eX de Medici: Emblems of Death Transformed


eX de Medici, Blue (Bower/Bauer) 1998-2000

In a visually seductive collection of watercolours, Australian artist eX de Medici lures the viewer in only to challenge their perception. Don’t be fooled by the sentimental allusions to memento mori, de Medici’s work is a world away from the insipid decay and morbid tones of the Vanitas genre. Her signature imagery of guns and skulls is not simply an aesthetic delight of colour and design, these are complex emblems laden with messages of power and despair.

Since 1996, de Medici has been working on her Species series, loosely defining these works as an

ongoing mapping of modern international weaponry and unclassified moths of Australia.

Between 2000-2001, de Medici volunteered as an artist’s fellow at the CSIRO Entomology Division’s Australian National Insect Collection, painting and assisting with the classification of some of Australia’s rarest and potentially extinct moth species. With a microscope in one hand and a paintbrush in the other, de Medici’s involvement in this work has since become integral to her art. The little “hairs” that cloak the guns and skulls in her Species collection are actually moth pelts.

eX de Medici, .308 (rifle) 2004

As the viewer digs a little deeper, a better understanding of de Medici’s concerns with power and control through violence become apparent. Her art and her message is accessible. You don’t need an explanation to enjoy and appreciate the visually enticing guns and skulls, and yet you still sense the beguiling paradox of her work.

The artist’s style and subject matter seem to perfectly encapsulate her intention and her expression. Her art reflects the precision of natural history illustration, from which she draws her influence, as well as from her experience as tattooist. The subject matter and technique are forged together in a highly original context. De Medici explains in an interview that her penchant for working in miniature is due to the patience and skill she learned during her years as a tattooist.

According to de Medici,  tattoos are emblems that people choose to represent their ideas. The imagery of guns and skulls therefore arises from this symbolic approach to meaning. The gun is the weapon of ultimate power and the skull is the result of that power. An exquisite and gentle moth pelt disguises and also magnifies the awareness of extinction and the abuse of power. (Remember that de Medici volunteered at CSIRO, assisting with the classification of rare moth species.)

eX de Medici, Take #5 2005

De Medici’s “impossible guns” with triggers made up of the microscopic filaments of moth hide are emblems of defenseless beauty and destruction. The echoes of natural history illustration in her work, invites connections to humanity, biology and life as art. De Medici’s guns and skulls are also reminders of the end of life, violence, and the ravaging of the natural world.

The colors that the artist uses to convey her meaning are not randomly selected. They combine variations of the wing pattern of the Tortricidae superfamily of Microlepidoptera—a very small species of moth, found in the Asia Pacific region—flashes of the British and US flags; colonial drawings of the crash of the flagship of the First Fleet, the shipwrecked Sirius on the Norfolk Island reef; the Mobil horse, the BHP logo, Monsanto, Blackwater and numerous other colors loaded with meaning.

And so, the imagery and materials of de Medici’s guns and skulls combine to form an aggregate of associations, ideas and influences. She fuses the organic, vulnerable, biological characteristics of the moth and the skull with the artificial, man-made gun and notions of power. She explores a range of antithetical insights, from the resplendent pelts of extinct moths to the hard, cold fact of weaponry. The artist transforms the ugliness and cruelty of violence by showing us the final, irreversible result of that violence in beguiling beauty.

Watch a Multimedia Display of eX de Medici’s work



Lara Cory recently completed her first novel and she’s starting a food blog. She’s always been interested in music, writing, art, film and books. She studied Communications and Music and lives in Sydney, Australia with her husband and two small boys.




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