We must congregate as mourners before God and pray that the community of Humankind wake up in time. If this will take a miracle, then we must resolve to be part of it. – RR
The Work of Mourning
A few years later in February 2005 I was invited to show at Garfield Artworks in Pittsburgh and used the opportunity to exhibit “Ship of Fools” in real time and space surrounded by the paintings that I did in the late ‘90s on the theme of the Holocaust for which there were two distinct groupings. The paintings immediately surrounding “Ship of Fools’ were equally large – around ten by twelve feet, as were two others directly across the room. All had the same buffed light cadmium red color field on which a single figure in a fetal position was drawn in brushed burnt umber like prehistoric cave painting.
Drawing of Mummified Body, 1963
Try to imagine figures twenty feet high if standing. These were the very last paintings I did on this subject. They, like the smaller, life size figures that came before, represent one isolated human. The motif had been with me for thirty-five years. As a student I had been struck by the image of a body buried in a fetal position and naturally mummified by the Egyptian climate. It was in the Carnegie Museum, and I had done a series of drawings and prints of it. I thought of these as some of my most profound images. And so when I came across a photo of a similar body, it set the course for these last paintings.The image itself has a quiet dignity and poignancy. One doesn’t need to explain it further.
Lithograph of Mummified Body, 1963
“Ashes in the Wind – The Work of Mourning” by sheer accident fell approximately two weeks after the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz that was marked by a commemoration sponsored by the United Nations and some 150 nations to include other acts of violence against humanity.
I, likewise, dedicated the exhibition as a time of reflection about the intolerance that people feel towards others who are “different’. And I had included “Ship of Fools” to signify the similarity in the present administration’s acts of repressing opposition to its foreign policy and how war systems drag whole populations into violence. When I wrote the following for the announcement to the exhibition I was thinking about the violence erupting in Iraq and elsewhere.
“It is almost impossible not to have the shadow of the Holocaust fall onto any image that I make that depicts vulnerability, loss, or violence against the weak. Now, more than ever, sorrow falls on all people. We must mourn, not only for the suffering of the innocent, but also for the loss of compassion we feel for anyone different from ourselves.”
Artist with Chamber, 1997