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

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Brewing Birds

Brewing Birds (Sunken Garden Dream)

Sunken Garden: Brewing the Birds
black ink on bristol 300 paper, 19 inches x 24 inches

(Note: there are little secrets in this drawing, but you'll have to press the image for a larger version...Have fun!)

This is another drawing for a larger collaboration with Vesna, so I’m just going to put a few notes about what I was thinking about while I was drawing. The overall story involves to young ladies who become neighbors, and a strange garden. Here, it’s a sunken garden, deep in the woods, revealed only at the full moon and in the direct path of the moon beams. Underneath the table are the Hellebores I blogged about here. They are there for the sanity they bring, as defined by me, of course. The flowers and leaves of the Hellebore grow directly into the beakers at the base of the table, and through a system of tubes are brought to mix with the dew forming off the petal of a Canterbury Bell.

Campanula medium (biennial), known as Canterbury Bells: Note that the root of its name, Campana, is Latin for bell. That fits well with the story I found in A Contemplation upon flowers: garden plants in myth and literature (which I keep using, and recommend),
“The source of the common name is an English legend in which three wicked young men were turned into swans by a priest and were forced to fly endlessly for a thousand and one years. On one flight over Canterbury, they heard the nearby ringing of the Christian church bells. They were awed by the sound and the spell was broken [note here: awe breaks the spell of a curse...]. They fell to earth at Canterbury where St. Augustine found them lost and bewildered and led them into the church. As they went inside, little bell-shaped flowers...sprang up from the ground where they stepped. These flowers were dedicated to St. Augustine and later to St. Thomas a Becket, murdered in the cathedral at Canterbury in 1170.”

Some of the variations of the Bellflower give edible roots and salad leaves.
But, as always, on the one side a plant is good, but misused it’s not so good; and it’s important to know the distinctions between the different types of bellflower--and there are more than 300 species:

“The bluebells of Scotland have made their way into legend as well. No one would dream of picking bluebells, for they are the auld-man’s-bell, the bell of the resident ghost of the graveyard who comes out on stormy nights. If one hears his sweet ringing of the bluebells above the thunder, death will come within a fortnight. Hence, the flowers are to remain unmolested, according to legend.”

Here, the birds are miraculously formed (I find that to be a miracle, not a curse!) out of the mists created by the careful mixing and heating of Hellebore essence and the lunar dew formed on the petal of a Canterbury Bell, which has mysteriously grown onto a vine that stretches from the one lady to the other.
Because this is an internal transformation, an alteration of perception to “see” in a more expanded sense, beyond the limitations of the patterns we are raised with and socialized into--beyond those and into that which is so strange we can not even imagine it--she cooks herself in the cauldron, stirring in careful circles around the small pond. To aid her in such a feat, the pot comes equipped with a small mechanical paddling system, which she can turn on by pulling the small cord in her right hand.

Now, I want to revisit the Hellebore a little bit, because it really has a fascinating and illuminating history. In A Contemplation upon Flowers, Ward retells a story Selma Lagerlof recounted from old European legends in the December 1907 issue of Good Housekeeping (Lagerlof was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize for Literature).
“According to her story, long ago, every Christmas Eve a portion of Goinge Forest in Sweden turned into a beautiful garden. The sole witnesses of the transformation, however, were the poor Robber family, who had been banished from the city for stealing a neighbor’s cow for food. Hoping to get her husband pardoned, the exiled wife agreed to reveal the location of the flower garden to the abbot and a gardener brother one Christmas Eve. The brother, jealous because his own garden in the abbey was not nearly so beautiful as that in the forest, cursed the garden, saying that it must be the work of the Evil One if the garden was known only to the outlaws. At his words, darkness sank over the garden and it became frozen and covered with snow. The old abbot died in the sudden snow, clutching a pair of roots in his hand...”
Later, the roots were planted in the abbey’s garden, and they began to yearly produce the Christmas Rose.

