Charles E. Burchfield, Summer Days, 1921

In the hazy heat of late summer, when the sky feels too vast and the cicada’s ceaseless shriek all but deafening, I turn to Charles Burchfield’s sunflowers.  These are not the cheery picture-perfect rows that grace so many cottage-core garden beds or the charming yellow bouquets of Mary Englebreit greeting cards.  No, Burchfield’s sunflowers throb with an eerie vitality, their petals seeming to vibrate with unseen energies, their stems twisting like dancers caught in the ecstatic trance of an errant breeze.

Born in 1893 in Salem, Ohio, Burchfield spent much of his life in Buffalo, New York, a city of harsh winters and industrial grit. There, he found endless inspiration in this interplay of nature and industry, magic in telephone wires humming with unseen messages and in the steadfast sunflowers that refused to be cowed by concrete or steel. They are nature’s rebels, refusing to be contained or cultivated. This visionary American painter found in sunflowers a kindred spirit – proud, resilient, and slightly otherworldly.

 

Charles E. Burchfield,  Woodland Sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus)

Burchfield’s unique style, often described as a form of mystical realism, combined precise observation with a visionary approach. His technique involved layering watercolors to create luminous, vibrating effects that seemed to capture not just the physical appearance of his subjects, but their inner energies as well. This approach is particularly evident in his sunflower paintings, where each petal pulses with an inner light.

Burchfield knew sunflowers. He really knew them in that bone-deep way that comes from countless hours of patient observation.

Charles E. Burchfield, Sunflowers at Late Dusk August 14, 1916

In his journal, he wrote:

“The sunflower turns its face to follow the sun, but what of its nighttime dreams? Does it yearn for dawn even as dusk falls?”

I wonder this, too, gazing at his paintings.

And it’s not just Charles Burchfield and me. Sunflowers have long occupied a place of reverence in human culture. Native American tribes used sunflower seeds not just for food, but in their healing rituals. In the language of flowers, sunflowers represent adoration and loyalty, their steadfast faces ever turning to follow the sun’s journey across the sky. Did you know the Incas saw gods in sunflowers? I can almost understand why, looking at Burchfield’s work. There’s something ancient there that speaks of long summers and longer winters, of cycles that spin far beyond our brief lives.

Charles Burchfield, Sunflowers, 1916-1922

This unwavering devotion to light and time inspired the poet William Blake to pen these lines:

“Ah, Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun,
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller’s journey is done.”

Weary of time. Yes, that’s it exactly. Blake’s words resonate deeply with Burchfield’s visual explorations of sunflowers. In Burchfield’s paintings, these flowers aren’t caught in a single moment but seem to exist in all moments at once – bud, bloom, and withering seed head in one impossible, beautiful form. His technique of layering watercolors and using bold, rhythmic brushstrokes create a sense of movement and transformation as if we’re witnessing the entire life cycle of the sunflower in a single glance.

Charles E. Burchfield, Dancing Sunflowers, 1950

 

Burchfield wrote in his journal, with a mixture of awe and kinship:

“Today, I stood before a stand of sunflowers, and for a moment, I swear I could hear them singing. Not with voices but with the very vibration of their being. It was a song of summer’s zenith, of life lived boldly and without regret.”

Oh, to have ears that could hear such songs! To see the world as Burchfield saw it, thrumming with hidden rhythms and secret symphonies. His sunflowers invite us to try, look closer, and listen harder. This ability to tune into the secret frequencies of nature draws me to Burchfield’s work and sets it apart. The weird lights and shadows of his strange singing sunflowers remind us that even in the most familiar of garden plants, there lurk ancient mysteries and untamed magics. In their strange, vibrant forms, we see echoes of every summer past and the promise of summers yet to come.

Charles E. Burchfield, Moon Through Young Sunflowers, July 1916

 

If you seek to steep yourself in the essence of Burchfield’s sunflowers, to feel the thrum of their secret energies, consider exploring works that share their spirit.  Dive into the pages of Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows” or Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, where nature’s mystery bleeds into terror and wonder. Let the haunting melodies of Joanna Newsom’s Ys or Grouper’s Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill wash over you, evoking landscapes both familiar and utterly alien.

