A classic theme of our modern era. In the past you had your crucifixions, odalisques, cupids, men on horseback, bathers, ballerinas, depictions of heaven and hell, the Sphinx, Madonna and child, Venus, Leda and the Swan… Often one will hear the postmodern argument that nothing new can be said or depicted, my counter argument to which is: when was the cut-off point? Was it after Shakespeare but before Picasso? And hasn’t it already been said before that everything has been said before? I think there is an abundance of possible new imagery, approaches and techniques available to contemporary artists, and “painting” or “image making” is only as “dead” as one’s imagination. One only need to look to music, which is constantly evolving to answer the questions of whether it’s all been said and done before. Like the sustain on Nigel Tufnel’s guitar in Spinal Tap: “it just keeps goin’.”
So here you have a classic contemporary theme rich with graphic sensationalism, blood and gore, horror, humor, popular culture, conspiracy theory, and even the objectification of the alien “other”. In the wrong hands it’s an unbearable cliche, but I hoped to transcend the topic by infusing it with meaning and substance. Periodically I do internet searches for other’s depictions of the subject, but I humbly offer that my own treatment is the best one out there so far.
Development of the image…
This was my first significant work in Photo Shop, and with some inevitable shortcomings due not only to my relative inexperience with the program, but also with the limitations of my equipment and the technology at the time. For example, I didn’t have a drawing tablet, and all the drawing elements were done with my right hand (I’m left handed) and a mouse. This was a time when a new 250 megabyte memory card was a major step forward, and I was constantly limited by the computer’s processing capacity (such as in relation to how large of files I could work on).
I started this image with what was supposedly an autopsy photo of Kurt Cobain, which was just one of the first things that popped up when I did a search for “autopsy”. Not much of the original photo remains as I superimposed guts I captured from other sources, and then drew over the image with the mouse. I also applied a “glass” filter to the guts to make them shinier. I was pleased with the result and submitted it to a rather corny looking web site devoted to rather corny alien imagery, where it is still displayed here (at the bottom of the page): Alien Alley
Much later I decided to improve on this image while living in Chiang Mai in Thailand. I did so much work with the drawing tablet that my left hand started to have fatigue problems. In the second image every little detail and interstice was worked and reworked with a drawing tablet. In fact the rubbery grip on the pen eventually deteriorated and split apart because of the oils in my fingers. When I completed this image and emailed a version to my friends and family, I got the impression everyone was a bit disappointed I hadn’t done something else new which reflected my immediate environment in SE Asia.
The most significant differences between the two versions are: I rotated the image clockwise so the alien is more recognizably at an operating table; the new image is much larger (for the gif animation I reduced it to the same size for comparison purposes); and the second version is fully an illustration (as opposed to a mix of photos, collage, drawing and filters).
Close-ups / Details
Savory, savory morsels for the alien gut smorgasbord connoisseur, and other delectable tidbits.
For the record I don’t believe aliens have visited this planet, and certainly not that there was every an alien autopsy performed in Roswell New Mexico or anywhere else. I don’t discount the possibility of making contact with aliens in the future, but the likelihood of physical contact (as opposed to communication via radio signals…) is slim considering the next nearest solar system with a plausibly inhabitable planet in it is more than a hundred years away traveling at the speed of light. On the other hand, logically speaking, we can extrapolate from the natural laws on our Earth, where everywhere life can exist it does exist, that there must be an enormous abundance of teaming life in the universe including advanced civilizations. To say otherwise strikes me as not only illogical, but, if one has given it thought and still insists humans are the only highly intelligent species in the cosmos, stubbornly unwilling to displace us from a thrown at the center of the universe. If you don’t agree, consider for a moment that there are @200 billion galaxies in the observable universe, and our own Milky Way has billions of planets within it. Wouldn’t it be arrogant to think intelligent life only existed on this one?
So, I’m not depicting anything that I think is factually real or even remotely plausible. The glowing guts have an element of parody or satire about them.
While working on the guts displayed prominently in the foreground on a white table, I thought of the art critic John Ruskin’s accusing James Whistler of “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face” for his painting, “Falling Rocket.” This is a bit of a tangent, but Whistler sued the art critic and won, but the judge only awarded him one farthing for damages, meanwhile the cost of the trial was so expensive he became bankrupted, lost his house and valuables. In my opinion, it’s a pretty amazing painting. So, yeah, the in-your-face alien innards were deliberate.
I’ve used aliens in other pieces, which similarly focus on the alien’s “humanity.”
An oil painting I did in ’88, and one of my first. It’s based purely on my memory of an episode of The Outer Limits (the original sci-fi TV serious) about an alien who comes to reside in some people’s home and protects itself within a force field, until someone (maybe it was the wife) cut the mechanism implanted in it’s palm that allowed it to activate the shield.
Sketch for an alien crucifixion. Note the extruding guts on the side.
From about 10 years before the Alien Autopsy (about 25 years ago), but has some striking similarities, notably the blood on the flat picture plane of the wall, the palette, and wounds.
See the gallery here.