This claim of the Evil One’s influence, as opposed to miraculous growth, is one that has often been leveled at those with a green thumb and the knowledge to use plants for healing, as we all know from the wretched human history of witch trials, particularly as related to this plant, but it stresses the importance of careful use of knowledge--because what is in one case miraculous can in another be poisonous (too much of a good thing, etc). An interesting comment was made in Scott’s Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft, when he described seeing “Wretches fitter for a course of Hellebore [as a cure to their apparent insanity] than for the stake.” And it’s possible they were on their way to the stake for using Hellebore!
So, as lazy half-knowledge is dangerous, and jealousy of knowledge is dangerous, and fear of the unknown that others are bringing to light is dangerous, these miraculous things are often kept secret, their effects circulate slowly, and so there is still suffering. And these dangers, all associated with knowledge and gardens and women, well... they are an old story.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Some Excitement

Vesna and I have been featured in this (March) month's OM Times Magazine, pp. 34-38. I'm posting the screen grabs here, but to read what Vesna and I wrote, to zoom in, and to see the rest of the beautiful and inspiring magazine, you'll want to follow the link.

I hope you'll go take a look!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Brief Update

Earlier this month, I blogged here about the current show of David Hochbaum's art at the Corey Helford Gallery, entitled, "You are not Falling, You are Flying." Some more of his paintings for that show have been photographed since then, and I wanted to share two of them here:

I am particularly fond of the second one, which really gives the feeling of not knowing which way is up--and that being a good thing, for the moment. It's nice to feel vindicated, occasionally.

The show is still going...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Escape from the Tower

Archangel Michael weighing the souls, from The Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleve.
(Note that someone’s trying to cheat.)

Archangel Michael battling the demons

Currently at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City (through May 2, 2010), there is an amazing exhibition, Demons and Devotion: The Hours of Catherine of Cleves displaying 157 beautifully illustrated pages from the Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleve.

Queen of Sheba refusing to step on the bridge after seeing in a vision that its wood will later be used to crucify Christ. From the Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleve.

Catherine of Cleve was married on January 26, 1430. Catherine was of the wealthy family of the Dukes of Cleves, which lived in Schwanenburg, the Swan Castle, on a steep hill in Germany, near the Dutch border. Swan Castle boasts a massive (180 feet high) tower known as the Tower of the Knights of the Swan, a name which refers to a medieval legend about a mysterious knight who appears on a small boat drawn by a swan just in time to save a princess in distress. In the tale, there is one condition to his aid, and following that, their marriage--she must never ask who he is. When, of course, she does, after several years of blissful marriage, he steps back on his boat and sails away, never to be seen again. In some versions of the story, it turns out that the swan was actually her brother, whom she had been accused of killing (thus causing the previously-mentioned distress), and the knight’s final gesture of compassion is to have it turned back into her brother and so sail away led by a dove, instead. She doesn’t get to enjoy the reunion, however, as she drops dead at the sight of her beloved leaving on his boat.

“Swan Castle” from Alidelo’s photobucket album

Recognize that? That’s the Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin, Wagner’s 1848 version of the old tale of Swan Castle.

Here’s another unhappy marriage tale to go with the Cleve family history: Catherine herself was engaged to be married at the ripe old age of 6, to the 13-year-old Arnold of Egmond. The families kindly waited for her to turn 13 before they went through with the marriage ceremony. The twisted affair of the wedding is described in City and Spectacle in Medieval Europe by Barbara Hanawalt and Kathryn Reyerson:

"When Arnold of Egmond's marriage contract with the young Catherine of Cleves was arranged in 1423, the capitals of the four quarters affixed their seals on the 'marriage letter.' The duke's marriage had become a matter of town political importance. Since Arnold and Catherine were still minors (Arnold was thirteen years of age, while Catherine was only six), the solemnization was delayed until 1430. In January 1430, accompanied by many noblemen, including the count of Meurs and the lords of Voorst and Berg, Arnold went to the bride's residence in Cleves. Councillors of the various towns...rode to the castle of Cleves and witnessed the effectuation of the marriage: 'daer myn here sijn vrouwe beslyep' (where our lord slept with his wife). The duke performed the rite of passage in the presence of his subjects, for his new status concerned them all."

