Golgolon 023 [2/21/023]: Digital drawing/painting. Original 30″x35″ at 300 dpi.

It would be rather shallow to see this image as an irreverent sci-fi drawing. Rather, it’s a very eerie, retro sci-fi, darkly spiritual, contemporary art image that fits into the long history of crucifixions in the annals of art. I will discuss how to read the image visually, and ways of interpreting it.

Detail, tilted.

Some of you will recognize this image, because it’s a remake of an original work by me from 2015 (8 years ago). The original is below:

Golgolon [12/2/2015]

I kept the general feel and composition, but the rendering is much more precise in the up close details. Take a gander at the old and new heads. Note that I moved the whole alien’s torso down on the cross so it is hanging more convincingly, which is why the horizontal beam behind the head is higher in the image on the right.

Let’s zoom in closer

The details are much more refined, and the overall image is a good deal larger.

I was never quite satisfied with the original because it didn’t seem entirely finished. Then, a few weeks ago, the singer of a metal band contacted me about using the “crucified alien” for their liner notes and some T-shirts. Last time a band contacted me they wanted to use an AI image I’d generated as an image to accompany an article about AI. I was kinda’ insulted. This time someone wanted my own art created with my own hand (yes, even if this is digital, it’s done with a stylus and a tablet that I rest in my lap]. I asked if I could touch it up a bit. He was cool with that, and didn’t complain when it took me a few weeks to finally complete it (I logged over 30 hours].

Incidentally, crucified aliens and alien messiahs are a topic I’ve been working with for a while. Here’s a physical sketch from around 20 years ago.

How to Read the Image

One of the reasons I’ve kept the image in B&W is so that it reads as a drawing and an image simultaneously. This allows a certain artistic “magic” to creep in, whereby optical illusions — such as trompe-l’œil effects — are more apparent. If you missed an art history lesson, “trompe-l’œil” is the appearance of 3 dimensions in a 2d image.

For example, the cross is flat to the picture plane, but the spikes in the alien’s palms pop up towards the viewer, fixing not just the alien to the cross, but to the surface of the “canvas”.

You can see the illusion, and how it is done.

The cumulative effect is that the alien is protruding sculpturally into the viewer’s reality, because the cross is flat to the picture plane, and the alien is suspended above it.

Below, an in-progress pic of trying to figure out how to make the fingers bend more convincingly in 3D space.

Because the cross is flat, backlit, and highly textured, it appears more solid. There’s some “depth of field” blurring the middle background to also make the alien “pop”.

When you look at certain types of images, it’s worth considering where you are in relation to them spatially. Here you are directly in front of the alien, and looking up at it. But you are also enveloped by the illusionistic space.

It’s subtle, and you might not notice it at first, but there’s a field of rays emanating from the UFO creating a kind of dome or forcefield around the alien, and the spectator. If you follow the trajectory of the arrows, you can envision that they would continue around so that you are contained in the same space.

You may have also noticed that the alien’s top fingers are curling in a way that suggests he could be beckoning us closer, as if he has something to tell us. Or, assuming we don’t speak the same language, he wants us to look into his eyes.

The eyes, you may notice, or just feel, are lightly glowing, translucent, and brittle, like fragile bulbs. You have to tilt your head to look in the eyes, and while there are no pupils, you may find it strangely uncomfortable to look at them, while also a bit mesmerizing. We don’t know how the alien sees, and maybe he’s blind at this point, pupils (if he has any} rolled up in his head. He may already be dead, and yet there’s still a sense that the alien can see us, and is looking back at us.

Once you’ve caught onto those devices and illusions, you are better equipped to assimilate the image. And by “assimilate” I just me “get” it, as in it clicks. There’s a mental leap that happens when looking at visual images in order to appreciate them.

How to Interpret the Image

Now that you have some clues about my intent regarding visual elements, and how to read the image spatially and compositionally, I suggest you see what interpretation(s) or meaning(s) comes to you on your own. Keep in mind that as interesting as interpretations can be, now we are going into the realm of linguistics and thoughts, and outside of the direct experience of engaging with visual language. And by that I mean that these considerations are secondary. Interpretations may help people appreciate this work, but they are ultimately superimpositions upon the art. Frequently, very frequently, people have this backwards, and think the purpose of visual art is to propose an idea or “start a conversation”. Not so. Visual art is its own language that can not be translated into verbal form, and to attempt to do so is to gut art and make it a mere prop or visual aid for conventional linguistic thought. That said, what is your own interpretation?

