Dirk Staschke is a sculptor who knows how to stimulate the appetite while also turning the stomach. Drawing on the 16th century artistic tradition of vanitas — referring to morbid still life paintings from Northern Europe that depicted arrangements of bones, decaying fruit, and hourglasses — Staschke creates ceramic mountains of pastries and piles of organ meats and root vegetables. Initially, the soft colors and glistening glazes make the cornucopias seem innocent or even beautiful. However, like vanitas (“vanity” in Latin) — which symbolize the futility of life and the temporary nature of all earthly materials — Staschke’s works critique the fleeting and destructive power of human desire. Beautiful abundance becomes disturbing; the skinned animals and raw meats, although carefully arranged, remind us of our own bodily death and decay. Even the sweet pastries — flesh-toned and topped with a cherry — become gross and oddly cannibalistic, representing an insatiable urge to horde and consume that ends in self-destruction.
Not all of Staschke’s works are so obviously grotesque. In a series titled Translation, he features framed sculptural still lifes of flowers (in addition to the more obviously macabre meat arrangements). The 3D medium, however, unveils the compositions’ inner vanity and morbidity; look behind the sculptures, and you will see messy hollows, buttresses, and layers of sculpted construction. An appealing and seemingly flawless work of art becomes a false edifice for a grim and roughly-hewn interior. Whether comprising ceramic flowers or flesh, Staschke’s works demonstrate how beautified desires cover up an earthly reality of transience and rot.