member of:Observers of the Interdependence of Domestic Objects and Their Influence on Everyday Life

This group has been active for a long time and has already made some remarkable assertions which render life simpler from the practical point of view. For example, I move a pot of green color five centimeters to the right, I push in the thumbtack beside the comb and if Mr. A (another adherent like me) at this moment puts his volume about bee-keeping beside a pattern for cutting out vests, I am sure to meet on the sidewalk of the avenida Madero a woman who intrigues me and whose origin and address I never could have known...
--Remedios Varo

(Slideshow is of Artwork by Remedios Varo)
By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.
--Franz Kafka

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Perceived Reality, Part IV: Don't Let Dullards Interfere with Your Ability to See

listen:there’s a hell
of a good universe next door;let’s go

From codex seraphinianus

"Discover for yourself, reader, such wonders as the purple-caged citrus, the spider-web flower, the parfait protea, and the ladder weed. This is a world inhabited by weird half-sentient flora such as the tadpole tree and the meteor-fruit, by the lacy flying-saucer fish, the wheeled caterpillar-rumped horse, and the metamorphic bicranial rhino. The planet’s sentient species are here as well—races like the Garbage-Dwellers, the Road-Traffic and the Yarn People, and the exotic Rodent-Skin Wearers… Nor can we forget to mention the Homo-Saurians, whose unusual sexual life-cycle is graphically described." (From the inside jacket of the Codex Seraphinianus)

In 1940, Jorge Luis Borges wrote Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, a fascinating account of the accidental discovery of an irregular addition to volume XLVI of a set of encyclopedias. The addition described the language, arts, geography, and history of an otherwise seemingly non-existent country, Uqbar, and its discovery left its two readers completely flummoxed. After a passage of time, the narrator happens upon another odd text, this time an entire volume which seems to have no twin in the world, and this time the entire book is devoted to the description of a planet, Tlön. He tells us:

(translations to English from
"Two years before I had discovered, in a volume of a certain pirated encyclopedia, a superficial description of a nonexistent country; now chance afforded me something more precious and arduous. Now I held in my hands a vast methodical fragment of an unknown planet's entire history, with its architecture and its playing cards, with the dread of its mythologies and the murmur of its languages, with its emperors and its seas, with its minerals and its birds and its fish, with its algebra and its fire, with its theological and metaphysical controversy. And all of it articulated, coherent, with no visible doctrinal intent or tone of parody."

From codex seraphinianus

He goes on to describe some of the characteristics of this planet, for example the languages of the northern hemisphere, which are based almost entirely on the "monosyllabic adjective. The noun is formed by an accumulation of adjectives. They do not say "moon," but rather "round airy-light on dark" or "pale-orange-of-the-sky" or any other such combination. In the example selected the mass of adjectives refers to a real object, but this is purely fortuitous. The literature of this hemisphere (like Meinong's subsistent world) abounds in ideal objects, which are convoked and dissolved in a moment, according to poetic needs. At times they are determined by mere simultaneity. There are objects composed of two terms, one of visual and another of auditory character: the color of the rising sun and the faraway cry of a bird. There are objects of many terms: the sun and the water on a swimmer's chest, the vague tremulous rose color we see with our eyes closed, the sensation of being carried along by a river and also by sleep. These second-degree objects can be combined with others; through the use of certain abbreviations, the process is practically infinite. There are famous poems made up of one enormous word. This word forms a poetic object created by the author."

From codex seraphinianus

In a postscript to the story, the narrator explains that new information has come to light, clarifying some of the mysteries surrounding the planet Tlön. A written confession has been discovered, detailing the existence of a secret society through several generations which sought to prove to a, in their eyes, "nonexistent God that mortal man was capable of conceiving a world." In a creepy turn of events, objects begin to appear which corroborate the actual existence of the planet, the first such object a compass with Tlön script on its metal case. Such intrusions of fantasy into the real world escalate until finally, the history of Tlön is being taught in the schools, Earth's science and archeology--its memories-- are being pushed aside for their Tlön counterparts, and the children are being taught to speak the language of Tlön. The story becomes a completely peaceful takeover of the planet Earth by a non-existent alien race.
From codex seraphinianus

From codex seraphinianus

From codex seraphinianus

In 1976, Italian artist Luigi Serafini began work on just such a project--though I make no claims as to his hopes for a takeover of the planet. It is a masterfully illustrated encyclopedia of an unknown planet, with each illustration described, detailed, and explained in an unrecognizable alphabet. The alphabet has defied the attempts, so far, of linguists to break its code, even though a Rosetta Stone is given in the book--to another unknown language. According to Wikipedia, "Serafini has stated that the script of the Codex is asemic, and that his experience in writing it was closely similar to automatic writing." Though the writing has yet to be deciphered, many studies of it have been made. There is, for example, a brief analysis on the page (

"Which brings us back to the writing system. (I'm only discussing words written in majuscules here -- titles of chapters, sections, subsections and paragraphs, for the most part.) Several dozen different characters appear in them, far too many for the writing system to be an alphabet, and there are too many long words for it to be a syllabary. Some characters occur very many times, others only once or twice.
What is even more striking, however, is the tendency of the characters, even the less frequent ones, to reoccur within the same word or group of words (e.g., within the titles of the various subsections and paragraphs in a section). If a character occurs in a word at all, there's a good chance that it occurs there at least twice -- perhaps thrice in a row (which is next to unseen in any sort of phonetic writing system), up to six times altogether. It is as if the headers of most pages in an English book were such words as bookkeeper, googol, grammar, Ouagadougou and Wassamassaw. "

The numbering system has been deciphered. Meaning, it is an actual working system, though completely foreign to us. It is explained fully on the same webpage, with a few added notes:

"Telefol counting starts with the fingers of the left hand (1 being the pinky), progresses from the thumb (5) to the wrist, lower arm, elbow, upper arm and shoulder (6--10), the side of the neck, ear and eye (11--13) and thence through the nose (14) and right eye (15) to the right pinky finger (27). The Telefol idea of a very large number is kakkat=14*27=378. "

The book is filled with fantastic images.