First, I would want to disabuse art audiences of the more negative or superficial readings. This is NOT an attack on, or mockery of, Christianity. It’s not a funny image, and personally I find it too haunted to see as a mere joke or parody.

As close as we could get to that kind of knee-jerk interpretation, while starting to get more real, is that Christ was an alien, and this scene takes place on Earth. Here it makes sense that the alien is more evolved perhaps, sensitive, and vulnerable (the amphibious qualities, such as the classic frog fingers make the alien seemingly more physically delicate). Or it could just be that we humans, in our barbarity, crucified an alien, and it has nothing explicitly to do with Christ. Is this what we do to “the other”? Some most unsavory historical precedents may occur to you, and suffice it to say that aliens and monsters are always surrogates for humans in my work. They are, after all, sentient, which is our core characteristic.

Another way to look at it is that the scene takes place on another planet, and the same sort of social/spiritual/cultural evolution occurs there. These days I tend to lean more towards this view.

The UFO for me definitely has “God” overtones. The spiral at its center gives it an all-seeing-eye aspect, and its spinning, radiating light, and the bolts of energy tendrils emanating from it give it a kind of awesome power. The UFO is NOT pleased about the transgressions that have taken place, and I see the electric tentacles as threatening.

There is, of course, the classic tableaux where flying saucers use a beam to vacuum people or objects up into the ships. This could be more “wrath of God” than taking up specimens, at least at first.

I had another thought, yesterday, as it were, which means it was never a part of my original conscious intention. I was focusing on how the image positions the viewer, and as a sort of voyeur or accomplice, possibly complicit, in which case I then noticed both the UFO and the alien are looking at the viewer, and we are subject to their joint judgement.

More disturbing is that when I look into the eyes of the alien, I feel like I am looking into the membranous eggshell eyes of death. Only the semi-transparent skin of the eyes separates this realm from that of death.

Despite all that I find the image strangely warm and even comforting. The B&W has a deliberate retro feel and harkens back to watching the Outer Limits on a small B&W TV I had as a child. To me, the grayscale here has the effect of conjuring modern (not contemporary) television, and the kind of mystery that radio, electricity, radar, and the like had for us in the analog realm before we went digital. If you don’t know what I man, it’s kind of like how the original Star Trek Enterprise is more mysterious — at least to me — than the newer, more overblown, and perhaps convincing variations.

While it is a dark image — after all, this is the aftermath of torture and murder — the quality of energy alone, the way the image seems to subtly vibrate, and the sensation of the eyes glowing, strongly suggests some sort of transcendence. The art itself aspires to be “transcendent art”, as in the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and it seems to almost come to life. But when you get up close, or zoom in, it’s just marks made by a human. There’s a transformation that takes place, even a transmogrification, from base marks [the style is based on my own charcoal drawings], to an image in 3d space, and the image then projects out into the viewer’s space. It radiates, and has the illusion of penetrating that space, of the alien hanging on the viewers invisible wall.

And to be honest, I can at times find the eyes of that alien frightening, too frightening to look at. Other times I can’t look away. They are too suggestive, not of just what they literally depict, but for conjuring the impression of the associated realm through space-defying illusions. It evokes another dimension visually. The mix of evocation and depiction makes the whole greater than the sum. It’s kind of an equation for transcendence.

So, looking in the alien’s eye’s is making a philosophical inquiry into death/life, transcendence, the vibration of consciousness. Consider the actual depiction. You are looking in the eyes of a dying or dead crucified alien. IRL that would be a day to remember. You have the added element of a Close Encounter.

Looking into the alien’s eyes is the intended final confrontation. And, the eyes are the two almond-shaped forms that have the actual texture of life. It’s the degree that they come alive that also conjures a space where they are alive, and where you are in that same parallel dimension. The eyes are a paper-thin barrier to another dimension. A desiccated layer of skin, transparent enough you can look in.