Catherine’s Book of Hours contains, as most do, a section of Suffrages, which are prayers to individual saints. As I was leafing through the Morgan Library’s gorgeously generous free on-line version of the exhibition, I began thinking about the stories of the female saints in the context of such arranged marriages. A huge percentage of female saints, for example St. Barbara, who is showcased in the book:

“St Barbara” from the Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves (note how the each of the darker tiles she steps on also shows the tower).

detail from the page of St. Barbara (any comments?)

began their path to martyrdom and sainthood by refusing the marriage chosen for them and declaring themselves instead married to Christ. It occurs to me that such stories must have been hero tales to women like Catherine of Cleve, who would bear six children for Arnold in a famously miserable marriage. And she seems to have taken these stories to heart: in 1440, ten years after the wedding, (but still only 23 years old!) she commissioned the Book of Hours, carefully detailing what it should contain, and simultaneously walked out on her husband, refusing to return. That personal act would develop into a much more public one, a protracted battle for the throne between her (via her son, Adolf) and her husband.

The story of St. Barbara also contains a tower, much like the Cleve family Swan Tower, and a woman who could not be contained by it. Barbara’s father kept her shut up in that tower, sealed away from the outside world, and when she refused the offered marriage and declared herself a Christian, he “drew his sword to kill her, but her prayers created an opening in the tower wall and she was miraculously transported to a mountain gorge, where two shepherds watched their flocks.” Though she was eventually captured by the soldiers of the prefect Martinianus and tortured, each night her wounds sealed up, and the soldiers found her fresh and healthy in the morning. And though her father won the right to cut off her head as he had planned, immediately after doing so, he was struck down by lightning and turned to ash. Thus St. Barbara became the patron saint of artillerymen and explosives workers.

More on explosive fire; Monday, Monday...

The opening page for “Monday” from Catherine’s Book of Hours

Catherine’s Book of Hours was created by an anonymous artist now known only as the Master of the Book of Cleves (a common fate for Gothic artists). He was quite the innovator, though, both in the amount of meaningful detail he included in his margin works, and in the topics he was willing to flesh out. Books of Hours were a common platform for artists during the Gothic period, but as they were usually created for women, who were thought to have tender stomachs, they did not generally have any depictions of hell. This Book of Hours, however, has an extensive and extensively detailed section all about hell and its torments. These images predate the famous works of Hieronymous Bosch by fifty years, and clearly influenced them.

A Book of Hours is created as a selection of prayers for each day. Monday’s prayers were for the Office of the Dead, designed to shorten the time of a loved one in Purgatory. The full-page illumination opening this book’s Office of the Dead is again that awful tower, this time shown as the opening to the gates of hell. The tower itself is formed from one large feline mouth, and the tower’s entrance yawns open to better show you its fangs and the demons awaiting you inside.

Again, though, the idea was, you said the prayers, and your prayers led to the release of these poor souls:

Souls relieved...

Souls freed.

A Side Note: In the Tiny Details

The Cleves Master was innovative in other ways as well, using humor as well as horror to bring his points home, and giving modern viewers a rare view into the daily life of the 15th century.

The Book of Hours is 7 1/2 by 5 1/8 inches, rather small for the amount of detail given,

close-up of beastie

so it is recommended that you take a magnifying glass if you are lucky enough to travel to see the exhibition in the museum. If, however, like me, you live too far away, again I will mention that all the pages on display have been scanned and loaded onto the Morgan Library and Museum website, where you can easily zoom in on the details, press a button for full-screen view, and read the notes provided page-by-page on the left hand side.

For example, you can see here the page of St. Christopher:

There at the bottom of the page, the tiny drawing shows this:

The marginal drawings on each of the pages are also related to the main drawing, though mostly in secular ways. For example, on the page where the souls are released from their suffering, there is a small drawing of birds being released from a cage. On the page of St. James the Lesser, most known for his abstinence, the bottom detail shows a contemporary bar scene:

Selling the Book

St. Lawrence is a patron of the poor, and was martyred on a grill, so the miniature of him shows him holding a purse of alms for the poor and a grill, and the marginalia is made of fish fresh off the hook, presumably ready to grill, but it also shows the big fish eating the little fish--a common proverb of the time for the rich devouring the poor:

“St. Lawrence”

The Miniature of St. Ambrose shows a man who was famed for his sermons that could join in friendship the worst of enemies.

“St. Ambrose”

His page is surrounded by eleven mussels and a central crab--crabs eat mussels, but here, they are joined together in harmony. There is also the allegorical reference to the eleven faithful disciples and Judas the betrayer.