The structure of the book is as follows:

"The Codex is divided into eleven chapters, partitioned into two sections. The first section appears to describe the natural world, dealing with flora, fauna, and physics. The second deals with the humanities, the various aspects of human life: clothing, history, cuisine, architecture and so on. Each chapter seems to treat a general encyclopedic topic. The topics of each separate chapter are as follows:

* The first chapter describes many alien types of flora: strange flowers, trees that uproot themselves and migrate, etc.

From codex seraphinianus

* The second chapter is devoted to the fauna of this alien world, depicting many animals that are surreal variations of the horse, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, birds, etc.
From codex seraphinianus

From codex seraphinianus

* The third chapter deals with what seems to be a separate kingdom of odd bipedal creatures, apparently engineered for various purposes.
* The fourth chapter deals with something that seems to be physics and chemistry, and is by far the most abstract and enigmatic.
* The fifth chapter deals with bizarre machines and vehicles.

From codex seraphinianus

From codex seraphinianus

* The sixth chapter explores the general humanities: biology, sexuality, various aboriginal peoples, and even shows examples of plant life and tools (such as pens and wrenches) grafted directly into the human body.

* The seventh chapter is historical. It shows many people (some only vaguely human) of unknown significance, giving their times of birth and death. It also depicts many scenes of historical (and possibly religious) significance. Also included are examples of burial and funereal customs.
* The eighth chapter depicts the history of the Codex's alien writing system.
From codex seraphinianus

* The ninth chapter deals with food, dining practices, and clothing.
* The tenth chapter describes bizarre games (including playing cards and board games) and athletic sports.
From codex seraphinianus

* The eleventh chapter is devoted entirely to architecture."
(FROM WIKIPEDIA, with images inserted from various sites.)

On the page, Justin Taylor claims:
"As a book-object...the Codex’s only real precursor [!] is The Voynich Manuscript. Discovered by the Polish book collector Wilfrid M. Voynich in a wooden chest at an Italian Jesuit college in 1912, the heavily illustrated manuscript was worked on by top code-crackers during World War II. They failed. It’s never been deciphered. Theories on its origin and significance abound, including the theory that the manuscript is a fraud perpetrated by Voynich himself, but the most popular and conclusive theory attributes the work to Roger Bacon, the medieval Franciscan friar who, in his Letter Concerning the Marvelous Power of Art and Nature and the Nullity of Magic, noted that 'certain persons have achieved concealment by means of letters not then used by their own race or others but arbitrarily invented by themselves.'”

One thing should be pointed out here: the author of this codex is still very much alive. Meaning, we could have a full translation and explanation any day now. But I don't think we will.

From codex seraphinianus

According to Shelley Jackson, author of Patchwork Girl,
"It’s important that it bothers you with the feeling that there is some content that you ought to be able to extract from it in a normal discursive kind of way. It’s meant to appeal to the rational or exegetical urge. It wants to be interpreted but it won’t let you, and it’s very interesting the way it teasingly asks to be read and then refuses. You could see this as a really really elaborate inkblot. It’s never going to completely yield to you in the sense of giving you insight into the artist’s intentions, so it kind of reverts you back on yourself and makes you notice what you’re noticing and notice the associations that you make. It’s a kind of springboard for your own creative musings.”

And I think that's key: your own creative musings. Keep that in mind for a minute.

Several years ago, there was an experiment run by a psychologist named Daniel Simmons. He showed the test subjects a video of groups of guys in black shirts and white shirts, tossing basketballs back and forth to each other on a court. He told the subjects to count the number of times a basketball got passed between the guys in white shirts. Halfway through the video, a gorilla-suited woman walked across the basketball court, and hardly anyone noticed. Why? Because they'd already been told what the important information was. How do you miss a gorilla? By working from a framework that causes your subconscious to discard the presence of the gorilla as unimportant information, before its presence even registers in your subconscious. And this experiment has been repeated many times, in various places, with the same results.

So I'm going to end here by pointing you back to the Foucault quote in my sidebar, where he refers to an excerpt of another Borges work, these quotes together reminding me of the importance of exposing yourself to as many outlandish and impossible modes of thinking as possible, and as often as possible, in order to erase more and more of the boundaries and limitations on your own system of thought, and thus your own ability to see all the gorillas that might be passing in front of you.

The Codex Seraphinianus is today's offering.

Note: YouTube user shivabel has uploaded this lovely, generous video of a large excerpt from the Codex Seraphinianus, showing you many, many more of the fantastic illustrations. The video is set to music by Penguin Cafe Orchestra:

Sunday, June 21, 2009

What Do You See?

