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Reliquary: Letters to the Dead
Reliquary: Letters to the Dead
Glass urn, dirt, hand composed letters
20" x 14" x 10"

"Life in a death denying culture drives me to make work that addresses themes of mortality, grief, loss, and reclamation. Through the use of abstracted forms inspired by religious iconography I create nonrepresentational works of art that are organic, ephemeral, and confrontational. Process, research, interaction, and materials are important to the success of the minimal imagery that remains from the broken down components of my heavily conceptual artwork. I make deliberate choices in color, shape, texture, and overall designs to retain elements that are both universally recognizable and autobiographical.

How our culture thinks about death, processes loss, and reclaims our lives in the face of mortality are concepts that I explore in works on paper, painting, sculpture, and site specific installation. The exploration of collective grief and the preservation of ourselves and loved ones after death are of interest to me as I face my own mortality on a regular basis. I take comfort in knowing that much like birth, death is an experience I share with people all over the world.

The organic forms that I create embody a permanent post mortem identity and symbolize the human desire to preserve – to preserve myself, my memories, and my legacy. The elevation that occurs after death, and renders the dead untouchable of ill will or ill saying, is infinitely fascinating to me. These concepts are solidified in my work through use of material. Both traditional media, (India ink, embroidery thread, 24K gold leaf, paper, pencil, etc.) and ephemeral media (livestock blood and dirt) juxtapose the preciousness of life and the imminence of death. I use color palettes that are drawn from religious works of art – gold, red, black, white, along with earth tones to symbolize the natural world’s ability of reclamation. The shape of a circle is ever present in my work as an icon that takes on many forms; halos, an enso, mandalas, or dream catchers. Geometric sewn elements balance the intense concepts with a stability that each of us tries to achieve with the balance of life and our awareness of death. My work is at face value somewhat meditative in appearance but becomes confrontational through the use of material and title choices. Through intentional mark making and titling of each piece my work develops a narrative and allows the autobiographical elements to take shape.

Through the exploration of material and objects I hope to create environments that can be used to reflect, process, and engage viewers with emotions and dialogues that are not easily discussed. Death does not have to be feared, it can be celebrated through life, memory, and reclamation."

Crystal Gale Phelps, 2014