Sunday, November 6, 2011

Inverted Skull Mugs

The following is an excerpt from my MFA Thesis called Intangible Emanations : 

"In June 2010, I created a site-specific sculpture at the Open-Air Art Museum at Pedvale in Latvia during my studies abroad with the ECU Sculpture program.  It was constructed by stacking 200 year old roofing tiles. This upside-down skull stands at about nine feet tall. Its wide open third eye is big enough for a grown adult to crouch down and enter at the ground-level of the structure. Central to many religions, this entrance represents the “mind’s eye” or the “eye of enlightenment.”  It is also associated with visions, clairvoyance, and the ability to see chakras and auras in American esoteric spirituality.

When the Latvian tractor drivers that helped me move these tiles from one end of Pedvale to the site, saw the finished sculpture, one pointed to his forehead and asked, “Hindi?”  This is a fellow who does not speak a word of English and by this I presumed to mean that he acknowledges that the idea of a third eye originates from India.

I gave a presentation to my fellow students and members of the local Latvian art community, speaking with the aid of a translator; I explained that I had been making work that explored what an aura could look like in sculptural form.  Many of my sculptures were of figures with emanations around them, but here in Latvia I built an aura that a person could enter inside.  As I gestured with my arm, I invited them to walk into the skull to meditate and contemplate their life.

As a sculpture designed for the contemplation of life, I thought it would be poetic for the shape to represent death.  When we arrived at Pedvale and were challenged with making an on-site installation piece, in a sculpture park known for its activities that combine art happenings and pagan rituals, I wanted to make a structure that people might incorporate with these activities.  When Butoh dancers later performed at Pedvale, Inverted Skull became a part of this modernist Japanese dance style (link).

A skull being built upside down adds to its meaning.  Because the viewer can sit inside and clearly see the sky suggests a connection between the meditating participant with outer space, stargazing, and solitude.  When the Inverted Skull is displayed in an upside-down photograph the clouds in the sky become the foreground in an optical illusion.  Having clouds at the “base” of this on-site installation ties it in with the visual vocabulary of my other sculptures that have pedestals shaped like clouds."   -end of excerpt. 

To see many more images of the process of creation go here. I also want to thank Aaron Earley, who was a massive help in stacking the tiles and problem-solving during the creation of the piece. He can be seen in some of the photos. We listened to his little ipod player and Black Moth Super Rainbow was being played a lot. :)

Thanks also to Ojars Feldberga, curator of Pedvale,  for believing in this project and suggesting that I use the tiles on his land.

During my thesis exhibition, I displayed large scale digital photographs of this installation. Since I do not live in Latvia and cannot enjoy it, I have also printed its image onto these pre-manufactured mugs. I thought it would be both humorous and conceptually valid for the following reasons. There is already a long history with Skull Mugs, or Kapala, in the Tantric Buddhist Tradition, which I had been studying when visiting Latvia. It also references vacation memorabilia, as if to say, "look where I've been" or simply a way to remember one's travels. The image is printed upside-down on the mug so that when you are drinking from it the skull is correctly seen, when you are drying the cup the photograph is correctly see but the skull is upside down. Confused? That's ok, that is the charm of it!  

Skull is right side up and yet isn't.

Pedvale, Lativa

Inverted Skull
Andy Denton

These are available for a mere $8 plus shipping costs.  I always have them available during our monthly open studios at the Dirty LAM. I have set up a Paypal account on my portfolio website. Just click the link and hopefully a transaction will incur.

Go ahead and leave a comment if you'd like.


  1. I'll send you a check for a couple of more. The handle on mine broke and I'd like to give them as Christmas gifts to some folks.

  2. More significantly, all religions must provide an answer to the human awareness of death (cf., Ernest Becker). Growing out of the consciousness of our mortality, humans must make meaning out of our life. Typically this is a stage one enters in later years (cf., Erickson). However, religious faith allows for the exploration of consciousness and the meaning of life much earlier in the developmental process; it may be motivated by an early encounter with death through combat, the death of a loved one or even through the death of a pet.
    By inviting the viewer / participant to enter into the inverted skull, you allow for the viewer to take a further step in their own spiritual development. Putting it on a mug is both a humorous reminder of death's presence as well as the way any true warrior comes to greet each day, "Today is a good day to die."
    Thanks for putting this on your blog.


  3. Where is this building at? Is it open to the public? I would so very much love to see it in person.

  4. Also,. you have an awesome Dad - if that person above in the comments is YOUR Dad,. Just sayin :)

  5. Jay,
    Thanks for the compliments. This sculpture resides in the Pedvale Open-Air Art Museum in Latvia.