Elliot Ohnmacht

Elliot Ohnmacht, Roswell, acrylic on canvas

In Memoriam

In February, my grandfather died. This was the first substantial loss I have ever felt, and I am very thankful that it took me 20 years to experience a death so impactful on my life. At the same time, I feel lost because I’ve never had to deal with something like this. Losing him sparked this series. We don’t even realize how many forms death comes in. Through these works, I’m trying to figure out what it means to die. I still don’t know, if I’m honest. But then again, I don’t think we can ever really know. So, while I’m trying to figure that out, I’m also looking at the different types of death.

Jaw, Acrylic on Canvas, 2″x3″, 2020

Within this series, I am using many different mediums: acrylics and oils, collage, digital painting, and dry media. I chose to use a wide breadth of media to express my understanding and feelings surrounding death. Each piece takes a different form, but there is a thread that ties them together: Empathy and love.

Roswell, Acrylic on Canvas, 12″x12″, 2020

In each piece about my grandfather, I show the ways in which he loved me, how I loved, and continue to love him, and how those of us left in his wake are struggling to redirect that love. When he passed, I reached out to support groups for grief, and one person shared a quote with me. Jamie Anderson said, “Grief is just love with no place to go.” This is how I’m trying to redirect it.

In each of my bone pieces, I show how the bones are not objects that I own, but rather companions that I care for. I have a belief that if I am meant to find something, I will. If I find a pile of deer bones in the woods, that is my cue. That is the spirit of the deer calling to me, saying “I’m still here.” I take the bones with me, I clean them, I care for them. It’s my way of honoring their spirit, and their death. Every animal I find is precious to me, and that is what I try to show in my paintings. Like the artist Josephine Halvorson, I use delicate blending techniques to soften the subject that is normally shown as horrific and gory. Instead, through my blending and color, I bring warmth and lightness to it. Halvorson’s Carcass does this very well. It depicts a carcass of a dead animal, but it’s neither clinical nor shocking. It feels alive.

Cradle, Acrylic on Canvas, 12″x12″, 2020

Even my wasp piece shows that even the smallest beings deserve love and understanding. I combine this feeling with messages that I want to say to the departed. Similar to Bruce Nauman’s piece, One Hundred Live and Die, I use repetition to create the feeling of an echo. However, I layer the text in a way that makes it harder to read and understand. The intent is to create a feeling of eavesdropping for the viewer. I am not speaking to you in this piece, I am speaking to the dead.