As you can see in the picture below, sitting before me is one of David Welker’s truly massive Skully (2016) vinyl sculptures. Before examining this piece, though, let’s quickly acquaint ourselves with the artist and his design.
David Welker - Skully - Vinyl Sculpture

History of the artist & his creation

Welker is a New York City-based artist who is probably most well known as the painter behind the wraparound cover for Phish’s Rift album. But the style he employs there doesn’t reflect the majority of his modern output. For the last few years his name has become more associated to concert poster illustrations, his style being a clean mixing of hand-lettered typography with underground comix and pop surrealist sensibilities.

As for his Skully creation, it has quickly become almost a signature, a symbol of Welker’s work. While the modern version, which this piece is modeled after, only became truly prevalent at the beginning of 2015, when it was incorporated prominently in the redesign of Welker’s website, the concept predates that. In fact, it evolved over the course of several doodles Welker did, like these two on concert posters from 2012 — one for Built to Spill and one for The Black Keys.
While the exact origins of Skully haven’t been disclosed, I suspect that it is Welker’s unique take on the famous heart with wings design, similar to the one Welker created here for the Detroit Cobras concert poster in 2013. My theory is given a little credence by the fact that Welker’s Heart of Skully t-shirt featured that illustration on the front and Skully on the backside, intrinsically linking the two together.

My Impressions of the Skully vinyl sculpture

As for the vinyl sculpture version of Skully, produced by Brooklyn’s Bottleneck Gallery, it is a brilliantly executed piece conceptually. Sitting just 2” shy of being two FEET long, a lot of attention was obviously paid to transforming Welker’s illustration into 3D. Imbued with thick grooves to mimic the detail lines on the original, the depth of these creates the illusion — through shadows — of there being a darker paint rub applied. And the matte black for the three eye holes and nose cavities wonderfully separate those elements from the whole.

Using the giant blood droplets from the wings as legs for the piece was definitely a smart way to avoid altering the form too much while making it able to stand on its own. But, the true highlight, is the halo atop these ectoplasmic emissions. Held in place by a simple bar, it has the illusion of floating and can be moved side-to-side, back-and-forth.
Unfortunately, there are some failings on the production side of this work. First off, the wings are simply tabbed into place. The glue that affixed this one had already dried up when I received it, causing the wing to fall out. Of course there is an easy fix, I just have to re-glue them in place, but I wish the tabs locked in on there own.
David Welker - Skully - Detached Wing
Then there’s this very rough seam line that runs on the front and back of the wings. It’s thankfully very close to the body, making it a touch less noticeable, but it’s never invisible. And less easy to explain is my third complaint, which is that the vinyl itself feels cheap. It’s not overly thin or anything, but the weight just doesn’t seem right to me.
David Welker - Skully - Seamline
While it’s unfortunate this conceptually smart work is marred by some production problems, I sincerely hope that Bottleneck Gallery learn from this and improve. Especially since, as an established gallery with lots of existing artist relationships, I think they are an important new voice to the designer toy movement.

Editions of Skully [show]

For more information on David Welker:
website | facebook | instagram

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