Back to the Tower

Catherine of Cleves took all these lessons to heart, gave alms, fortified her stomach, and dug in for a protracted battle for power with her husband. She stood behind her son, Adolf, urging him to take over what she felt was a mismanaged throne. A majority of the people of the area took her side, but not all--and because of this, though she managed to have her husband arrested and forced to abdicate, he was able, later, to escape his imprisonment, and return the favor, jailing his son. Two years after retaking the throne, however, he died, and both Catherine and Adolf soon followed.

And, because the world revolves around the artwork of Remedios Varo, I couldn’t help but note several similarities between her works and these--the miniature style, the cut-away views in buildings, the strange winged creatures, and...the towers.

Especially this tower, where girls have been locked away to create the rich tapestry of a world they are not permitted to take part in, but where one girl in particular--the one in front on the left--has found a way to weave in an image of herself and her beloved escaping down through the small slit:

The tiny couple is only visible up close:

And while we're on the subject of successful love stories and the lovers' successful escapes from towers, with hellfires sandwiched in between, I'd like to draw your attention to a more modern version of that fable, a gorgeous work of cinematic art by German director Tom Tykwer, called The Princess and the Warrior. In this story, the heroine, Simone, who was conceived, born, raised, and has begun her career all on the same locked upper floor of a (towering) mental ward, meets her hero quite by accident under very tense circumstances. The hellfire is very particular to the story, so I will leave it for you to watch. Their escape (together) from her tower, however, is shown at about 1:26 in the trailer here:

It doesn't look very successful from here, but watch the movie: my definition of magic is something that is simultaneously impossible and unavoidable, and their escape is an act of magic.

So, a few centuries later, the power of these saints has, perhaps, advanced, and a successful escape from the tower can have a happier ending...

Discovered via Bibliodyssey.

Friday, February 12, 2010

This One's for the Ladies...Part II

There's More than Two Sides to Every Story

Like previously blogged artist David Hochbaum, Jon Todd is an artist who likes messy-hands work. He outlines his painting, begins working on details, then takes a sander to those details, roughs them up, paints over them and etches back through the top layer to the paint below. He'll screen print over parts, wallpaper others, and pull out a sharpie to make a point somewhere. So the history of the piece is like the history of your life, the history told on your skin in a long, intertwined ink-tale of tattoos, the history of your surroundings told in the clothes you're wearing, the accent and rhythm of your speech, the tilt of your head and the fluttering gestures of your fingers when you keep your mouth shut: the details of your life, carefully worked upon and then smothered by events, re-worked, and then reworked, and then abused and reworked some more. These ladies are not ladies who grew up in elegant homes with lots of help getting dressed--they are tough, thick-skinned, and their eyes draw you into another world, a world they have control over.

“Diamondback Debbie”

“The Snake Handler”

Notice that in the “Snake Handler,” the snakes she’s handling are firmly embedded in the rather large biceps of the rather large man behind her. She looks pretty calm, all things considered.

About his process of creating a work of art, Jon Todd says:

I start with a naïve sketch so I can change things constantly. I love making “happy mistakes.” I am not afraid to kick the crap out of a painting, if it makes the end result unique and pleasing to the viewer. For example, I've spent hours painting detailed tattoos – realizing it was too clean – and then ran it through the belt sander, which made an awesome smearing effect. I've also poured rubbing alcohol, scraped, gouged, and even lit my painting on fire with a blowtorch.

“Two Wrestlers”
You’ll notice many of his characters, like the ones above, and the guy whose snakes are being handled above that, wearing masks like those of the Mexican Wrestlers. In the Mexican “Lucha libre,” these masks are worn as archetypes, symbolic of the character the wrestler is invoking, the spirit under which he is fighting. Taking off an opponent’s mask is akin to sacrilege, and can result in the banning of the the wrestler who performed the act. Here, the masks are permanently embedded in the skin in a brightly colored tattoo--not the basic colors of the usual masks, but a vivid, variegated display of paint or little mosaic tile more reminiscent of the ancient, glimmering aztec monuments. A fusion of sorts between a modern cultural mask and an ancient one.

Difficult histories:
Jon Todd’s work is full of stories that spill across the background and onto the skin of his characters in intricate tattoos. His tattoos are a wild cross of Russian prison tattoos, the Japanese irezumi, and Mexican symbolism. In the Russian prison symbolism (see the example below), each point on a star represents a year in a Russian prison. Skulls are worn by murderers. An epaulet refers to time in solitary confinement. The cat tells us his wearer spent his past life as a thief, with several cats together marking him as member of a ring of thieves. A cross protests slavery, bondage. Barbed wire across the forehead means what you might think: the head wearing it will never be free.

