Veins and Skulls, Daniele Serra’s beautiful, dark, and hauntingly surreal study on the complex layers of the human condition, is both a visual and emotional masterpiece. From cover to cover, this book is a stunning display—a gorgeous publication in which one could easily be lost for hours upon hours, again and again, finding threads and ties that bind each theme to its respective imagery.
As Jeff Mariotte says in the introduction, Serra “opens our hearts to the suffering of others… By showing us his dark side, he makes us feel better about our own. Precious humanity is his gift, and we, viewing his art, are the lucky recipients.”
Serra’s graceful artwork translates seamlessly onto the page. The watercolor feel and texture from his canvas is captured in consistent somber hues that lure the viewer in by becoming, for lack of a better word, familiar. Perhaps this lends itself to Serra’s evident connection to us all; as humans, as artists, as lovers of dark beauty and concepts and imagery which might be deemed taboo by others who do not share our fascination with grimness and morbidity. Or rather, it might be his innate ability to understand what it takes to truly draw us into his art: finding a way to connect—to make us want to keep searching, feeling, dreaming—losing ourselves in these portraits and landscapes to interact with and imagine what lies beyond with infinite possibilities left unsaid by his brushstrokes. These are not still-lifes, sculptures, or conceptual art forms we are seeing here—they are essences, ideas, specters and shadows—they are places to which we are transported and presences we need to understand more about on a profound and unsettling level.
Yet in all its macabre gloom, Serra’s artwork is delicate, elegant, and strangely comforting. His lines are soft and fluid, lending themselves to the feminine forms and erotic undertones he showcases in the first two parts of the book. The depth Serra creates on an artistic level is exquisite; particularly in Part One, where many of the figures are set against a backdrop of some sort and successfully convey varying layers of perception. But the depth is also one which transcends space and reaches an intimate, emotive level where the figures and images have no borders, no boundaries—no definitive meanings or messages, nothing blatant to be gleaned. They are black veiled allusions to the most organic of elements—Water, Breath, Seeds—to arcane notions such as Love and Goodbye.
Serra’s erotic pieces in Part Two are reverent and tender tributes to the female form in keeping with those which precede them; yet these are void of the colors, textures, and structures present in the others and direct all attention to the innate but elusive dichotomy of the female body—and perhaps its very essence. The ability to create life, which is inherently sexual—for one does not exist without the other—and the somewhat alluring, intriguing inevitability of death, as we see portrayed here in Serra’s sensual relationships between voluptuous women and lifeless skulls.
The breathtaking scenic landscapes in Part Three are a perfect way to close. However melancholy, these depictions give way to a rebirth of sorts—a renewed sense of hope—for the viewer. We have seen veins and skulls, blood and dust, life, death, and many unspoken things in between. But Serra leaves us with Light…a sun rising in the distance. This says a great deal not just about the intended journey and evolution of the story told in the illustrations, but perhaps that of the artist himself.
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