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

Monday, August 31, 2009

How a Monster is Made, How a Monster is Destroyed; Part II

How a Monster is Made, and How a Monster is Defeated

The more I looked at my original drawing, the less satisfied I was with it, so I've worked on it some more, and thought about it some more, and this is the result.
About the painting:

Medusa was once a much-coveted maiden and a priestess in Athena's temple. However, she was raped by Poseiden, and afterwards, in her fury, she transformed her lovely hair into vicious serpents, and her beautiful face into something the sight of which would turn a man to stone. The terror and the violation and her resulting rage turned her into a monster.

Perseus was a fisherman's apprentice who was sent on what was thought to be an impossible quest by a king who wanted to be rid of him: he was told to bring back the head of Medusa. On his journey, he received the help of three divine beings, one of whom was Athena, who gave him a mirrored shield. He used the shield to locate Medusa through her reflection, protecting himself from the curse of her face, and he was able to sever her head from her neck. From her open neck sprang Chrysaor and Pegasus-the winged horse that Perseus is often shown riding in Renaissance art. So, from terror and rage rose a monster, but because of Perseus' commitment and tenacity, the monster gave birth to a magical creature and a hero. Later, Perseus was able to use the head of Medusa--once a source of fear for him--as a weapon for self-defense.

In this painting, the girl has been hiding under the bed from the monsters and terrors of the world. But she has discovered that by careful attention to her surroundings and meaningful interaction with her environment, she can become an active participant in her life--she is no longer forced to live in a constant state of cowering defense. She moves the vest pattern and the bee-keeping book just so, she adjusts the position of the green ink, the key and the comb, and as she does, new worlds pop into being, the resilient Perseus begins taking form, as well as a tall, powerful woman--a goal for the child, or a model, an idea of what she might become. The architecture of her room, once a small, cramped, sealed place, begins to widen, and the sky reverberates outward. She pieces together her heroes, and the breath of life and spirit, in the form of birds, comes to fill them.

(Detail: Perseus and the Planets)

Small planets begin; part of their process of expansion is the formation of new gods...

The Creator Dreamer

(Detail: The Creator Dreamer)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Perils of Gardening

The Perils of Gardening

"Beardsley's Garden"

For the Bipolar show at Exhibit A Gallery, the artists were to use a "new" (to them) style or medium. Australian artist Melissa Haslam chose to work with the style of Aubrey Beardsley, who was an illustrator in the late 19th century, famous for his illustrations of, for example, Salome, by Oscar Wilde. The above oil painting, "Beardsley's Garden", is the gorgeous result. She has brought a depth to the shadows in his black and white prints, and to me, the delicate, subtle coloring of the woman's face makes the whole painting "pop."


She says:
"I have been spending time looking into illustrators from what's referred to as the golden age of illustration. Think fairytales and forests with medieval and pre-raphaelite twists. What I like about this era of illustration is that the imagery is so decadent and lush, but it's tempered by subdued colours. The result gives a kind of darkness to the narratives which makes sense because fairytales often are dark and otherworldly. I want to try and use this technique in my own work, so we'll see how that goes."

In an interview with Arrested Motion, she talked some about her subject matter:
"It’s an instinctive thing, but I paint females because I am one and it is what I relate to the most. It’s an entry point for me into the world that is being painted, or the mood that is being portrayed. The plants interest me for many reasons, firstly for their aesthetics. Aesthetics are very important to me and so they are important to my work. It’s so common for humans to find plants and flowers beautiful that there must be something in our biology that makes it so - nature rather than nurture. I have been reading some books on botanical illustration and the stories of botanists risking their lives to discover new, exotic plants to draw or take back to their homeland and the status associated with these finds. It’s a romantic view of the world."

Melissa describes the above painting as being "about a girl who has joined the Garden Gnome Liberation Front (GGLF), and thus, is 'rescuing' oppressed gnomes."

