German artist Volkano (born in 1981) studied graphic design and illustration in Hamburg, but he is mostly known for his very realistic oil paintings of children with dead birds on their heads or with raw meat strapped around their faces. These are absurd images, however, they begin to make sense as soon as you take a closer look and start to identify the meaning behind them. For what does the child represent? Innocence, of course, but also the child’s right and obligation to be, well... a child! And thus, it becomes obvious that Volkano’s works are about the difficulties of moving from childhood to adulthood – and that he portrays the rituals the child must go through in order to achieve the complexities of adult life. His artistic universe reveals the loss of tenderness and innocence as a direct consequence of entering the world of adulthood.
Holding on to a childish mind is futile, and we cannot call ourselves grown-ups until the innocence of childhood has been transformed into adulthood. This is a universal struggle for all people – and Volkano’s claim is that we lose our essence in this transformation, and that we become removed from ourselves. The dead animals, the raw meat, the belts – they all symbolise the harsh adult life, the feeling of being trapped and unfree, which is forced on all of us through schooling and upbringing, and which we cannot escape. Thus, Volkano’s deeply symbolic imagery communicates, very specifically, the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood. His peculiar portraits tell us of the pain of this journey and about the harsh reality in which children must find their place. You could argue that, for Volkano, the attempt to grow up is as bloody and raw as a piece of meat. The faces of the children express the grief, shame and apathy of a victim. Volkano reflects the removal of our free voice and spontaneous happiness as we grow up and, for the sake of adapting to the outside world, begin to violate ourselves. And there is no doubt that this loss of innocence is associated with melancholy and sadness, and this, as well as his own grief and anger about the loss, is evident in his impactful works.
The imagery is so strong because it shows us the oppressive ritual of upbringing so directly, and yet, so beautifully. Volkano is a fantastic oil painter and even up close the paintings are infinitely moving and technically well-executed next to the macabre juxtaposition of the quiet, passive children’s faces carrying the unwanted embellishments and heavy burden of raw meat and dead animals. Children cannot escape – they are being controlled and surrounded by the demands of adults, strapped in by the belt. Such images go straight to the heart. Furthermore, he portrays the transformation as metamorphosis: You must die a symbolic death in order to re-emerge as a new being. Bones are, in many cultures, a common metaphor for the mental change we all know is necessary. We must make a sacrifice in order to get to our inescapable destination. Through this lens you can view Volkano’s works as an allegory for sacrifice, which is a timeless theme that is echoed in many religions and myths around the world.