Lose yourself in the shadowed forests of The VVitch or the sun-drenched, unsettling vistas of Picnic at Hanging Rock. For a more psychedelic journey into nature’s mysteries, Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England offers a hallucinatory exploration of an English Civil War battlefield that feels spiritually akin to Burchfield’s vibrating landscapes. The eerie folk horror of  The Wicker Man(1973) and the cosmic dread of The Lighthouse also tap into that sense of nature as an overwhelming, often hostile force. The invasive, untethered reality of the endless reeds in Onibaba feels like a dream, like folktales or mythology.

Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Mary Oliver’s nature poetry captures a similar sense of wonder and reverence in the natural world. J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine offers an intense, almost hallucinatory immersion in the English countryside that echoes Burchfield’s vibrant landscapes. Robert Macfarlane’s  The Old Ways explores ancient paths and landscapes with a keen eye for the mystical and the uncanny, resonating with Burchfield’s ability to reveal the hidden energies of the natural world.

Musically, you might also explore the atmospheric landscapes of Sigur Rós, whose ethereal soundscapes evoke the vast, unearthly beauty of their native Iceland. The transcendent folk of Current 93 delves into mystical and sometimes unsettling territory, much like Burchfield’s more intense works. Consider too the haunting Appalachian-inspired ballads of Gillian Welch, the spectral ambient works of William Basinski, or the nature-infused neo-folk of Hexvessel. Each of these artists, in their own way, captures something of the mystery, beauty, and occasional menace that Burchfield found in his sunflowers and landscapes. I’ve got a little playlist here, not so much sunflower-inspired, but more just Burchfield vibes in general: Sphinx & Milky Way.

These works, like Burchfield’s paintings, tap into nature’s hidden histories and the uncanny lurking in the everyday. They evoke moods of wistful contemplation and eerie beauty, revealing a deep, sometimes uneasy connection to landscape and seasons. In their own ways, they whisper of a world alive and conscious, often indifferent or even hostile to human concerns – much like the vibrating, almost sentient plant life in Burchfield’s most intense works. Through these various mediums, we can approach that sense of an animated, mysterious natural world beyond human understanding, inviting us to look closer, listen harder, and perhaps, for a moment, hear the secret songs of sunflowers.

 

 

Charles E. Burchfield, Sunflower in Backyard, 1949

 

Charles E. Burchfield, Sunflower Arch No. 2, 1917

 

Charles E. Burchfield, Ghost Plants (Corn and Sunflowers) September 21, 1916

 

Charles E. Burchfield, Rogues Gallery, 1916

 

Charles E. Burchfield, Hazy July Noon, July 30, 1916

 

Charles E. Burchfield,  Sunflower (also known as Sunflowers) August 15, 1915

 

Charles Burchfield, Russian Giant Sunflower, 1940


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The title of this post is taken from Melancholy Maaret’s audio poem “Paper Butterflies.” I originally pondered this bit of weirdness, this memo on melancholy, if you will, for the Coilhouse blog back in 2011, and my thoughts often return to it. I can’t believe I never shared it here, so I am sharing it today because it continues to enthrall me, even now.

I’m embedding that particular audio installation because I loved it so much at the time (and still do but with an older, craggier heart and more life experience), but I also find the creator herself incredibly captivating. Melancholy Maaret is a deaf multidisciplinary artist, writer, and sound-art composer based in Helsinki and New York. Her work spans various media, including vocals and voice-overs created from sound-memory and vibrations without auto-tune. Maaret’s art often involves character-based performances, embodying fictional or historical women, as well as her own ancestors. Her creations are influenced by an eclectic mix of Finnish folklore, neuroscience, epigenetic trauma, and the works of diverse thinkers and artists. She leverages her classical training in theatre, movement, and voice to create unique sound compositions, often accompanied by manipulated video installations.