Saint Lucy

"I do not think that 70 years is the time of a man or woman, nor that 70 millions of years is the time of man or woman, nor that years will ever stop the existence of me, or anyone else."
--Walt Whitman

Saint Lucy decided at an early age that she did not want to be with a man; she preferred to give her self completely to God, though she lived in a time when it was not permitted to follow Christian beliefs. To deflect the attentions of a suitor who was captivated by the beauty of her eyes, she carved them out and sent them to him. Miraculously, she was still able to see--whether with new eyes that God gave her, as in some stories, or by some higher sight, as in others. I have chosen something along the middle path here, giving her the many eyes of a peacock's tail, which serves also as a sort of halo. Lucy also faithfully braved the dangers of guilt by association, regularly taking bread to the Christians that were already in hiding from the authorities. Eventually, she was denounced as a Christian by another spurned suitor, and after various failed attempts, the Roman soldiers succeeded at killing her.

The idea of sight coming from somewhere other than the eyes is one that can be found in many fables, tales, myths, and religions. There are those even in the current scientific community who spend their lives seeking out and testing those who claim to have some other sort of sight-- into the silent thoughts of others, into the future, across great distances, or into other realms where ghosts, angels, and demons reside. It is suggested that the earliest mention of such abilities is found in the Odyssey, but second sight is very common to the lore of the Scottish Highlands and the Icelandic sagas, and precognition is widely accepted among the Native Americans as well as tribes across South Africa and New Zealand.

In The Holographic Universe, Michael Talbot tells the following story about an event concerning a hypnotist his father had hired to entertain at a party and a family friend, named Tom, who agreed to play guinea pig for the evening:

"Tom proved to be a very good subject, and within seconds the hypnotist had him in a deep trance. He then proceeded with the usual tricks performed by stage hypnotists. He convinced Tom there was a giraffe in the room and had Tom gaping in wonder. He told Tom that a potato was really an apple and had Tom eat it with gusto. But the highlight of the evening was when he told Tom that when he came out of trance, his teenage daughter, Laura, would be completely invisible to him. Then, after having Laura stand directly in front of the chair in which Tom was sitting, the hypnotist awakened him and asked him if he could see her.

Tom looked around the room and his gaze appeared to pass right through his giggling daughter. 'No,' he replied...Then the hypnotist went behind Laura so he was hidden from Tom's view and pulled an object out of his pocket. He kept the object carefully concealed so that no one in the room could see it, and pressed it against the small of Laura's back. He asked Tom to identify the object. Tom leaned forward as if staring directly through Laura's stomach and said that it was a watch. The hypnotist nodded and asked if Tom could read the watch's inscription. Tom squinted as if struggling to make out the writing and recited both the name of the watch's owner (which happened to be a person unknown to any of us in the room) and the message. The hypnotist then revealed that the object was indeed a watch and passed it around the room so that everyone could see that Tom had read its inscription correctly." (141)

So, what was Tom seeing the watch with, then? Was he really seeing through his daughter? Or was he seeing the watch by seeing the thoughts in the hypnotist's head? What is that?

While working on this painting, I came across yet another story, this one about an autistic girl, who has of course been subjected to many recorded medical studies since her abilities were noticed. Blind from birth, this girl wanders around by herself without running into things by making little chirping noises which somehow act as a sonar, as in the case of bats.

In this icon of St. Lucy, I have chosen time as that which is being re-envisioned, or seen new. The various clock pieces come apart, reconfigure, and tumble about through space; some of them are organic, forming the labyrinths where the Christians Lucy must feed hide from the monsters, requiring her to find her way by following an inner radiance and sureness of step, that is, by faith and by transcending (thus the birds) her physical handicap.

(Two heavy influences on my thinking about this work, which are linked in my blogroll: Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, by Jorge Luis Borges, and How to Create a Universe that Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later, by Philip K. Dick).

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Art of Crossing Great Expanses of Treacherous Waters


"El Llanto"
--a despair so great, it overwhelms all the umbrellas of the world...but down below, a small paper boat navigates the treacherous flood of tear-waters--the idea of a boat, which will become a boat, an arc perhaps, to begin a new world. All you need is one boat...Even in the dim, green-grey light of overwhelming despair, if you look slightly up and to the left, you will see the vivid red of the flowers left on the balcony, just out of the weeping man's line of sight. If only he would change his vantage point!

From his blog:
être égaré

"Siempre he tenido la idea del ser humano como algo muy incierto, como algo muy liviano y pienso en este mundo como un sueño; como un sueño que navega en una botella en alta mar, être égaré, al garete. Jamás sabremos si llegará a alguna playa, pero soñamos con ello, tal vez para imaginar, y para desear, que alguien leerá lo que un día dibujamos y no sentirnos tan solos.

La promesa de ilustrar libros es justo esa botella que hace flotar nuestra vida."
--Gabriel Pacheco

In English: (an attempt, anyway):
I have always held the idea of a human being as something light, and very uncertain; and I think of this world as a dream--a dream that navigates in a bottle on the high seas,être égaré, adrift. We cannot know if it will ever arrive at some beach somewhere, but we dream that it does, we imagine, we hope, that someone will one day read the lines we have drawn there, and we will not feel so alone.
The promise of illustrating books is just that bottle that buoys up our lives.

