Artist Helen Altman's skull sculptures are symbols of death made with some of life's greatest pleasures. The Texas-based artist crafts human-sized skulls from organic materials such as spices, plants and flowers. Both beautiful and haunting, the skulls are designed to be hung from the wall with metal hooks, appearing as if they were trophies or prizes.
Altman’s sculptures are formed by simply by mixing organic material with glue, then pressing the concoction into a mould. A variety of colorful elements are transformed into various human elements, including bone; dried green bamboo strips are twisted and folded into eye sockets; fennel seeds group together to resemble a skull crawling with flesh hungry bugs; and dark poppy seeds create a skull that looks as if it were that of a victim of a fire.
Altman also uses other edibles such as millet, roses, Anise star seeds, pressed mung beans and glutinous rice. Each spice and flower creates an entirely different color, effect and texture. The artist uses the skull shape to evoke different feelings, such as roses to evoke the Victorian romanticism of death, bamboo to call to mind the natural fact of death, and some of the other seeds evoke decay.
Aside from a rainbow of colors, the skull sculptures also create an aromatic experience. When the entire collection of skulls was displayed together in 2010 at New York’s Museum of Art and Design, visitors were hit with the calming smell of spices when entering the gallery. Like potpourri, the aroma of the spiced skulls intermingle, adding a new sensory experience to the sculptural installation.
Altman’s skulls sculptures uniquely balance the symbolism of death with her use of organic materials, and offer a contrasting pleasant smell.