“Crowned Cats”

But it’s not only the symbols of the criminal element he includes in his stories. Here we have the mosaic-tiling and halo style of ancient Byzantine artwork, the grinning colored skulls celebrating the dark joys of the one day of the year Mexicans can reconnect and commune with their dead, a beautiful, Edo-style Japanese woman in a kimono, even a Bodhisattva.

“Open Palms”



And although Irezumi is something very tightly associated with the Japanese mafia, or Yakuza, and though for many, many years, body-tattooing was used in Japan as a form of punishment, there is also, as always, another side to the story. According to artelino,
In 1827 the ukiyo-e artist Kuniyoshi Utagawa published the first 6 designs of the 108 Heroes of the Suikoden. The Suikoden were something like ancient Robin Hoods - honorable bandits. The story is based on a classic Chinese novel - Shui-Hi-Chuan, that dates from the 13th and 14th century. The novel was first translated into Japanese in 1757 by Okajima Kanzanion. At the turn of the 18th to the 19th century the story was published with illustrations by Katsushika Hokusai. The novel of the 108 honorable bandits was very popular in Japan and caused a kind of Suikoden craze among Japanese townspeople.

Kuniyoshi's Suikoden ukiyo-e designs show the heroes in colorful, full body tattoos. Japanese tattoo prints and tattoo art in general then became stylish. ...It produced a kind of craze like the Beatlemania in the sixties. Everything connected with the Suikoden was suddenly iki--cool, trendy...

The story of the Suikoden and the subsequent print series by Kuniyoshi was also the ignition powder for the fashion of Japanese body tattoos. Tattoos became popular among people of the lower classes like construction workers, prostitutes and the infamous fire wardens. The latter were admired by the public for their courage. But they had also a reputation of wild, drunken ruffians who could become more dangerous than the fires.

Just as in life, there is a rough and ever-changing balance between what is seen as brave, and what is criminal; what is trash and what is art. A tattoo, in general a permanent mark on one’s body, tells a particular detail of one’s life story through all those phases, meaning the wearer has to be prepared to own that story regardless of the changes in social mores and opinions. And it is perhaps from that pride, from that refusal to hide scars, scary tales, demons, crimes and misdemeanors--from that insistence on one’s own story of oneself above all other stories--comes the challenge in the eyes of these ladies.

“Enter the Dragon”

“Serpent Bella”

“Two Samurai Women”

In the image below, for example, the same woman wears a military uniform, typically representing law and order, yet pinned to her breast is the same prisoner star we saw amongst her tattoos in the less-dressed version of her above. Still, she wears the Byzantine halo, signifying a holy person or saint. And then there’s her hair, a rich shimmering of snakeskin, which itself could stand for any number of things, depending on the cultural perspective of the viewer--or even just the cultures represented in the rich symbolism of this particular painting: there is, in the Byzantine Christian mythology, the master of deception who ended our residence in the Garden of Eden; in Mexican history, the Mayan Gucumatz, the plumed serpent god that created humanity; in Japanese history, it is often conflated with the dragon, a protector of jewels, pearls, and wisdom? According to Wikipedia, “The serpent was a very important social and religious symbol, revered by the Maya. Maya mythology describes serpents as being the vehicles by which celestial bodies, such as the sun and stars, cross the heavens. The shedding of their skin made them a symbol of rebirth and renewal.” In medicine, the snake’s venom is a thing to contend with, however, a certain amount of it could bring expanded consciousness or even healing, and the intertwined snakes that now form the symbol of the medical community come from the rod of Asclepius, an ancient healer whose symbol was itself linked back to the staff of Hermes--who was not only the god of magic, including smooth speech and ingenious invention, but also of thieves, again showing us the many layers present in a single story. So here, her hair is wrapped in snakeskin, or is made up of her own shedding skin, which could mean that she’s duplicitous, a speaker with a forked tongue, or that she’s shedding one layer of her life to enter the next, or that she’s shedding this life, life itself, in order to be reborn into the next. Maybe the shedding of her skin is the step where she peels this story of her life off completely, and enters that ethereal realm (heaven?) where she is chained to no identity, no story, and can begin again.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Passing Through the Curtain

