Michael Callaghan Survey Show - Life and Death 2006

Callaghan’s fascination with cultural imagery around death, focused sharply by his personal battle with mortality were the impetus for this series. Part self-portrait and completely a defiant putting face to death in an explosion of colour.

Michael Callaghan’s health started to deteriorate in the early 1990s when he was diagnosed with liver failure and in 1993 Callaghan received a liver transplant, “Survival is the key…Face to Face with mortality…medicine becomes like a normal activity…how can the medical profession know what all the side effects are….I am an experiment.”

In 1997, during one of Callaghan’s extended stays in hospital he began to make a series of intensely coloured bone paintings. The high-pitched flouro colour scheme that had launched Redback posters back in 1979 was now transfused into a set of skeletal remains. This monumental series came out these bone paintings,- Memento Mori and Flos Mortis, explore how an artist can represent or commemorate death when contemporary media and televisual numbing make Guernica a weekly event. In part a self-portrait of a person facing up to and laughing at death. This work still examines death in the way that societies in other parts of the world have dealt with it. By celebrating the afterlife, with special festivals such as Mexico’s ‘Day of the Dead’ or the Catholic celebration of ‘All Souls Day’ and the stories surrounding ‘Lives of the Saints’ examining what is a ‘good’ death. The works are challenging, subversive and courageous. “This exploration of what in some contexts seems brutal or frightening is dealt with in an explosion of colour, effrontery and irony.

Callaghan still responds with the same reflex of ’thumbing his nose’ at the unyielding authority figure of ‘death’, and levity and pathos.” Forward from MICHAEL CALLAGHAN: 1967-2006 A SURVEY curated by Therese Kenyon then Director, Manly Art Gallery & Museum. “The paintings of the Flos Mori (Flowers of Death) and Memento Mori series are precisely made, in a smooth slick style that is reminiscent of hard edge paintings of the early 1970s. But layers of meaning are found in the sculptural works which use an assemblage of cut-out ’bones’ with other objects, to create images of lives of the saints. Santa Lucia of Syracuse (who was blind) has eyeballs on a plate and a lamp, while Santa Chiara d’Assisi, patron saint of television, television writers, telephones, telegraph has bones that must listen to relentless day-time television, a concept far removed from the life of the original Poor Clare.

In the end, when life is over, bones are also a part of the stories that become myths - exemplary tales from the dead, told to guide the living.” Excerpt from Joanna Mendelssohn Review, ArtLink, March 2007.

Operation Iraqi Freedom
Momento Mori 1
Michael Callaghan - 2006


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