Day of the Dead

Woman with a Somber Gaze
Copyright, by Mary Andrade (poem and essay)

Woman with a somber gaze,
Tell me, what do you see in the candles?
are they ghosts in the night
or are they flowers of the earth?

Día de los Muertos is celebrated throughout Mexico and Mexican-American communities November 2nd, with celebrations beginning on November 1st. It is believed that at this time the souls of the departed return to visit the living. It is not a time of mourning, it’s celebration of life. Altars are built during Día de los Muertos to honor the lives of those who have passed. These are often quite beautiful and elaborate creations, including favorite foods, beverages, music, and other items the loved ones would enjoy when their souls return to visit. Day of the Dead in Mexico represents a mixture of Christian devotion and Pre-Hispanic traditions and beliefs. As a result of this mixture, the celebration comes to life as an unique Mexican tradition including an altar and offerings dedicated to the deceased.

The altar includes four main elements of nature — earth, wind, water, and fire.

Earth is represented by crop: The Mexicans believe the souls are fed by the aroma of food.

Wind is represented by a moving object: Tissue paper is commonly used to represent wind.

Fire is represented by a wax candle: Each lit candle represents a soul, and an extra one is placed for the forgotten soul.

Water is placed in a container for the soul to quench its thirst after the long journey to the altar.

In 2009, I was invited to participate in a Day of the Dead art show in Hornitos, CA, sponsored by Williams Gallery West. I took this opportunity to learn about this traditional Mexican holiday, and to research the history of Mesoamerica.

I had been creating Halloween sculptures out of found objects and recyclable materials for several years. I decided to create a large paper ‘sculpture’ of a decorated skull based on my research into the cultural celebrations of Dia de los Muertos. This was my first attempt to take part in this holiday, and then, as now, I am always making a conscious effort be respectful to another cultures’ traditions. This first skull was blue, gold and pearl white, decorated in an abstract design.

The first big skull turned out well, so I followed it up with a slightly larger blue green skull with a forest theme. I also painted a 36" x 36" canvas, entitled ‘Forest Creatures’, which was my first attempt to interpret the holiday into my own images. It was also my first experiment in using glitter on canvas. These 2 sculptures and the painting were exhibited in the Day of the Dead Show in Arte Americas Gallery, in Fresno, CA, From October to November 2nd, 2011.

In 2012, I built 2 more medium size skulls, and painted a 24" x 30" canvas entitled ‘Caiman World Tree’. I drew on my readings of Mesoamerican mythology to create the combination of images in the painting. I used acrylic paint, glitter and white mica flakes. The whole collection was on display for the Sierra Art Trails in October through the beginning of November.

I have a background of American Halloween traditions, including early experiences of trick or treating, decorating, and seasonal harvest folk symbolism. (At one time in the distant past, I was shown how to make a corn dolly, after shucking said corn. It has taken on the quality of a dream sequence).

Having been caught up in the fantastic whirlwind of masquerade, superstitious beliefs, folk traditions, and feature creature B movies combining horror, the supernatural, and the transformation of the human condition, I am a devoted adherent of Halloween and the autumnal season. The Celts began their New Year on Samhain, which was a significant date on the pastoral calendar, when they brought their animals indoors for the winter. They believed that creation begins in darkness, that is the dark half of the year; one has to withdraw and go within to find the new ideas which will fill the coming year. One must dream the dreams before building solid foundations upon those inspirations; hence, winter.

In Ireland, people used to carve scary faces into turnips to frighten away spirits. This custom was transferred to pumpkins in America by Irish immigrants. Through the 20’s 30’s and 40’s, Victorian style Halloween parties featuring dress up and divination were popular enough to create a whole genre of ornaments and collectible figurines and decorations.

I have made many mixed media Halloween paintings on pieces of wood in various shapes, such as pumpkin, or the outline of a witch, etc. Almost all of those works have been sold, and I only have a few photographs. I am including few Halloween pieces in this section and will perhaps create a separate Halloween portfolio page in the future.

Forest Creatures

Forest Creatures

Acrylic and glitter on gallery wrap canvas, 36" x 36". This large painting is a personal interpretation of the Day of the Dead, focusing on animals, wilderness, and the renewal of the natural world. The stag with his antlers connotes power and fertility while the butterfly and the snake symbolize transformation. Everything here is in a state of flux, as evinced by the abundance of spirals in the background interacting with the animals in the foreground. Some parts of "Forest Creatures" are covered with glitter. I use a durable polyester glitter which is adhered with clear acrylic gel, and then…

View
Caiman World Tree

Caiman World Tree

Mixed media on gallery wrap canvas, 24" x 30". This Day of the Dead themed painting incorporates the Mesoamerican creation myth of the world tree as emerging from the body of a caiman, as well as the skeletons and fossils of ancient and primordial creatures. These animals represent an eternal dance, spiraling into life and out again. White mica flake in a clear acrylic base gives the white skeletons thick and tactile ridges, while the black bones are done in polyester glitter. Several other glitter colors are used throughout.

View
Underworld Bunny

Underworld Bunny

Mixed media – approximately 11" x 7" x 8". Constructed of cardboard, newspaper, masking tape and duct tape, "Underworld Bunny" is a Day of the Dead interpretation of my white rabbit with crown motif; an image which represents fertility and the persistence of life. Working in acrylic, I darkened the colors and added a stylized gold skeleton. The crown is covered in red glitter, over which a layer of clear acrylic has been applied. Glass cabochans adorn the crown as well. Spiraling in and out of life, the White Hare becomes Underworld Bunny, and back again.

View
Wooden Pumpkin, El Portal

Wooden Pumpkin, El Portal

Acrylic on wood, approximately 12"x12" – SOLD Completed as a consignment in 2009, ‘Wooden Pumpkin, El Portal’, is a mixed media piece, done in a Halloween theme. It depicts a fabulous array of creatures, (some in costume, some not), celebrating the seasonal holiday in El Portal by trick or treating, dancing, flying, etc. The medium is acrylic on wood, cut out into the pumpkin shape, sanded, and gessoed. Glass cabochans and faceted acrylic stones are adhered to the surface with clear acrylic gel. This is one of many such mixed media pumpkin paintings that I tailored to individual clients, adding…

View
Ghost Ring

Ghost Ring

Graphite pencil on paper, 16" x 20". Many years ago in Yosemite, each October, I saw a "ghost ring" set up in the front yard of one of the houses on executive row, (facing Ahwahnee Meadow). Made of sheets and poles, the 5 simple figures danced in the wind, under the sun and moon. Later, I set up a similar ring in my own yard ,(I only had 4 poles), and this is a drawing of the display, with garden foliage in the background.

View