Trauma, Art, Grieving, and Memento Mori

IMG_20190330_142939Our inaugural blog comes from artist Charles Clary, who was kind enough to design our MMM logo. Clary recently won the $12,500 People’s Choice 2D award at the regional art competition ArtFields in South Carolina, as well as the Jury Chosen $2,000 Merit Award for his piece “Memento Morididdle.” Follow his recent work on his website and his instagram

My work stems from the loss of both my mother and father due to smoking related cancers in February of 2013. Their passing left a deep void in my life that led to my interest in Memento Mori, or the act of coming to terms with ones own mortality. Through this investigation I came to terms with the trauma of my childhood and the lack of memories I actually have.

Trauma is something we all unfortunately share and mine started early in life and continued well into my young adulthood. My parents were unhappily married and divorced when I was in the 5th grade. My father soon abandoned us and my mother turned to alcohol. She became a functioning alcoholic and chain-smoker while my father sunk into severe alcoholism and eventually became homeless. At the same time my mother became an animal hoarder and at the worst point had 15 feral dogs living within our home. I was ruthlessly picked on growing up due to the stench one would associate with the house I was living in and it was hard to make friends. I turned to art and music as a theraputic release from reality not knowing how big a part it would eventually play.

I eventually escaped this life earning my BFA in painting and later my MFA. While I still maintained a relationship with my mother, resentment, anger, and sadness were ever present. After my mother suffered a near fatal heart attack in the summer of 2006 she quite drinking but continued smoking. No matter what was said or how much I pleaded she hung on to that habit, and in 2012 was diagnosed with stage 4 small cell carcinoma. Meanwhile, around the same time, my father was diagnosed with mouth, throat, and esophageal cancer due to his smoking. It was a long ugly battle for both of them, and on February 16, 2013, my mother lost her battle with cancer; two weeks later so did my father.

How does one come to terms with losing one parent let alone two in such a short period of time? Granted they were’t the poster children for great parenting, but they were my parents. The loss was severe and overwhelming to say the least. I stopped making art for a time and battled alcohol myself as a poor coping mechanism. But eventually I turned to the thing I knew best, the surrogate that nurtured me in my darkest childhood days: my artwork. I began to contemplate memento mori and memento vivere / remember you will die / remember to live. Little did I know that this would become the impetus behind several bodies of work that continue today.

I began to think alot about my childhood, and as I did I realized how little memory I had. This was un-nerving to say the least. It was difficult to remember happy moments or even traumatic ones, though those stood out more prevalent than any other. This is when I stumbled into my discarded frames work. Frames usually encapsulate a cherished moment of elation and celebration. I was somewhat unfamiliar with this idea because we never really took many photos so there isnt much documentation of my growing up. I always found family photos a bit odd because they seemed like posed moments stuck in time. I was more drawn to the moments we dont see the things we hide away in dark corners to never be spoken of. These traumas or “beautiful scars” as I like to call them, are to be remembered, more so than the posed moments. These instances force us to make decisions, to take the right rather than the left, to push beyond what we think we are capable of and more often than not make us stronger and more resilient.

I began to collect discarded frames from antique stores, and thrift shops. They felt abandoned and forgotten much like my memories and trauma. By incorporating my paper sculptures into these frames they are imbued with new life. Each opening resembles a scar, a wound, or even a disease. They challenge the viewer to face the unfaceable and reflect on the past while reorienting their own personal traumas. They are installed in salon style groupings reflecting on the southern United States home and the collection of memories found in hallways or staircases.

The overwhelming nature of each installation is purposeful as trauma feels like the heaviest of burdens something that time often doesnt heal. But there is a hopefulness with the saturation of color and delicateness of each cut.

Charles Clary was born in 1980 in Morristown, Tennessee. He received his BFA in painting with honors from Middle Tennessee State University and his MFA in painting from the Savannah College of Art and Design. He has shown in exhibitions at Galerie EVOLUTION-Pierre Cardin in Paris, France, Pierogi Gallery and Nancy Margolis Gallery in New York, Spoke art in San Francisco, and museum shows at Mesa Contemporary Art Museum, Gadsten Museum of Art, Currier Museum of Art and Cornell Museum of Art. Clary has been featured in numerous print and Internet interviews including, WIRED magazine (US and UK), Hi Fructose,, Bluecanavs Magazine, and This Is Colossal, as well as a recent feature in American Craft Magazine. He was also featured in the Art On Paper Art Fair with Kenise Barnes Fine Art in 2014 and with Paradigm Gallery in 2017. He has also been featured in publications including 500 Paper Objects, Paper Works ,Paper Art, Papercraft 2, PUSH: Paper, and The New Twenties.