In his mid thirties, the artist Frank Moore learned that he was HIV positive. His paintings took a new direction: “AIDS came to the fore,” he explained, “simply because it was affecting every aspect of my life.” When he was very near death, after a long struggle with the illness, Moore painted two works (“Everything I Own I” and “Everything I Own II”) based on the Buddhist mandala mudra, in which the entire physical universe is symbolically offered to the enlightened Buddhas and teachers. Traditionally, the practitioner holds a handful of rice in his palms and releases the mudra, symbolizing the relinquishment of all attachments. In Moore’s two paintings, the rice grains are replaced by the actual objects he held dear: his New York farmhouse, his clothes, his refrigerator.
The AIDS cocktail granted Moore a reprieve from death, and he lived nearly ten years after he produced the “Everything I Own” series. He eventually died of AIDS-related causes in April 2002, at the age of forty-eight.
“You’re supposed to imagine that each grain of rice is something that you own, or something you’re attached to, or something that is precious to you . . . At a certain point you throw it all up in the air, and it’s beautiful to see, like a wedding, and at that point you’re supposed to be releasing all these things, and letting go of your body. And your hands get sweaty and some of the rice grains just won’t come off. And that’s what most people [feel] when they’re getting ready to die; there are some things they just can’t let go of.”
—from an interview with Frank Moore by Sue Scott, December 2001
Image: Frank Moore, "Everything I Own II," 1993, oil on canvas on wood, 40" x 48"
© Frank Moore, Collection of Paul Gunther, Courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York