This is a death mask I cast from my father's face. The original cast was sold at a charity auction to raise money for prostate cancer research (the disease he died of). The work explores my relationship with my father, along with my feelings towards death and the living. I cast it in jet-black bitumen that retains the smell of tarmac, referencing his rally driving days. Placed it on a white pillow, the presentation is meant to be reminiscent of traditional death masks but with a more graphic representation. The cheapness of the bitumen parodies Damein Hirst’s diamond-spangled skull, ‘For the Love of God’. The air bubbles covering the surface sparkle in the spotlight like diamonds.
Artistically I am obsessed with the power of objects and often incorporate things or casts of things into my work. Just as a vagina cast is a powerful object, so too is a death mask. I believe that power lends the artworks real gravitas.
It is titled ‘After’ referring to my curiosity about what happens after you die, not to your spirit but to your corpse. I didn’t want them to just take my dad away and then only ever see him again, processed and packed in a box. I wanted to know what they would do with him and accompany him myself, on his journey to the grave. Our society fears death because we are so removed from it. We rarely see dead people or images of death in the press. It is alien and frightening. Fearful of my own mortality I wanted to find out more to help me conquer that. I think we are all both curious and fearful of death. My journey is your journey.
The loss of my father was of course very emotionally challenging for me, and the decision to proceed with the project was a difficult one. I didn’t have a lot of time to make up my mind so I just went for it. Putting myself in extreme situations for my art is a common theme. I’m sorry he didn’t live to witness my success so I include this work in my exhibitions as a kind of mascot and to balance all the flesh and whimsy with a bit of visceral reality. Ultimately we are all dead.
Cast bitumen & silk cushion, 36 x 36 x 20 cm
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