Another snippet from his blog:
"Ella dijo:
en esa caja se colgarán los días y las nubes, entonces de su lápiz te dibujaré una carta, y una mañana una hermosa ballena vendrá por nosotros."
She said:
in this box will hang the days and the clouds; then, from its pencil I will draw you a map, and tomorrow a beautiful whale will come for us."


Please don't miss the lovely constellation chart (map) on the blackboard...


These 4 images are from a book by Anna Castagnoli, calle "El viaje increíble," the Incredible Journey.


At this size, I don't know if you can see it, but there is a huge head passing by the window. It's worth it to see the image large, which you can do on his blog, or by clicking on the image to my picasa folder...




"Swan Lake"

The story, lifted from Wikipedia:
Act 1 - A magnificent park before a castle.

Swan Lake begins at a royal court. Prince Siegfried, heir to the kingdom, must declare a wife at his birthday ball. Upset that he cannot marry for love, Siegfried escapes into the forest at night. As he sees a flock of swans flying overhead, he sets off in pursuit.

Act 2 - A mountainous wild place, surrounded by forest. In the distance a lake, on the right side of which are ruins. A moonlit night.
Siegfried aims his crossbow at the swans and readies himself for their landing by the lakeside. When one comes into view, however, he stops. Before him is a beautiful creature dressed in white feathers, more woman than swan. Enamoured, the two dance and Siegfried learns that the swan maiden is the princess Odette. An evil sorcerer, von Rothbart, captured her and used his magic to turn Odette into a swan by day and woman by night.

A retinue of other captured swan-maidens attend Odette in the environs of Swan Lake, which was formed by the tears of her parents when she was kidnapped by von Rothbart. Once Siegfried knows her story, he takes great pity on her and falls in love. As he begins to swear his love to her - an act that will render the sorcerer's spell powerless - von Rothbart appears. Siegfried threatens to kill him but Odette intercedes. If von Rothbart dies before the spell is broken, it can never be undone.

Act 3 - An opulent hall in the castle.
The Prince returns to the castle to attend the ball. Von Rothbart arrives in disguise with his own daughter Odile, making her seem identical to Odette in all respects except that she wears black while Odette wears white. The prince mistakes her for Odette, dances with her, and proclaims to the court that he intends to make her his wife. Only a moment too late, Siegfried sees the real Odette and realizes his mistake. The method in which Odette appears varies: in some versions she arrives at the castle, while in other versions von Rothbart shows Siegfried a magical vision of her.

Act 4 - Same scene by the lake as in Act 2.

Siegfried returns to the lake and finds Odette, where she forgives him after he apologizes intensely. Von Rothbart appears, trying to pull the lovers apart. The two realize the spell can't be broken because of Siegfried's accidental pledge to Odile. In order to stay together, Odette and Siegfried kill themselves by leaping into the lake and drowning... This act of sacrifice and love breaks von Rothbart's power, and he is destroyed. In the final tableau, the lovers are seen rising together to heaven in apotheosis."

--The word apotheosis refers to deification, or the attainment of a godlike stature. So I was thinking, perhaps one of the lovers becomes the northern constellation Cygnus, found on the Milky Way, whose name is Latin for swan. That could connect the (German/Russian) story of these two lovers to the Chinese myth about the lovers Niu Lang and Zhi Nu. Zhi nu's mother, furious that her fairy daughter had married a mere mortal man, dragged her back home, and when he came to the sky realms looking for her, she took a hairpin and scratched a massive river into the sky--the Milky Way--to keep them apart. But once a year, all the magpies of the world join together to form a bridge, in the Cygnus constellation, to allow them to rejoin. This is the night for lovers.


PASSAGGI D'AMORE (Passage of Love)


(a star map from wikipedia, showing the swan cygnus)

You are aware by now of my tiny obsession with the little Alice and her ability to navigate past the world of logic and into a world which allows for at least one impossible thing by breakfast time...

The message is: "..the right to ask to hear the same story told 1001 times..."
a sentiment much appreciated here...

Some others of his work which I adore:



"Doña Gata"

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Reinventing the Book

From brian dettmer

From brian dettmer

From brian dettmer

"The Wonderland of Knowledge"

"When I enter a cafe, the first thing I perceive are implements. Not things, not raw matter, but utensils: tables, seats, mirrors, glasses and saucers... Taken as a whole, they belong to an obvious order. The meaning of this ordering is an end — an end that is myself, or rather, the man in me, the consumer that I am. Such is the surface appearance of the human world... Now let us describe the cafe topsyturvy.

"...Here, for example, is a door. It is there before us, with its hinges, latch and lock. It is carefully bolted, as if protecting some treasure. I manage, after several attempts, to procure a key; I open it, only to find that behind it is a wall. I sit down and order a cup of coffee. The waiter makes me repeat the order three times and repeats it himself to avoid any possibility of error. He dashes off and repeats my order to a second waiter, who notes it down in a little book and transmits it to a third waiter. Finally, a fourth waiter comes back and, putting an inkwell on my table, says, 'There you are.' 'But,' I say, 'I ordered a cup of coffee.' 'That's right,' he says, as he walks off.

