Slick skulls

Gisli Balzer has a fascination with skulls. The 33-year-old artist started photographing them a year ago while working at a paleontology lab. He snapped photos of cougars, grizzlies, wolves and black bears.

Gisli Balzer has a fascination with skulls.

The 33-year-old artist started photographing them a year ago while working at a paleontology lab.

He snapped photos of cougars, grizzlies, wolves and black bears.

Then he threw neon coloured paint on them.

Balzer reproduced the images of the skulls using a silkscreen method which transfers a picture using paint.

Balzer had silkscreened T-shirts before, while working at local art and decal company Terra Firma.

But he wanted to see what else he could silkscreen onto.

So he pulled out a bunch of old scraps of wood and metal he had been hanging onto for years and started planning his art exhibit Head Case.

He had door panels that he stashed away in the hopes of one day making shelves, and on the glossy, framed panels – which still feature small nail holes – Balzer sprayed neon green, blue and red cougar skulls.

The result is a slick looking image you’d see on the deck of a skateboard.

Aside from looking stylish, the skull also has an interesting story behind it.

Rumour has it the skull – which is a replica of a real cougar skull – was found in the back of an abandoned Volkswagon in Dawson City.

An entire cougar carcass, which isn’t at all native to the Yukon, was mysteriously found in the car.

The story adds to the mystique of the skull, said Balzer, who is particularly intrigued by human and animal anatomy.

“I don’t know anybody who doesn’t stop to look and admire a skull,” he said.

The artist spent seven months dreaming up his exhibit but managed to pound out the work in only four days.

The original idea came from a skull Balzer silkscreened onto a piece of scrap wood.

“I’d never seen silkscreen prints on wood before,” he said.

“I just really liked the effect of the matte black on a glossy surface.”

Balzer enlisted the help of his wife Shai Baxendale, as well as Terra Firma’s Rory O’Brien and Matty Marnik.

After the shop was closed they experimented silkscreening onto different surfaces late into the night.

A tin sheet Balzer salvaged from his wedding reception last summer proved to be the most difficult to work with.

The sheet – originally used to capture barbecue drippings – was too staticy to work with and had a tendency to reject the paint.

So the artists began mixing different brands of paint together to see what would do the trick.

Eventually they managed to print a greenish-grey wolf skull and brightly coloured bear and cougar skulls onto the tin.

Glass panes Balzer salvaged from a worksite took the prints more easily.

The idea to use glass came from a previous art project where Balzer stacked several panes of coloured glass in front of each other to create a layering effect.

The double panes of glass, with cougar skulls printed onto them, give the piece a more three-dimensional look.

Balzer also experimented printing on copper, ceramic and even the art gallery’s walls.

“I’ve been putting it on as many substrates as possible,” he said.

“That’s the purpose of the show.”

Balzer’s art career began back in 2000 but it’s been mostly sporadic since then, he said.

His most well-known works are the snowsculpting pieces he carves for Yukon festivals and at competitions around the world, where his team of Yukon snow sculptors has nabbed international awards.

He plans to continue honing his art skills on skulls in the future.

Now, working as a restoration specialist at the territory’s historic sites unit, Balzer will start learning the trade of skull re-creation.

In the next year, he’ll travel to Ottawa for a three-month course learning how to handle the delicate bones and replicate them for schools and tourists to examine and touch.

But for now, he’s just glad to gaze at the colourful skull prints on show at Gallery 22.

“These have been a long time in the coming,” he said.

“They’ve been in my head for awhile and now I’m glad they’re finally out.”

Head Case will be on display at Gallery 22 until November 14.

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com