Monday, February 18, 2008


Richard Sevigny had a long fascination with skulls, which came from his interest in anatomy, but also from his interest in ghost stories and all things macabre. He also thought they were just plain funny.

He didn't just sketch, paint and carve skulls and skeletons. He decorated every house he ever lived in with them and his Halloween parties were legendary. I was told he once topped a Christmas tree with a skull but that may just be a rumor.

I don't when his interest in skulls began.

His closest cousin told me that he began drawing them after visiting a concentration camp during a trip to Germany when he was a young man.

I also have a letter he sent to his parents from New Orleans, where he spent at least a short amount of time painting portraits in St. Marks Square. In the letter, he informs his parents that he's just finished a painting of a grim reaper. He admits that it's a "strange" thing to paint but reassures them that "at least I've done it and it's out of my system now."

But this sculpture shows what Richard's friends all know. His fascination with skulls wasn't out of his system and never would be.


The Nort said...

Hard to believe, but if my memory serves me, this was actually the first of Richard's marble pieces, which would date it around 1970. Though he had done some practice carving while in North Florida, he didn't settle down to attack a serious project until he settled in Miami again--a now demolished house on Mary Street in Coconut Grove where his first son was born. I remember it seemed forever that he worked on it, first with hammers and chisels, then coarse files, then finer files, then coarse sandpapers, then finer sandpapers, working down to abrasive pastes, coming ever closer to the finished sheen that he was after.

The photo is good, and reminds us of Richard's other talent, developed later, in photography. But it doesn't convey the massive presence of the work, which is slightly larger than life and truly imposing when you are in its presence.

You can see right from the beginning his interest in anatomy. Though this piece is more stylized than some of his others, it is based on actual anatomy. One detail I had forgotten was the line dividing the upper and lower back teeth, and the way it divides the teeth into a pattern of 3 plus 3 from the side.

I believe this piece and the anatomical study of a hand and arm were (much later) purchased by Miami-Dade College for their teaching collection. Prior to finding that home, they adorned several of Richard's abodes.

John Sevigny said...

Thanks for that information. I don't know whether the arm or the skull came first because I was still in diapers.

The arm was purchased by Miami-Dade College. The skull wasn't, or if it was, it was somehow returned because I've got it in storage. The arm, though, was in the school's hands last time I heard. I remember that in the late 80s, Richard had to ask to borrow it back in order to photograph it.

The skull, like any sculpture, does suffer in two-dimensional format. Moreover, the photograph doesn't offer any sense of how large the piece is or how much it weighs, which is unfortunate.