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postmortem cosmetics

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

I overheard the phrase on a science program and thought it might be good material for a comic, so I went ahead and typed ‘flesh eating beetle’ into google, held my breath and hit search.  I’m not even remotely a realist in my art but that doesn’t mean I just make stuff entirely up.  I like to have an understanding of what the real thing looks like in addition to what it does before I even doodle it for a potential comic.  This meant I also had to click ‘image search’


Looking at piles of insects eating a corpse really isn’t my idea of sexy or fun but I did gain some understanding of the little guys.  I learned that dermestids are rather wonderful at getting rid of pesky rotting flesh and leaving behind a sparkly fresh skeleton.  I also found out dermestids are used by forensics labs and museums to preserve bones due to their meticulous mad skillz in the flesh gobbling department and their tendency to be far less damaging than say chemicals.  So I may end up with nightmares, but I learned stuffs and made a cute comic so it’s was worth it in the end.

Speaking of corpses and sort of keeping with the theme of cadaver art after last week’s Body Worlds / Gunther von Hagen post, it’s time to meet Joel Peter Witkin.  Witkin is famous for his subversive, haunting, beautifully rendered photography which uses well thought out, sometimes elaborate and intricate set design and features subject matter such as physically deformed people, sideshow performers, sexual deviants, cadavers, body parts, decapitated heads, skeletons, fetuses, etc.  He executes a lot of his work in Mexico because US law would not allow him to use or acquire such specimens for his art.

One can hardly mention Joel Peter Witkin without referencing the experience he attributes for greatly influencing his body of work. He says:

“It happened on a Sunday when my mother was escorting my twin brother and me down the steps of the tenement where we lived. We were going to church. While walking down the hallway to the entrance of the building, we heard an incredible crash mixed with screaming and cries for help. The accident involved three cars, all with families in them. Somehow, in the confusion, I was no longer holding my mother’s hand. At the place where I stood at the curb, I could see something rolling from one of the overturned cars. It stopped at the curb where I stood. It was the head of a little girl. I bent down to touch the face, to speak to it — but before I could touch it someone carried me away.”

Whatever the inspiration, I think Witkin’s work is powerful, emotive, disturbing, thought provoking and has a lot more value than the mere shock factor.  I chose a few images to share with you guys.  To be honest, some of his work can be difficult to take in and since you presumably come to my site for super happy fun stuff with a little darkness thrown in, I chose some of the less controversial images. I most definitely invite you to learn more about the artist and to view the large collection of his work on the Edelman Gallery website.  There’s also a pretty cool article reviewing an exhibition and delving into the subject of death as art over on Subvert.com

I think he’s pretty damn amazing.  Keep in mind these are fine art photographs, some worked over with chemicals or scratched up for texture.  These are not paintings or photoshop manipulations made to look like freaky impossible scenes.  These are actual freaky impossible scenes, created and photographed by Joel Peter Witkin.

joel peter witkins

For a less intense, spooky cool place to visit, check out My Ghoul Friday, a great site to check daily for fun, spooky, sometimes crafty, sometimes silly, always delightful stuffs like Shrimpenstein and a most endearing bird skeleton and a section dedicated to making monsters!  A big thanks to Ghoul Friday for recommending GingerDead last week to her readers. 

Finally, for those who are curious my mom’s surgery went great.  I wrote this haiku on twitter about it:

flowery tumor
plucked from my mother’s garden
you will not be missed

The surgeon was really nice.  She came out while my mom was in recovery to tell me how it went and obliged me when I asked for a copy of the magnified tumor pics.  I meant to take a pic of the pic since I’m scanner-less but I forgot and it’s 4 minutes to midnight so I need to post this comic!  Anyway, now she checks back every three months to see if it grows back in which case they cut it out again.  Bleh.  I put the tumor pics on the fridge to help remind her it might be a good idea to quit smoking.  I can be a pain in the ass like that since I quit myself three weeks ago.  Heh heh. 

Have a great week my friends.  Haiku your hearts out and post them here.  Don’t be a skeerdy cat.  I know some of you want to but think your haiku isn’t ‘good enough’.  We’re not literary snobs here.  We’re just having a little fun with words, so please don’t be shy.

<3 calan

19 Responses to “postmortem cosmetics”

  1. Amanda Says:

    I’m glad you’re mom is doing well. Tumors are scary business. I am sorry I haven’t stopped in in a while to say boo however life has been less than kind as of late. I do read weekly though. I’m a little out of practice with my haikuing *yay for making up words* so forgive the rush job.

