Memento Mori: Francesco Lombardo’s Skulls at Izzy’s

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Memento Mori: Francesco Lombardo’s Skulls at Izzy’s

  • Ali McGhee

    Ali McGhee is a journalist, creative writer, and academic. Her work has appeared in The Edgar Allan Poe Review, Romantic Circles, Symbiosis: A Journal of Anglo-American Literary...

Francesco Lombardo wants you to think more about death. The painter, a long-time resident of Marshall, NC, will be sharing some of his newest works with the Asheville community in a show that runs June 5 – July 2 at Izzy’s Coffee Den (74 N Lexington Ave).
Lombardo’s show is themed around the human skull, and will feature a large group of 4x5” pieces that each depict a skull as well as several larger drawings (22x30”) of a person holding a skull. “The idea behind the smaller paintings is to create a kind of stylized catacomb,” he says. “I became interested in the catacombs when I learned they were a venue for clandestine gatherings of cults, pirates, smugglers, and revolutionaries throughout history. This made me curious to know what sort of effect [the setting] had on the attendees while their meeting unfolded amid rows of skulls staring on from all sides, and if this effect . . . allowed for some kind of memento mori that offered them a clear mind to better realize their cause.”
The memento mori (Latin for “remember [that you have to] die”) is a familiar concept to many students of art and literature, and it was once a vital part of the everyday human experience beginning in the Classical era. Essentially, it’s a reminder that death is the one experience that every person shares. Being reminded of death is an opportunity not for despair, but rather for the shedding of vanity and greed, which opens us up to spiritual and metaphysical growth. Often associated with Christian (particularly medieval and Renaissance Catholic) traditions, the memento mori is a common feature of artistic works, showing up in the form of a skull—or sometimes a full skeleton—that can appear centrally or peripherally in paintings (in one famous example, The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger, the skull is embedded in an optical illusion).

Lombardo’s skulls are central here, and in the small pieces, they’re the only objects pictured. But while death might seem to be the only thing on the artist’s mind, in fact it is the interplay between movement and stasis that most interests him. He notes that “for the larger drawings I wanted to basically contrast life as something always in flux and moving, and death (the skull) as static and still.” Many of Lombardo’s works are, indeed, filled with light and movement, accentuating the organic flows of the human form as it inhabits time and space. The interaction of the complementary elements of stillness and activity, stasis and flow, is part of Lombardo’s larger artistic vision and his desire to “continuously develop a refined style of painting and drawing that depicts complex spatial interactions and movement.”
Lombardo also engages with the themes of intentional pentimenti and sfumato. A pentimento (the Italian word for repentance) is a change made to a painting that does not fully cover the previous work, which results in palimpsestic layering within a given composition. Sfumato refers to a Renaissance painting technique that softened lines and borders, making them disappear like smoke (the root word, “sfumare,” means “to evaporate like smoke”). Lombardo also finds inspiration in later artists, like art noveau painter Alphonse Mucha, whose representations of figures highlight their dynamic beauty.
Izzy’s is a perfect venue for this show, and Lombardo will use darker spots in the café to great effect. Beyond the space itself, Lombardo notes that previous shows at the café have been among his most successful. “Izzy’s is a good venue for me because the staff and owner are artists, musicians, and people of all around good taste. It's also a great place for me to both sell new work (I've had more luck at Izzy’s than other galleries in Asheville, regardless of pricing) and show new work to friends and to a large community of like-minded makers that frequent the café.”
This is a great opportunity to support one of the finest painters in the Asheville arts scene. It’s also a chance to take home an original piece of art—the small pieces are especially affordable.