a theme that fascinates me.

My interactions with the old people in my society led me to hours of observations at shopping centers and old aged homes; on pensioners day, social teas on Tuesdays and weekly hair appointments. All of this evoked empathy within me. Age presents a beautifully contrasting picture, however our definition of the aged seems to be one only of frailty, oddity, marginalization, dependence, isolation and fragility. Aging is something that society helps us to turn away from, and because of the avoidance of mortality, our pursuit of youth – the aged are simply a reminder of an inevitable end that no one wants to look at. Age has become ugly, something to be forgotten. I want to give the elderly their glory. Theirs are lives rich with experience. Lifetimes of exploration of the human experience on a timeline at an individual level.

Shadows in Time is a spotlight on the beauty of age that is absent in society’s mind.

I have chosen to express these thoughts on a large scale to elevate my subjects, to make them momentous. I have chosen monochrome colours to highlight death’s indiscriminate nature within a South African context and in a universal context. Death is something that unites all of life. I didn’t want to use colour as it has the potential to evoke emotions which diminish the concept. The work is not supposed to be instantly or easily attractive. As with age, the work needs to be seen at more than face value, it’s beauty is something which is explored emotionally more than physically. Splashes of colour have been added as a reminder that despite our common journey – the experience of life is an individual one.

The political figures explored in my work are not there for political reasons. They are representative again of deaths lack of bias. Desmond Tutu’s spiritual background corresponds to my own, his role as mediator between this life and the next opens another dialogue around impermanence. Mandela’s fading from the world was pertinent , watching him age, a hero and legend facing frailty.

Shadows in Time is a body of juxtapositions. Bitter sweet moments. Flowers and their symbolism, through celebration and sorrow. It is empathy for the whole of humanity, an obligatory journey and a tragic one. Having achieved our “peak” , we fade. Losing strength, becoming helpless, childlike, forgotten, avoided. I find it incredibly sad and yet, death is only the most natural part of life. Intrinsic to life.

Michele Silk

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