    Bodies, A still art
    Graceful and surreal, how apt
    never moving bones.

    Beetles chew through skin
    leaving behind pearly white
    bones, Sorry Ringo.

    I will be back soon
    Fear not, time will bring me back
    so too does your wit

    Take care everyone.

  2. ANDREA Says:

    Had my gallbladder out in April; surgeon took lovely pics of it and gallstones . . . can you use? Think of ‘spoiled pomegranate’ for description. I thought the pics lovely, but then, I, too, see art in unusual places.

  3. matthew Says:

    So glad things went well with her surgery. By all means, be a pain in the ass.

    My heart fills with joy
    as i read the wonderful news.
    I pray, no repeat.

    I love the drawing of the Flesh-eating Beetle. It looks like it has a mustache with those antennae 🙂 Like he would greet you with a bad french accent and cheerfully ask to remove that pesky flesh from your precious bones.

    we walk hand in hand
    as you gleam in the moonlight
    those bugs do good work

    That art is both a tad disturbing and really quite good. I will definitely check out more when i have more time.

    a feast for the eyes
    an art form that all would choose
    if not for the smell

    Take care. Have a great week.

  4. Seraphine Says:

    literary snob:
    that’s me. words like flesh beetles
    cleansing wounded mind

    wishing your mom a complete recovery!

  5. calan Says:

    amanda – good to see you here again. ty for the triple haiku and definitely try not to be a stranger. wishing you well!

    andrea – you know i was fantasizing just last night about using surgery pictures and turning them into little keepsakes. i have an idea exactly how i’d do it too. email me if you’re interested, i’ll make one for you. it would be good way for me to experiment with the concept 🙂 calan(AT)gingerdead(DOT)(COM)

    matthew – you nailed the flesh-eating beetle’s personality. i totally turned hi antennae into a ‘french’ mustache and imagined him with a thick accent choosing the right wine to accompany the particular flesh he was devouring. i bet the amount of decay would help determine red or white, etc.

    ty sera! so far so good. just a bit of pain, but she’s back at work and stuff. after surgery, she actually had me stop at iHOP for pancakes! she was in all this pain but the desire for pancakes was stronger, i guess. that, and she’s kinda nuts. 😀

  6. coolioness Says:

    WOOHOO! calan’s mom’s okay! ^_^

    Bad little tumors,
    Flesh eating beetles, body
    art, thank you calan!

  7. Seraphine Says:

    when i get sick, i sometimes crave vanilla milkshakes, so i can understand your mom’s desire for pancakes.

    uneaten pancakes
    devoured by beetles eat
    beetles with syrup

  8. justme Says:

    Sometimes when you’re in pain, you just need pancakes. I guess.

    plucking flesh from bone
    ever so delicately
    meticulous bugs

  9. calan Says:

    sera – me too! only chocolate ones. actually after the brain aneurysm all she would eat was vanilla milkshakes and not the fake ensure flavored milky substance, only the real thing. must be something to that?!

  10. matthew Says:

    I must be the odd one. I don’t crave stuff like that. I only want one thing when i am recovering and that’s beef stew. Not out of a can mind you, the real stuff. When i have some warning i am going to be off my feet from something i make a bunch of it and freeze it to eat after 🙂

  11. Seraphine Says:

    yumm matt. beetle stew!

  12. Seraphine Says:

    calan: if i ever go into a deep coma, just hook me up to a milk shake machine. brain freezes are beneficial to ones health.
    your mother is right, fakey ensure stuff would never do. nonono.

  13. matthew Says:

    hmm. if you eat the beetles in stew would that mean your technically a cannibal?

  14. calan Says:

    matthew my mom just made her famous beef stew for the first time in like a million years and it tasted just like i remember. mmmmMMMMmmmmm!

    sera – you have my word. vanilla milkshake iv and electric blankets

  15. matthew Says:

    Salivating out of control 🙂

  16. Chance Abattoir Says:

    Totally saw the French thing at first glance. Ha. Will we be seeing more of Monsieur Beetle?

  17. Chance Abattoir Says:

    nom nom nom


  18. calan Says:

    chance, idk if he’ll make another appearance. i suppose it’s possible.

  19. Lynda Says:

    Good to hear that particular flower has been plucked. *chhers*

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