I had a good long look at potential directions for this piece and identified key scenes and settings from the film, such as the cage, the cell, Buffalo Bills’ house etc. but opposed them for the concern that they just wouldn’t look right on someone's living room wall. Anything else wouldn’t have been iconic enough to sit under the film title so I have chosen to focus on the Death Head Hawkmoth which is such a striking image and one that is clearly associated with the film, not just from the disturbing place that it is put by Bill but because it is dominating film posters and covers since the start.
For me, I have previously used moths and butterflies within both published and unpublished works as I love the transformation from one state to another and have always linked that to personal development that is linked to happiness and confidence. So, what I have done is tackle this piece by focusing on the killer Jame Gumb, Buffalo Bill. I have focused on the mind-set of the character and what is driving him to commit such horrific crimes in pursuit of his goals, clearly one messed up person but why?
I am a firm believer that people aren’t born bad, something has to happen to take away the light and bring darkness in floods. This is clearly the case with Jame, abandoned by his mother — an alcoholic prostitute who misspelled “James” on his birth certificate — and then taken into foster care at two years old. The film’s screenplay implies that he had a traumatic childhood. In the movie, Lecter quotes “Billy was not born a criminal, but made one by years of systematic abuse.” His twisted pursuit to become a woman adds a fascinating layer to the plot and his character, killing obese women and using their skin to create a skin suit for him to wear is pretty extreme to say the least.
The Hawkmoth definitely symbolises Gumbs’ determination to see his gender transition become real, blocked by the authorities for being too unstable he has resorted to his own methods. Skin becomes his canvas and make up and blood his paint and the sewing machine his glue. In his eyes he does no wrong, its’ an art form, a procedure, the scene with him dancing to ‘Goodbye Horses’ (which I've had on loop for a large part of creating this piece) is testament to his portrayed innocence.
What I love about the moth is the clear divide between the top and bottom halves, one being bright and warm whilst the other being dark and slightly uncomfortable. My interpretation adapts each half with detail that is an opposite to each so the perceived warm and bright half is breaking and combusting whilst the darker half is shrouded in beautiful light and warmth. This is to depict the reality that true feelings and characters are much greater and deep rooted than the depth of one’s skin, a person who wears make up and dances around a room is assigned the happy and carefree tag whilst someone who is cold and dark is deemed to be troubled rather than lacking confidence and simply hasn’t shed their skin and transformed.
The detail now in place on the moth takes an iconic image and creates so much more detail and a sense of intrigue which I love, ultimately it is more beautiful for that, an image that symbolises someone's’ layers and troubles whist conveying a wonderful determination to fly. The image of a skull that is present on the head of the moth and that gives it such a sinister feel and link to death is a detail that drew me in, you might not notice at first but when you do it is all you see. What I have done is to replace this with the iconic Hannibal Lecter mask icon as there had to be a link to such a formidable character within this piece. I hope that I have achieved the same result by doing this, that you might not notice initially but once you do it is all you see.
The background had to be kept subtle so as to make the moth shine and ultimately to create a piece that is very different to others within the collection. However, I wanted to introduce detail that further expanded on Gumbs’ character and killings. As mentioned, skin was his canvas, pretty horrific to say the least. I have created a pinched seam around the perimeter of the background that has been stitched to resemble the killers’ skin suit, but treated in a way that it wouldn’t deter people.
However, cracks have appeared, fault lines within his work, from these there is darkness escaping within the lower half to match the darkness on the moths’ lower section that focuses centrally on an area that rises up towards its’ lower body. If you look closely you can see the male and female icons drawn onto the canvas - the male icon has devil horns scrawled onto it to represent his aim to be a woman. In contrast, the upper sections show beautiful warm light escaping from the cracks and radiating downwards to the moths’ eyes. We must pass through the darkness, to reach the light.
Whilst the piece was coming together it started to remind me of one of the old drawings of species with the moth laid out and hand drawn detail surrounding it. What I then did was to further support Gumbs’ desire to be a woman and the end game that he was refused, if you look closely there is a hand drawn illustration of the female reproductive system - flipped so that the moth didn’t look like he was entering it! Just a subtle detail that adds another layer to the piece. There is a pile of make up powder on the canvas to link to Gumbs’ extravagant side and attempts to disguise.
Finally as his work was viewed by himself as an art I have added a signature bottom right ‘James Gumb’ with the ’s’ smudged out to mimic his mothers error when registering him. Something very simple but intriguing about the sign off.