Carved carefully into the delicate surfaces of shells, Gregory Halili’s magnificent human skulls look like forgotten human fossils, discovered long after the extinction of our species. The New Jersey-based artist draws inspiration from the wild plant and animal life the Philippines, where he lived into his teenage years; his medium, black-lip and gold-lip mother of pearl, are gathered from the shores of the island country. The artist’s shimmering skulls are complex bas-reliefs, and his technique, which includes detailed oil painting, is evocative of ancient coins; in the place of hard metal lies a soft partially organic material, and portraits of kings are replaced with ominous skulls.
Halili’s skulls are poignantly fragile, far less durable than human bone. A single slip of a tool, and the tender piece is ruined. The shape of the shell lends itself to the humanoid form; encased within its circular bounds, the skull appears like a child in the womb. The shell material that once protected a gastropod with maternal determination, softly frames Halili’s expert carving. In this way, the artist forces a collision between birth, the “mother” of pearl, and death, represented here with the skull. Like relics washed ashore, these masterful pieces serve as a memento mori, reminding us of our own mortality, our creation and our inevitable demise. Take a look.
Halili’s work will be on view at New York City’s Nancy Hoffman Gallery beginning October 30th and through December 13th. He also has an upcoming show at Manila’s Silverlens Gallery. (via Colossal)