Sepulchre of the Sun

Elizabeth Luallen, Artist

Sepulchre of the Sun, Endless Summer Painting by Elizabeth Luallen, circa 1985. Click on the image to purchase or send a free email.

There is always something fascinating to discover in the art of Elizabeth Luallen. This is her self-portrait. In inimitable wit, she is, at the moment the work is taking place, painting the piece. You can see her, under the umbrella, her back turned, under the straw hat.

She includes herself in the moment of creation. She understands that an artist can never be separated from her work: that artist and art are forever one.  She is well aware that objectivity is a metaphysical ritual better practiced in darkness. The bathers have disrobed and emerge from the cramped obscurity of the changing shed, in contrast to the infinitude of the sunny beach. Their faces are only distinguishable enough to convey a mood – anything more distracts us from the feelings we are invited to share. How little of an image can you see and still understand that person’s attitude and feeling in this moment? Innocent, coquettish, happy-go-lucky, forthright. Could these figures be here more in spirit than in flesh? Have they ‘changed’ out of their garments of this world?

You can see that the figure I have named ‘the artist’ is imbued with all the colors of the painting. The painting is within her, she within the painting. The bathers pose for the picture, while she ignores the camera. What interest has she in being seen, as it is she who is observer? Even so, in all honesty she has to admit that she can never escape her own painting. So, there she sits, shaded from the unforgiving sun.

The shed stands dilapidated; burnt, sun-worn. In other words, it is old. We know that it’s made of wood, and yet the colors suggest stone.The little shade enjoyed is a rapturous lavender or glowing maroon. The black inner compartment of the shed is altogether a different portal from another world: an aerie void. The shingle hanging above the double doors is nameless. It is, like an ancient sepulchre of the sun itself; the apparent but ineffable, from which this moment of creation has emerged. You enter, fully attired. You leave, practically naked, to be bathed in unrelenting light. But you can sense something is still waiting in there – something too powerful and awe-full to be described through color. Strangely, the door on the left resembles the spirit of a man. You can just make out his shirt collar, pants – even his boot points out to his right. His face in profile, expresses loss and mourning as the young people emerge. What does he know that no one wants to learn?

We live within our own selves. We can never escape this fact. We must learn to trust in our own feelings and understanding. The time for relying on others to explain things to us is rapidly reaching its end.

The Half-Told Story

Never underestimate the power of art to influence and affect how we see our world. The better the art, the more powerful its impact, but the more subtle its effect.

In “Red Shoes, Yellow Hat,” one of several works that include red shoes, by American artist Elizabeth Luallen (1935-1995), a woman relaxes on the lawn in an adirondack chair, gazing away, we know not where, contemplating the afternoon amidst quiet reading. We ought to share in that relaxation, but somehow we cannot. The grass burns like fire. Her shoes appear more like embers giving off greenish white smoke. A yellow hat covers her face, her expression hidden. Not even her neck can escape that chiffon dress. Only her hand and chin are visible. Obviously, she is wearing a yellow, straw hat. Obviously? Look again. That hat, skewed and worn, hides something significant. It is a strange hat. Could there be the suggestion that it is like a nun’s yellow habit? Yellow carries contradictory values in its symbolism. On the one hand, yellow symbolizes remembrance, sunshine, happiness, loyalty, and joy. On the other hand, it symbolizes cowardice and deceit. We see “on the one hand” rivulets of yellow.

endless summer paintings of Elizabeth Luallen

Red Shoes, Yellow Hat, original masterwork by artist Elizabeth Luallen (private collection)

Can you see what lies embedded in the straw “habit”? Can you see them? Lovers in the straw? [click on the image to view more closely]

Recollection of love broken through infidelity leaves perhaps the deepest of scars: the eternal dance of love and betrayal, whose only lasting remedy is spiritual lightening of being. The old, disfigured straw hat of yesteryear turns, through graceful contemplation, into a corona of acceptance.

A book lies face down on the grass, its story only half-told. We are left to end the story. Is the ending of peace or pain?

Trusting in Absurdity | art, absurdity, 20th century artists

Endless Summer works of Elizabeth Lallen

At the Beach, Elizabeth Luallen. You can buy this picture at Just click on the image.

In this Elizabeth Luallen masterwork, a brawny lifeguard carries a robust little lady; or does he? And if he is saving her, why is she fully dressed? Isn’t the man to her right really doing the heavy lifting? Garb suggests turn of the 20th Century. And yet, the man to the right, posing like an Abraham Lincoln preparing for The Gettysburg Address, is missing his pants.  Another woman looks on apologetically, lifted up by a couple. Everyone is posing for this picture. Everyone appears complacent in the everyday nature of this moment, even though it’s strange. A little man’s head protrudes from behind nude Abe’s left shoulder blade. A bird perches on the head of a stout woman who holds either a brownie camera or  a coffee mug. A young girl floats above, before a yarnball moon.

Disgruntlement, indifference, satisfaction, affection, aggrandizement, dutifulness, or awe: each person brings a different attitude to this imaginary photo.

The picture looks unfinished. Where sky and water end, so ends the picture. It evaporates at your feet. It waits for you to complete it. Without you, all of your feelings and opinions, it cannot be full. It waits for you to clothe it in meaning, significance, or beauty. Without you it hovers, like the girl, in a half-life of obfuscation, or like a statesman without his underwear.

We all face the absurdity of life. We try to understand, then end with a piece of the puzzle. Something is always missing, though. But what? Some of us believe we have found the missing piece. But its shape keeps changing. What was weird is now just another day at the beach. The strange things in life are simply experiences which patiently await our understanding or acceptance. We need to decide whether to trust that our own experiences have reason to exist, by virtue of the fact that they happened. We need to acknowledge that the mystery of faith lies in the belief that something matters not because it exists, but because we have finally rendered it whole through our own personal experience.