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Sunday, 11 March 2012

Death's Heads [Self Portraits 6th series]

Chosen to Play the Prince of Denmark

The Black Series of Self Portraits [see previous blog page] branched off into this Death's Head series when I started to incorporate the Skull motif into the pictures. 
Here I select some of those self portraits with the skull motif.
 [All pictures created February to early March 2012, using white pencils on black card in most cases. The colour pictures were done using pastels]
The Grin of Death

The title refers to the axial relationship between the skull and the self in these pictures.
They orbit around each other, ushering in new phases and ages in that ever spiraling and cyclical fashion. And as the ancients thought the soul was housed in the skull, and that the universe is ultimately mind, and therefore soul, then these pic
tures symbolise the systole and dystole of all Ex-istence. 

And Mind creates its own Dwelling, the Skull, just as, from the outside, War creates the battle Helm. So it was foolish of those critics to mock Lovis Corinth for making self portraits in his armour. As the astute armourer says, a suit of armour offers a portrait of its wearer. Our bodies are soul armour - this is why I have painted my skin as blue here. One is reminded of Wilhelm Reich and his idea of character armour.

Skull Bombs Overhead


I rest my hand on the skull to symbolise my honour and my dedication to the Black Arts.
A ghostly alter ego appears in the mirror gazzing out towards other worlds, while the door to the upper world is closed, but its light seeps through the cracks.
The meaning is that I am committed to this existence in the underworld, while my spirit self will freely range about in other worlds - including the wretched world that we call 'life'.

I Drink of the Beaten

Inspired by the custom of decapitating an enemy,
Breaking open their skull and drinking from it as a cup.
Byron famously wrote a poem on such.
‎'Death Looks Gigantically Down'.

 The title is a quote from a line of Edgar AlanPoe.
The ace of spades, symbolising death, is analogous to the Death card of the Tarot deck [which just happens to be number XIII].
The spade is a sword, in actual fact.
Quantum Declension

 Obviously, there is an implication of evolution here - a certain Neanderthalism has crept in, no doubt an atavism; I suspect that the European races are descended in part from Neanderthals.
However, I dwell in the surmise that if anything, humanity is in the throes of devolution and that Neanderthals may have been 'superior' to Hom
o Sapiens Sapiens - spiritually superior, if you will allow that.
That there may have been evolution in the far distant past, I don't doubt, and it most likely occurred in 'quantum leaps', rather than graduality.
Therefore, our present devolution is to be seen in the form of quantum declensions, and not the chronic decline usually reckoned. But decline needn't be seen as a bad thing.
 As I slide into ever deeper decline I become more decadent, it is true, but I also become more profound.
And in art, the Decadents and the Symbolists certainly resonate with me more than ever.
However, I doubt if we can seriously put in all the mythological symbols in our pictures today that they did - with perfect justification - in the 19th Century.
The symbolism is always implicit today, while the trajectory is towards simplicity.
The skull is one of the few remaining symbols that still has a deep effect on us.
That is why it is a perfect counterpart to my self portrait series.
And who today can really say that they are ready for a 'real' self portrait?
That is for the future, when mankind will once again have approached the sheer nakedness of the Ancient Greeks.
Only then can it start to speak of 'evolution' once more.
Yes, the Hellenes were the last people who could reasonably be called 'evolved' in my book.
This picture then, is my contribution to this debate.

Badged in Black
Title derived from the Bard's "badged with blood" [Macbeth] of course. Guilt there did reveal itself like a badge, just as death doth here do similar. Death, black death, reveals itself in the very midst of the artist's idealisation of his-self. He wears his death like a badge. The title also echoes the AC/DC song, 'Back in Black', which song - as far as one can gather - is about getting over death. Does one eternally bounce back from death ... From one's own death?
Death's Sib

There is something very simian about this. I imagine that the Neanderthals believed in an afterlife.
The skull is like the profile - it is one of those forms that has subliminal recognition amongst primates.
The most primal symbols, the most potent symbols.

In this picture, I caught myself giving a covetous look in the glass and quickly limned it in white chinagraph on black paper. I then let the contours flow into the deaths head who seemed to show me some affection and we fused. I changed the title from 'black brothers' to 'deaths sib', prefering the sound of the latter to the rather commonplace former. My look is somewhat coy and not a little ironic; well, we are playing with necrophiliac thematics here, and this must be handled with a rictus grin at the very least, and a Kali necklace thrown in for good measure.

Skullar Kontours
In this picture I used two mirrors to make the profile drawing of myself. 
I have resisted doing this before as one no longer makes direct gaze with oneself.
 And this self-portrait project has been very much about the 'gaze'. However, even in profile the gaze is apparent in all its intensity and so this may be the first of various self portraits using the profile. 
As happens so often in my drawing, the line starts to take on a life of its own and begins to flow - with just a hint of abstraction - in an almost a topographic fashion; hence the title of this drawing. 
The medium is white pencil, white pastel pencil, grey Aquatint pencil and white chinagraph pencil on smooth black paper. I am tending to favour the white pencil [by Caran d'Ache] for most of the drawing, using the others for any highlighting or blending etc. 
The key in these drawings is to keep things as simple as possible, as the Spirits prefer open spaces.

Owner of the Void

 The title is from one of my own poems I posted elsewhere on this blog last year, I think.
The symbolism here is elusive. Essentially though, it probes the futility of ownership so vaunted by some living beings.
So it is a vanitas picture.
It points to the torturous and sado masochisitic relation between self and others.
It also makes a point about the relative nature of existence where ultimately the Void outlives and owns us all. It is also a visual reference to Diogenes in his tub.
Freedom is in poverty.

I Mourn the Pangs of Pan's Bitter Sweet Passing

In this picture, the self portrait element has become like a glyph, a symbol - a hieroglyph, if you like.
While the skull element here is becoming more like a 'still life' - 'Vanitas'. 'Vanitas' meaning 'emptiness' - the pessimist
ic expression behind such still lifes. Here I mourn the slow death [hence pangs] of the god of intoxication. Gods take centuries, even milleninia, to die, and so to live through their death throes is simply chronic.
 But death is part of the mythos of this god too! [Hence 'bitter sweet']
He dies to return, eternally.

The self portrait has taken on the aspect of the mask, and indeed the mask begins to appear in subsequent self portraits.