The Garden Gnome Liberation Front actually exists, and has been quite oddly active in France and Italy. According to Wikipedia:

"The first and most predominant gnome liberating force is the Garden Gnome Liberation Front (also known as the Front for the Liberation of Garden Gnomes—le Front pour la Libération des Nains de Jardin (FLNJ)). The Garden Gnome Liberation Front was introduced to the French public in 1997. Over the course of a year, the Front stole over 150 garden gnomes, contending that garden gnomes deserved the same freedoms they were blessed with. The leader of that group was charged in absentia with stealing over 150 garden gnomes over a period of several years.[13][14] The Front's leader was given a suspended prison sentence and fined for the 150 stolen gnomes.

In 1998 there was another strike that has been attributed to the Garden Gnome Liberation Front. This strike was known as the "mass suicide." In Briey, a small city in eastern France, citizens woke up to find 11 garden gnomes hanging from a bridge with nooses around their necks. A nearby note stated: "When you read these few words we will no longer be part of your selfish world, where we serve merely as pretty decorations.""

The botanical details in her paintings are pretty amazing. She spends a bit of time traveling to photograph wildflowers in her native Australia, and she seems to find the most interesting ones. Here are some of the details from the gnome-saver painting:

Besides the Garden Gnome Liberation Front, there are other "perils of gardening" she likes to explore in her paintings. An example is this "Suspicious Stalk":

and here:

"Girls Versus Echidnas"
"The little ones are pretty cute so the girls thought they might take a few of them home, but the fatter, less attractive echidnas are not too happy with the idea." (Melissa)

Some more of her beautiful work:
"One Fell from the Apple Tree"

"Flowers and Bugs"

"Beetle Bridge"

She has a blog full of her own work, as well as images of and thoughts on the work of some of her contemporaries, and fantastic botanical images and sources here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The First Haunting

("The Thompson Mitchell Mansion," by I.M.Lowry)

The First Haunting

It was pouring rain when I left the house, but the woman pulling my arm was undeterred. I dragged my feet, making long, muddy scuffs in the yard, taking a small secret pleasure in the spatter I was leaving on her white stockings. Who wore white stockings on a day like this, anyway?
The sky felt heavy around my skull, like a vise. The world was brown and gray, and the stupid white of her clothing was being taught a lesson not only by me. By the time we reached the car, we were both of us soaked and filthy. I mucked my shoes around on the carpet, rubbing the mud in. My pretty blue dress—it had been my favorite dress, before—looked gray like everything else, and as I sat waiting for the car to start, I rubbed some brown into it.
The engine made a wet, chugging noise. The lady swore, turned around and apologized to me sweetly, and then beat on the steering wheel and tried again. The beating got her nowhere, the engine merely choked and died. She placed both hands on the wheel and made loud breathing noises. I felt a small smile flit across my face.
I turned to look out the window at the house, which really deserved the yard it had gotten. Home. It had never before looked so unhealthy, so dark and forbidding. It had just been my house, where I'd lived. Mother had kept it bright, full of colorful cloths and paper decorations on the inside, and somehow I'd always felt that brightness even from the outside. And now it felt like all the light everywhere had just disappeared. Been sucked into nothingness. And God was going to beat us to death with all this rain. Now, the house looked just like grandma always said it did.
But still, it was home.
Then the lady was at my door, pulling me back out into the rain, and she cheered at me to keep up and hurry with her to the corner store. But I dragged along some more. Punishing her. I dragged along and dragged along, and every time that afternoon we stopped to meet people, I scowled at my feet and rubbed my fingers into the muddy spots on my dress. The lady patted my shoulders gently and spoke in a soft voice, but she carried no light with her. She was a feather, a wisp; totally inconsequential. Why did she get to live?
By the time we got to the orphanage, I was disgusting and furious. I must have looked like a demon entering that vast, imposing house, and I could see the little sparks of fear on the faces of a few of the girls lined up to meet me in their fussy dresses. I felt that sly smile flit across my face again, and I tasted it quickly with my tongue.
“Michelle, sweetheart, let's go draw you a bath, Ok?” The lady crooned from where she knelt beside me. “Then we'll bring you down, and you can meet everyone at dinner.” She smiled vapidly and pulled off my shoes, then tugged my hand again as she stood up to march me up the stairs. The girls' skirts rustled as we passed, meshing with their nasty whispers, and I heard “father” and “drunk” and “trash.”
But I just smiled again, letting it linger this time. Because I had a secret. I had brought something with me, something horrible. And they were all going to find out what they were made of, once the lights went down.

