Totem Series – Portfolio

Totem Series 2021

Background & Inspiration

My travels over the past decade have taken me to some amazing, far flung corners of the globe. The impetus is primarily for experiencing completely new, unfamiliar, and iconic settings- temple ruins in Myanmar, “tea house” hiking in Nepal, the Himalaya of north India, Death Valley, and now the red rock country of Arizona.

Throughout these trips, the repeated observance of animal skulls stood out to me and has ended up as a primary source of inspiration for my recent body of paintings. I saw sheep, cow, and yak skulls while trekking- in meadows, campsites, as rustic shop decorations and even as trail markers.

One of particular note was hanging on the exterior wall of a remote village home, along the Markha Valley trail in India. There was old, weathered straw tied and wrapped around the decayed horns and the sides of it.

I found myself coming back to these photos time and again, compelled to study them further. I ultimately ended up with my own versions of what looked like part mask, part animal skull. Pencil and charcoal drawings progressed to colorful studies done with pastels and acrylic paint, and then to larger works done on canvas.


My intention is to combine two distinct visual styles in the Totem Series— linear/geometric and fluid/amorphous. The structure, composition, and iconic power of skulls have pulled me in, to focus on these as the sole subject. Through the process of studying, drawing, and painting cow skulls, I feel that there is an ideal balance and complexity of the two styles at work. These cater not only to my tendency toward the 2D design aesthetic but also my increased interest in natural forms.

I’ve always been drawn to architectural and industrial inspired visual elements: lines, patterns, repetition, and layers. In particular, those that appear in a state of imperfection, asymmetry, ruin or decay are even more intriguing to me. I have made them a notable component in each piece here. In doing so, I have seen how much of a strong crossover there is with these very elements when interpreting the composition of a skull- a very much non-industrial or architectural subject.

This is accomplished by using charcoal and a palette knife- gritty, layered line segments along with facets and edges. The intersecting linework emphasizes an underlying structural aspect to the subject. Sometimes this bare framework is revealed, while at other times it is hidden. As for the fluid and amorphous, they add richness, depth and highlights to the subject and the surrounding area. Acrylic medium and inks are used here. The flow of color and shape is determined by surface texture and gravity—a more unpredictable organic component—to complement the confines of line structures.

Regarding overall composition, the areas of transparency, and overlapping colors or lines suggest that the subject is truly integrated with the background. In some pieces there is also a more dominant composition of root-like lines, drips, and soft-edged blooms of color. I regard this as a celebration of the quiet forces of nature, of growth, and decay… with an added layer of the surreal through the use of bold, unconventional color combinations.

To me, this mix of visual styles transforms the subjects from mere impressions of mask-like cow skulls into something more. Into totems.

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