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Art is dead


Charles Martin January 11th, 2011

An early fascination with animal bones leads artist Joey Williams to adopt a style that has earned him the moniker of SkullMaster.


 

Skullmaster
6 p.m. Friday
Hall of Tattoos
328 E. Main, Norman 364-7335

With a nickname like SkullMaster, metro artist Joey Williams would be expected to have a rather morbid taste in decor. His walls are filled with skulls from antelope, rhinoceros, hippopotamuses and other fallen members of the animal kingdom.

But the result is not grim and bleak. Rather, it is a reflection of Williams’ lifelong curiosity for the intrinsic beauty of nature that led him to create a unique and sometimes divisive art style that will be on display Friday at Hall of Tattoos in Norman during the 2nd Friday Circuit of Art.

He began incorporating organic matter into his artwork as a child, after discovering a coyote skull that piqued his interest in biology. That style carried him to the University of Kansas, where his art teachers weren’t quite as enthusiastic.

“Some of the stuff I was doing as an art major would be considered cutting-edge today, but back then, my professors dismissed it,” Williams said. “One professor said, ‘That belongs in an aquarium,’ and that was the stuffy attitude that turned me off of art for a long time.”

He returned to art in 2000 and has built a following ever since ... but not in his home state, where audiences are more squeamish. California has proven more fertile ground for his pieces, which often make pointed social and political statements. For instance, “Warpigs” is a pig skull with Army men crawling over it; “Failure” uses sheep skulls to project his doubts about organized religion; and “Cavia Porcellus” — Latin for “guinea pig” — portrays a crucified monkey.

“He represents the patron saint of all the wildlife used in animal testing,” Williams said. “I am not against animal testing, per se. Without it, a lot of us would be dead, but it is also hard to think about all the suffering those animals go through, which can be pretty horrific. They have no rights, basically.”

Using organic material makes each piece more labor-intensive, but he believes that intensifies the emotional impact. One particularly emotive piece uses a sheep heart with stitches across the side, referencing heartbreak.

“I wanted the heart to be real because the pain is real,” Williams said. “People usually assume that the heart is a sculpture, but when they find out it is real, it makes a difference in how they react.”

 
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