"If the reader, while reading a story of this kind, thinks that the waiters are playing a joke or that they are involved in some collective psychosis, then we have lost the game. But if we have been able to give him the impression that we are talking about a world in which these absurd manifestations appear as normal behaviour, then he will find himself plunged all at once into the heart of the fantastic."
— Jean-Paul Sartre

Here, for example, is a book:

From brian dettmer


And here is a map:
From brian dettmer

"Travel Plans"

Brian Dettmer's sculpture deals with what he perceives (he hasn't been to my house) as the dying out of the use of books as a result of the new media form we're using here--the net. As the books are no longer used as "books," that is as sources for information, he re-constructs them as other things: skulls, hollows, collages... Looking at his work, you wander into a world where books can't be opened, where they don't fit correctly on a shelf, and where you might really know the writer's intention by looking at the cover.

From brian dettmer

(heading down the rabbit hole)

Ever been in a dream where you're madly searching for information in a book, but the pages stick together, or they all show the same thing? Or..

From brian dettmer

Dettmer explains: “Old books, records, tapes, maps, and other media frequently fall into a realm that too much of today’s art occupies. Their intended role has decreased or deceased and they often exist simply as symbols of the ideas they represent rather than true conveyers of content. ... When an object's intended function is fleeting, the necessity for a new approach to its form and content arises.” (Valdez 2006).

And so he leaves us with an international dictionary that contains no words:
From brian dettmer

"Webster's New International Dictionary"

and a dictionary that is reverting back to tree form. Or branching out? (sorry)

From brian dettmer

From brian dettmer

He has also created an entire series from one book called Key Monuments of the History of Art. He tells us, "The first one is carved from the front, the second, and open front, the third is carved from the open face back towards the beginning and into the end and the fourth and fifth are in from the back, so the chronological path is reversed. They all approach space/time from a different direction. All five will be in a solo show with Toomey Tourell in San Francisco which will open Sept. 3 this year (2009)."
From brian dettmer

From brian dettmer

From brian dettmer

Note the iconic profile of Queen Nefertiti, whose crown is filled with other monuments here. She was key in altering the view of "the gods" of her people to "God," that is, Aten. She also enjoyed an exceptional amount of power for her time, possibly attaining a status equal to that of her husband, the pharaoh--sort of a move in the opposite direction... (This is suggested by the size of her image in artworks of her time, in comparison to his).

Antonia Pocock says:
"The multifaceted surfaces of Dettmer's books not only resemble natural landscapes, but also mimic the haphazard, multidirectional structure of the internet. Certain book-sculptures fragmented by sharp square cuts reveal a pixelated picture, further contaminating the static vector of the book with the dynamic, digital mosaic of the computer screen."

From brian dettmer

"Science in the 20th Century"

Dettmer describes his process:
"I begin with an existing book and seal its edges, creating an enclosed vessel full of unearthed potential. I cut into the cover of the book and dissect through it from the front. I work with knives, tweezers and other surgical tools to carve one page at a time, exposing each page while cutting around ideas and images of interest." He clear-coats the freshly-cut pages to as he works to hold them in place, adding a final overall clear coat at the end.
“A book needs to feel right, it needs to have the right size and paper type. There needs to be enough diversity and variety. There needs to be a subject of interest with illustrations or photographs or text. I’ll flip through the pages before I seal them up and sometimes I’ll see an image and think, ‘I hope I come across that.’ But once I seal up the book, there’s a degree of randomness, a lack of control because I don’t move or add anything. I never plan what I’m going to come across. That’s one of the things that keeps it interesting to me. That in itself is like reading in a way because I don’t know what’s on the next page when I’m carving through. I never have a picture of what it’s going to look like when I’m done.”

Some more:
From brian dettmer

"music of the world"

From brian dettmer

From brian dettmer

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Koldo Barroso

koldo barroso

koldo barroso

The Homesick Willow

First, I have to confess that this artist is so spectacular, and so thorough in his own research and story-telling, that I didn't have to do any work for this post. What I'm really doing here is attempting to spread the tale of his existence, so that everyone will go and visit his amazing and informative blog site--a real treasure chest of inspiring, spooky, and otherwise magical creatures from lore and history that he has given faces to. I hope that all my friends here will take part in his "kooky pets" endeavor as well.
All the following text is his own.

"Art and Illusion are the keys to my work. I believe that we are all surrounded by a supernatural world of creatures and living forms. They co-habit with us, they influence our thoughts, feelings and actions and are present in the most important moments of our life. Sometimes we notice these energies with our minds, other times we can sense them with our spirit and even see them with our physical eyes. My passion is to make visible this invisible world to your eyes.
I knew the bohemian life of Madrid in the 80’s and met the most diverse artists and peculiar people in tiny attics and ‘tertulia cafes’; I traveled by myself along the woods, mountains, caves, and coasts of Spain and filled my bag with stories and anecdotes; I took part in surrealistic experimental sessions to stimulate the imagination hosted by reputed Spanish Children’s literature authors; I lived in a Volkswagen van for six months and traveled around France, England and Scotland, selling my sculptures and etched engravings of fantastic creatures in street markets… Then I decided it was time to sit at the drawing board and start putting all this on paper."

koldo barroso

Portrait of Lady Zakharova

“Portrait of Lady Zakharova” is my latest illustration. It’s a pencil drawing that was later digitally colored. I’m very satisfied with this technique and I have enjoyed doing this particular piece and drawing all the textures in detail very much. I’ve decided that I will be using this same technique for my forthcoming portfolio work. In fact, this one is going to be printed in postcards soon and sent to different editors and magazines in the U.S. and Canada.

