The Dead Man (The Dead Toreador)
Developed in 1953, the SCUBA “diver down” flag was designed as a safety precaution to alert other boaters to remain at least twenty feet away because a diver was near the surface of the water. Operating as a “plea” from the diver to other boaters for the space and time to inhabit the water. At that point, the diver down flag also functions as a memento-mori, a sign for the fleeting form of the body and the ontological problem of occupancy. Literally, when scuba diving, one can only occupy that space for a particular amount of time before one must resurface. Similarly, therefore the flag remains an emblematic sign of hard-edge Abstract painting and its lasting, discursive fetish with ‘the end’. This minimal, yet vibrant graphic design has become a way to image death from a variety of perspectives all at once; historical, national, political, ontological, and philosophical.
The emblem is painted in the center of a stretched canvas made to the dimensions of Edouard Manet’s painting “The Dead Man (The Dead Torreador),” as a dead bullfighter lays diagonal across his frame holding a flaccid pink flag. The original Manet painting was also larger, later cut in half, now occupying two institutional collections simultaneously, The Frick Collection in New York and The National Gallery in Washington.
This project initially began as one painting. Yet, slowly over the course of 5 years it has spread into multiple variations, a mural, a print project, wall paintings, and further appropriations of earlier variations of this work. Together these iterations have given the project its necessary performative value by positioning existence as that which gains content and clarity over time.