This is a piece I’ve worked on, on and off, for years, usually throwing in the towel when it started to look ridiculous. Finally I think I’ve pulled it off reasonably well. I may put it in color and make a painted version later, and work out some of the small imperfections.
The idea may seem obvious, and like a joke: a crucified alien. Sometimes I gravitate to these sorts of ideas, and the first time I sketched such a concept was about 16 years ago.
Because I conceived a drawing for this theme more than 15 years ago, at which point it was as far as I knew my original idea, I have a kind of attachment to it as something related to my central artistic vision. It’s a kind of statement. I’ve searched Google images for other interpretations, and surprisingly few people have attempted a crucified alien. My earlier sketches and another of my pieces come up in the search, though. The subject itself, however, is not as important as the treatment of the subject.
Now I’ve added in a flying saucer, which I think is important to the image. And I did the alien straight on because, well, my attempts at other angles just didn’t work. It is a real challenge to draw a crucifixion without a model, and get the arms and torso and neck in convincing perspective. This is the type of ordeal we artists don’t have to deal with in abstract work, or landscapes… I could have used 3D software, such as ZBrush to model a figure and then angle it, which would probably be the best way to go, but I wanted to attempt it just using conventional drawing, because that skill will come in handy even if I sculpt something first using 3D software. In addition to everything else, this image is a study of lighting, shading, modelling, and perspective, which I think some artists overlook. And it’s much easier to recreate these elements when working from nature or a photograph, in which case you just copy what you see, than to try to apply them to a drawing from the imagination, in which case you have to understand the underlying principles of lighting, shading, perspective, anatomy…
Making the hands was very difficult. I had to try to make the fingers curl up, in which case the outside of the fingers catch the light, whereas the insides catch it closer to the palm. I got it to about 90% or so of where I’d want it, knowing when I eventually put it in color I’ll hammer out the next level of detail. Notice the shading on the spike. The flat end is completely lit, and there’s a nick in the spike. It seems to be coming out at the viewer. Such little details are some of my favorite parts of images.
I imagine that most people will be put off by the subject, and a few people, like me, will think it’s right on. Many are probably uncomfortable with anything that can be seen as relating to Christianity in any way, and might see this as mocking the religion, or being a part of it. It isn’t either. My interest in crucifixions comes from art history, rather than Christianity, and this can be seen as a contemporary version of the art historical genre of the crucifixion. And then it is mixed with the aliens such as from the original movie version of the War of the Worlds.
Above is the dying alien arm hanging out from one of the crashed Martian ships in War of the Worlds (1953). I saw the movie when I was around 10-12 years old, and was really impressed by it. At this scene I wanted nothing more than to be able to see inside the Martian’s ship! But we didn’t get to see it. It’s difficult now, after the deluge of third-rate sci-fi/horror movies with over-the-top computer effects to remember the initial fresh impression of a bubbling alien arm protruding from an alien ship crash landed in 1950’s America. I know this was at the height of the red scare, but for me, as a kid, growing up in LA in the 70’s, the aliens, though evil, represented the unknown becoming palpably present. A crashed space ship from another planet is just a fascinating thing, and I can hardly think of anything that could be potentially more interesting.
I’ve discussed this elsewhere, but my interest in sci-fi hearkens largely back to the shows I saw on TV as a kid, and how exciting I found them then, rather than to newer sci-fi (with some wonderful exceptions like the 1986 remake of “The Fly”, which I also made an interpretation of). And I was chiefly fascinated with the monsters. You could say that the monsters represented the numinous.
I mention this because I want to maintain the thread of my initial love of art. When I was in grad school I was supposed to embrace anti-art and conceptualism, and as a grad student the only viable option for me in my radical art department was to make installations about my white male privilege. But I didn’t become an artist because I wanted to trash myself for being a white male, or because I wanted to make pieces that derided traditional visual art. I wanted to be an artist because I loved visual images (irrespective of the politics or genetic makeup of the artist), not because I hated them. I liked looking at my album covers while listening to the records with headphones on. I liked stills from sci-fi and horror movies. I liked art on book covers and in magazines. In the end my art is informed by my art school background, but I refuse to abandon my real passion for art.
There are several possible interpretations of the image. I gravitate towards ambiguity, and the possibility of divergent simultaneous perspectives. Ambiguity allows for seeing something from two perspectives at once, and is something that’s critically lacking in a lot of political perspectives which attempt to have all the clearly defined answers, and do not allow for another vantage point.
Here, for example, we can see the saucer as either coming, leaving, or overseeing. I intended it to be ominous and threatening, with lightning and tendrils coming from it. It is also austere and impenetrable. The saucer could be abandoning the alien, or us (perhaps out of disappointment), or it could be coming for vengeance. Alternatively there need be no humans in this at all, and the scenario could take place entirely on another planet. I’m not going to spell out all the possible interpretations, and prefer to leave something for the viewer to ponder.
As the image relates to the traditional crucifixion, two phenomenon stand out to me. One is the conviction of someone who is willing to die for his or her beliefs, and the other is the conviction of people who are willing to kill someone for his or her beliefs. This stresses the importance people attach to beliefs, and the capacity of humans to hold entirely separate and antagonistic views as the only and incontestable truth. As I get older I can recognize absolute beliefs more clearly, and the danger they represent.
However one slices it, this is a spiritual image of sorts, even if it’s just a kind of pseudo-awe for atheists, existentialists, or postmodernists raised on sci-fi movies. I did intend for it to have some of the gravitas of an art historical crucifixion, as well as deal with the death of the ego, scapegoating, and humiliation. If you look up at the saucer and down at the alien there is a sense of physical space, and then the focus of the image is the dying alien’s glowing eyes, which you may be tempted to tilt your head to look into.
