When we created this new ART SECTION on our new look site, there could only be 1 Artist who I felt would be the absolute right person to kick it off, the one and only AMY SARKISIAN.
Thankfully, she agreed to be a part of this feature and even gave us an exclusive work to exhibit called “MUM”.
My fascination with Amy Sarkisian first began when I started looking around for Skull images for my weekly Dubstep Monday posts on this blog back in late 2009.
I stumbled across her work on google images and was struck with the beauty of the bejewled skulls. I always remember posting the images on my facebook page and hordes of people just gasping “Wow” and “beautiful” and using other similar expressions to voice their agreement that this was pretty special stuff.
Subsequently of course, one of her skulls was used with kind permission and adorned our Transnational Dubstep CD.
The same skull was also used as the basis for T-Shirts to accompany the CD promo.
One of America’s biggest DJ’s, our brother and good dude, Bassnectar also repped our Trans Dub swag too!
Another skull, the one below, that I used for one of our blog posts was also spotted by actress and Generation Bass reader Christina Applegate and found its way onto her show “Up All Night”.
AMY SARKISIAN INTERVIEW
Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. My mom is an Irish Catholic ex-nun and my father is first generation Armenian American. I went to Kent State University for a BFA in art and then moved to Los Angeles in 1995 to go to UCLA for my master’s degree. I’ve been living and working in Los Angeles ever since.
As you are aware we’re huge fans of your bejeweled skulls, one of which we have used for the cover of our Transnational Dubstep CD. One we have used on our new website and also others we have used as leading images on various blog posts. I also use one a lot as my ID for soundcloud, mixtapes etc.
Where did the idea for the bejeweled skulls come from and when.
I started thinking about the skull in 1996 while I was in grad school. I was contemplating the cutesy Halloween skulls that kids carry around while trick-or- treating here in the U.S. I thought it was funny how no one really considers how gory those things really are and what they would look like if the flesh were still on those skulls. I became interested in the cultural dichotomy of the skull as a grim symbol of mortality and darkness and at the same time how easily it fit into the realm of kitsch. So, I started doing skin reconstruction techniques on toy skulls. After I was finished with school, a couple of friends that knew I was playing around with skulls showed me some examples of decorated skulls from South America and Europe. I thought it was fascinating how the skull was ennobled and glamorized and at the same time celebrates mortality and the humanness of an individual’s life lived. I also read a bit about ossuaries like the catacombs in Paris and the Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic. Somehow there is both complete reverence and total disregard for the individuals whose bones adorn an ossuary.
Anyway, all of these thoughts and information were percolating when I made the first bejeweled skull in 1999. Also in a practical sense, I was making work that was slow in production. I was seeking out processes of making that were repetitive and a bit excessive that would allow me to get into a kind of meditative state-so spending time doing detailed beadwork was really gratifying back then.
Damien Hirst has created the most famous one, and before him, the Venezuelan artist Carlos Zerpa created some in the 90’s. How do you view their works?
I think we are all interested in the same ideas and probably all had relatively the same reference material. But I think my process was more similar to Zerpa’s, in that the idiosyncratic decisions of the artist are still apparent in the work. The slight imperfections, the choice of materials-the human hand of the artist is still in there. Hirst’s skull functions more as a unique luxury item with a fabricated and polished feel. I would like to be clear that both ways of making art are equally valid.
Sometimes art is about the artist’s hand being involved and sometimes it is much more successful without.
Has our frequent use of your art assisted to raise more exposure of your work in any way?
Visual artists don’t get instant feedback very often. The work is a kind of stand-in for the person so the amount of exposure one’s work receives is hard to determine. But I’m confident that my work has reached many more people through your projects that wouldn’t have otherwise. I’m so pleased that you like my work and so very grateful for your advocacy.
What do you use to create the skulls and what do you use to decorate them?
The base is a light but dense foam. I felt like it wouldn’t have been appropriate to use a real skull as a base since my interest was about the skull as a symbol. I didn’t want the crux of the artwork to be about the acquisition of an authentic human skull-to be more about the artist and not the art. Also I didn’t want the work to come across as mocking and contrary to the funerary rites in which I was appropriating.
Anyway, the base forms start off very light in weight but by the time I’ve finished applying the design elements to the surface, the skulls have a nice and satisfying heft to them. Most of the beads I use are held in place by straight pins but sometimes
I use adhesive-it depends on the design element I’m applying. I’ve used beads, sequins, leather, bits of wood and costume jewelry.
What significance do these skulls have for you on a personal level, is there a story/message behind creating them?
The first skull was encrusted with faux pearls. I liked how the color of the pearls was similar to the value of bone but added a nice iridescence and texture. I thought of the pearls as a bit ironic – another kind of protective skin. Then my grandmother passed away and I was given her collection of costume jewelry. I would use certain pieces of hers as the beginning elements of the design and then build out from there -I don’t do sketches or have a design to follow I just sit down and develop the design as I go. Using my grandmother’s jewelry was a way for me to pay tribute to her through my artwork, which follows the cultural intent of skull decoration that interested me in the first place. It added a personally satisfying dimension to the work even if that back story isn’t readily available to my viewers.
What are you currently working on?
I had a solo show at the beginning of this year so lately I’ve just been playing around with ideas. I’m doing a lot of drawings, which usually never see the light of day but somehow get translated into sculpture or painting. I’m also working on getting a new studio up and running.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions?
I will be included in an exhibition early next year curated by Roman Stollenwerk at Wignall Museum of Contemporary Art here in California.
What kind of music do you dig?
I dig lots. I get very nostalgic about 80s music. I was goth for a minute when I was a kid so I also get nostalgic about goth and industrial music. I was a little metal head too and I still like early Metallica and Black Sabbath. I’m very happy with Lightning Bolt. I like most hip hop. I’m really getting into Stevie Wonder. I love Marvin Gaye. I’ve been listening to a lot of Billie Holiday, I can’t get enough of her. I’m a big fan of jazz. (Louis Armstrong, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck…) The Melvins are my favorite everything. Well and of course, Dubstep.
Though while I’m working, I mostly listen to old time radio shows like CBS Radio Mystery Theatre and Orson Well’s The Adventures of Harry Lime.
What are the main aims and objectives behind your art or is it just something you feel you need to do?
I do have a desire, not a need, to communicate with others through non-verbal language. Visual communication is unique. It’s very satisfying to feel like I’m relating to others on a deeper, more visceral level. I really enjoy that kind of dialogue, and the more universal the better.
Ink on J. Crew catalog page
9 x 11 inches
We’re grateful to Amy for exhibiting for the first time anywhere in the world this small collage or paint on a J Crew called “MUM”.
It’s not new but from around 2006 but we feel very honoured that Amy has chosen to exhibit this great piece here for the first time.
Thank you Amy, for everything.