Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos, 12x16 oil on panel

I recently showed up to a holiday lunch wearing an orange and black striped blouse and one of my witty sisters-in-law commented that I seemed to be not one but TWO holidays behind. I think this may be why! I've been working on paintings from some of the photographs I took in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico when we were there for their Dia de los Muertos celebrations (which falls at the same time as our Halloween).

Time spent observing their rituals was enormously moving. All over the city, in stores, restaurants, on the steps to homes, and most notably in the town squares there are altars created for those who have  passed away. They are thick with marigolds (the flower of remembrance) and a velvety bright magenta flower I had never seen before. The favorite food and drink of the departed are presented on lovely platters, bowls and glasses, there are photos of the person, and often items that they particularly loved or that represent what they enjoyed doing. The altars are decorated with candles, incense and often skulls or skeletons.

The painting above is of one small detail of a large altar in the public square. The festive crown of flowers pays tribute to the beauty and vibrance of the departed and the field of marigolds is an assurance of respect and remembrance. Crowds gather for 3 evenings to circle the square,  look at the altars and remember those lost, and to admire one another's costumes. Skeletons are everywhere, reminding us that it is simply a thin veil of flesh that seperate us from our ancestors and from those we have recently lost.

The first day I lay out the composition in light and dark values of Burnt Sienna

Once the value study has dried I return to the panel and paint over it placing the first layer of color and trying to adhere to the values I have made note of in the monochromatic underpainting.  Squint your eyes and look at this image and the value study above it and you'll see that I toyed with a different background idea.

In this session I decided to return to the darker background and added  a bit of the stone sidewalk rather than more marigolds. I continued to add definition to the flowers, trying to capture their countless layers of petals without getting too detailed. I tried to define how the sun came across the skull and it's flowers, and how the short wall behind it cast a shadow behind it. More than anything else, I tried to capture the beautiful vision of a culture that honors it's dead and continues to include them in their community and family life.

The finished painting is at the top of the post.