It wasn’t long ago that humans believed the line between life and death was clean and clear-cut. Someone was dead when their breath no longer fogged a mirror and no heartbeat could be heard with an ear to the chest. But today, science and technology have blurred those boundaries to an amazing extent. We no longer look at life and death as distinct entities, but as part of a continuum. And more than ever before in human history, we are now grappling with the question, “When does life end and nothingness begin?”
Eric Lacombe is an artist whose work addresses that question in stunning and unexpected ways. A graphic designer, digital artist and painter who lives and works in Lyons, France, Lacombe creates mixed-media pieces that depict the ephemeral nature of consciousness through the juxtaposition of life, death and decay. Combining stark realism and pure fantasy, they invite us to contemplate the nature of life and death and the intellectual boundaries we erect to separate the known from the unknowable.
“I love the quiet drama the living exude whenever they are asleep, or tired of life, or even dead,” wrote Lacombe in a statement for his 2016 exhibition “The Weight of Silence” at The Last Rites Gallery. “Imagine the very moment before death, when life slips away and something new begins: this moment is truly precious, because everything is silent,” he adds.
And, indeed, Lacombe’s subjects appear suspended between worlds, neither wholly alive nor wholly dead, neither wholly human nor wholly something else. The images are neither violent nor disturbing, but rather solemn and melancholy — as if the subjects have been caught unaware, stunned into silent introspection as they contemplate the fact of their own demise. The contrast between the intricately detailed figures and the subtlety of the backgrounds further enhances this effect. The viewer senses that he is watching a life dissolve rather than end, and is prompted to ask the question, “What comes next?”
Of course, no one can answer that question, which seems to be the dominant message in Lacaombe’s oeuvre. Life is followed by decay, and the disintegration of the known into the unknown. Beyond that, at least for the foreseeable future, that is all any of us can know.