Passing Through the Curtain

Entering the Magic Garden:
A new collaboration with the lovely Vesna:

A New Scent

At first, I saw only the bright light, I sensed something new. My mind couldn't immerse itself in the beautiful details until the heart sent its approval. Or, was it the other way around?
Is it all right to enjoy this? May I go on with this adventure now, here? How will this change me? Should I warn somebody that I may be gone forever? Will I be recognized when I come back?
"I can't come back", I said to myself. Time travels only forward, and life just goes on.
So, I relaxed, and let myself indulge.
It was a new scent.
The scent filled my nostrils and therefore forever changed my breath.
The scent covered my face and softened the way I look.
The scent gently landed on my eyelids and made me close my eyes and see more.
The scent flooded my mind, it sank old chains and balls and let new ideas be born.
I felt the scent as it traveled down my spine.
It was powerful like an ocean wave; it was unavoidable like an arrow arched from the birth of the Universe.
My body became the house to the fire, like a volcano. My hair turned red like lava.
My lips and my heart became One: Speaking of nothing but Love from that moment on.
--poetry by Vesna

The painting was also inspired by this piece by Vesna:

Her hair today again had a new shine. It was more red and made a different kind of frame around her face. “I’ll never finish this portrait”, he thought. He really needed the provision from this painting but he didn’t feel angry that the work was prolonging. Little Elizabeth, his daughter, brought light and warmth to the studio with her presence. One day her hair would have the color of gold, the other day the color of a young chestnut, or, like today, the shine of bronze. He looked through the window and saw his wife planting purple flowers. It seemed to him like the grass around her was all blue. His heart sent colorful fireworks through his eyes. “Maybe it is time to paint what I feel, not what I see,” he thought. Then the inspiration came by itself, he didn’t have to call it.

Notes from Zoe:
The plants that her image begins to appear through are all versions of the Hellebore. I had been thinking of the hellebore because of its legendary ability to cure insanity--thus, it formed a symbolic curtain between this world, filled with insanity, and the world of the magic garden, where one could suddenly and naturally be cured of it, and filled with magical abilities as a result...The idea was for there to be a certain location in a garden where, at a certain hour of the night, one could pass into an otherwise invisible garden, where certain plants grew that one had to have special knowledge to use. The hellebore is one of those plants.
In A Contemplation Upon Flower: Garden Plants in Myth and Literature, by Bobby J. Ward, it says:

“...the black hellebore, presumably Helleborus niger, was supposedly favored by witches who used it in their charms because they believed that one ‘finger’ of its lobed leaves was evil. According to legend, only a witch knows which one!....
Traditionally, even the collecting of black hellebores was considered dangerous because of their connection to witchcraft and sorcery. It had to be done in a specific, prescribed way; Pliny instructed drawing a circle around the plant with a sword and while lifting the root saying certain spells or prayers, entreating permission from the gods. The mystic rites for collecting, according to some versions, suggest looking to the east to be sure that no eagle witnesses the process; if it does, the gatherer will waste away and die within a year.”

Legend has it that the Black Hellebore (so named for the color of its root) successfully cured many famous cases of insanity, including that of Heracles, and that of the daughters of Argos, who had been driven completely wild by Dionysus.

Its use throughout history went in and out of fashion, because of the dangers caused by using it carelessly--whereby it became a poison (Hellebore is the ancient Greek word for food that kills).
In The Anatomy of Melancholy, it says “They that were sound commonly took it to quicken their wits, (as Ennius of old, Qui non nisi potus ad arma--prosiluit dicenda, and as our poets drink sack to improve their inventions)...” but later it began to be rejected as a poison; for example “Constantine the emperour in his Geoponicks, attributes no other virtue to it, than to kill mice and rats, flies and mouldwarps...” Later, it was picked up again as a medicine, and those that use it say it only has to be prepared correctly to work as a medicine: Brassivola “brags that he was the first that restored it again to its use, and tells a story how he cured one Melatasta, a madman, that was thought to be possessed, in the Duke of Ferrara’s court, with one purge of black hellebore in substance: the receipt is there to be seen; his excrements were like ink, he perfectly healed at once...” Some used a linen dipped in a warm concoction of hellebore and placed on the forehead to cure melancholy, some put it in an inhalant or a perfume.
And Paracelsus told us, “It is most certain...that the virtue of this herb is great, and admirable in effect, and little differing from balm itself; and he that knows well how to make use of it, hath more art than all their books contain, or all the doctors in Germany can show.”