In the bath, the vise around my head tightened, and I lost my place more than once. I discovered myself standing and dripping again but clean, wrapped in a towel. I found myself by the dresser, violently pulling knots out of my hair with someone's brush. I pushed a small, wooden box under a wooden slat at the bottom of the armoire that I'd shredded my fingers pulling up, then covered it back and gave myself splinter after splinter smoothing it down, petting it, smiling at my secret treasure. I woke up on the stairs, staring at a candle at the dinner table, slapping at a mosquito in a corner of the kitchen. All the while, the vise kept tightening around my head. I couldn't imagine how it could get any tighter without popping my skull, but then it did. It tightened, and then I saw him, standing by the fire. My father, the mess on the side of his head oozing into fat globs that dropped onto the carpet. That slow grin filled up his face. He arched his eyebrows, taking in my new surroundings, and he began to laugh. Loud.
My father's laughter filled the room. Everyone looked up at once, their stupid little heads jerking around for the source of that unseemly noise, and then he helped them out a bit, grasping books from the shelf beside him and hurling them across the room in every direction. One of them hit me.
And then I really woke up.

NOTE**Artwork by I.M.Lowry, story by Zoe. The story is completely fictional.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Family Photos You Hide

"The Strangler"
(note her hands...)

"Sarah and Emmett"

The art of Travis Louie

“When I was about 5 years old, I wanted to be King Kong. I wanted to climb the Empire State Building, clutching a beautiful little blond woman, while bi-planes circled around me trying to shoot my hairy ass down. Fortunately, I never acted any of that out. Most of my early childhood in New York, was spent making drawings and watching “atomic age” sci-fi and horror movies.

“Most Saturday afternoons included trips to the local comic shops and noon matinees at the RKO Keith’s on Northern Blvd, marveling at the 1950’s memorabilia; the rocket ships, the superheroes, the giant monsters, and those wonderful movie posters! I would try and draw as much as I could remember from those excursions.After high school, my ‘formal art training’ was at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY." Source

In an interview with Juxtapose magazine, he was asked how he would prefer to die, and he said...
"Being shot down in a hail of gunfire from bi-planes circling around me as I am clutching a beautiful blond woman and straddling the tallest Art Deco structure in New York City. I would probably be screaming, "Don't judge me, . . . I was a man once."

At my funeral, I would want someone to say, "It was beauty that killed the beast"

"The Smoking Man"

The above image was from a show in November of last year, which was a collection of images inspired by the experiences of young Travis visiting his grandmother in her apartment complex on Mulberry Street in Italy. The building super was an "odd guy," difficult to understand, who worked on his sculptures, drilling and sanding at all hours of the night, sending odd noises wafting up from the basement...He remembers that the whole building was full of strange noises, and he spent many hours trying to imagine what the people behind those noises looked like. This show was called "Strange Neighbors."

"The Taxidermist"
(From "Strange Neighbors")

(Thumbnail sketches)

In an interview with Arrested Motion, Travis Louie described a bit of his process:
"I usually write my stories first and I keep a journal with me at all times. It’s become kind of a ritual for me to write a little every day. I go through my journals and imagine what pictures can be made from the writings and what cohesive elements would make for a series of paintings. I try to look at the overview of where my work is going . . . not to be too calculating, but it helps me pick where I want to go with this. The next step in my process is to make many little drawings. After refining the best ones . . . a final drawing or drawings are put together for the paintings. I then prep my boards and transfer the images . . . I still make changes . . . but they are usually not huge ones at this stage. Painting is more like a refining process for me. All the creativity takes place well before the actual painting is even started."

He also claims to get a lot of inspiration and direction from his dreams.

You can watch him in speedy motion creating one of his portraits here.

Last night (Aug 21) was the opening night of his newest show, at the Roq la Rue gallery in Seattle, entitled "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Monster."
On his webpage, he gives a little on his own background and his artwork:

"The visual style of his work is mostly influenced by the lighting and atmosphere of German Expressionist and Film Noir motion pictures from the Silent Era to the late 1950’s. Films from directors like F W Murnau, Fritz Lang, Orson Welles, Robert Siodmak, Robert Aldrich, Jacque Tourneur, and cinematographer, Greg Toland, had a great effect on the way he wanted his paintings to look.
To achieve the dramatic 'mood' in his paintings, they are produced primarily in black and white or limited color. He uses acrylic paints over tight graphite drawings on smooth grounds, like 'plate' finish illustration board or finely sanded, primed wood panels."

