"Each skull is an artistic tribute to animals. My love for nature is what inspires all my artwork."

Raluca Mihalcea is a Romanian painter and mixed-media artist based in Brașov. Her work encompasses a diverse array of organic materials sourced from both the plant and animal kingdoms, ranging from mushrooms, moss, and wood to insects and pressed flowers. Her peculiar arrangements evoke a sense of pagan-like mystique reminiscent of a cabinet of eclectic oddities and curiosities. Combining an intense appreciation for glamour with a raw, earthy reverence for the macabre, Raluca’s creations captivate the imagination.

While both her paintings and her extensive collection of hermit oddities are more than enough to catch attention, Raluca’s primary focus lies in painting and adorning animal skulls with exquisite detail. Through this ongoing project, the artist asserts that, although frightening, death is not the end. While many may find the notion of using animal bones unsettling, Raluca sees a deer or goat skull as more than mere remnants of mortality. To her, each skull is both a blank canvas awaiting the stroke of a brush and a charmed mirror reflecting the lives these animals once lived.

Explore more of Raluca’s artworks and delve deeper into her artistic journey in the interview below.

CVLTARTES: Can you share a bit about yourself and how you got started with decorating animal skulls in this unique gothic, pagan style?

Raluca Mihalcea: I was born in Bucharest, but now I live in Brașov, which is lovely because I’m closer to nature. I studied literature and languages in college. I love animals more than anything in the world, and I’ve been a vegetarian for half of my life. Art is my biggest passion, and it has always been. Although I didn’t study it in school, I would have liked to study history of art in college, but I home-schooled myself.

My passion for skulls began more than 10 years ago, when my sister and I used to shoot analogue photography. The themes were mostly macabre art, and we gathered many animal’s skulls as props for our photography projects. About 5 years ago, I started painting on canvas, and that was a life-changing event for me, as I was truly able to lose all my negative thoughts and find the peace of my soul while painting. Most of the themes were nature related.

How long have you been working on these skull designs? Have you noticed any changes in your approach over time?

About 3 years ago, I got the idea to get new purposes for the skulls I owned by honouring their lives and deaths. Each skull is an artistic tribute to animals. My love for nature is what inspires all my artwork. Of course there are changes and improvements; however, I always tried to create unique pieces.

Generally speaking, who or what inspires your work? Are there any artists in particular that you look up to in this genre?

My greatest inspiration is nature itself and my love for flora and fauna. When I first started to create those artworks, I hadn’t seen anything similar, but as I shared my art on social media, the algorithm suggested similar artists who are incredibly talented, and I really love and appreciate their work. However, I try to stick to my own style and ideas.

Walk me through your creative process, from brainstorming to putting the finishing touches on it. How do you bring these ideas to life?

The creative process can be different for each piece. Sometimes I know beforehand what to do and how I would like it to be done; other times I just go with the flow. I’m using mixed media like acrylic painting, decoupage technique, crystals, mushrooms that I like to forge myself, pressed flowers, etc.

The Ugliness of Beauty

Finding animal skulls sounds like quite the adventure. Where do you typically source them from? How difficult is it, logistically speaking?

Well, my first skulls were found in the forest, but as you can imagine, there aren’t so many to find (and thank God for that, because I would like for all the animals to live long and happy).

After that, I started looking for them at fairs and also on the internet. I try to make sure that they weren’t hunted, or if they were, it was a long time ago, as I wouldn’t hurt those beautiful souls for the purpose of my art. Like I said, I like to think that I’m honouring their souls and their life on Earth.

Who’s your main audience for these pieces, and what’s the typical reaction you receive from buyers?

I guess I’m still building an audience, however, even though my art is not for everyone, I’ve received so many appreciations—in fact, more than I would have thought. It seems like people really appreciate my art. I think that the weirdest moment was when my own mother started to appreciate one of my skulls, as she always disliked the ‘dead things’ my sister and I brought into our home.

Let me ask you, what emotions or messages are you aiming to convey with your decorated animal skulls, and how do people usually interpret them? Do these two differ? 

My main purpose is to honour the lives and deaths of these animals. Death can be a hard thing to understand for most of us. I’m afraid of it, and I try to cope with the thought that someday, life as we know it will end. However, I do know that this is not the end of our existence. I do believe in rebirth, the afterlife, and reincarnation. I also think that nothing should be wasted, and why not create something beautiful out of the macabre?

I guess that Baudelaire’s ‘Les fleurs du mal‘ was also an inspiration for me. He once wrote that ‘le laid peut, à son tour, supporter l’harmonie et devenir un critère esthetique‘ which means that the ugly can, in turn, support harmony and become an aesthetic criterion.

Is there a specific term for this type of art, and do your skull decorations belong to a series with a particular name?

I’m not sure if there is a specific term for what I do, but if I were to put them in a category, I guess that would be arts and crafts.

Do you dabble in other forms of ‘bone art’, or do you mainly focus on skulls as main canvases?

I usually work on skulls, but I also like to use jaws or any other bone parts I can find.

As an artist, do you see yourself continuing to explore this style, or do you have plans to delve into other artistic endeavours in the future?

I would definitely continue to explore this kind of art, but I have other projects in mind that I would like to pursue, and for sure I will continue painting on canvas, which is one of my greatest pleasures. I could say that is my therapy. I also make pressed flower art, and I have some projects made with organic materials like forged mushrooms, wood, moss, insects, and so on.

Follow Raluca on Instagram | Facebook

Buy an artwork on Etsy

The following two tabs change content below.
Romanian writer based in Cyprus. Co-founder CVLTARTES. Author of "Hailbringer: A Romanian Folktale"