Untitled (Skull in Colored Nebula), Lucas Samaras

Lucas Samaras (American, born Greece 1936) 

Untitled (Skull in Colored Nebula), 1965 

Mixed-media collage with pins Bequest of Frederic Mueller, 1990 (6004.1) 

Born in Greece, Samaras moved with his family to the U.S. as a teenager. He studied art at Rutgers University, where he met Allan Kaprow, and participated in the latter’s early “Happenings,” as well as in others staged by Jim Dine and Claes Oldenburg. These experiences were the genesis of Samaras’ wide-ranging experimental output, which has included painting, sculpture, collage/assemblage, drawing, photography, performance and, more recently, digital art. 

Much of Samaras’ work is based on his own person and explores the nature of identity and personality. Skull in Colored Nebula is part of a series of works in which he used X-rays, about which Samaras remarked: “Looking in a mirror to do a self-portrait was fine. Having an impression of the face out of tinfoil was also fine. Getting an X-ray of my skull was better. It provided me with a fresh recognizable shape to work with. I combined it with my doodling marks or with pins and it looked right. The pins complicated its depth and the doodling complemented its convolutions.” 

The seductive quality of the glittering pinheads and colorful, “cloud” of stars together with the macabre image of the skull punctured by dozens of pins suggests Samaras may be playing on the word/idea “nebulous” (vague, ill-defined, unclear, uncertain), creating his own meditation on life, a contemporary memento mori in the still life tradition of the Old Master painters.