And he's expounded a bit on his themes:
"Mistaken identity… being judged solely on one's appearance… racism. I remember being on a bus with my mom in 1973, and a woman started giving my mom a hard time because of our Southeast Asian appearance. She assumed we were Vietnamese, and insulted us about the conflict in Vietnam and how we didn't belong in her country. My mom always tried to hide such things from us. She felt it was not right to expose us to how ugly ignorance is. The bus driver stepped in and told the lady to pipe down. It played like an awkward moment in a Norman Lear sitcom, but the experience stayed with me.

The characters in my paintings are – or can easily be – misunderstood. They are, for the most part, kind and affable – just trying to get by, like anyone else. I try to keep it light and maybe humorous.

Part of what fascinates me about films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Invaders from Mars is the paranoia. I can identify with the character who knows something's going on, but no one believes him." --Source.

Ouija Board Travis Louie created for a "Talking Board Show" at Copro Nason Gallery in Santa Monica.

Travis Louie also created the artwork for an album by one of the most incredible musical artists I know of, Les Claypool, whose bass playing, lyrics, and style are also out of this world:

"Of Fungi and Foe"

Here is Les Claypool, performing "Booneville Stomp", from that album, live on Jimmy Kimmel, with images by Travis Louie on large screens in the background. At around 3:18, it starts to get crazy....

Travis Louie recently released a book of his images and the stories behind them, set up like an old family photo album, entitled "Curiosities." Buy it here if you're not close enough to get a signed version...although I've heard if you contact him, he'll sign one and send it to you.


A few examples of his astonishing gift for creative character sketches follow, along with a link to his page.

"Herbert was a very peculiar simian. He walked upright with a cane. and
had an unusual gait that consisted of a slow step followed by a slightly faster one, and then a short hop. His prehensile tail was longer than usual and he used it to pick people’s pockets, . . .not to rob them, but to find out as much information as he could about them, . . . fore he loved people. They fascinated him.
Most of his early life was spent working for an organ grinder in a town square in Sheffield. It was his favorite vocation because he was in contact with so many different people. He danced to the sounds of the organ grinder for 5 years and then tragically, his employer was run over by a team of Clydesdale horses. As a result, he developed a phobia of horses and a weakness for single malt scotch.
In 1915, he enlisted in the military and left Sheffield to fight in the trenches for 2 years. He returned home after suffering the war wound that accounted for his unusual gait and his need for a cane. No longer able to dance, he was forced to get a job at a distillery.
On his first day of work, he came across a team of draft horses and nearly wet himself. To help him overcome his equine anxieties, his fellow workers came up with an elaborate plan. They dressed up as horses and pranced around him for days. When he was hauled away to the asylum, they all apologized and wished him well. He recovered and spent the rest of his days working for shipbuilders in Glasgow and avoiding horses. "


Sam the Krampus
"It's that season again,
Krampus' will be descending upon the wicked and selfish, . . .

Sam likes to sneak up on his victims and cover their eyes. He is only 3 feet tall, so he carries a folding stepladder with him. Once he has his hands over the person's eyes he whispers in a very convincing woman's voice, when they turn around, they usually are frightened into unconsciousness.
At which time, he cross-dresses his victims, . . . affixing crooked wigs to their heads and miss-matched high heels to their feet (usually 2 left feet), and places them in uncomfortable locations where they might be seen by the most people, like train stations or bus terminals."

"Sam the Krampus"

In an exceptionally well-done interview on Erratic Phenomena, he described his relationship with his grandfather, who encouraged his artwork, and influenced the way he would create and work with other creators.

"My grandfather was a machinist who worked for the Bulova Watch Co. in Astoria. He was a decent draftsman himself and used to draw dinosaurs and elephants for me. He encouraged me to draw what I saw on the big screen – and the little one. He said, "Someone had to design everything you are looking at." He introduced me to those great stop-motion creature features, from King Kong to Jason and the Argonauts. He bought me art supplies and built my first drawing table. I remember when we saw the Ralph Bakshi-animated Lord of the Rings, he asked me to try and remember what I saw and draw it. I drew a really clunky version of Gollum."

