May Stevens (1924–2019) was an American artist, activist, teacher and writer. Her early work was shaped by political and feminist activism. In 1981, when her son tragically died, her art shifted direction, becoming lyrical and poignant. Water became a means of expressing grief for her lost loved ones, whose ashes she scattered in rivers, including her son, mother and husband. She began incorporating evocative words into her paintings from literary passages, cultural references, songs, thoughts and memories.
Stevens’ created two series of atmospheric landscape paintings focusing on water and words: Sea of Words (begun in 1990) and Rivers and Other Bodies of Water (begun in 2001).
The Band Played On portrays an assembly of smartly dressed skeletons on a swirling expanse of water. It presents a paradox of life and death; the skeletons are shown engaging with the fleeting pleasures of life, playing instruments, singing, painting and rowing a boat. ‘Los Temerarios’ references a Mexican band whose name means the reckless, rash, daredevils. Stevens’ work draws upon her personal experiences to reflect on the enduring theme of mortality.