Her approach to melancholy was both profound and provocative, as evidenced in her statement about ‘Paper Butterfly’:

‘I do not want optimism and blind hope. I want to triumph in sadness… Science can never denude the soul’s need for an artistic confrontation or a lullaby… Sadness and her sister’s emotions increase productivity, kindness, and creativity.’

The intersection of melancholy, creativity, and cognitive function intrigues me immensely, and I often wonder about this artist—is she still creating? Where has her journey with melancholy led her in her art and life?

By preserving these snippets of writing on my blog here, I hope to maintain a record of my fascinations. Coilhouse, though not active for over a decade, continues to maintain its archives–which is amazing!–but I have been burned so many times by the blogs I’ve written for in the past suddenly winking out of existence, and like a dummy, I never had backups of my contributions. So here we are. And this is why you see things like this pop up on my blog occasionally. I wrote them initially for someone else’s blog, but the site disappeared, and my writing became unhoused for a time. What you see here today and at other times is my writing returning home.

 Anyway, this intro is becoming longer than the original writing! Just a bit more, though. Rereading it now, I’m struck by how some aspects still feel relevant, though I recognize that my approach to language and certain topics has evolved over time. I’d likely phrase some things differently today, with a more nuanced and sensitive perspective. I certainly would not tell anyone to ditch their meds in this year of our lord, 2024! I’m also aware that pain as performance, the romanticization of melancholy, and the allure of the tortured artist–these can be damaging ideations, potentially glorifying mental health struggles and obscuring the very real need for support and care. But …does it still resonate with me? On some level…of course, it does.

So I suppose this serves as a snapshot of a particular moment in time, both in my personal journey and in the broader cultural conversation around mental health and artistic expression.

 

…scientists say melancholics are better lovers” /” ..happy people are forgetful suckers”/ “…Roget created his thesaurus to combat the funk”

Melancholy Maaret, enigmatic contemporary visual and performance artist and founder of Secret Sauna Sirens—a pseudonymous, experimental collaborative of multidisciplinary artists—has some interesting insight into the subject of sadness. In her poem “Paper Butterflies,” she solemnly urges us inward, in lilting, bird-like tones and a delicately rolling Finnish accent, to examine our melancholia and embrace these hermetic, suffocating feelings.

Stop trying to be happy, she warbles. After all, “…mental acuity flourishes in despair” and”…blue betties make fewer tactical errors”. “I’m not making this shit up,” she insists. Well…is she? Perhaps not. In Scientific American’s 2009 article regarding a study of depression’s evolutionary roots, it is suggested that depression is not a disorder at all, but a mental adaptation with some useful cognitive benefits.

Depressed people often think intensely about their problems. These thoughts are called ruminations; they are persistent and depressed people have difficulty thinking about anything else. Numerous studies have also shown that this thinking style is often highly analytical. They dwell on a complex problem, breaking it down into smaller components, which are considered one at a time.

This analytical style of thought, of course, can be very productive. Each component is not as difficult, so the problem becomes more tractable. Indeed, when you are faced with a difficult problem, such as a math problem, feeling depressed is often a useful response that may help you analyze and solve it. For instance, in some of our research, we have found evidence that people who get more depressed while they are working on complex problems in an intelligence test tend to score higher on the test.

Thank you, Melancholy Maaret, for validating us saddies. Viva melancholia! Ditch the Wellbutrin. Stay sad and homely, indeed.

 

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Margaretha Roosenboom, Silver Vase of Flowers

To gaze upon a painting by Margaretha Roosenboom is to be transported into a realm of heightened sensory experience, to lose oneself in the velvety darkness of a peony’s innermost petals, to trace the delicate veins of a translucent leaf, to feel the weight of a dewdrop trembling on the edge of a petal.