Oh, and I forgot to say what the meaning of “Golgolon” was. There is no meaning. It’s just meant to be suggestive. It could be the name of the alien, the event, or the place where the scene transpires… It is meant to sound appropriately alien and in accordance with the theme.
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4 replies on “The Meaning of Golgolon”
Is there something of yourself to the alien? Maybe I ask this after recently buying a Joy Division album and reading another Ballard novel.
Not intentionally, and not much I wouldn’t think. No more or less than the Human Fly or the exploding robot heads or any of my other subjects. There’s the degree that all art is a reflection of the artist, but that’s about the extent of myself being in the alien. I would hate to think anyone thought that I believed I was like an alien, different, special, or a martyr. I consider my true place as an observer in the image, part of teaming humanity, looking at the alien. So, the entire image reflects part of my person to the degree is captures my interests and vantage points, but the alien subject in it is NOT supposed to be me at all. I once got very insulted when someone thought that my alien autopsy was a self portrait, because, well, it’s rather a pathetic spectacle.
My new series should frustrate attempts to pin self-portraiture on my subjects, but I can see why people might think this one was, and that’s a risk I took in making it. There’s the whole cliche of the lone, visionary, genius artist that gets trotted out as a criticism of the supposed narcissism and self-aggrandizement of anyone who dares attempt to make traditionally meaningful imagery, but I find that cliche offensive as well. Though I do submit my art to some groups that show “visionary” art, and “psychedelic” art, mostly because there isn’t really a category that my work fits snugly into. Artists like Jonathan Meese who really do seem to see themselves in that exalted light are insufferable.
So, while I think there are many interesting possible interpretations of this image, including as a political comment on current crucifixions dealt by the hand of ISIS, I hope people won’t project a “poor me” self-portrait onto it.
From my sort of philosophical perspective, the only way I am the alien is if everyone is the alien. I think at the core people are essentially the same, and only become more different at the periphery. That which we hold most dear, which is our self-reflectivity, our relation to “self”, is identical in each of us. Who we are is wrapped around that same core.
Man, I’m not sure what I think about Ballard. I’d have to give him another read, because it’s been a while, and I think I only read “Crash” and may have been more disturbed than truly moved.
What Joy Division album did you buy, and is it any good? I’m not really a fan, but I have a voracious appetite for new music.
No need to be insulted or offended. The alien is a highly specific choice of subject among many possibilities. Portraying something other-worldly carries connotations that people will read into. I remember many students at art college who got annoyed at anyone reading things into their work that they never intended, or reading things that they didn’t approve of, and they got told by tutors, different ones, and repeatedly, and I think not unreasonably, that readings of the signs that comprise a work can’t be limited to the preferences of the author.
If you show a creature in a position that can elicit empathy, then people will wonder at your stake in that creature. I wasn’t personally thinking of aggrandisement or martyrdom. Much simpler, aliens will have very different understandings to humans, and you do portray them as objects of violences (from unseen hands too). It rather goes with what you say here and elsewhere about disagreements and violence.
There’s a lot of alienation and social chaos in Ballard’s work. Haven’t read crash, but I’m not sure it typifies this. High Rise is a lot of fun (a book I’ve reviewed). I just read Concrete Island, which is a jolly jaunt about a guy who crashes his car and gets stranded on a 200 yard stretch of grassed concrete cut off from its surrounding high-speed traffic and a high chain-link fence.
The album was ‘Closer’. I’ve had a lot of it on ‘Permanent’ for 20 years. ‘Unknown Pleasures’ and ‘Still’ are the ones to try.
I didn’t think you meant it in a belittling way.
I have to agree with the students who get annoyed with people reading into their art stuff they never intended or is anathema to them, though, IF they insist on it. In grad school everything I did simply had to be misogynist or imperialist or somehow automatically wrong, because I was the norm and only capable of reprehensible content. It gets really tiresome having people project their own agendas on ones work. Anything oblong, if made by a male, will be a phallus and about hyper-masculinity and the subjugation of women, for example. I generally find Freudian and Feminist interpretations of art nauseating, because they insist on looking at art through a narrow peephole and do more projecting and looking. Freud killed Sophocles, and the feminists killed Hitchcock. There was also some woman with probably psychiatric problems who was accusing me of being a murderer and a pedophile in the comments because of a painting I did over 20 years ago of kid in a bathtub holding a balloon, which appears to be a scene of domestic violence. She assumed I was an actual perpetrator of the violence, rather than, say, portraying the tragedy of it. If she saw the alien, she would probably assume I wanted to torture and murder aliens, because I am a psychotic criminal.
A lot of people’s responses to art, and their interpretations, are going to be stupid and insulting, or else misinterpretations on radical or conservative political lines. There’s a tendency to look for a reason to attack or belittle art, such as in the attempts to portray Cindy Sherman as a racist for her inclusion of black portraits in her very early bus rider series.
And now I remember a drawing teacher I had showing us paintings by Francis Bacon and saying, “He’s a sick, sick puppy”. I dropped his class.
And then there was Paul McCarthy telling us about how Edward Hopper was about “Americana”, himself missing the point and presuming that an American painter must necessarily be critically limited by some conservative, patriotic, nostalgic mindset.
There were the attempts to ban heavy metal songs, such as by Judas Priest, because they were seen as “satanic” or inciting suicide.
So, people are entitled to simplistic and trivializing interpretations of art, and those are inevitable, but they are annoying and can be highly insulting. Generous and complex interpretations of art are a bit of a rarity and welcomed, even if they are a bit off the mark.