As an avid fan of '80s and '90s goth rock, I've found myself exposed to a lot of surface-level Egyptian images (I feel like every '90s goth group had a black-and-gold album cover emblazoned with an ankh) but, as you can imagine, I had no idea what any of it meant.
Likewise, I'd never seen a mummy until just a few years ago when I went to the California Science Center to see a mummies exhibit and most of those mummies seemed to be South American. Despite my ignorance, Egyptian history always appeared rich and exotic at face value and, whether naive or not, I wanted this essence in my version of the mummy.
The Mummy is actually the first illustration I began in my Classic Monsters series, initiated by a recent viewing of the 1932 Universal filmThe Mummy. To be honest, I hadn't watched the film since around 2004 when I first bought the DVD and I couldn't really recall anything beyond the most basic elements of the premise.
I was somewhat surprised to find that, like so many of his brethren in the classic Universal Monsters gallery, his actions are often motivated by romantic impulses. In fact, it is arguably the driving force of his resurrection.
As much as I love the generic bleached-bandaged, nameless, faceless mummies, I didn't feel that such a creature would be honoring the source of this monster's mythology so I tried to recreate my mummy from memories of the slowly decaying mummies I'd seen in National Geographic magazines and, in recent years, trips to museums.
I wanted something to allude to this timeless romantic as beautiful and effeminate in his fully restored form, so I gave him a full head of only slightly dishevelled hair, cut in the iconic Egyptian style I had seen in pop culture growing up. I wanted the bandages to be giving way, only loosely holding on to the resurrected corpse as he rises to murder his way back to his lithe grace and youthful beauty before searching for his reincarnated lover.
I believe less in coincidence with every passing day so it comes as no surprise that the evening after I had completed the sketch of my rendition of the mummy (including the background) I came across a National Geographic documentary on Nile crocodiles.
Perhaps I should have been less surprised when the documentary focused on an ancient Egyptian city known by the Greeks as Crocodilipolis inhabited by the cult of Sobek (the crocodile-headed god depicted in two golden statues behind the mummy). This cult worshipped crocodiles, mummifying them as sacrifices (as seen in the bound, mummified crocodiles creating the illustration's upper border).
The crocodile-headed deity, Sobek, was considered erratic and hypersexual in nature which, in my mind, made him a perfect patron for a creature who so longed for his lover as to defy death and the sacred bonds of life in a murderous path of rebirth. Some scholars have hypothesised that Sobek's name derives from an ancient Egyptian word meaning "to impregnate."
Again, we are met with the themes of birth (or in this case re-birth) through sexual desire. A golden scarab crowns the portrait linking the kiss of the mummified crocodiles. Scarabs are often cited as symbols of re-birth and eternity, adding additional emphasis on these obvious themes of the mummy.
The columns framing this portrait are engraved with glowing blue hieroglyphs repeating the words "love/desire", "life", "death", "crocodile", "Sobek" and "Set". Set (also referred to as Seth) is a chaotic ancient Egyptian god of many things, including violence. In merging Set's energy with Sobek's erratic hypersexuality, I felt the mummy's true romantic mania and murderous disdain for anything outside of his own lustful scope would be reinforced.
Finally, the piranhas are an integral aspect of my subconscious concepts of Egypt, defying science and logic. I understand that piranhas are Amazonian fish and that, even if it were to be argued that this was a South American mummy, the Egyptian imagery would be nonsensical. Sometimes it's these nonsensical elements that create the higher truth in an image because they go beyond our concepts into that same realm where aspects of dreams make sense to us despite being nonsense in the waking world.
Sometimes, these messages just aren't strong enough to warrant action. For example, I initially conceived of my mummy standing before an enormous blue glowing etching of the eye of Ra. The eye of Ra symbolises the sun which is a bit too distant from the symbolism I was going for with the mummy. In addition, it would have been difficult for the eye to be visible from its place behind the mummy. However, the mummified piranhas on strings make perfect sense in my mythology based on a dream I had as a child.
I was crawling through a pyramid, lit with the same earth tones you see in this illustration. There was am area of water below me and I was crawling across a narrow sort of sandbox lining the ceiling of the chamber that I was crawling through. As my hands passed through the sand, I felt a pricking sensation. From the loose sand, I pulled the sharp, spiny carcass of a piranha and noticed the sand was littered with their jagged, barbed rib cages and mummified faces.
Since then, these barbed-boned, mummified piranhas have often been a vital connection to my thoughts of ancient Egypt through a truth greater than I could ever communicate.