The Life of a Patterned Skull

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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.” 

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