Skulls typically evoke thoughts of death and feelings of disgust. But for local artist Tyler Hoff, animal skulls become canvases for landscapes blooming with life.
“You look at a skull and most people think of it as morbid,” Hoff says. “So, I try to go the opposite way with it. You look at these and it’s not about death.”
Hoff refers to his unique creations as “skullscapes” — a landscape on a skull. Filled with lots of detail, the skullscapes are essentially miniature dioramas. “I do a lot of found-object art,” he says.
Usually, he starts with a plain skull and generates ideas of what to build on it. “I try to let it evolve sort of organically,” he says.
Sometimes the idea comes first, then Hoff searches for the perfect skull. “I like using stuff that people would usually look at and think it’s garbage or avoid touching,” he says.
Collecting skulls has always appealed to Hoff because of their interesting textures and structures. Finding more and more broken skulls, he decided to create something intriguing from the discarded pieces.
Five years have passed since Hoff made his first skullscape using a deer skull. “But from there, it was a learning process,” he says. “I’d try something new every time I made one and try to improve something every time.”
Now, his dioramas and artwork can be seen at Open Art Studios in downtown Greenville. Although most of his work has sold through online exposure, Hoff is excited to share his work with more local buyers and art enthusiasts.
The interpretation of the skullscapes is completely open to the viewers. Hoff prefers for individuals who view his pieces to decide the meaning for themselves.
The skullscapes offer a unique experience of simple viewing. “I put a lot of details in there to make it interesting to look at,” Hoff says. “I don’t necessarily tell people about all the ones that are in there. I like to let them find them.”
The detailed pieces require hours of building, painting and adding plant pieces and water features — a slow process that Hoff enjoys.
“What I get out of them is building them and seeing everything come together and the process,” he says. “I start with two plain skulls or one skull and I make it into something — it’s fun for me.”
Hoff also does commissioned pieces for clients wanting painted miniatures from Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer and other games.
Tyler Hoff’s skullscapes can be seen on Instagram @hominishostilis.
Tyler Hoff has built on a variety of animal skulls including deer, foxes, yaks and turtles. Most of the skulls he either finds himself or people give to him. He purchases some animal skulls that can’t be found locally, such as alligator skulls.