We’ve all heard the eyes ___ ___ ______ __ ___ ____. Right, I don’t even need to finish it. But there’s truth in that. Some. And then, the alien’s eyes are either semi-transparent, or they can seem opaque. You can look at them or into/through them. Some illusions are up to the viewer to see, this or that way. Like when silhouettes appear either as if they are coming at your, or going away. But when the eyes are transparent, and you look in them, then you are looking into the alien’s soul. I have a lot of time to think while working on art. I’ll get ideas like this and see if I can try to capture the right feel.

They say today that painting is no longer a window you look into. BA HA HA HA! It’s a portal into another dimension! Of sight, and sound. For the next 60 minutes, we will control the volume.

Anyway, that’s the stuff I’m thinking about while working on this image. In case you were curious.

As I said before, none of that is really relevant or necessary. Visual image art, or at least quite a lot of it, has to succeed on its own merits purely as visual language (similar to the way a purely instrumental piece of music succeeds or fails independent of any interpretation in linguistics].

Stay tuned for more art

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7 replies on “New Art: Golgolon 023

  1. I have an artist friend who’s been teaching at a college for many years. He says he always tells his students during the weekly critiques, “The more words you use to describe your work, the less you give your audience to work with.” I don’t know if that’s true, having spent an equal number of years in academic writing and art criticism: I’ve felt that the more you read and learn about art, especially its history, the better equipped you are to understand it. That said, when I look at your Golgolon, I have to refer (in my mind, anyway) to the many portrayals of the Crucifixion by Baroque and Renaissance artists. Durer’s study for his busier finished etching seems a close reference to your work.

    (Hopefully the link doesn’t get my comment exiled to the spam folder. Lately WordPress has taken a dislike to anything with a link in it, because malware?)

    It doesn’t seem to matter if Dali or a 16th century artist has created a portrayal of a crucifixion, however. The image always seems to conjure great pathos, vulnerability, and pain. It’s a particularly brutal way to kill a person, so I wonder why anyone would want to use that method to execute a man—or alien—unless it’s to publicly torture them as well, or bestow a lesson on those witnessing it. “This could be you if you’re not careful!” Which makes me wonder why American executions are always done in enclosed rooms hidden from the public eye. Out of respect for the condemned? To shield the innocent from the spectacle of a person dying? To admit this isn’t a particularly civilized way to dole out justice? But I digress. I realize crucifixion is associated in most (terrestrial) cultures with the death of Christ, a specific religious event. Most people, politicians anyway, don’t extend it to the idea of public execution of convicted criminals, and I’m probably adding more political thought to this than you intended. But why is the alien being crucified? Did humans do that to them? That’s the question your work brings to mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When I lived in China I once visited one of my university student’s home town. In the morning in the city center the police were parading around criminals with signs on them in order to humiliate them. I never saw this in the slightly bigger cities I lived in. Your thoughts about the crucifixion as a sort of deterrent, and your meditation on why that may not exist in current executions, brought that memory back to me.

      Your artist friend has a good point. Consider music. If I am thinking about something while listening, and forming sentences in my head, I’m not really listening and am missing parts. The same sort of thing happens with visual art, in that sentences and ideas can be a sort of barrier to the direct experience.

      That said, often some bit of information can help us make a mental leap to where we will suddenly click with the art. When I had a music appreciation class in college, a student pointed out that Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring)” sounded like the music score to “Planet of the Apes”. And come to think of it, Stravinsky’s music may have inspired the musical score. Anyway, that little thought helped me instantly appreciate Stravinski’s composition.

      And so, writing about art can help people make an imaginative leap, but ultimately is extraneous to the art itself, and in a different and competing language.

      “But why is the alien being crucified? Did humans do that to them? That’s the question your work brings to mind.”