Margaretha Roosenboom, A still life with roses near a bird’s nest

 

Margarete Roosenboom, Still Life with Flowering Lilac

This extraordinary 19th-century Dutch artist broke new ground in floral still life painting, developing a unique, impressionistic style that favored natural compositions of single flower types against dark backgrounds. Despite being denied formal academy training – a common obstacle for women artists of her time – Roosenboom’s talent blossomed under the tutelage of her father and grandfather, both accomplished painters themselves.

This rich artistic heritage is evident in her masterful command of light and shadow. In Roosenboom’s paintings, light takes on a life of its own. Sometimes it’s the warm gold of a late afternoon; other times, a cool, silvery glow that makes the flowers look almost spectral. It’s as if they exist in some in-between place, not quite of this world but not fully here, either.

Have you noticed how her roses tremble on the edge of dissolution? Or how her lilacs droop with the weight of unspoken sorrows? There’s such exquisite detail in every bloom, you can almost feel the silken texture, catch a whiff of their fading perfume.

Margaretha Roosenboom, A swag of roses

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, A still life with roses and grapes

Her innovative approach and masterful watercolor technique didn’t go unnoticed. Roosenboom earned international acclaim and numerous awards, establishing herself as one of the leading flower painters of her time alongside contemporaries like Gerardine van de Sande Backhuyzen and Adriana Haanen. Yet, beyond the accolades, it’s the underlying melancholy in her work that truly captivates – the way she captures flowers on the cusp of decay, their splendor tinged with the inevitable. There’s profound beauty, but also a pervasive sadness. Each petal, each leaf, and stem tendril reminds us of life’s inexorable cycle.

Margaretha Roosenboom, Still life of Dog-roses

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, Wild roses

In capturing these blooms at the pinnacle of their glory, touched by the first whispers of decline, Roosenboom offers us a meditation on the delicate nature of impermanence. Her canvases embody Mary Oliver’s insight: “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” She elevates quiet floral moments into something profound, suspending instants of fleeting beauty that invite us to linger in the liminal space where life reveals its deepest truths.

Roosenboom’s paintings persist not merely as a testament to her skill, but as a gentle challenge to our modern haste—a hushed invitation to pause, to look closely at the small miracles that surround us, and to find poetry in the curve of a petal or the shadow cast by a leaf. In closely observing life’s ever-present and unchanging cycles through her work, we might discover a richer appreciation for its ephemeral wonders.

Margaretha Roosenboom, A bouquet with hedge bindweed and poppies

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, Flowers on the riverbank

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, Hollyhock stems on a stone table

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, A still life with wild roses and a bunch of grapes on a stone ledge

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, White Roses

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, Roses on a forest floor

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, Sunflowers on a stone ledge

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, A still life with flowers

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, A bouquet on a forest-path

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, Rhododendrons and roses on a stone ledge

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, Still Life with Peaches and Rose

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, Still life with grapes, a lemon and flowers on the forest floor


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Scowl, Annie Stegg Gerard, 2020, oils on wooden panel

You can’t imagine how thrilled I was when Annie Stegg Gerard permitted me to include sweet Scowl (above) in the pages of The Art of Fantasy: A Visual Sourcebook Of All That Is Unreal.

I mean, who wouldn’t be, just look at that face! Swoon!

In the book, the caption for the image reads:

“Annie Stegg Gerard has been painting whimsical illustrations from early childhood and her works encompass a wide variety of mediums, including both two and three-dimensional forms. Specializing in character design and development as well as a masterful atmosphere of enchantment, Annie creates unique images populated with enigmatic figures and lively creatures.

This transportive effect of emotion and imagination is undeniable, such as the dear little Scowl above, eyes gleaming sweetly, a tender paw adorably curled in mid-thought. A viewer can’t help but coo in delight at the thought of those magical toe-beans!”

The Gift, Annie Stegg Gerard

 

Moonlit March, Annie Stegg Gerard

Her paintings are like a gilded invitation to a secret greenwood garden party, gossamer confections spun from sugar and moonbeams. Every surface shimmers with the beauty of magics most decadent, the kind that offers gleaming jeweled fairytale fruits and secrets sleeping in the shadow of a raven’s wing.  I’m almost tempted to refer to her style as glamorous, yet, that word conjures associations of a distant chilliness and a definite, distinct lack of fun. Maybe even something a bit wicked.