One thing that he's gaining a name for other than his art is his support of other up-and-coming artists. Recently (July 11th), he curated a show called "Monster?" at the Copro Gallery, which included work by over 50 artists, including individual works by production artists from film, book and magazine illustrators, as well as "gallery" artists. He generally picked artists whom he felt were under-appreciated, taken for granted because of the way their artwork is generally seen as simply an aspect of a larger work--recalling, perhaps, the words of his grandfather...

"Ophelia, Queen of the Sea Monkeys"

He has a fantastic page, with a blog link here.

I will leave you here with a sweet little interview of the artist with Maya, from YouTube. It's pretty adorable, you should watch it:

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Agwe and Erzulie

St. Ulrich and St. Afra; Agwe and Erzulie

Also known as St. Ulrich and St. Afra
acrylic, 16x20
The inspirations for this one are here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Craniopagus Parasiticus and Other, More Balanced Forms of Multi-layered Existences.

"Edward Mordake and his Parasitic Twin," a two-sided doll made from oil paint on vintage fabric and paper clay, by JennyBird Alcantara.

[PLEASE NOTE: I'm sort of off-line for a bit, here. Hopefully, I'll be back soon...]

According to J. Tithonus Pednaud, of The Human Marvels,
"The true tale of Edward Mordake (Mordrake) has been lost to
history. His unusual case occurred early in medical history and is referenced only in tales handed down. Indeed, the tale of his life has become so muddled through the passage of time that no solid date of birth or death is evident to modern researchers.

The story always begins the same way. Edward is said be have been heir to one of the noblest families in England. He was considered a bright and charming man – a scholar, a musician and a young man in possession of profound grace. He was said to be quite handsome when viewed from the front – yet, on the back of his head there was a second face, twisted and evil.

In some versions of the story, the second face of Edward is a beautiful girl. This is an impossibility as all parasitic twins are of the same sex. Often it was said that it possessed its own intelligence and was quite malignant in its intentions. It has been said that the eyes would follow spectators and its lips would ‘gibber’ relentlessly and silently. According to legend it would smile and sneer as Edward wept over his condition. While no voice was ever audible, Edward swore that often he would be kept awake by the hateful whispers of his ‘evil twin’.

The story has always concluded with young Edward committing suicide at the age of twenty-three. The method of his death also differs, sometimes poison does him in and in other versions a bullet ‘between the eyes of his devil-twin’ puts him out of his misery. In both versions Edward leaves behind a letter requesting that the ‘demon face’ be destroyed before his burial, ‘lest it continues its dreadful whisperings
in my grave.’"

"Keepers of the Primordial Egg" oil on wood, 19" x 23", 2009
(Two heads share only one heart, though here they each have their own--gorgeous blue-- swan body. Alcantara's various hues of blue are amazing, throughout her works).

According to Wikipedia:
"Craniopagus parasiticus is a medical condition in which a parasitic twin head with an undeveloped (or underdeveloped) body is attached to the head of a developed twin..."There have only been ten documented cases of this
phenomenon, though to-date there have been at least eighty separate cases of this phenomenon written about in various records. Only three ever have been documented by modern medicine to have survived birth....
"Prognosis for craniopagus parasiticus is generally poor. As of 2007, only three cases are known to have survived birth. Everard Home described the first and longest-lived of these, the "Two-Headed Boy of Bengal", who survived until bitten by a cobra in 1787, at the age of four.More recent cases have attracted considerable media attention as well as efforts to correct the condition through surgery. An infant girl in the Dominican Republic died in 2004 from complications in surgery. Egyptian doctors, having studied evidence of that operation, successfully removed the parasitic twin from an infant, named Manar Maged, in 2005; however, she succumbed to an infection the following year. The twin removed in this case could smile, blink, cry, and tried to suckle but never developed a body (except a small remnant), or lungs and heart, and instead was dependent on oxygen and nutrients provided by Manar. The case illustrates that there is a continuum from craniopagus parasiticus to the phenomenon of the conjoined twin."

