the selkie Picture

Finally, this sucker's done. I swear, if I had known in advance how much work I would end up putting into this piece I never would have started it in the first place, so I guess I should be grateful for my extreme cluelessness. Now that it's complete, I really, REALLY like the way it turned out. Perhaps it is because I am still too close to this piece to judge it properly, but at the moment, I think that this is the best sculpture I have ever made.

I wrote a long winded explanation of the imagery behind this mask when I submitted the first version, which you can read here. The one sentence summary is that I'm attempting to show a coupling of two aspects of selkie mythology that are traditionally related as separate events: the shedding of the seal skin, and the subsequent tragedy of its loss to the human that enslaves her.

The most obvious difference between this version of the mask and its earlier incarnation is the addition of the muscles and dangling bits of gore; the skull on its own didn't seem to convey the right emotion. What really made this work for me, though, was the decision to represent the sealskin as a cloak, instead of attempting to make it look more realistic. There were two concepts that lead to this particular bit of symbolism. The first is that, in the stories, a selkie does treat its skin like a garment; this is quite different from most other shapeshifting creatures of legend, where the process of transformation doesn't involve the (temporary or permanent) loss of a part of oneself. The second concept relates to one of the possible origins of selkie mythology. Much like drunken sailors mistaking manatees for mermaids, there is reason to suspect that kayakers from Lapland may have been thought to be selkies when seen from a distance. The kayaks were made of animal skins, and their occupants also wore skin garments, which would eventually become waterlogged and need to be dried. This may well explain the sightings of discarded sealskins and naked foreigners running about on the islands of Orkney. You can read a full explanation of this theory here.

Just for the record, I don't believe that there are, or ever were, such things as selkies. However, I do believe that the legends illustrate fundamental truths about certain aspects of human nature, and this is what gives power to the myth.

(As an aside: Just how hammered would a sailor have to be to believe that a manatee looked like a beautiful maiden? I mean, have you ever seen a manatee? "Rubenesque" doesn't even begin to describe their physique.)

Media: Aluminum mesh, Celluclay II, spackle, sponge, Fimo, acrylic paints, fabric dye, water colors, velcro, clear varnish, various fabrics
Continue Reading: The Myths