Britney Spears wants to be cryogenically preserved, as did Michael Jackson. The apocryphal myth has it that Walt Disney did too. We have the lucrative field of cosmetic surgery with its desire to stave off the degenerative processes of old age. The pervasive desire to keep youthful, to preserve our existence. and the many variations that exist, are attempts to deny Mother Nature her destructive processes.
I have to say, I am not entirely adverse to the concept of preserving one’s existence, albeit in a metaphorical sense. As an artist there is always a desire to create a legacy beyond the here and now. I am ever conscious of wanting to pass something down the line, or a vainglorious attempt to leave behind a body of work which may somehow be appreciated in the future.
I have recently increased my minor amber collection. There is a distinct difference to my latest piece: it contains a biological inclusion: fossil. I am reliably informed that these flies, in their perfectly preserved form, are approximately 40 million years old. This strikes me as an instance of where Mother Nature and her desire to yield all matter back to the earth, has only partially suceeded. This is nature’s cryogenics of sorts, as are the instances of mammoths frozen in time within Siberian glaciers, or the Tollund Man found in a peat bog - a naturally mummified corpse of a man who lived during the 4th century BCE. Apparently, the man’s physical features were so well-preserved that he was mistaken at the time of discovery for a recent murder victim.
The butterfly has long been a symbol of the zenith of beauty in nature, and not necessarily in living form. We still manage to appreciate the beauty of these creatures in books, and in specimen cases. I have four butterflies which are mesmerising and beautiful to look at. However, they are dead and pinned to a board! Observing their beauty is not an experience altogether different from the butterfly exhibition I viewed recently at the Natural History Museum last year – though these were alive! Their beauty, dead or alive, somehow still remains.
I have raised Peacock butterflies from caterpillars, watched half a dozen hatch and fly around in a special net nursery I keep in my living room. The kids love it, as do the adults in the family. This beauty can also be seen in amber, in specimens of incarcerated butterflies, just like the specimens I have on my wall. So, in a sense, beauty can exist for 40 million years in a state of perfect preservation - though dead.
Some 12 years back I went to a fascinating exhibition by the German doctor Gunther von Hagens. Michael Jackson missed the time period for cryogenic preservation, but von Hagens had apparently agreed with Jackson’s people that he would be plastinated: Bubbles, Jackson’s pet monkey had been plastinated some years before - alledgely. It was apparently Jackson’s final request to be united with Bubbles. So it seems his desire for immortality had a spiritual as well as aesthetic dimension. To take a creature’s veins and arteries and fill them with plastic, to preserve this vast arterial network truly seems a thing o fiction.
Nature has a fascinating way of returning all matter back to earth, and yet reveals glowing instances of where it manages to preserve aspects of its own creations.
So, why does this all interest me? What ties these disparate strands together is preservation. I was raised in a world where, to a degree, the beauty around me often felt as though it was continually being destroyed. I’m not referring to physical beauty but rather the beauty of say a family life, the beauty of my brother and his life which was blighted by illness. And so the beauty of a childhood life often felt like an ephemeral thing, and part of me has always wanted to be able to somehow find a way of preserving aspects of beauty. And I guess this is why I turned to painting, to seek out the objects I find fascinating, inspiring and beautiful and metaphorically preserve them in oil and canvas.
To see these paintings you can go to
Anthony Parke’s website at: