Postmortem: The dissection of Scully.
My first ever memory of The X-Files will never leave the haunted catacombs of my childhood psyche.
It was the mid-1990s and I was sharing a bedroom with my two brothers. Every night we'd be put to bed and gently coerced into going to sleep without a fuss. We were scaredy-cats so our bedroom door was always left open... unless we misbehaved, that is.
If we misbehaved when we were supposed to be going to sleep - the punishment was having our bedroom door closed. Somehow this did not deter my little brother. One night, Mum and Dad were watching TV, so we were urging Keegan to settle down because they would not be happy if we interrupted their program. All of a sudden, Keegan stopped fussing. A noise, music of some sort - was tickling our ears. He looked straight at me with a horrified face, disturbed by this music.
Lucas sat straight upright in his bed. I looked from one brother to the next and back again, my eyes widening. We were all trying to figure out... what was that noise!?
No words can describe the disturbing, bone-chilling and utterly sickening effect that The X-Files theme song had on us that night. Drifting down the hall from the lounge room and into our tiny ears... I have no idea why, but we were all immediately horrified at the sound and in unison screamed out:
"Mum! Dad! - Come and shut our bedroom door!!"
And so it went, that from 1993 - 2015 I thoroughly and completely avoided The X-Files TV show and the ungodly tune that accompanied it. It came to represent something I was childishly afraid of with no good reason other than it freaked me out. I did learn not to be afraid of the bedroom door being shut, at least!
Then, along came Clayton.
True believer, avid fan-boy and eager to convert this new girl he was dating - Clayton somehow convinced me to actually watch The X-Files for the first time in my life. Probably the only thing in the world that could've convinced me to sit down and watch that freaky-ass opening sequence was the charming smile and furrowed brow of Clayton (Ironically, not too dissimilar to that of one Fox Mulder.)
For me, sitting down and watching The X-Files was a strange accomplishment. It felt like I was overcoming a childhood fear.
Five years, eleven seasons and two-hundred-and-eighteen episodes later... I officially want to believe. Somehow we even ended up donning the iconic FBI name tags for a 90s themed dress-up party last year.
And thus I became: a fan.
Not only was I delighted by the well-written and suspenseful storyline, David Duchovny's general aura of handsomeness and the timeless will-they-won't-they dynamic.
I was fully and thoroughly enthralled by the character of Agent Dana Scully.
I'd overcome my fears by actually sitting down and watching the show... but what I hadn't expected was to then watch an awesome female character fight everything else terrifying and unknown in this universe. Not since Buffy The Vampire Slayer had I encountered such a well-executed and complex female character.
"Scully was one of the first multidimensional female characters in a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field to be featured on a popular television show and the first to play a leading role. She is known for her objectivity, scepticism, confidence, and brilliance." - Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
Now, without going into too much detail about the specifics of the show, Agent Dana Scully was a very relatable character for a lot of people. Working in fields typically dominated by men, not only was Scully able to do the job just as well as her male counterparts, she brought her own flair, femininity and strength to the field.
Assuming that having more gender diversity in any field would be advantageous, you may be surprised to hear that the 2015 Gender Bias Without Borders study by the Geena Davis Institute discovered that of all the onscreen characters with an identifiable STEM job, only 12 per cent were women.
ONLY 12% of FICTIONAL characters with STEM jobs were women!
Cue: The Scully Effect. Scully marked a turning point that encouraged more women to take an interest in pursuing STEM fields. Which really blew my mind and made me connect with the character even more. According to a recent survey by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media...
Women who regularly tuned into “The X-Files” were 50% more likely to have worked in a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) field.
Which is just awesome. Scully doing her thing on screen actually helped women and girls see themselves working in STEM fields. Which is why representation in media is so important! And why I've chosen to release this print run on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, February 11th 2020. Overcoming my fear of The X-Files to discover such a strong female character facing her own fears was deliciously perfect.
Honestly, the weird journey I had with The X-Files, first terrifying me and then inspiring me, left me with lots of strong feelings. About facing your fears, about bravery, about following your passions, about overcoming obstacles. And whilst I wasn't lured into a STEM field, Scully did inspire me to pick up my paintbrushes and pay tribute to her character through the lens of my unique artistic stylings. Art is always the place where I offload any strong feelings! And so, the spark for "Postmortem" ignited.
What was my thought process
throughout the creation of Postmortem?
Firstly, the galaxy was an obvious choice.
Given all the UFO encounters throughout The X-Files, I didn't need any more of an excuse to do a galaxy than that, apparently. The galaxy here represents the mysteries of the universe that Mulder & Scully pursued.
Housing the galaxy within a circle (not uncommon for me) is representative of the totality of her story neatly encompassed within.