Which couldn’t be further from the truth in the case of this artist’s creations! For all the romantic enchantments and radiant glamour of these scenes, there’s a disarming warmth. The faeries, with their benevolent smiles, wouldn’t dream of causing actual harm, and the woodland creatures, even the mischievous ones, seem more interested in puckish pranks than actual malice.  There’s a sense of merriment in the air, a joyous abandon!

A world that invites exploration without ever truly feeling threatening.

The Serpent, Annie Stegg Gerard

 

Journey’s End, Annie Stegg Gerard

Even the dragon chasing the thieving band of forest folk, arms loaded with loot and treasures, feels more like a scene from a whimsical ballet than a terrifying encounter. There’s a sense of playfulness, a twinkle in the dragon’s eye that suggests it’s all part of a delightful game.

On Velvet Wings, Annie Stegg Gerard

 

Changing Tides, Annie Stegg Gerard

 

Fire Wyrm, Annie Stegg Gerard

There’s a distinct lack of menace in Stegg Gerard’s worlds. Even the fantastical beasts, with their playful expressions and captivating forms, lack the bite of traditional monsters. And the monsters themselves possess a sense of playful theatricality. They’re not mean and nasty, they’re just playing a part! And everyone’s in on the delightful secret. Even the darkness seems like a friend.

Annie’s artistry is a marvel of light and color. There is warmth and sincerity embedded into every brushstroke. The colors themselves sing a comforting melody, a symphony of rose golds, soft blues, and the warm glow of sunshine dappling through leaves.  The beauty here is not cold and sterile but rather a living, breathing entity, one that radiates warmth and invites you to step into the heart of its impish revelry.

Rabbat, Annie Stegg Gerard

 

Moth Queen, Annie Stegg Gerard

The beauty, too, lies in the sincerity of her subjects, their expressions imbued with a soulful earnestness, holding a quiet wisdom of stories brimming with wild wonder and fierce, beautiful joy.  Their world is a shimmering celebration of the inherent joy in the fantastical, where the mythical and fanciful feel so utterly genuine that you could reach out and touch it, squeeze it in a big velvet-fuzzed, moth-winged hug.

But for all that innocent earnestness, it’s far from simplistic; it’s a captivating tumble of whimsy and earnestness, a world that echoes through and through with the thrum of a tremulous beating heart– making for a beauty that above all, feels real and true.

Find Annie Stegg Gerdard: Website // Instagram and see below for a further gallery of my favorites from this extraordinary artist.

Stolen Harvest, Annie Stegg Gerard

 

Festival of the Toadstool Dance, Annie Stegg Gerard

 

Enchantress of Avalon, Annie Stegg Gerard

 

Wish, Annie Stegg Gerard

 

Autumn Apprentice, Annie Stegg Gerard

 

Flortoise, Annie Stegg Gerard

 

The Cabbat Version 2, Annie Stegg Gerard

 

I’m Afraid You’ve Got Dragons, Annie Stegg Gerard

 

Penelope, Annie Stegg Gerard

 

Calico Calimander, Annie Stegg Gerard

 

Lady of the Vanir, Annie Stegg Gerard

 

The Boggart, Annie Stegg Gerard

 

The Coveted, Annie Stegg Gerard

 

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Esao Andrews, Thumb Owl Soul

Unfurl your optic nerves and stretch out your retinas because this installation of Eyeball Fodder explodes with vibrant hues, captivating shapes, and transcendent visions. Prepare for sights that map the path of your dreams, a visual feast that will expand the horizons of your perception.

