Hugo Crosthwaite’s Morbid Curiosity

For many artists and collectors, Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy” provided the imaginative prose needed to formulate notions about the afterlife. Growing up in Tijuana, fine artist and self-taught savant Hugo Crosthwaite carefully examined the masterful drawings of Gustave Doré amongst the pages of his Father’s edition growing up. (Above, Gustave Doré, The Inferno, Canto 7).

An important fact to keep in mind while reveling in Hugo Crosthwaite’s latest epic installation, “Death March.” Hugo’s work is fluid, moves before you and engulfs your eyes. “Death March” is comprised of 30 large panels, (10x25 feet), celebrating the ceremonial traditions of culturally inspired death processions. “Death March” was originally commissioned by macabre Chicago collector, Richard Harris and recently was unveiled at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Thirty years in the making, Richard Harris amassed a massive collection comprised of more than 1000 skulls and skeletons, paintings, sculptures and installation compositions. Richard’s entire collection has recently presented this collection as one unified exhibition entitled, “Morbid Curiosity,” now on display through July 8, 2012 at the Chicago Cultural Center. (Above, Gustave Doré, 1832-1883, French). (Above, artwork by Laurie Lipton (L), Richard Harris (R) ).

Richard Harris approached Hugo Crosthwaite in 2010 and commissioned him to create a dramatic entry piece of a scale and proportion that would overwhelm the senses. No stranger to articulating his artistic vision in large scale, Hugo Crosthwaite has created many murals and large-scaled works on paper mounted on panel. Hugo applies a graphite infusion technique to the paper’s surface—a careful mix of graphite, charcoal and varnish. (Above, Death March, 10x25,' graphite on paper mounted on wood panel, 2010—2012).

Hugo Crosthwaite describes, “This work is a death march in the tradition of funerary marches where family, friends and general onlookers follow the deceased to their final resting place. At first glance, the drawing has the appearance of a festive occasion. There is a mass of characters, clumped together in groups, supporting and carrying effigies of death; puppets and floats that resemble a South American Carnival or a Mexican Day of the Dead procession. But with closer examination, these groups are a grotesque ensemble of human and monstrous figures that inflict death upon one another through war, rape, murder and disease. There is dark humor and contemplation over the concept of an afterlife, as all the characters march forward into what is an inevitable end.”

Hugo Crosthwaite’s “Death March” references masterful works: Peter Bruegel’s “Triumph of Death” (Top), engravings by Jose Guadalupe Posada of the Mexican Revolution (b/R) and James Ensor’s, “Skeletons Fighting for the Body of a Hanged Man” (b/L).

Richard Harris’ “Morbid Curiosity” occupies over 14,000 feet as he defines the crux of his exhibition, “We are all born to die. The questions that fascinate me are how we will die, where will we die and when will we die,” said Richard Harris. “At the age of 74, I believe it is incumbent upon me to make my collection a paean to death in all its many visages.” (Above, examples of the work featured in “Morbid Curiosities,” Far Right—Vanitas Still Life with a Bouquet and a Skull by Adriaen-van-Utrecht).

Hugo Crostwaite’s work is layered with visual prose—a signature narrative that can be absorbed in each individual panel or as a whole. Hugo explains, “The bottom procession is the reality of death, suffering, turmoil and physical mortality. It also reflects on the nature of mourning and the fear of an existential void after death. The top, mystical and ethereal, is composed of puppets and death effigies. It presents the more abstract notion of death, the spiritual idea of an afterlife and the hope of reuniting with the dead.” (Above, Hugo Crosthwaite featured in “Survey Select” curated by Mark Murphy, San Diego, CA, 2010).

Hugo’s work is dense in narrative with deeply personal references and a visual language that expands itself before you. And besides, “Who doesn’t love skulls?” Richard Harris certainly appreciates them and his eldest skull dates back to 4500 BC. “Morbid Curiosity” showcases the iconography and narrative centered around death. From Goya to Crosthwaite, decades of art collecting have been unified to dispel notions that the macabre is a fascinating art perspective. In fact, kind thanks to Richard Harris for illuminating his personal vision and extending invitation to hundreds of contemporaries to create dynamic works of art and for selecting Hugo Crosthwaite as an important contemporary artist.

And much like Dante’s epic allegory, Hugo Crosthwaite reveals his spiritual journey over 30 visual chapters to make up one unified masterpiece, “Death March.” Read “Brutal Beauty (archived review), more about Morbid Curiosity: The Richard Harris Collection, more of Hugo Crosthwaite’s work and a closer look at “Death March.” (Above, Hugo Crosthwaite, Sirenito, 5x7 inches, graphite, arches, 2010, collection of Mark Murphy).

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