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Digital death: The vibrant and the macabre with Runny Lump

Exploring the skull as totem through the work of American NFT artist Runny Lump.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Jul 11, 2021

The NFT (Non-Fungible Token) market has been expanding rapidly and come to be something of a household name in savvy circles today. As NFTs serve as a digital token that proves authenticity, these can be used to present a certain piece of digital art whether it be an image, a gif or even a longer video, as being the ‘authentic’ version, thereby allowing digital artists to profit, sans infrastructure, off a practice that is inherently easy to copy and replicate. At the opposite end of the market, these tokens are stored on a decentralised network of servers, which is extremely difficult to hack, and therefore, digital art collectors can rest assured that their purchases are safe. These key factors have come together to create a massive boom in digital arts practices, and creatives such as Runny Lump have been quick to immerse themselves within the arts culture NFTs are shaping.

Untitled | Runny Lump | NFT Art | STIRworld
Untitled Image: Runny Lump

The artist mentions that his real name is James, but is clearly more interested in his creative nom de guerre, which he humorously explains is meant to be a play on Donald Trump, who was the erstwhile 45th president of the United States of America, and subject of en-masse mockery in the public forum. Lump hails from Portland, Oregon in the United States, and has been fascinated by art ever since he learned to draw in grade school. However, he is currently best known for his captivating 3D skull-themed digital art, which is a practice that grew out of an initial desire to represent music visually. He tells STIR, “The first thing that really made me want to learn 3D was when I saw the electronic act Autechre's Gantz Graf music video. I knew I wanted to learn 3D so I could create visual descriptions of the music I made and just fell in love with the whole 3D process for art.” Eventually, after spending time making electronic music as well as CD covers, Lump would pursue an associate’s degree in graphic design and would then go on to work in several studios, specialising in 3D modelling, rendering and animation. Eventually, within his personal practice, the artist would develop a near-singular visual focus on what has been a preoccupation of his that transcended all of the key phases in his creative journey; that being, the aforementioned portrayal of skulls.

Skulls are a symbol of death that everyone shares, but not everyone embraces. – Runny Lump
One of Lump’s more ornamental skulls | Runny Lump | NFT Art | STIRworld
One of Lump’s more ornamental skulls Image: Runny Lump

Lump says, “I have an affinity for skulls and have had this since I was a kid. They have always had an interesting place in art because they can represent so many different emotions and themes.” This is certainly true as, across the world, various cultures have developed radically different thematic associations stemming from this common motif. In fact, if one were to consider the true tangibility of the relationship skulls are engaged in with the ideas of death or courage for example, it quickly becomes apparent that such associations have, in fact been thrust upon the skull culturally and viscerally, and not by way of a rigid, logical exploration. This is not to say that they are meaningless however, as meaning itself needn’t be a product of naturalised axiom, but rather, is something that may emerge, over time, through the evolution of culture. Lump is aware of this plethora of meanings attached to the skull, and embraces these wholeheartedly within his work, even mutating and complicating some of these, yet, when connecting the motif to his childhood, he tends to focus more on its occurrence as a particularly uncanny ornamentation. Referencing the ubiquitous association between skulls and mortality, Lump explains, “Skulls are a symbol of death that everyone shares, but not everyone embraces. I always drew a lot of skulls growing up and loved them for decoration all year round.” This evokes visions of the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos, widely known as the Day of the Dead, and Lump’s piece pictured above certainly speaks to a similar sense of pomp, if being rather aesthetically disparate from the visual style associated with the festival. Indeed, it would be fascinating to see more work from Lump that draws upon the aesthetic as well as thematic sensibilities associated with depictions of skulls across cultures. There is certainly equal, and perhaps even more merit to this work that is at once a product of his engagement with these stark cultural associations, yet is primarily built through his own imagination and visual sensibilities.

01 min watch ‘Paint Spray Volume 1’ by Runny Lump | Runny Lump | NFT Art | STIRworld
Paint Spray Volume 1 by Runny Lump Video: Runny Lump

Discussing his own aesthetic predilections, Lump explains, “I have always had an interest in art that is a mix of dark themes paired with a lighter pop aesthetic. Some of my favourite art inspirations would be HR Giger Dali and all the online artists I love.” The feeling of the unknowable that transcends Giger’s work is immediately palpable in Lump’s piece above, and one may also locate something derivative of a retro neon quality to the colour palette he has chosen. Yet, in many of his other works, the artist’s love for the cosmically unknowable is superseded by the vibrancy of his more modern tastes, and these too, make for captivating viewing. Returning to the earliest piece presented within this article, Lump will not hesitate to relegate the skull itself to the position of a secondary subject in his work, instead choosing to focus on another entity entirely; making for an interesting visual play between his glamorously macabre elements.

01 min watch ‘Head Trauma’ by Runny Lump | Runny Lump | NFT Art | STIRworld
Head Trauma by Runny Lump Video: Runny Lump

While the artist creates much of his work to be sold on websites dealing with NFTs, his art has also found a home on Instagram where he enjoys a growing following. Discussing his future plans, Lump expresses a desire to diversify his practice, saying, “In the future I would love to work on some more simulation and animation pieces driven by music. I have gotten into using Unreal Engine for creating interactive spaces and would like to expand on that and create more interactive experiences.” It remains to be seen if Lump’s portrayal of skulls will figure in with his further artistic projects or if these will become two distinct creative pursuits, but in the meantime, curious audiences are always welcome to find a treat of strange and vibrant digital art within his macabre oeuvre.

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