For your viewing and listening pleasure (?), I offer you ElKulte's stop-motion music-video to Tom Waits' song "Poor Edward," about this doomed man. Make sure you're in that sort of jovial, drunken mood that can survive this kind of tune...

Ok, so, enough about that, and onwards towards a better, more survivable balance...

"Flight Out of the Garden," acrylic on paper, by JennyBird Alcantara
[Is this the head escaping?]

"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes."
--Walt Whitman

"Bird Watcher," Jennybird Alcantara oil on wood, antique frame, 12" x23.5", 2009

Notice in the above painting that there are three bodies: one facing right, which holds the hand of the one facing left, both of them with bird-necks and heads as feet. The third, the way I see it, continues the trunk of the neck down below the collar and forms a sort of (pink) heart, with the life's path inscribed in it, all resting on a directional symbol. Again, the painting follows the theme of the above Whitman quote, the theme of one being being made of many...

"Hiding Place," Jennybird Alcantara, oil on wood, antique frame, 33" x 37", 2009

In "Hiding Place," there is a pair of creatures, almost--if-not--conjoined, the big bad wolf in all of us wearing a dress with a bow on the back but fish-net stockings, and the girl whose hand he grips wears red (like his target in the fairy tales) and her one visible foot is a deer hoof. However, predator and prey issues aside, he is opening up the cage around her mind, allowing her eye to see more clearly, and freeing the birds (transcendence). We are all our own worst enemies, perhaps. And we all have a bit of the innocent and a bit of the not-so innocent, and even as a meeting with a monster terrifies you, it usually brings with it (in myths and fairy tales), some form of advancement in your personal evolution, some form of release. Note also the labyrinth behind them.

"Struggle in the Garden of the Porcelain Queen" (Please, please follow this image and hit the zoom button to see all the exceptional details).

Jennybird Alcantara lives in San Francisco, where she attended the San
Francisco Art Institute, receiving her BFA. She says:
"I like to explore the complex interconnectedness of opposites as seen through the prism of myth, fable and fantasy. I use the symbolism of duality to explore the connection of life and death, as well as the relationship between the beauty and cruelness of nature, that of the natural world as well as
human and animal nature. The anthropomorphic qualities in my characters show the relationship of the central figure to the world she inhabits."

What goes into these works also comes out: when I was preparing to make a post on her works, I sent the image "Hiding Place" to consummate micro-fiction writer Vesna, and asked her to write a fiction impression based on it. The dualities and the "complex interconnectedness of opposites" were prevalent in her story: darkness and light, old and new, internal and external, and more. Here is that beautiful piece, and the
painting once again:

"My grandmother didn't like to take any kind of medication, ever. She believed that our body starts to feel sick if our thoughts get sick and the way to get better is to purify the mind. What she called a medicine cabinet was a collection of the paintings, photographs, poems and different kind of items that meant something to her. She kept it in an old wooden box, unlocked, and I could find there a seashell, a purple feather, a black button, a lock of hair (she told me it is mine)...
A few months ago doctors told me I have only 1 year to live.I was advised to take medication to ease the pain, to undergo treatments that could possibly postpone the final hour.The right side of my brain, intuitive and holistic, was telling me to
look for my grandmother's medicine cabinet again.The left side, following logical and sequential thinking, was telling me to cure the body with chemicals. I followed my intuition and closed one eye. I embraced my grandmother's nature, warm and wise.
I am aware that maybe I am risking everything but my thoughts fly freely now and I am where I belong: Loving the choice that I made, loving my Life. Maybe it looks like a Hiding Place to you, for me it is what I call Home." --story by VESNA

Jennybird's work is currently showing in the Strychnin Gallery, in Berlin Germany (August 7-30, 2009).
Her page is here

Along with her lovely paintings, she makes dolls, like the one at the top of this post, out of vintage fabrics and paper clay, which she then paints with her lovely, singular tones in oil paint.

