His home is
a virtual museum dedicated to the bones and skulls of humans and animals he has
acquired since he began collecting body parts, as well as tattoos, in his
teenage years. This collection also includes an array of "exploded skulls,"
works of art that push the art of bone collecting into another dimension.
REBEL INK: At what
point in your life did you develop a curiosity and interest in bones and skulls?
Ryan Matthew Cohn: It was always there. I have extreme
OCD, though I was never actually diagnosed with it. But, when I get into
something, I go full force. It doesn't matter what it is. Even as a kid I was
interested in catching snakes and reptiles. I grew up in Upstate New York in an
apple orchard. Growing up, my parents really pushed us to become one with
nature. I think that was my influence from the beginning. However, when I got
to my teens I took it to the next level. You know, collecting human skulls is
not cheap. But I would collect things here and there. What typically throws a
person into the next level of collecting, whatever that might be, is finding
that one golden gem and realizing its aesthetic value as well as possible
What was that "gem"
that you found?
I got my
first human skull, and I remember thinking that this was amazing. From there I
started doing research, and that one human skull led to like three more skulls.
Then, I had about 20 skulls by the time I was in my early 20s.
Aside from the
aesthetic beauty one might find in human remains, do you find that you are
drawn to this work on a spiritual level as well?
definitely have respect for these pieces. For me it is the aesthetic, but it is
also on an artistic level. I tend to stay away from the word "spiritual"
though. When I am working on a skull, I do not feel its "presence." I
am not just doing this as a job, or because I like skulls. It goes much deeper
then that. But, I get asked about the "spiritual" thing a lot and I
never know quite how to answer it.
What are the pieces in
your collection that hold the most value to you personally?
I have a
Peruvian mummy head that I would never sell. I've had a lot of people come in
here and offer me a lot of money for it. It essentially looks like a giant
shrunken head. It's a piece that I got not too long ago, and it's phenomenal.
The other piece is an Egyptian child's head from the Roman/Greco period.
As a collector, is
there excitement in the chase of a piece?
absolutely. You obsess and go crazy, and you'll travel the whole world for a
particular piece. Then, you'll get it, and you admire it. But the second you
have it in your home, you're looking for the next piece. It
happens almost every single time I get something.
Is there a piece that
has been very elusive to you, and your collection will continue to feel
incomplete until you get it?
always wanted an Egyptian mummy. And I had one recently, but it just wasn't in
the condition I would have wanted it to be in. But if I got a full Egyptian
mummy, it would be the centerpiece of my collection. I would almost dedicate an
entire room to it.
other collectors that have them, and that's the one piece that I don't have
that I really want. I do think that the piece will eventually come to me.
Are there any
collectors that you look up to, or inspire you?
an idol that I had, Billy Jamieson. But he died a couple of years ago, unfortunately. He
was the one person that I could ask questions to, and I totally lusted over his
collection. He was out of Canada,
and when he died it was a huge blow to the collecting community. I would say
that his was one of the few collections that I actually envied.
How did you get into
All I ever
wanted was an exploding skull. I have seen these things and I was looking
everywhere for years and nobody had any. I had seen one but it was so damn
expensive. So I thought to myself, I'm already doing metal work with jewelry,
so I might as well try to make one. This was when there were only about a
handful of people making them. But I tried it myself, and it came out pretty
nicely. I believe the first one I did was a monkey skull.
Do you see exploding a
skull as the work of a collector, or do you see it as something more artistic?
it really depends on what Iím doing. I'm currently working on about four. It's
still very artistic, and I make every single piece on there. I do get a lot of
fulfillment from it. You know, I work by myself out of my studio. And the fact
that I can say that I do what I love and make a living from it fulfills me as
well. You see, this collection, to me, is about education. When I get a new
piece, I learn everything I can about it. Like I said, I go in full force.
At what point in your
life did you begin your tattoo collection?
I was like
one of the first kids in my whole school to get a tattoo. I was also fascinated
with fine detailed drawings, and I at one point wanted to be a tattoo artist.
At the time there was like one tattoo shop in my whole town. I think I lied
about my age at the time and was able to get a tattoo. It was a biomechanical
piece on my arm.
Does any of your ink
reflect your love of skulls and collecting?
bit, yes. I got a lot of my tattoos when I was very young. And, like a lot of
kids, I sort of raced into what I was getting. It's been about six years since
I've gotten one, and I think it's high time.
We once did a feature
on tattooed mummies. Are there any tattooed pieces in your bone collection?
I do have
some pickled tattooed skin. There was this Peruvian mummy that I was offered;
it wasn't even a whole mummy. Just an arm or something, but it had some pretty
intricate designs on it. Unfortunately, I was unable to obtain it.
by Steve Prue
Shangri-La Studio (Brooklyn,