I remember a piece of art hanging on our dining room wall, just above the record shelf that I hated dusting because it was cluttered with those wine colored Avon Cape Cod candle holders and piles of incense ash and various new age ephemera that I had to actually pick up and wipe under instead of working around–for I knew my mother would not fail to inspect my work. Ugh. At any rate, I used to zone out entirely while gazing at the various framed posters and prints that hung over this overstuffed record cabinet, taking in all of my mother’s wonderful art, which I don’t think I even realized had a lasting influence on me until this very second.
The poster in question, surrounded by Erté prints, and oversized posters of the major arcana from the Thoth deck (with a occasional B. Kliban thrown into the mix) was…well, I don’t exactly remember. The was a lady. There might have been a goblet, or a cat, or a long, winding strand of pearls. What I do distinctly remember was a scrawling signature at the bottom, utterly illegible except for a swooping “J”. Maybe a crooked “C” that trailed off to a distorted “W”. In my head, I began to refer to the creator of this fantastical art, as “JAW CRAZER” and I was astounded when, earlier today, I sent a text to my sister asking if the name meant anything to her…and she knew exactly which painting I was talking about. And I swear –I never, ever said that name aloud. Crazy. Or CRAZER, as the case may be.
What does this have to do with anything? I suppose I was thinking of this earlier today when I was mentally visiting the nostalgic walls of my past and the imagery that continues to influence me, even today. And when I discovered the art of Luciana Lupe Vasconcelos several years back, I was immediately taken back to the mystery and secrets of my mother’s collection, which, though small, was brimming with striking visions and potent symbolism and it quickly found a place in the dark corners of my heart, even when I am too pained or proud to acknowledge it.
Currently residing in the mountain town of Teresopolis, Brazil, Luciana Lupe Vasconcelos (b.1982) is a Brazilian artist whose work explores the realms of the mythical, mystical and occult. With a Bachelor’s degree in Visual Arts, and a Master’s in Visual Culture, Lupe worked as a graphic designer, tattoo artist and children’s book illustrator before start pursuing her own artistic voice.
See below for my interview with this visionary artist and leave a comment to be eligible to win a set of postcards from Lupe! A winner will be chosen at random one week from today, on August 22, 2017. Today’s interview and giveaway is part of an ongoing series I will be running indefinitely here at Unquiet Things. A few months ago I wrote about the life-saving effect that the beautiful, profound art which speaks to one’s heart can have on one’s troubled soul, and I don’t believe this is a need that will ever become obsolete, especially in times like these.
Unquiet Things: In your bio you note that you’ve worked as both a children’s illustrator, as well as a tattoo artist! I love this juxtaposition of art created for young humans, as opposed to art for the 18+ crowd. Did you enjoy (or not) both experiences, and was there anything special that you learned from them, that you incorporate into your art today?
Looking at my trajectory now, I realize I did come a very long way until feeling confident enough to call myself an “artist”… I went to graphic design school (instead of art school) thinking it would be a good way of making a living as a creative, but I became very dissatisfied with the nature of the work and ended up experimenting with other things until I finally realized art was my calling. While still working as a graphic designer, I started an apprenticeship at a famous tattoo studio in my hometown. Then I opened a tattoo shop with a friend, but after a while I realized, again, that it wasn’t for me. So an illustration job came up at a local newspaper, and I decided to give it a go. It was mostly illustrations for children, and from that I started to get book commissions and work from home. It was a period of much learning, and I did my best to compensate my lack of classical education in art by studying and attending courses and workshops. I was an avid reader as a kid, and book illustrations were my first contact with art, so I was really happy to be working doing exactly that! What happened was that doing book illustrations made me eager to go deeper into the realm of fantasy for inspiration, which lead me to start doing my own thing. Pop surrealism was all the rage at the time, and seeing many children’s book illustrators making the leap and becoming fine artists made me realize I wanted to try that too. My first pieces were much inspired by pop surrealism, but as I progressed I distanced myself from that style and plunged into darker influences. The experience with children’s book illustration helped me unlock my creative potential, and as I felt more and more confident, it allowed me to fly higher.
How does this evocative phrase (which I first noted on your website? facebook? I forget now): “From my rotting body, flowers shall grow, and I am in them, and that is eternity” figure in to the art that you create?
I like that quote so much! To me is very connected to how I perceive the work of art in relation to authorship: my work will outlive my earthly body, and to me that’s the true meaning of “living forever”…
Your work explores the mythical, the mystical and the occult–I’m curious, did you have an interest in these themes before you began to illustrate them, or did the interest grow, somehow, from the practice of your craft? And I’d love to hear about some of your specific inspirations, whether they were occult artists, like Austin Osman Spare or Rosaleen Norton, or perhaps the writings of Kenneth Grant, or Dion Fortune? But don’t let me put words in your mouth! Those were just some examples from the top of my head.
