On Loss–by Diana Rose Ryan

I have been pondering my approach to this all month and still don’t quite have an
answer, but perhaps more of a direction.
My experience with loss has been very direct, losing my dad when I was 8 years old to
sudden heart failure. I waited until today the 25th of May, 25 years after losing my dad to create the reflective art work for this Month’s Hyacinth Collective blog posting. Partly out of procrastination and partly because it seemed like the most appropriate time to reflect.
Before going into my work for this project I would like to rewind a bit to my previous
artwork because a big theme in my past work has been using the skull as symbol. My ceramic art has had a decided skeleton theme. My skully mug collection, which I consider to be my “commercial art” has a “Dia de los Muertos” feel to it. Celebrating the ones we’ve lost through art and storytelling is a beautiful way to remember loved ones. I love creating each unique skully and seeing their personalities come out. I don’t think of it in a morbid way ( although I have so many of them in my kitchen it’s starting to feel a bit morbid). Never have I thought of these mugs as stemming from my own loss, maybe because the skull symbol has become so cutsie thus losing a bit of its association with actual death. So while I have never associated this artwork with my own personal loss, it’s hard to deny the connection.
Image 1
Photo by Mica Habarad,  Habarad Creative Photo
I have also painted a number of paintings using the skull symbol. I painted this painting in 2015 after visiting family in Colorado. It’s definitely Georgia O’Keeffe inspired with Fischers Peak in the background, the peak behind my grandparents house where my dad grew up.
So we’ve addressed my previous mild obsession with skulls as imagery. Now onto my
process for this project. The first phase in the process of working on artwork for this post was a loss of words and ideas, which seemed fitting. I spent a few days thinking about things that reminded me of my dad and looking at old photographs. I struggled to find imagery or theme for an artwork from these things that didn’t feel contrived in some way. Then I turned to the sky and decided to do some cloud studies to get things going. Clouds are fleeting and ever changing and when you draw or paint them, your artwork is fluid and moving. When thinking about my own loss I am more pulled towards the present every day moment which is interesting because would have thought it would be easy to get lost in the past. Maybe it’s my way of meditating, of sitting with my loss, acknowledging it and then letting it be. The first four “doodle paintings” I made all started out as cloud studies and changed into more dreamlike images. These were definitely process paintings that evolved quickly and I had to let go of my idea of finished product ( which is hard when you’re creating work to share via the internet).
Image 3Image 4Image 5Image 6
Then came the skull symbol, more contrived and perhaps less personal but somehow where I needed to go. In this one, either my childhood obsession with the movie “Ferngully” is coming out or I’m commenting on loss and re-birth. I added the ladybugs from one of my favorite memories of hiking the rim of a volcano in New Mexico with my family when my dad was alive and seeing clusters of millions of ladybugs covering every surface like corn on the cob. This painting combines memories, new growth and of course, the cutsie skull.
Image 7
When explaining death to my 4 year old, I describe how the body goes back to the earth
and becomes energy for other living creatures. The person’s spirit stays alive in us; our actions, memories and stories. American culture has a hard time talking about death because it leaves us vulnerable. Moreover as an atheist, I don’t have the easy explanation of heaven as an alternate place where people go. In my narrative, there is not a clear answer or happy ending. In my narrative loss is biology, nature, mystery and most importantly a reflection of the deepest kind of love.

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