The skull of homo sapiens is an image with a huge number of reflections in the art of completely different eras. The bone part of the head has symbolized danger, death, aggression for many centuries. But the main thing is the symbol of the inevitability of death. Therefore, artists continue to depict the skull in their works. We will analyze how the “cranial themes” were interpreted in the most famous, cult or interesting works of the 20th century and modern samples.
Salvador Dali. «In Voluptas Mors»
In 1951, the great artist, together with the ancestor of surrealism in photography, Philip Halsman, created a picture of “In Voluptas Mors”, which can be translated from Latin as “Death in Delight.”
The skull consists of seven nude models. The picture, which was created three hours, is inspired by the genre of Baroque painting called vanitas. Still lifes of this trend are united by the desire to show the transience of life, the inevitability of death and the uselessness of pleasures. The skull is the main image in such pictures. The peculiarity of the work of In Voluptas Mors is to try to convey the same idea through a woman’s naked nature. The connection of sex and death in one image. You can not forget that the picture is not only the skull, but also Dali himself. Perhaps, in this way, the male and female beginnings are contrasted.
By the way, look somehow attentively to the butterfly on the poster of the movie “The Silence of the Lambs”.
David Datong. «Life is Beautiful»
“Life is beautiful” is the youngest work among the presented here. Behind her is Datun’s personal story. Once an artist diagnosed with cancer. Doctors predicted that David had to live no more than six months. According to the artist, then he “absorbed seconds and enjoyed every moment where life is on the edge of the sword.” The illness passed, and the impression resulted in “Life is Beautiful”.
A huge bright skull is made of spectacle lenses, on each of which is engraved “Life is Beautiful”. The work symbolizes the impulse of creative energy, which can occur only at the moment of absolute fear before death. When the end is near, life is sweeter. And you need to manage to feel the beauty at any time, until it’s too late.
In 1968, Warhol survived three shots from the famous radical feminist Valerie Solans. The artist suffered a clinical death and recovered for a long time after the incident. Naturally, the attempt strongly influenced the further creation of the icon of pop art, which had repeatedly addressed the theme of death before.
In 1976, six skulls with backgrounds of different colors are depicted: from bright to gray. Perhaps, the artist tried to show different variations of a person’s death. It remains unchanged that in all six turtles absolutely dark and eerie hollow orbits.
An interesting detail: the silhouette of the shadows of the skulls resembles the profile of the baby. A deliberate detail or simply beautiful conjecture, but a beautiful metaphor appears – birth and death are an integral part of our being.
Damien Hirst. «For the Love of God»
The most expensive work of living artists worth $ 100 million. Platinum copy of the European skull, which lived between 1720 and 1810, encrusted with 8,601 diamonds. The work is crowned with a huge pink diamond in the forehead of the skull.
Damien Hirst leaves to the judge the judge, what he laid in a fairly shocking and kitsch work. One of the interpretations: a man smoldering, diamonds are much more durable. “For the Love of God” is a symbol of hope for eternal life and an attempt to immortalize God’s creation. Although, decide for yourself.
The work of 2012 and the exhibition of the same name, without exaggeration, the most delicious and candy Japanese artist has become a study of the contrast of joy and horror transmitted through smiling flowers and grotesque shards. Actually, the picture compares not only life / death, but the conflict of eastern / western culture and even Japan’s root / modern.
Like many of Murakami’s works, it’s very difficult to tear off the picture, I want to see all the details. Nevertheless, you are experiencing a curious discomfort due to the abundance of everything, and in general a depressive image.
The work of the famous German artist is very diverse. At different times Gerhard created that absolutely minimalist work, then incredibly photorealistic portraits and landscapes, then abstract and avant-garde works. But now we are interested in “Skull with Candle” (“Schädel mit Kerze”).
In the early eighties, Richter wrote a series of works devoted to minimalistic still life with candles. By the way, lovers of the album “Daydream Nation” of the group Sonic Youth know that the cover of the plate depicts a fragment of one of these paintings. The artist made a similar series with skulls.
Combining the two images, in 1982 the “Skull with Candle” was born. Associations with the genre vanitas come by themselves. Still life combines in itself the image of death, and Pasternak’s candle, as a symbol of life, creativity, hope.
Fans of street art are familiar with Basque. The legend of New York graffiti, and later a well-known neo-expressionist, managed to work and become very friendly with Warhol. But, in this case, we are interested in his work “Skull” and “Untitled” in 1981 and 1982 respectively.
“Skull” is interesting in that the shape of the head in the picture is very similar to the bone part of the head, but with eyes, lips, hair, nose and something resembling ears. The bright insides of the head resemble lofts, slums. The work produces an interesting effect – the more you look at it, the more details in it cease to resemble real objects. The work can be assessed as the reaction of Basquiat to the position of African Americans in the United States at that time.
The work “Untitled”, which is funny, much more like a skull and closer to the tradition of American graffiti. In 2017, the painting was sold for 110.5 million dollars to a Japanese businessman – a record for Basquiat. Unfortunately, Jean-Michel did not live to such an absolute success, as the artist died in 1988 from an overdose of drugs.
Subodh Gupta. “A Very Hungry God”
Subodh very much likes to demonstrate his Indian roots in the sculptures being created. Perhaps his most famous work was “The Very Hungry God” of 2006 – a giant skull, entirely made up of containers, pots, pans and other kitchen-ware.
In the Indian culture of the meal there is “Tiffin”. It’s like a light breakfast or a snack. Merchants all day transporting “tiffins” in Indian cities to deliver small stainless lunch boxes with food to anyone who wants. In the evening, families are having supper from “Tiffin” more.
“A Very Hungry God”, on the one hand, is a tribute to the native culture, on the other – a great metaphor of the human community. In any culture there are “typhins”, we all have the same interior, we are all mortal, we all “feed” one god. Interest in this work has not abated and after ten years, and the product is actively rolled around the European exhibitions.