Home Visual Arts Inside the tortured mind of torture-device artist Killian Skarr

Inside the tortured mind of torture-device artist Killian Skarr

Killian Skarr

From the street it looks like any other rundown home in any other industrial town in the Midwest rust-belt. It isn’t really until you gain access to the front room that you begin to realize just how much truth there is to its occupants claim that he is a “madman”.

Nearly every available square foot of floor space is taken up by large, hulking devices that crowd you into the center of the room. You measure your breath, standing as still as possible so as not to impale your limbs upon the clawing sculptures that everywhere protrude. At first appearance the sinister, primitive machines are a chaotic jumble of ominous parts; carved wood, bones, rusty steel, leather– but as you become oriented with the boundaries of each piece you begin to notice patterns. The strange materials seem to coagulate into dramatic arches and parabolas, and terminate in wild spirals or skulls of some indeterminate species of demon. The overall shapes of these looming sculptures begin to take on a strange familiarity. They at once appear to be primitive imitations of natural patterns, like those found in Maori canoe prows, or the skeletons of creatures that inhabit some hellish netherworld. Perhaps they even resemble the sigils and letters that one might use to call forth and reanimate such nightmarish animals.

It is then that you remember that these sculptures are made to be functional– as primitive torture devices. Your imagination is consumed with thoughts of human bodies, writhing and bound  to these bizarrely beautiful forms.

But your host is not content to just let you imagine how each piece works. Instead he offers to show you. Before you can make up your mind you are beckoned to follow him. This man you are now obliged to accompany is seemingly as deceptive as his house. He is short and compact with broad shoulders, not small, but certainly not a large man. He is polite and well mannered and when he speaks it is with a fair amount of lucidity; sincere, but every so often throwing in a little sarcasm that makes you doubt just how sincere he’s been with you up until that point. He wears a fiery red beard which at first distracts you from the piercing gaze beneath his lowered brow. And when he watches your reaction to his art, or catches you staring at his left arm, which is tattooed almost entirely black, you are treated to a look of mischievous pride; as if to say, “Yes, I really am that crazy.”

It is this man’s sanity that you do indeed begin to call into question as you descend into his basement workshop. If the front room felt claustrophobic the basement feels cluttered to the point of being a health hazard. You follow this man, who goes by the name Killian Skarr, through a path cleared from detritus that is stacked to the low, cobwebbed ceiling. Every imaginable sort of debris is in evidence from beneath a thick layer of sawdust–  tools and hardware, wood and steel, paint and parts, cables, chains and rope, broken chainsaws and broken furniture all left where they had been flung in anger. In fact the entire basement looks as though someone tore through it in a homicidal rage.

“I’m very passionate about making art. When I’m working on a piece I kind of lose it a little…” he admits in the understated manner which marks his speech.