"Master of Disguise"

"Ink Eater"

"Queen of the Underworld"

Her etsy shop is here


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Today's Saint

Some of you have already seen this on my Flickr page from a few days ago, but I forgot to post it here, so:

St. Ulrich and St. Afra; Agwe and Erzulie
(St. Afra's feast day is today, Aug. 5)

St. Afra (died 304) was a Cypriot woman, who was converted in Augsberg, Germany as she hid Bishop Narcissus of Girona from the Roman authorities. She was caught, of course, sheltering the bishop, and as a result burned to death (thus the wings of flame). There are conflicting stories about her, one stating that she was a prostitute in the Temple of Venus (thus she is partly formed of water, here), and the other that she died a virgin. The discrepancy in stories is one reason I chose her to represent Erzulie instead of the Virgin Mary (whom she is syncretized with in Voodoo); Erzulie is presented as innocent and virginal, but also as married to three other Loa, (one being Agwe) and having numerous lovers. For some reason, this is not a contradiction in her case. She is universally adored, all her husbands know about each other, they know of all her lovers, and they are not bitter, because they know that she has that much love. It is possible that Christianity also at one point mirrored this contradiction in Mary--why else a virgin mother, with the same name as the most beloved prostitute and the very first Christian evangelist?--but I felt that it was more succinct in the case of Afra. Also, she shares Church and crypt with St. Ulrich, who happens to be the saint syncretized with Agwe, who, as I mentioned, is one of the husbands of Erzulie.

"Voudoun has given woman, in the figure of Erzulie, exclusive title to that which distinguishes humans from all other forms: their capacity to conceive beyond reality, to desire beyond adequacy, to create beyond need. In Erzulie, Voudoun salutes woman as the divinity of the dream, the Goddess of Love, the muse of beauty." 138The Divine Horsemen

One of the most striking aspects of the traditions surrounding the devotions to Erzulie is that they always end with her weeping. Erzulie is lovely, beautiful, and she has the adoration of all men, yet she does not strike hateful jealousy in the women, because of her child-like innocence. She induces wonder and care, she is like a child. And, though she begins all celebrations in her honor filled with giddiness and pleasure at the excess of beautiful and expensive things that are always lavished on her parties, she slowly grows sad, accusing the people of not honoring her enough, not giving her enough, not loving her enough. In Maya Deren's book "The Divine Horsemen," she suggests that this is just another aspect of her child-like behavior (along with an "impatience with economies, with calculation, even with careful evaluation" 139), that you cannot give a child enough attention to satiate its need, and that those present at the devotions understand this and soothe her. I feel, however, that perhaps Erzulie is right. We do not devote enough of our attentions to child-like wonder, to endless and all-enveloping love--if we did, the world would be a much different place.

"As any water deity does, Agwe symbolizes the intuitive knowledge held within, the deep connection to eternal movements and powerful forces."
Source: Sosyete du Marche

St. Ulrich (born 890; the first saint that the Vatican officially canonized) rebuilt St. Afra's church in Augsburg, Germany, which they are both now the patron saints of, and his sarcophagus is there along with hers in the crypt. He is often, thus, shown in icons alongside her. Because of his ability to change any meat given to him or that he is giving away into fish on Fridays, he is often depicted holding fish, which is why his icons became symbolic of Agwe, the Loa of the deep waters, of the emotional depths, of the chaos before creation. He was also a good choice because many of his icons show him riding his horse across waters so deep that his companions are all drowning behind him. As I didn't want to draw drowning men, I decided to make his horse's special abilities apparent in some other way.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dreams of Hungry Ghosts

Following what appears to be this week's theme of Max Ernst and collage...

"Lost at Sea"

"Bird Woman"

In a 2006 interview with Robert Ayers for the Nancy Hoffman Gallery, which represents her, Colette Calascione was asked:
So how do you actually make a painting like Persephone? Her answer is rather surprising, and reminds me that there are a million ways to create, and it's always up to us to explore and discover a way that opens the path for us:

"The first stage is the drawing, getting the drawing together. That’s always my favorite part, that’s the best. I’m actually not that good at drawing—I trace everything, with no shame. So I generally start with everything on tracing paper. Then I do lots of Xeroxing and enlarging. And then things happen, changes happen, and I get to play around with things. Everything comes together like a collage. Persephone was from a photograph—I love those old erotic photographs—and I had the mask, so it just worked out that way.

