Our obsession with youth has spanned cultures, civilizations and even tempted a god or two along the way. Cleopatra swore that bathing in milk would sustain youthfulness, whereas modern day advertising promises magical skin-regenerative properties, equaled only by Photoshop magicians. The thrum of cosmetic advertisement, pharmaceutical produce and media reinforce the romanticized notion that youth is king. The Greek god Eos found the boon of immortality to be anything but satisfying in a bid to save the youthfulness of her beloved human lover, Tithonus. Which is why it’s easier for us to take these 5 steps to retire peacefully, an eternal life would be plagued with unhappiness and discontentment. As Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem artfully divulges, Tithonus was having anything but a lovely time:
‘[…] And after many a summer dies the swan.
Me only cruel immortality
Consumes; I wither slowly in thine arms,
Here at the quite limit of the world,
A white-hair’d shadow roaming like a dream’ […]
And tho’ they could not end me, left me maim’d
To dwell in presence of immortal you,
Immortal age beside immortal youth,
And all I was in ashes […]
Why wilt thou ever scare me with thy tears,
And make me tremble lest a saying learnt,
In days far-off, on that dark earth, be true?
“The Gods themselves cannot recall their gifts” ’
-Alfred Lord Tennyson, ‘Tithonus’
Immortality, as Zeus wryly put, was not eternal youth, nor freedom from the inevitability of aging.
Death could not find Tithonus and his body and mind continued to age beyond functioning. To put it kindly, he gave a new meaning to ‘living beyond your shelf life’…to put it the Greek way, ‘Time passed. Each morning Eos did her duty and opened the doors to a new day. The boys grew up and left home. The years succeeded each other with the remorseless inevitability that even gods cannot alter […] he followed the beautiful, ever young Eos around as faithfully and lovingly as ever. Please pity me, he would screech in his horse, piping tones. Kill me, crush me, let it all end, I beg’.
-Excerpt from Stephen Fry’s retelling of the Greek myths in his book, ‘Mythos’, 2018.
This cautionary Greek tale of the hubris and the selfish desire of gods was not enough to put-off modern science. The burden of freeing humankind from the limitations imposed by our bodies and minds has been taken on by science: biotechnology looks to nature for answers from the Turritopsis dohrnii, ‘the immortal jellyfish’. This fella’ is capable of reverting to a younger form of itself if exposed to environmental stress, physical assault…or inconvenienced by sickness or old age. This can theoretically go on indefinitely, rendering the jellyfish biologically immortal and ageless!
In the field of bionics headway is being made into transhumanism – the enhancing of human intellect and physiology through technology. With such advances, our human limbs will become biotic ones and nanobots will fight our diseases, not conventional medicine. Science fiction may well become science fact.
But what is this obsession with youth when ageing is inevitability and why do we shun ageing rather than celebrate it?
It is this imbalance that Jason Bard Yarmosky wanted to address in his art.
Elder Kinder started as a celebration of the inner youth we carry with us into old age and became a celebration of aging itself. This initial work challenged the western world’s obsession with youth and the stigmatization associated with aging. Dream of the Soft Look advanced this facet by interlinking the physical and psychological aspects of aging and laying them bare for all to see. No wrinkle was left unpainted, no thigh made slender, nor cellulite made taut. However, every bit of the models inner self remained present and in that moment. The result for Jason’s grandparents, the models of his earlier works, was a reconnection with their inner youth:
“[…] allowing us and bringing back that (youthful) part of us. It was always there, it just wasn’t used as much; you just helped us use it.”
It is testament to Jason’s artistry that he has been able to capture in his art the true essence of his subjects. The qualities of self-awareness, humour and warmth that you associate with the art are in the forefront of your mind, way before you realise that his grand-parents embody these qualities in real life. This is evident in Jason’s grandfather’s words on the modeling experience:
“Well, I never thought of being a model […] so many people are unhappy with their aging and are looking to go back to their past – which I was never interested in doing. I know what aging is and I don’t feel that I am old, although I am in years […] the only problem with that was that the costumes were tight and the football helmet almost crowned me.”
There has been real technical and conceptual growth from Jason since his first exhibit. The painting ‘Trick or Treaters’ (2013), for example, embodies all the work that came before it.
‘The idea of them (grandparents) dressed up is the same, but the fact that they’re trick or treating with these pumpkin baskets emphasises that they’re doing this as a thing. There is an idea that you can approach life with the same exuberance and interest as you age’.
It’s clear that Jason has achieved his goal. His work IS a celebration of aging in all its resplendent wrinkly glory. It’s evocative, it’s humorous, it’s sad but it’s hopeful. Viewing Jason’s work made me grin from ear-to-ear and reflect. Most importantly it encouraged me to engage with my parent’s about their experience of aging. My parents talked, they laughed, they reminisced and that youthful twinkle was knowingly present in their eyes as they did so.
It’s true what they say:
“The great thing about getting older is you never lose all the ages you’ve been”
– Madeleine L’Engle