University of Southern California

Artist & Gallery

The Four Stages of Human Life

I am reminded of a James Ensor print entitled Myself in the Year 1960. He made it in 1860, and his image of himself was a skeleton! This etching - my first - was done about twenty-five years ago. I began with a dried-out skeleton. I remember that while incising the plate, I saw my face reflected in the mirror of the polished metal. Tilted upward, my features seemed askew and somehow frightening. Afterward I added the image of a mother and child. And many years later I added a title, The Four Stages of Human Life, referring to the four stages of my own life: child and mother, mother and child, myself, and the skeleton I would become.

The mother and child remind me of a squatter family I drew forty years ago. They and three other families - the homeless of that era - were living on a Mississippi levee in World War II army tents. The etching was part of my senior thesis at college, a pictorial documentation of their lives accompanied by some text, consisting of what they told me about themselves as I drew them.

So this project has its precursor. Once again I'm living with a group of people, recording what they say to me, drawing them at work. Only this time the group is far more privileged. Yet they are like a family too, united by a common commitment. And like a family, the doctors, staff, researchers, and support groups are of all ages - from very young to very old.

Years ago I understood that I worked best when I became so completely identified with what or whom I was drawing that I forgot myself. Then I could discern the harmony of the parts, the design of the whole. That is what I'm trying to do today.

-May Lesser

Excerpt & image from: Lesser, May H. An Artist in the University Medical Center. New Orleans, LA: Tulane University Press; 1989. p. 16-7.

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