Alexis Trice, Family Curse

 

Marcela Bolívar, Puella Aeterna

 

Terra Keck, Hologram Angel

 

Kristin Kwan, Incarnation

 

Laurie Kaplowitz, Gossamer Wings

 

Sibylle Peretti, Hase II

 

Polina Washington, Glass Doll

 

Colete Martin, from The Unicorn series

 

Welderwings, The Eyes With Which I Observe The World

 

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Beauty Will Save The World, Tino Rodriguez

When I was writing The Art of Fantasy, the final chapter presented a bit of a problem for me. It was becoming a real pain, to tell you the truth.

I’d covered art inspired by fantastical beasts and mythical creatures, powerful witches, wizards and incredible feats of magic, alternate histories, parallel dimensions, and otherworldly realms—but it begged the question as to who’s out there doing the heavy lifting of saving these worlds and their inhabitants from all the things they need saving from?

From realms at risk from wicked usurpers and maniacal overlords to worlds overrun by extraterrestrial aliens, ancient prophecies, and evil plots–cataclysms, calamities, and catastrophes abound, and it’s do-or-die against overwhelming odds! And, of course, artists in every culture have been capturing the essence of the idealized humans performing extraordinary feats…so I obviously needed a hero! A whole chapter of them!

But not a bunch of joyless, muscle-bound idiots swinging swords. Come on!

 

A Melody of Silence and Joy, Tino Rodriguez

Enter Tino Rodriguez. Tino’s art wasn’t about the steely-eyed warriors or the brooding ironclad crusaders and grizzled berserkers. Instead, it brimmed with tenderness and offered an expansive glimmer of something hopeful, a reminder that even the gentlest souls can rise to the challenge in a world teetering on the edge. It was exactly the kind of inspiration–and hero–that I needed for my final chapter.

Up until this realization, this had been a project wherein I questioned just about every word I’d struggled to get on paper, but once I experienced the artwork below, it became one of the easiest things I’d ever written.

 

The Wounded Healer’s Blood Nourishes the Earth That Gives Birth to Radiant Flowers, Tino Rodriguez

Infused with the captivating allure of celestial beings and Catholic saints, the whimsical charm of European fairytales, the otherworldly magic of Celtic fables, the vibrant energy of Mexican myths, and the timeless wisdom of Native American legends, and inspired by the wonder and magic of music, dreams, and childhood stories, Tino’s canvases are jubilant celebrations of ecstatic divinity, colorful butterfly-fluttered paradises, and brilliant floral explosions – sanctuaries for explorations of creative consciousness that transcend borders and language.

Personal transformation and universal connectedness are themes that tumble throughout Tino’s work, like so many spring blossoms on a sweet, laughing breeze: reminders that a hero’s work – this whole business of saving the world – often starts small, internally even, one precious human petal at a time.

The humble work of healing oneself is quiet and invisible, and it frequently doesn’t look – or feel – very good. Sometimes, it feels like ripping an arrow right out of your heart and fertilizing the ground with your blood. But you know what we call that? It’s an origin story. And it’s a great place to start.

Daydream Murmurations, Tino Rodriguez

 

The First Breath of Spring, Tino Rodriguez

But Tino’s art isn’t just a technicolor feast of kaleidoscopic opulence and psychedelic blooms; they are spaces of quiet revolution for creative spirits and gentle warriors of the heart, boundless realms where dreams take flight, transformation takes place, and where the questions that we carry with us are a beautiful, integral part of our complex and multilayered existence.

With regard to questions and answers and logic and reasoning, Tino says the following, and I love this sentiment so much:

“My work does not offer concrete answers. Instead, the poetic essence of my paintings questions literal and rational meanings. I am not interested in answers because I do not think there are absolute ones. Most questions are enigmas that we carry within ourselves, and they are part of our multilayered, complex existence. Novalis said: “Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason.” I think the same of my paintings, which I consider visual poetry.”

Below is a gallery of my favorite visual poetics from this extraordinary artist, a testament to the idea that beauty can indeed save the world, one tender hero at a time.