The large bloom at the bottom left is from the type of Hellebore called the Christmas Rose, because it blooms as early as December. Its delicate scent and large, lovely petals bloom heartily even in the snow. We were imagining these winter blooms appearing in a corner of a larger garden at a secret hour of the night, their dew-strengthened scent opening the curtain between worlds, and the girl shimmering out of one and into the other.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

You Are Not Falling, You Are Floating

I really fell in love with this piece by David Hochbaum and its title “You Are Not Falling, Your Are Floating,” and have been following his work ever since I discovered it. The good news I bring to you here is that he is set to have an entire show developed under that title, bringing together a series of images expressing that sensation. And what could be better? The show will be at the Corey Helford Gallery, in Culver City, CA, starting February 13, 2010.

Hochbaum is a cofounder of Goldmine Shithouse, which is a collaborative artistic effort. Several artists work on the pieces together, with no one person’s “work” being discernible from that of the others in the completed piece. On the website for that studio, I found a perfect sentence describing David’s development as an artist:
“In his early youth, being unpopular with the girls as well as the boys, David spent most of his time entertaining himself illustrating his imaginary landscapes, surreal, and full of monsters and demons and fantastic creatures inspired from his parent's books of Hieronymus Bosch and Salvador Dali”--Source.

(Note that all the images used in this post are his, not from Goldmine Shithouse)

David’s style of art is one that refuses any limitations, one that develops itself in order to make the best use of what’s at hand, one that forces the world to mold to the image that began in his head. Though he uses a base image of a photo, he doesn’t allow the limitations of that particular medium to dictate the terms of the finished product. So, for example, when his model refuses to allow him to shoot her with an arrow, he finds a way to add it later:

He begins with his sketch, then searches for a model that he can photograph in the proper pose and builds as elaborate a photo set as possible.The photo shoot might turn into a show itself, a narrative unfolding spontaneously that adds something unexpected to the final chosen shot.

So first, he pulls whatever he can from the world in all its ages and varied mythological beliefs to create the photo’s negative, then he continues to experiment with the negative itself in the darkroom, mixing various techniques and sometimes scratching the surface of the negative itself to produce aging effects. Afterwards, he mounts the photo to wood and begins to add to it with oil, acrylic, pencil, ink, the printed word, screen-printing techniques, and varnishes.
He can add his crowded city with a ship parked on top of it in the background by building a model and mounting a photo of it in the proper place, adding another series of messy-hands steps you don’t realize were there when you look at the canvas:

And he ends up with a world like this, with a fabulous 18th century hairpiece, complete with a fully-rigged ship (they really did wear their hair like this then! See examples here), on a blithely naked woman (though it’s certainly more difficult to be *blithely* naked when trying to balance such a hair-piece) who appears to be collecting kindling in the middle of the ocean:


Indeed, his women seem to collect kindling in the oddest of places...


Time to Leave

Then comes the frame, which he also makes himself, using found materials--a mix of found materials, of course.



On his webpage, his new show is described in terms that make me want to move immediately to Culver city:
“You Are Not Falling, You Are Floating” is an immersion into the surreal state of consciousness between being awake and asleep and the secrets about ourselves, which are revealed in our dreams. Hochbaum explains, “In dreams, all the secrets are revealed, truths are unveiled, not just the things which we mask in order to present ourselves as functioning, moral human beings amongst each other, but the building blocks which shape our character and desires. We gather these components of dreams from each other. It is a collaboration of human interaction. Our dreams are our collective voices, the voice of the universe.”

Historically, angels and demons have symbolized fears, passions, truths and desires in dreams. However, in his new collection of works, Hochbaum uses black dots hovering like satellites or symbiotic companions as well as handwritten text to represent these secrets of the subconscious. Through a large-scale series of fl oating, tumbling and cascading figures and sculptural works of towers, birds and spheres, “You Are Not Falling, You Are Floating” captures this alternate reality. Hochbaum’s photo constructions take a more raw direction, combining untouched photo imagery with painted narratives.”

Juxtapose Magazine offers some much larger-sized versions of the images in this post, which are that much more of a pleasure to see: I recommend following the link...

Some sneak peeks from his studio, given at his blog: