I arrived for my second formal interview with the enigmatic artist Killian Skarr a little earlier than we had agreed upon. While parking at the rear of his nondescript gray house I was met by what seemed an entire pack of wild dogs crashing against the chain-link fence like a frenzied, barking wave.
The fence rattled and swayed from their chaotic momentum until for a moment I feared it would fail and I would be engulfed in gnashing teeth. Just as I was considering climbing back into my car a booming voice commanded them to be “QUIET!”. Instantly, all barking ceased, save for the one holdout who was still frantically throwing itself against the fence. Killian Skarr emerged from somewhere in the backyard and was now moving swiftly towards the rabid mongrel. The other dogs obediently cowered and slunk away. When I saw the anger on his face I likewise had an immediate inclination towards retreat. “THUT-MOSE!” Killian thundered as he was almost upon the poor creature. This brought the dog back to himself and instantly, automatically he sat as still and silent as a moment before he had been berserk and raging. Killian crouched down into the dog’s face and growled the further command to “Be quiet…” The terrified animal sat stock still, its large eyes fixed upon the master and resigned to the mercy of his whims.
Now Killian looked to me. His eyes were still a little wild and I felt a profound regret at being early. I apologized and began to explain but he dismissed it coolly, “Don’t sweat it.” he said. But I’m sure he was irritated. In the past he has always been very polite and soft spoken. I knew he could be quick to anger from speaking with his girls, and certainly madness is a defining characteristic of the man but I’d never really seen it first hand before. I weigh more than him by at least sixty or seventy pounds and I’m easily a foot taller than the guy but I don’t mind telling you that when he was yelling it was more than just a little intimidating.
He had been working. My untimely arrival had interrupted his carving of a large block of wood with a chainsaw. It sat upon cinder blocks in the yard amidst a pile of saw dust. Nearby, the ground was cluttered with all manner of detritus. Broken machine parts rusted alongside twisted tree limbs and gnarled root systems. Bent steel pipes jutted dangerously from piles of leaves and half carved tree trunks. Even the dogs stepped with caution as they picked their way over the mounds.
Killian collected his chainsaw and a few tools and then exited through the gate commanding his dogs to stay, which they did with the utmost obedience. There were almost a dozen of them, all staring at him with the dumb but profound loyalty that humans have bred into the species. I was thankful he hadn’t asked me into the fence though, as that loyalty can sometimes be misplaced especially if they mistake a guest for an intruder.
He had me follow him into his basement so he could put his tools away. I stood on the opposite side of the basement as the doorway where, when last I visited him, he had kept a young woman in a cage. I began to wonder if Killian had a girl in there now. He caught my gaze and seemed to know what I was thinking.
“No.” he said “There’s no one in there now.” and gave me a satisfied smirk before his countenance fell back to the tense irritation which I couldn’t help feeling I had inadvertently inspired. I just laughed nervously.
Once we were back upstairs he showed me to his “study” and invited me to sit while he went to retrieve a bottle of wine. As with the man, his study seemed to be a study in paradox. From ceiling to floor, nearly every available square foot of wall space was shelved and overflowing with books of various genres and conditions, some in vaguely organized sections, others placed haphazardly.
Indeed, there were so many books that there was not enough shelves to contain them. And so, tall stacks of books towered precariously on the windowsill, on the floor, the coffee table. A few volumes even shared the couch with me. There was every conceivable type of non-fiction. There were college textbooks enough to educate one in both the arts and sciences as well as popular books that ran the gamut of science disciplines, both by authors I recognized and many I did not. The classics were well represented; there were complete collections from Voltaire, Dumas, Dickens, Plato, etc. There wasn’t much in the way of popular fiction however. Umberto Eco being the only contemporary author immediately recognizable.
Upon the coffee table the DSM IV lay open to the entry on Bipolar disorder. Next to it a glossy catalog for an exhibit of ancient Chinese bronzes. It could have been the library of a wealthy eccentric, if not for the almost complete lack of any system of organization, and that among the books, here and there, bones and skulls and rusted hardware peeked out. Also the fact that it seemed to double as a leather shop for bondage gear. In one corner scraps of leather intermingled with a myriad of leather working tools and restraints in various stages of completion.
My host returned with the promised bottle of wine and a single glass tumbler, not a wine glass. He filled the tumbler to half, handed it to me and then proceeded to tip the bottle back.
“It’s organic; sulfite free. It’s all I drink.” He explained. “Except vodka. But I fucking lose it on vodka. I try to reserve that for only my blackest of moods.”
The wine was a very dry red and had an almost instantaneous effect on both myself and Killian. The silent irritation that had been apparent on his face now became vocalized. In fact the more he drank, the angrier he seemed to become.
“Why don’t you tell me about the new project?” I prompted. “What has motivated you to do this to yourself?”
For an uncomfortably long time he stared at me, swaying slightly. I couldn’t tell if he was about to start weeping or screaming. Neither would have surprised me. But he didn’t. He closed his eyes slightly and then in a measured tone he recited, “On April 22nd it is my intention that I should be crucified to a sculpture before a live audience, and streaming video over the internet. Those who wish to participate will then have the opportunity to give me electric shocks and maybe even burn my flesh.”
“Why Good Friday? Is that just to be provocative?”
“Of course it is to be provocative. But that’s not the only reason.” he said and I noticed a more than subtle irritation creep back into his voice.
“You know when I first started making art like this I really had no I idea I would be