Then I draw everything on a white panel with a watercolor pencil. I’ll do that until I get the drawing how I like it. Then I’ll do the various layers. It’s mostly for the flesh that I’ll do all of this, because I have so much flesh in my painting! Over the drawing, I do a coat of Caput Mortem—which is an old-time technique, an earth red—and over that I’ll put three layers of white and a layer of green which neutralizes the red. All that creates an optical gray, a grisaille. Then the color starts happening and that’s the tortuous stuff. That’s the hard part...Because I’m so particular. It has to be perfect. The color has to set a mood, and be just right. I’ll redo a color 10 times sometimes until I get it right."


--In a different version of Adam and Eve, a much older one, in fact, it is the man, ___, who tricks (willfully) the woman, Persephone, into partaking of forbidden foods, in this case, a pomegranate, though it's interesting to note here that there's a lot of scholarship suggesting that the pomegranate was also the actual forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. For the six little seed she absent-mindedly--unaware of the consequences-- nibbles on during the first moments of her captivity, Persephone must from here unto forever spend 6 months out of every year in the Underworld with her captor. And her mother, mourning this, sends the world into winter.

Here, Persephone's mask, a bird swooping downwards, is all she wears, and she seems completely casual, indeed almost bored in her nakedness, as if what had once been terrifying--her abduction to and rape in the underworld--is now just another bit of routine, you know, fall and winter follow spring and summer and then it's back to that constant orgy for 6 months. It's not a bad life, just repetitive. There's no pomegranate here, no symbol of lost innocence, no recollection of lost innocence.


"That one [Dream of a Hungry Ghost] is my favorite painting. It's based on my favorite Max Ernst collage. I just the loved the image. I had it hanging on my wall for years. That's me in the painting looking like Mary Poppins. Recently I've been painting me a lot. The sculpture on the table is a Picasso drawing. Then look at the wallpaper. The roses are insane. There are five hundred roses in there, and I painted each one in detail, and they are so thick that there are bumps on the surface of the paint. You can feel them. I worked on it for two years. I think it probably looked finished after a year, but I had it here on my studio wall, and though I'd be working on something else, there’d always be some little thing I could do to make it look more illuminated. I really like that, to keep a painting around and I’ll think, "Maybe I could just add a little highlight here," and then it gets this really nice polished look."

(Max Ernst, from "Une Semaine de Bonte")

In 1934, Max Ernst put together a book of collages called Une Semaine de Bonta, ou, Les Sept Elements Cardinaux (A Week of Kindness, or, the Seven Deadly Elements), which I have already written about here, and the entirety of which is available here. Each day of the week envisions one of the seven deadly elements-- -- in several collaged images. "On Tuesday, large or small dragons (sometimes bats or serpents) are almost universally present… Stern, proper-looking women sprout giant sets of wings, serpents appear in the drawing-room and bed-chamber…" Tuesday is La Cour du Dragon, The Dragon's Heart, whose element is fire. Here you have the man with his dragon's wings, passionately embraced, clutched into a kiss, in a Victorian drawing room. Calascione's version adds color, and she paints it as a whole piece, but it still keeps an oddly collaged feel, perhaps because of the incongruence of the images. She also adds angels wings into the petticoats of the woman's dress, strengthening the incongruence and deepening the story: is this an angel, pulling a demon into an embrace? Because she is very clearly in the lead. Calascione also adds the element of fire. The colored squares of the floor hollow out, adding another dimension to the room, and flames leap up from the depths in a circle around them. But they do not touch the couple. From above a key is offered, by a hand from yet another dimension, that enters through a wall. Here is a moment of union, a moment of opportunity. Instead of seeing it as the woman falling into the clutches of a demon (which is still a possibility, once the moment ends, as the flames and the easy access from below remind us), we can see here a demon gaining the key to heaven. It is not clear whether he will accept, but at the moment, anything is possible. That's just my opinion. But in the interview with Robert Ayers, Calascione expressed her hope that viewers would come up with their own interpretations of the images, as she was offering none.

Coincidental Gathering

Here's a mermaid against the background of Hokusai's giant wave, from the Mt. Fuji wood-block series of the Edo Period. I like the effect of lush painting against wood-block style. Note that she's turned some of the ocean spray into bubbles, thus mixing the foreground with the background.

Hokusai's Great Wave.

I first discovered her art here, on ArtOdyssey's blog.