I’ve always been very into fantasy and fairytales, since I can remember. I was a child who would talk to animals and plants, who collected stones and set little altars of things I found and who daydreamed all the time about parallel universes were magical things happened as a normal thing… in my teens I had a wiccan phase – it was the post “The Craft” years after all! Those things were always part of my life in a way or another, although it was in the last 5 years that I took the studying of occult literature more seriously. This coincided with the development of my own style, and the two things went hand by hand. I was exposed at first to the works of Austin Osman Spare and Marjorie Cameron, which blew my mind! At first I got to know the artists with occult-related works, and from there I started to read Crowley, Grant, Fortune, Grey… also books on tarot, symbology, mythology and alchemy. I’m also a huge fan of Jodorowsky’s books on tarot and psychomagic. I use his method for tarot reading, it’s a great tool for self-knowledge and to help others. He’s a truly visionary genius. William Blake, and W. B. Yeats are also two visionary artists with a very inspiring body of work. They have written a lot about the experience of the visionary artist, and I look up to them a lot too. Lately I’ve been reading a lot about surrealism, particularly about the women associated with the movement, and I’ve been pretty much obsessed with the subject. There was an exhibition of women artists linked with Frida Kahlo and surrealism in Mexico here in Brazil a couple of years ago, and it was a hugely impacting experience for me. The works of Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington in particular struck me like lightning! I already knew their respective works, but seeing them live was life changing. I’m also a huge sucker for Leonor Fini’s work, I absolutely love her!
Are you a practitioner of the arcane arts, or would you consider yourself more of a scholar, perhaps as it relates to research for your own art? Or maybe a bit of both?
I’ve been an irregular practitioner of the arcane arts for the most part. I think I can call myself a scholar, yes. My occult practices are much blended with art producing, but in an instinctive kind of way, not following any path in particular. I’ve flirted with chaos magick, thelema and other paths, but I found very hard to compromise entirely with one thing, and I definitely don’t like belonging to anything in particular. In that sense I’d say I’m an eclectic; I like to do my own stuff, in my own therms. But I feel very connected with entities like Lilith, and the goddess Babalon, who turn up frequently in my work.
One of my favorite pieces of yours is “The Cup of Suspicion”. Can you tell us a little bit about this work?
It’s interesting that you mention this particular piece! It’s one of the few that has a particular, personal meaning. At the time I had a health scare that proved to be very hard on my nerves. I felt an intense sense of impending doom, hence the hanging sword thing above the figure’s head. Luckily it was just that: a scare.
I always love to get a peek at an artist’s studio, could you give us a virtual tour of the creative space, where you bring to life these mythical illustrations and paintings?
My working space is actually divided in two. I share a room with my husband in which I have my computer and a drawing table, and I also have a small painting studio in another room –that’s a good arrangement to me, as I need more concentration to paint on the easel.
I’m also very nosy when it comes to what is currently inspiring my favorite artists! Is there anything you’ve listened to, read, watched, or become aware of recently that’s sparking your creative flow?
Well, lately I’ve been re-visiting the work and life of spanish-mexican artist Remedios Varo in an almost obsessive manner. From my main “pantheon” of favorite artists (which includes Leonora Carrington, Leonor Fini and Cameron), she is the one which I relate in a more personal level: she was also the daughter of an engineer and spent her childhood moving from town to town; she was shy; she worked as a commercial artist before developing her own style, among other details. I’ve been very inspired by her lately, and I’m reading her biography by Janet Kaplan for the second time. Also inspiring me lately is the book Surrealist Women – An International Anthology, which is full of inspiring prose and poetry by the women associated with the movement. Another book that is pretty much in my had these days too and that I just finished reading is W.B. Yeats – Twentieth Century Magus. It’s full of great insight into the magical thinking he applied to his life and work. On the subject of music (which I love, of course!), I’ve been listening a lot to a singer introduced to me by a dear friend, called Lhasa de Sela. Her music is great, I listen to it constantly while working.
I would love to see a tarot deck incorporating your imagery….or perhaps an illustrated codex or grimoire. Do you have any plans for things like that, or am I just full of wishful thinking?
I do have plans for a tarot deck, but it’ll probably take a while. It’s something I want to be meaningful, not just pretty figures on a deck… so, there’s a lot to plan still. There’s other projects in the works, but I rather keep the mystery for now… I’m also a bit superstitious in regards to talking about those things too early.
Thank you, Lupe, for sharing your art and visions with us today and for the giveaway opportunity for Unquiet Things readers! Please leave a comment to be eligible for the postcard set, and a winner will be chosen at random on Tuesday, August 22, 2017.