      That’s definitely a legit reading. As the original is so old, and sketches are even older, I can recall that part of my original idea was indeed that humans would do that to an alien. As I’ve worked on the piece over time I’ve elaborated several different interpretations. I will deliberately create ambivalence or ambiguity in art. You’ll see that in the next piece I share, where something can be solid or negative space. It’s very deliberate. I think it comes from a brief period in my very early adulthood when I used to write poetry. Curiously, it was a great leap for me to then switch to more academic writing in college, and as it happens, I was never able to get back into poetry again.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oddly enough I’m actually really drawn to the mouth and nose. Maybe this is just because I got really obsessed with drawing mouths and noses for a while a few years back. Before then I’d been obsessed with eyes. Facial features in general fascinate me now; it always amazes me the way we all have the same basic set-up ( 2 eyes, one nose, one mouth- in the same general configuration) yet all manage to look so different from one another. (I guess this artwork of yours really is a great example of this! I mean, obviously no human has eyes like that or a head shape like that, but still. A variation on a theme of sorts, y’know?)

    It’s cool that a metal band wants to use it in their sleeve notes \m/ \m/ ( I hope they’re good!). I miss interesting album cover art. I’m sure there is plenty out there, but there was a time there quite recently where things got quite lazy; lots of same-y blurred images of boring subject matter which was somehow considered hipster-cool.

    But anyway, enough of that. As for what it means to me personally, I cant really define it or explain in a few words, but when I look at this I’m seeing some sort of transition about to take place ( the transition from life into death/ afterlife/ whatever it’s called. I haven’t quite decided how the Alien figure ended up crucified, but for now I’m just going with the idea of this just being what humans do to anything they don’t immediately understand. The Alien could be a symbol for pretty much any person/ ideology/ idea (or even social problem) that the cult of the unimaginative can’t be bothered trying to understand, so they “deal with it” instead ( or turn a blind eye while the authorities make it disappear). Probably miles from what you meant, but that’s my extremely personal and subjective take on it 🙂 Apologies if it makes no sense…art analysis is not my area of expertise…!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You might just like the nose and mouth because I pulled those off fairly well in the end (as in the lighting, modeling, and shading are pretty good). I learned virtually none of those skills in art school – everything was conceptual, or at least modernist – and so I’ve honed those skills over recent years. It can take me a while to get it to work.

      I haven’t said who the band is yet because I’m waiting to see if they actually use my art.

      “The Alien could be a symbol for pretty much any person/ ideology/ idea (or even social problem) that the cult of the unimaginative can’t be bothered trying to understand, so they “deal with it” instead “

      I like your interpretation. I remember when I conceived this I also had another idea of a scene where aliens have arrived and they are coming toward the viewer. However, we see the barrel of a shot gun in the lower picture frame, as if we are playing a first person shooter. And the aliens, or one of them, have been viciously shot. So, I definitely had that idea in mind to some degree.

      Hmmm. Note to self. Consider making that image in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, they’re well done. Noses especially can be challenging. Personally I struggle with hands and feet…(and I tend to avoid them a bit, so that doesn’t help). I like the teeth.

        Well I’m glad I wasn’t too far off the mark with my interpretation! And yes, I do hope you get to make that particular image at some stage.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Firstly, that’s a stunning piece of work. The level of detail is incredible. And had you not said it was digital, I would have presumed pencil/graphite…perhaps with a little digital enhancement.

    Secondly, I fully appreciate that there are people out there who will see this as a mockery of Christ/Christianit so you have to add that disclaimer to not get cancelled and sent to the virtual tower, but personally that didn’t even cross my mind, even at first glance.

    My first read of the piece before reading your post, was that this crucified alien is an example of human response to difference, especially that of extraterrestrials, and it’s often brutal. In almost every alien sci-fi movie, the humans assume that any extraterrestrial visit is a threat to our world and lives, and (cue dramatic music) now we must send our best fighter pilots to eliminate the threat! And we must capture one of these beings dead or alive to tortu…*ahem* communicate with it and study it to determine their intentions.
    The spaceship appears to be attempting to protect this fellow being from further harm and ultimately save it. I’m of the opinion that most of the time humans don’t need to be saved from anything but rather other creatures/beings need to be saved from humans. And sometimes we need to be saved from ourselves.

    After reading your post, I can now also see where the alien could represent differences in general – not just alien as in E.T., but alien as in foreign/different.


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