Well rounded, if you will. And rather than going with my typical purple, pink and blue galaxy - the classic eerie green glow of the X-Files intro was too perfect to pass up.
The colour scheme is what got me really excited. Scully is commonly known for her general orangeness, both in hair colour and makeup choices, which I was looking to exploit. My characters usually exist in somewhat cooler lighting conditions, and so I thought it would be a fabulous challenge to light her in a way that really made the whole orange vibe a key feature. And we all know orange and green is a win.
With that in mind, I started searching for reference images and compiling them in Photoshop to create my vision. Some artists like to wing it, but I try to create a precise image of my painting digitally and then follow it pretty closely. I also did a bit of a search for existing Scully fan-art, precisely so I could avoid capturing her in the same manner as the rest of the internet.
So I used a less common shot of her for facial reference, along with the neck and shoulders of Charlize Theron. Because, of course.
Throw in a shot of my hand, a pretty amazing autopsy makeup job, my usual galaxy reference shot and voilà! We have a digital reference ready to guide my painting process.
So, why have I represented Scully stitching up her own autopsy wound?
Here is where I introduce the main storytelling component of the artwork. As with all of my paintings, I'm not just trying to depict a beautiful woman in serene surroundings (not that there's anything wrong with that.) I was looking to inject some symbolism to hint at the characteristics in Scully that I most admired. And significant aspects of her story throughout the journey on The X-Files.
We view Scully from a slightly lower angle, implying that we are in fact looking up at her. Her gaze tilted slightly down to meet ours. This is a really easy visual trick that instinctively makes the viewer feel that the character is powerful. Her confidence, directness and intelligence are also conveyed with the angle of her head, her jaw cocking towards us slightly. Not to mention her unwavering eye contact! Even her shoulders are squared and back, signalling in body language shorthand that this medical doctor turned FBI agent is not to be messed with.
Now, if you haven't seen The X-Files, you may not be aware that Dana Scully often used her medical know-how to perform autopsies during the course of an FBI investigation.
Instead of debunking Fox Mulder's outlandish and supernatural claims, she was often able to add credibility to them with scientific evidence. I felt that the autopsy could serve as a symbol of her medical practice throughout the show.
I'm personally intrigued by the dynamic interplay between power and vulnerability within a person. So not only was my goal to convey her total-bossness, but her vulnerabilities too.
During her investigatory experiences with the X-Files, Scully is subjected to countless traumas. An alien abduction, her sister's death, infertility, and finally falling pregnant (miraculously) only to give up the child upon birth. Just to name a few.
But, she is not waiting for some outside force to heal her of these traumas. Just like any other autopsy, she has plunged into the causes of her pain, investigated them thoroughly and then put herself back together again. I've used the depiction of her own hand actively stitching up her wound to really convey that she alone wielded the power to truly know herself, her experiences and then heal from them.
Seemingly contradictory to her role as scientist and sceptic, a cornerstone of Scully's character is her Catholic faith. This faith is tested again and again throughout the show as she faces various obstacles. As a nod to this faith, I wanted her depicted giving her own autopsy while clearly alive - as if she had died and been reborn. Vaguely reminiscent of the death and resurrection of Christ.
And this is how I settled on naming this artwork: Postmortem.
Not because she's dead, but because we just dissected her character through the lens of her trauma and medical background. It was an absolute joy bringing this painting to life. Some paintings can be a real struggle, but this piece just flowed out of me with such ease. The journey I've been on with The X-Files seemed to culminate naturally with the creation of this painting. I hope that whether you're a fan of the show or not, that you've been able to connect with the story and character I've tried to capture here.
Now I only release a print run once the original painting has sold, and do you know who bought this piece?
Redbubble decided they wanted to add this piece to their permanent collection at the Melbourne head office! The perfect commemoration of my just completed residency, I'm chuffed that they loved the piece so much that they had to have it. And as a bonus, I'll be able to come and visit the painting and my RB buddies!
Technically speaking, Clayton thinks this is the best painting I've ever done. The depth and detail in the galaxy, the lighting, overall composition and execution of Gillian Anderson's likeness were all a level-up for me. And then Clayton said,
"Wait, so you're only making 10 of these prints? Can I have one?"
Yes, yes you can! I'll be producing a limited edition fine art print run of 10. That's it. This ensures that each and every print will be treasured in those 10 homes forever.
And for this week only, when you purchase your own "Postmortem" limited edition print, you'll receive a free sticker too! Which you might like to gift to the special woman working in a STEM field in your life, or to a girl wondering whether that's something she would like to pursue. But it's totally cool if you just want to keep the sticker for yourself, hehe.