michael byron, billy copley, david dupuis, dan fischer, rico gaston, tomoo gokita, leon golub, george horner, peter hujar, daniel johnston, dan mccleary, kelly mccormick, ana mendieta, tomas lopez rocha, james romberger, julie ryan, phil sims, aaron sinift, TABBOO!, stephen tashjian, marguerite van cook, valaire van slyck, mike walton, andy warhol, rob wynne…
Skulls have always been a fascination for humankind, as these mementos are left behind in whatever form the cessation of human or animal life occurs. Sheltering the brain from early on, the skull reposits thoughts, feelings, actions, consciousness, the joys and despairs of life; it is the control locus of the nervous system, the survival mechanisms, and so on.
Centuries ago skulls were favorite subjects of still-life paintings, embodying philosophical musings on the ephemerality and vanity of human endeavor in the form of vanitas (seventeenth-century still-life paintings). As a universal symbol a skull signals danger in many forms—either as a poison or a risky situation or, in a more social context, as a “keep out” or “enter at your own risk” sign on the doors of certain clubhouses. It warns of approaching dangers, such as terrorists or chemical warfare, or worse. And perhaps it is used as a protective talisman in fashionable settings that are glittery and exclusive and are meant to attract and seduce.
The proximity of love to death sharpens the focus of the power of this symbol, spilling over into artistic contemplations on the nature of beauty (and truth). From serious recognitions and reflections to comic-like interpretations or uses, this pervasive symbol loses none of its force, no matter the lofty or the lowly purpose to which it is attached.