I also enjoyed getting into the personality of this peculiar character: Lady Zakharova. The more I worked on it, the deeper I got into her mysterious and irresistible figure. Here is a little information about her fascinating story:

“Raisa Zakharova: one of the most enigmatic figures from the Victorian era related with spiritualism circles. About her intriguing figure, there is not much for certain. The records about her life are numerous and contradictory. If there is one thing about her life that could be taken as a certainty it that she was extremely skilled at turning her own persona into a irresistible subject of conversation in the tea parties of Victorian society.

She was born in the Ukraine circa 1820 and was the only daughter of diplomat at the service of Alexander I. In 1836, she met German magician and illusionist Folker Krause and joined him as a partenaire on his theater performances and started studying the world of occult sciences. It was during a performance in London’s Drury Lane Theater that Raisa lost her right eye in a mis fortunate mistake during the execution of one of the magic numbers, which consisted of stopping an arrow shot by her husband with a bow through her own will power.

The most mis fortunate stroke of the Krauses’ life was when the recently created secret services of Imperial Russia accused them of espionage during their tours around Europe. Although there is no real historical evidence, it’s believed that they were both severely tortured, provoking the death of Folker Krause. As legend has it, Lady Zakharova was forced to witness the killing of her husband in agony in order so that the torturers could obtain a confession from her. It’s been also said that, after being raped and her hands cut off, she escaped from her executors by using some sort of control tricks or mental powers. She run away to France and soon after she reestablished herself in London were she rapidly gained a reputation in the spiritualism circles.

Contemporary witnesses and the social tabloids described her uneasy figure. Even with a disfigured face and two artificial hands -which were custom designed for her by a reputed automaton builder- she was considered one of the most beautiful ladies in London and supposedly had affairs with many relevant personalities. During the 1840’s, she invoked the curiosity of London aristocrats, intellectuals and artists by holding séances where she would use a ventriloquist doll to channel the spirit of her deceased husband. She was accused of fraud for using a simple ventriloquist trick but at some stage the doll apparently started producing ectoplasm. It’s also been said that the information appearing in the communications was pretty accurate and some of the prophetic messages from the allegedly spirit of Folker Krause were later proven. Amongst the many prophecies recorded there is a particular one that points to a black man leading North America in the 2000’s.

To add more mystery to the figure of Raisa Zakharova, many believed that the doll that she used for her paranormal communications was actually a mummy of her husband, whose corpse she preserved and got mummified by a Chinese taxidermist.”

The size of the original drawing of this piece is 16″ high, so there’s quite a lot more detail than you can see on the web site. Actually I’m planning on getting it printed in posters for sale sometime in the future. Here I have included an enlarged excerpt of the image so you can see it in detail. Hope you enjoy this piece as much as I did while making it!"

[For fascinating memorabilia the artist found in old papers etc on these characters, see his scans and explanations here:]

(From the Kooky Character Workshop)

"This story is related to my cultural heritage and my ancestors, in the mountains of the Basque Country. They used to talk an ancient language called Euskera, a very rare language which origins still remain unknown by the scholars which stayed isolated for many centuries from other cultures in the mountains and woods in Euzkadi.

During the 19th century, Euskera was considered pagan and it started getting banned by the powers. My ancestors were punished severely if they were caught talking Euskera and children were forced to learn and only speak Castillian, commonly known as Spanish.

It was during those times that people started talking about their encounters with a mysterious figure, a half animal half human spirit of the woods, who ran through the Basque mountains with a large book in his hand. The legend tells how this creature was aware of the disappearance of the old language and he would hide in the dark beneath the people to write down all the words in his book. He was called Hitzakun: the word saver.

Later in the 1930’s, during the Fascist dictatorship in Spain, the punishments got even more severe with whoever dared to talk Euskera and celebrate Basque traditions. During 40 long years, many people forgot how to talk their own language until it was recovered in the schools by the rise of democracy. Today, nobody seems to see this creature anymore, but some people ensure that his book remains in good hands in secrecy and it was in fact very useful towards the recovery of the Basque language during the 1980’s.

Some people believe that he still lives in the heart of the Basque woods, though. And in the summertime, he likes to sit in the dark, close to the campers, and listen to them talk about their stories about the modern world in modern slang and keeps putting them in his book."

koldo barroso

The Mesmerizer, based on a story by ETA Hoffman, an incredible horror-tales writer, who is described thusly by Wikipedia:
"Hoffmann is one of the best-known representatives of German Romanticism, and a pioneer of the fantasy genre, with a taste for the macabre combined with realism that influenced such authors as Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849), Nikolai Gogol (1809–1852), Charles Dickens (1812–1870), Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867), Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821–1881), and Franz Kafka (1883–1924). Hoffmann's story Das Fräulein von Scuderi is sometimes cited as the first detective story and a direct influence on Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"."
A selection of his tales is available on-line for your reading pleasure here:

To join the Kooky Pet workshop:

His website in general:

Monday, June 8, 2009

Monsters Part II: Saints and Dragons

Painting is "a form of magic designed as a mediator between this strange hostile world and us, a way of seizing the power by giving form to our terrors, as well as our desires."

Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Green George

The Tale of St. George and the Dragon (Wikipedia)
According to the Golden Legend the narrative episode of Saint George and the Dragon took place in a place he called "Salone," in Libya. The Golden Legend is the first to place this legend in Libya, as a sufficiently exotic locale, where a dragon might be imagined.

The town had a pond, as large as a lake, where a plague-bearing dragon dwelled that envenomed all the countryside. To appease the dragon, the people of Silene used to feed it a sheep every day, and when the sheep failed, they fed it their children, chosen by lottery.

It happened that the lot fell on the king's daughter. The king, distraught with grief, told the people they could have all his gold and silver and half of his kingdom if his daughter were spared; the people refused. The daughter was sent out to the lake, decked out as a bride, to be fed to the dragon.

Saint George by chance rode past the lake. The princess, trembling, sought to send him away, but George vowed to remain.

The dragon reared out of the lake while they were conversing. Saint George fortified himself with the Sign of the Cross, charged it on horseback with his lance and gave it a grievous wound. Then he called to the princess to throw him her girdle and put it around the dragon's neck. When she did so, the dragon followed the girl like a meek beast on a leash. She and Saint George led the dragon back to the city of Silene, where it terrified the people at its approach. But Saint George called out to them, saying that if they consented to become Christians and be baptised, he would slay the dragon before them.

The king and the people of Silene converted to Christianity, George slew the dragon, and the body was carted out of the city on four ox-carts. "Fifteen thousand men baptized, without women and children." On the site where the dragon died, the king built a church to the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint George, and from its altar a spring arose whose waters cured all disease."

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
"Flight of Swallows Over the Field of Gold"

And, not that Perseus is my favorite or anything, but Wikipedia goes on to say: "It is also possible that the 'George and the Dragon' myth is derived from the myth of Perseus and Andromeda."

Clive Hicks-Jenkins

According to his website:
Clive Hicks-Jenkins "...worked as an actor in films and television, and toured Europe and America as a dancer. From his early twenties until his mid thirties, Hicks-Jenkins was a highly successful choreographer, director and stage designer, creating productions with leading companies, including the Vienna Festival, the Almeida Theatre, Theatr Clwyd and Cardiff New Theatre, where he was Associate Producer. His stage designs displayed a powerful vision, and exhibitions of them were held at Oriel Theatr Clwyd, Cardiff New Theatre and Newport Museum and Art Gallery."

After a while, he tired of the traveling life of a performer, resettled in Wales and began to focus entirely on the visual arts he'd been developing as a set-designer and mask-maker for theater performances.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins

From the Mari Lwyd series.

A 2005 article in the Journal of Mythic Arts gives a description of the Mari Lwyd tale and its traditions:

"The Mari Lwyd, or Grey Mare, is an ancient figure found in Welsh folklore, a spectral messenger between the worlds of the living and the dead. In a centuries–old folk drama still enacted in parts of Wales today, the Mari Lwyd is represented by a horse’s skull mounted on a decorated pole and carried from door to door by a man hidden under a long white sheet. In some areas this took place at night, the Mari Lwyd led through the streets by a group of rowdy wassail singers bearing lanterns to light the way. As described in Crafts, Customs, and Culture in Clwyd (1981): "The first intimation often received was the sight of this prowling monster peeping around into the room…or sometimes shewing his head by pushing it through an upstairs window." The men accompanying the Mari Lwyd then knock loudly upon the door and challenge the inmates of the house to a pwnco, or contest of wits. This contest is conducted through the musical exchange of traditional and improvised verses that are rudely satirical in nature, with each participant insulting the other’s singing, drunkeness, etc. The Mari Lwyd group is required to win the challenge in order to gain entrance to the house, whereupon they partake of cake and ale, sing a farewell song, and then depart. Though the ritual is now generally performed at Christmas, scholars date the Mari Lwyd figure back to the pre–Roman era and believe she originated in the winter rites of the Celtic horse goddess Rhiannon. Similar customs can be found in Switzerland, Austria, Bavaria, Slovenia and other Celtic areas of Europe."

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
"It Comes at a Clacking Rattling Run"
(From the Mari Lwyd Series)

From a poem by Catriona Urquhart, written for a gallery showing of the Mari Lwyd works:

"But it is never welcome,
not to me.
I would forbid it entry if I could.
I'd lock the door and swallow down the key
and never face again the swirling hood
around that gruesome grin,
that monstrous, spectral head.
I'd swap our Chrismas plenty
for a begging bowl.
I'd barter all I have
if I might win.
I'd be good forever
if only God would strike it dead;
but Hetty lifts the latch and lets it in."

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
(From the Mari Lwyd series)

"For many years," writes Clive, "I made a daily car journey from Newport to Tretower Court near Crickhowell, and in all that time I don't think that I once passed through the village of Llanover without slowing to a snail's pace, drawn by the darkly mysterious painting of a Mari Lwyd above the Post Office door. I'd never seen a Mari Lwyd other than in that painted sign, but my father had, and late in life he recounted his childhood terror of the sheeted horror which had come at him out of the night. The memory had stuck, ambushing him at moments of vulnerability. All his life his family were aghast at the power nightmares had to unseat his usual composure, but by the light of day he was a man who walked in the sunshine, laughed a lot, and was content.

