Looking at art can be demanding stuff. Four years of Cooper Union earned me a BFA. I know how to look at art, it’s probably the only thing I like doing more than playing Magic (and of course making art). I recently got into a discussion with my buddy Mark about Huma Bhabha. He’s going to Yale for graduate school and will add an MFA to his Cooper BFA. He said he really likes Bhabha’s work and I responded rather dismissively when he showed some to me, stating that it looked “tribal.” A sort of arduous but interesting conversation about using shitty dismissive words took place. “Tribal” used in this context is almost always dismissive, he said, to which I responded that any word I chose to describe this work would have been dismissive because I didn’t like the way it looked.

He asked me about content and unlocking the meaning of Bhabha’s work, added what he thought the potential meaning is, and I said, sure, that’s all well and good, but if the work doesn’t grab me in some way and demand my attention fairly early on, I’m not going to bother trying to unlock anything.

We talked about “tribal” in art and I brought up Baselitz and Penck, two German artists from similar backgrounds and cultures who make work that references less technologically developed societies’ art, cave paintings, ritual markings, wood carvings—you know, “primitive” stuff. I’m totally not allowed to say that word in art contexts anymore, despite you likely instantly knowing what I mean when I say it, because it’s problematic, but, whatever, this is a Magic blog, not a graduate art history class.

Mark said they’re not the same thing, Penck and Bhabha. I agreed and add that it’d be difficult to not say they’re at least related. We talked about how shitty we both think Keith Haring‘s work is. Mark called it lazy and I brought up that my “tribal” label for Bhabha’s work serves the same purpose as his “lazy” label does with Haring’s—a dismissive summing-up of a more complicated and demanding thing. I had to leave work before we could resolve the conversation. Mark and I rarely resolve conversations or settle on any kind of consensus and the excitement of the next discussion is left hanging in the air.

Since talking with Mark I’ve become kind of obsessed with Bhabha’s work and am sort of in love with it. This is what familiarity does, it makes things that are otherwise unappealing appealing. I have stock in Bhabha’s work paid for with the time and effort I put into looking and thinking about it.

An amazing aspect of art that keeps me inspired, regardless of where I’m at in my studio practice, is the infinite combinations of conversations we can have relative to it, the objects that get made in its name, and what they become when they’re out in our culture.

To a lesser degree the same kind of analysis and inspiration arise with the art of fantasy games. Frank Frazetta is one of the greatest influences on my work. As players, we enter into similar conversations when looking at and thinking about Magic cards, building our decks, and playing countless matches. The art is there the entire time. The pictures take on a familiarity and symbolize all that the card can do.

I’ve looked at Deathmark for ages but played with it infrequently. It was initially an evil snowflake in Coldsnap and was reprinted in Tenth Edition with the same artwork. The snow has the mark of death.

It’s fine. A nice symbol for what the card does, I guess. It is certainly unremarkable.

Deathmark reappears in M10–12 with new artwork. I’m first acquainted with it here and am quickly drawn to the power of the image.


This is a compelling picture! There’s the skull inside the eye and it’s oozing out as a tear. It reminds me of the black oil from the X-Files, although Chris Carter would never be so tacky as to render the black oil into a skull. Wizards of the Coast have the luxury of fully supporting tackiness and illustrating the obvious, so on Deathmark we get a fully realized skull within the eye.

Or maybe it reminds me of the episode Tasha Yar dies in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Anyway, looking at the illustration of post-Tenth Edition Deathmark I couldn’t figure out the position of the head.

The skull is right-side-up but is the eye? We’re used to seeing an eye look at us from an upright being. Tears fall with gravity. Eyebrows are above the eyeball. I assumed that the head of the departed (for the person depicted in the image is surely dead) is upside-down and on a slight downward slope (otherwise the skull-ooze would have to pool a great deal more before it would flow down the face). I find this disorienting and it’s probably what makes the image of Deathmark so compelling for me to look at. It takes something obvious—an eye looking at the viewer—places a very recognizable symbol in it—a skull representing death—and then plays with our ability to perceive the orientation of the larger object that is here cropped. Not bad for a Magic card.

I asked Jen to use my iPhone to photograph my eye, imported the image into Photoshop, overlaid the image for Deathmark, and my point was proven.


The illustration is of an upside-down human and the skull-ooze is potentially exiting of its own accord (assuming the downward slope is irrelevent). I kept going with it and turned my eye into a Deathmark by placing an ancient skull inside my pupil. This got me thinking that maybe I have the Deathmark, or the abilities resultant of possessing a Deathmark, and that the intention of the card is to move this force from creature to creature slaughtering innocent green and white beasts throughout the Multiverse.


I shook off this horrifying feeling and focused my energies back towards my hatred of control decks fueled by blue mana. My entire body sighed with relief.

OH! Almost forgot—we have new business cards. Pick ’em up next time you see one of us! They’re fun!


Love to all and thanks for reading,
MTGO: The_Obliterator

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