Marco-coffin-01

Death inspiring life

An artist giving life to a coffin! Death inspiring life! The creative way to go!It started with a phone call from a collector couple who asked if I knew a beginner artist who might be interested in painting a coffin for their mother who was passing. 

I immediately thought, ‘I have to do this.’ They’re such wonderful people who have supported my career. The biggest fear I had was messing up. 

I said, ‘Pay me what you want.’

But in addition to this gesture of my respect for them, as an artist, I also saw it as the most wonderful opportunity to do something I wouldn’t normally do. And from the beginning, I loved having the coffin so much in my studio I actually missed it when finally it was taken away.

I started by asking questions, such as what theme they had in mind. They said she loved dahlias and had them in her garden, so I had photos of her flowers sent to me and I looked up the symbolism of dahlias. I saw they represented love and other qualities she admired and held herself. It also meant the coffin would have great colour and line.

It’s not often I paint flowers, so this was going to be a new and exciting adventure. Painting the dahlias in a way that was as expressive as how I would tackle all my subjects was important to me. 

I immediately thought of Van Gogh’s flowers and how every brush mark was filled with pulsating life – the essence of the artist’s energy and marks had to be visible.

I didn’t make any sketches but had this thought that it would look interesting to have the flowers and leaves growing all over the coffin as if the coffin was on the ground and overgrown with the effects of time passing. Life growing out of death. 

I had photos of the flowers in various positions so that the images would be varied and interesting. 

I loved the ways they changed with light, so I accentuated the flickering effects and tried to give each petal an expressive essence.

Firstly, before painting the flowers, I needed to give the coffin two coats of gesso as the brown of the super-strong cardboard was not an ideal background. I wanted the white to show through the painting, so there are lots of bright passages throughout; the sketchy quality of the artwork suggests that our lives are the same: sketchy, unfinished, ever-hanging and evolving. Also, it would have bored me to paint the flowers in a photo-realistic way, which often means less life and energy.

Firstly, before painting the flowers, I needed to give the coffin two coats of gesso as the brown of the super-strong cardboard was not an ideal background. I wanted the white to show through the painting, so there are lots of bright passages throughout; the sketchy quality of the artwork suggests that our lives are the same: sketchy, unfinished, ever-hanging and evolving. Also, it would have bored me to paint the flowers in a photo-realistic way, which often means less life and energy.

I knew that the poet John Donne lived with his coffin in the last year of his life and would often climb into it and sometimes sleep in it to familiarise himself with death. I didn’t go quite as far as Donne, but the coffin did sit in my studio for a couple of weeks and I would return to it at various times to add more and more growth, slowly tending to the painted garden, giving to it with as much love and care as I could achieve with my brush.

But what to do with the lid? I decided to paint the sky on the lid, as a metaphorical “heaven”, whatever that might mean for anyone. 

I thought I would leave it like that, but then decided to allow the flowers and leaves to encroach onto the front. That was fun. This sculptural form that started brown and lifeless was now burgeoning with flowers, and green and blue splashes of colour. It was all starting to come together, and that sense of an ending pulled me into the final touches in a kind of frenzy of mark making. I decided to coat it with varnish to give a shiny quality, so that the flowers would appear to be brimming with life.

Marco Luccio is an award-winning artist whose work is represented in over 25 major public collections both nationally and internationally. He has demonstrated in solo and group shows in New York and given lectures and demonstrations in various New York Institutions. For more biographic information please visit marcoluccio.com.au/about/ 

Contact Marco Luccio at:

P: 0409 008 357

E: info@maroluccio.com.au

W: marcoluccio.com.au 

All photos: Robert Wagner

Other High-quality images available on request

Marco Luccio paints dahlia coffin. Photo: Robert Wagner

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email