"He was eighty-four before he admitted to what had been bothering him, looked at it in my drawings, called it by its name, faced it down. As he lay dying in hospital, besieged by God knows what unseen monsters, he cried out and battled with his bed-sheets. He never liked to be confined by a sheet. Too much like the Mari, and too much like a shroud. With his passing the Mari Lwyd became central to my work, but quickly slipped the tether of its folk custom origins, metamorphosing into something less corporeal."

Clive Hicks-Jenkins

(From the Mari Lwyd series)

In the 19th century, a group of panels depicting the "Lives of the Desert Fathers," already several centuries old, was broken up and dispersed. At the Christ Church Picture Gallery in Oxford, there are now 9 panels together. Clive Hicks-Jenkins did a study of those panels and also created several of his own paintings inspired by their theme, a series he named "Temptations of Solitude." His own writings on the thought process behind the paintings of this series are amazingly lush and descriptive.
From his journals:

"12 November, 2002, Christ Church Picture Gallery
I’ve returned to study the fragments of what was once an intact and magnificent altarpiece. There is a collage reconstruction in the Christ Church catalogue of how the whole may have appeared before the act of vandalism which reduced it to a jigsaw puzzle. Nineteen pieces are spread across the world. Christ Church has nine, the largest number in one place. These dismembered relics by an artist or artists unknown are so beautifully painted, and yet so heart-achingly incomplete, that the images contained within them have haunted me since I first saw them last Easter.
The scenes are bathed in an unearthly, greenish twilight which fools you into thinking that you are about to strain your eyes. Yet the paradox is that, when you draw close to the paintings, there is in them a dreadful clarity, as in the worst nightmares. The desert floor ripples like wave-washed sand, while the rocky places are modelled into stiff meringue peaks of ghostly greys and umbers. The figures, animals and trees throw no shadows, and their lack eerily heightens the dream-like state. Patches of richness irradiate briefly: the tawny pelts of wild beasts, the iron oxide of pantiles, the crimson flash of an angel’s unfurling wing.
Islands of vegetation are darkly impenetrable, traceried branches and leaves patterning the shadowy depths like sombre brocade. In two of the scenes the sky is visible, a thunderous Prussian Blue, lightening only towards the horizon. In just one painting does relief come, in the form of a distant, cheery prospect of golden hills.
The ground particularly is unnerving, scattered with bone-like pebbles, snakes and odd, pincer-shaped plants that might be traps for the unwary. Bare feet seem vulnerable in such a hostile terrain! And I don’t like the look of the water either. Clouded, phlegm-green, and perilous with currents, undertows and whirlpools. In a sharp-snouted black boat, two winged demons are doing something unspeakable to a naked man, possibly with grappling irons.
The picture planes are flattened. Landscape rears up and details appear undiminished by distance. In seven out of the nine paintings, vermillion flares in the dusk - most spectacularly in the tunic of a barbarian being devoured by a lioness. It’s as though the splendour of his garment has marked him out for a blood-letting!
Evil things walk in the light. A fearsome devil steps shockingly from behind a rock to brandish a scythe in the face of Abba Macarius, and an Ethiopian reels beneath the blows from a sturdy demoness. But to balance these horrors there are passages of tenderness and strange beauty, such as the sainted monk rising like a flower bud from the hollow heart of a tree, fed from on high by an angel descending from the clouds with a gift of bread."

Clive Hicks-Jenkins

A Vision of Angels Ascending

Here, he describes some of the process leading to the shapes he gives his figures. Note the uncomfortably twisted forms of the men on the ground of Angels Ascending...

"December 2002, Prague
At my studio back in Cardiff the walls swarm with a cast of hermits, angels, penitents, devils, wild beasts and anchorites. They are made of roughly painted card, jointed for articulation and capable of surprisingly varied and unlikely positions, rather like elaborate shadow puppets. They were constructed as studio aids to achieve a more expressive use of the human figure and free me from the choreographer’s understanding of the body.
I’m reminded of these matters as I discover the treasures of the Narodni Gallery here in Prague. So many of the figures in these Gothic Bohemian paintings have the same kind of postural distortion that I’ve been striving for in The Temptations of Solitude. In the Master of Wittingau’s The Agony in the Garden, Christ on his knees forms a perfect and sinuous ‘S’, and his agonised shape emerging from the shadowy, foliate background of Gethsemane infuses both the figure and the painting with a desolate isolation. Here form and colour conjoin to conjure the emotional tone of the subject. This is not about flesh and the corporeal body. The image almost ignites with the violence of Christ’s spiritual agony.
Crossing the deserted Charles Bridge at midnight, a dusting of snow muffling our footsteps, we passed an elderly man sitting at a little table, only his long beard and mittened fingers showing outside his old great-coat. He was playing a dulcimer, his Jewish folk tunes fading in the gusts of wind that scattered them to the darkness, as timeless and melancholy as the frost."

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Elijah and the Raven

"Elijah fed by the raven sent by God, was the first subject I set myself when I started preparations in earnest for The Temptations. Saint Paul, too, was supplied with bread by ravens, the ration doubling when Anthony of Egypt came to visit and then stay with him. On Paul’s death, Anthony buried him with the assistance of lions which appeared out of the wilderness to dig the grave. The stories are full of these encounters and miraculous alliances between men and wild animals. "

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
"The Embrace"

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
The Virgin of the Goldfinches

Clive Hicks-Jenkins