The Death of Us

Calavera monoprints and skull copper etchings
The Prince of Change (detail) – Monotype on paper

New Calavera Monoprints and Skull Copper Etchings

This year has been a whirlwind of deadlines and commissions, so it is wonderful to celebrate the end of my art year with a Featured Artist Show of new Calavera monoprints and skull copper etchings at The Glasgow Print Studio.

I have always loved the macabre and gravitate towards anything with skulls on it. I don’t know if it was watching too much Hammer House of Horror on TV as a kid, or from studying anatomy as an artist that caused this fascination. All I know is that I was overjoyed to discover the folk art around the Mexican Day of the Dead and enjoyed immensely learning about the different ways that other cultures honour their recently departed relative and friends.

One of the prints, simply called ‘Sugar Skull’ is based on the make up that people wear for this festival, a bit like our own dressing up for halloween, or Samhain, to disguise ourselves and scare away the demons that rampage on the last night of October. The print was made by mono printing textures onto a stone lithograph print of a drawing, then enhancing that with drawing over the top. I love that you can see that she is classically beautiful under her face paint.

Instead of making the new work in a historical, gothic style, I ended up thinking a lot about the current political situation. Today there is war, fuel shortages and the rapidly changing climate is wreaking havoc with our food supply and transport networks. The world I live in seems to be at a critical tipping point, and it feels that our trend of striving for money and fame has taken us far away from our true natures as human beings and left us feeling lost and alone in a technological society.

Calavera monoprints and skull copper etchings
‘My lips are Sealed’, ‘Return to Nature’, ‘Jackie Oh’ – monotype prints.

I feel this deeply and the sadness started to come out in the work as I was making it. The Calaveras, (Spanish for skulls) wear a melancholic expression, but they are decorating themselves with bright hair or trendy glasses to hide their true selves, like we all do on social media. I wanted the calavera portraits to look modern, but also have a touch of nostalgia, so I referenced hairstyles of the 60s & 70s as seen in old family photos for my characters.

As well as the monoprints, which I am perhaps best known for, I made a small set of three copper etchings for the show. I wanted them to have a lighter feeling and injected a little fun by portraying idols from the childhood as calaveras. ‘Lynch Mob’ was from a photo of the director David Lynch in a cowboy hat and nods to the many western I watched with my dad, ‘Immortal Icon’ is of course Marylin Monroe and ‘Dead Cold’ is a cheeky version of the swim cap series of paintings that I made last summer.

Copper Skull Etchings.
‘Lynch Mob’, ‘Immortal Icon’ & ‘Dead Cold’ – copper etchings

The Biggest piece in the show, is a large monotype print of a skull faced rider on a white horse. It is called ‘The Prince of Change’ and is based on the symbology of the Tarot Death Card. Finding this card in a reading does not mean you are about to take your last breath, but more that there will be an end to a relationship or a way of working. It is a card of transition of transformation and I thought is poignant as this is what is happening, or at least should be happening, in the world right now.

Instead of portraying ‘death’ as a medieval knight, I made him into a lone rider from those childhood westerns. His flag has a five posted star, 5 being the number of change and he rides a white horse through the dark and dingy city. The horse tramples symbols of human desires (milagros or votives) underfoot and feasts on the small amount of vegetation to be found near the city. Where the rider will take us is unknown, but I hope that when this episode of change has subsided, we will find safety and peace of mind once again. Otherwise it all might be the death of us!

The Prince of Change – monotype on paper

The ‘Death of Us’ show will open from 6-8pm on the 3rd November 2022 and continue during normal gallery hours until the 26th November 2022.

I am also honoured to be showing alongside celebrated Scottish painter Ken Currie, whose mono prints and paintings continue to inspire me.

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