Myranda Escamilla doesn't know exactly why she collages animal skulls, but her work dwells on life, death, and our culture’s disconnect from the wild.
A little over a year ago, Myranda Escamilla walked into an antique shop in Port Isabel, Texas, a beach town near her home in Brownsville. Inside, she happened upon two deer skulls that have altered her work as an artist—and likely her life as well.
“My intrigue with skulls came from seeing my father collect them when I was a child,” she explained in an email. “He tried his hardest to keep most activities outdoors. Although admittedly I could never appreciate our adventures at the time, I now miss the fragrant smells of nature—the beach mist, dry and wet sand, young trees, their sap and the feel of flower petals running through my fingers.
The stillness and calm it brings is overwhelming in the best way. Life is dull when it is spent mostly inside, encased and enclosed. The erratic nature of wildlife as opposed to our way of living—as humans, with our emails and texts, faxes, game boys, and laptops—is mysterious, beautiful, boundless, and colorful.”
Escamilla accepted the skulls “as they were—blank and natural,” but was intrigued by the thought of changing them. “How could I alter an already interesting and beautiful specimen to make it more beautiful? I was challenged and that was enough to prompt me to take my wallet out. And so they went home with me.”
She embellished the first skull with small cuts in a napkin, the second she painted to look distressed, “as if it was being reborn or taking on a new soul.” Over time, her collages have become increasingly intricate.
When asked where the impulse to collage animal skulls comes from, at first she can’t explain. “It just happens and perhaps it is my subconscious, but if that is the case I cannot help but ask—what is it saying, what does it mean? Those questions drive me nuts. I do not think about it often and I try not to ... too knotty.”
But when I admit that they first struck me as a reminder of the way humans have sought—and in many instances found—ways to control the natural world, that I find her skulls both beautiful and ominous, she has more to say.
“I suppose the skulls can be something of a reminder of what has been lost and what should be held near our hearts. Many times, I have obtained skulls that were either going to be thrown away or left outside to wither. In adding ‘a human touch’ I am ultimately giving it a piece of myself, honoring its forgotten existence, if you will.
“Perhaps they seem ominous and haunting because they are in fact, no longer living. We tend to associate skulls with death, the macabre, fear and the unknown. Death strikes immense curiosity in me, I cannot fathom it—how we live and live and live and then ... all is gone. What should you make of your life if it is bound to cease at any moment?
“Working with skulls helps me to become more comfortable with the inevitable final stage of life, to accept it. The juxtaposition presented by the skulls is so striking because you are instantly caught between life and death.”