Find Tino Rodriguez: Instagram // Facebook

 

The Sybil, Tino Rodriguez

 

Moonlit Lullaby, Tino Rodriguez

 

Autumnal Gathering, Tino Rodriguez

 

Stella Mundis, Tino Rodriguez

 

Stella Solaris, Tino Rodriguez

 

Persephone, Tino Rodriguez

 

Spring Ritual, Tino Rodriguez

 

Calaquichix Faerie, Tino Rodriguez


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Madeline von Foerster, Orchid Cabinet

Many years ago, shortly after beginning my fledgling forays into writing about art, I had the privilege of interviewing one of my favorite artists. Their work, a weird hybrid of horror/comedy/adventure/and friendship, took place in an interconnected series that followed denizens of a haunted little town. At the time of the interview, the story depicted children in coming-of-age scenarios whilst encountering fantastical creatures and cryptids. It utterly delighted me, and, ecstatic at the opportunity to delve deeper, I peppered them with questions about their inspiration, their favorite monsters, and their personal encounters with the supernatural and the occult.

The response, though kind, was humbling. The artist explained that the fantastical elements – the monsters, the otherworldly details– were metaphors. They were ways of exploring the anxieties, the fears, and the very real challenges of growing up. My fascination with the fantastical had blinded me to the deeper message, the artist’s exploration of the human condition.

Madeline von Foerster, Essentia Exalta, seen in The Art of the Occult

This experience has stayed with me as a reminder to look beyond the surface when encountering art. It’s a lesson that comes to mind when examining the captivating work of Madeline von Foerster, whose painting Essentia Exalta (above) is in my book The Art of the Occult: A Visual Sourcebook For The Modern Mystic. Obviously, this is an artist with some occult and mystical interests and fascinations –after all, she’s got a whole alchemically inspired series called “Desires Distilled.”

So, I don’t think that was me seeing something that wasn’t there or that I was superimposing my own wishes and beliefs on her work. That sense of mysticism is very present, but there’s so much more to it than that …which I suspect I was blinded to at the time, because of my occult-book-writing tunnel vision.

Madeline von Foerster, Carnival Insectivora

 

Madeline von Foerster, Die Botschaft

At first glance, her meticulously detailed canvases, teeming, tumbling, and tangled with flora and fauna, appear like portals to lush sanctuaries imbued with symbolism that transcends the readily apparent, ripe for interpretations of the occult. The intricate symbolism, the otherworldly light, the magical beasts and shadowy, enigmatic figures – it all whispers of hidden knowledge and forgotten languages, and an undeniable aura of mystery permeates her work.

These elements of the otherworldly and arcane aren’t jarring or out of place; they feel like natural extensions of the organic world she portrays. This creates a captivating tension, urging viewers to decipher the hidden messages while simultaneously reveling in the breathtaking beauty. It’s easy to get lost in deciphering these enigmatic elements, to chase after hidden meanings and esoteric truths, to lose sight of the forest for the meticulously rendered trees. And there’s certainly room for such exploration.

 

Madeline von Foerster, The Promise II

 

Madeline von Foerster, The Mother of the Tree

 

Madeline von Foerster, Collection Cabinet

Her technique, egg tempera, which dates back to antiquity and has historical ties to alchemical practices, is a fascinating paradox and a laborious process that feels akin to a ritual. The resulting works possess an undeniable aura, a sense of channeling something older, wilder, and unseen. Yet, the imagery that emerges feels startlingly modern.

The scenes she creates boggle the mind, engage the senses, and speak to a spark of the sacred swimming deep within the soul. Her still lifes, gardens, and wunderkammers exist in a twilight zone where invasive species and extinct creatures frolic, and vibrant flora spills into dreamlike vistas of aggressively suffocating vines and jellyfish-flocked undersea ruins. Human torso-shaped wooden cabinets allude to the once-living trees that were their source. Deforestation, endangered species, and the ever-present shadow of war find subtle expression within future fairytales weaving a poignant commentary on the human condition into the beauty.

Madeline von Foerster, Ny Alantsika

 

Madeline von Foerster, In the garden

I began writing this blog post with the intention of saying that I might have lost sight of the true message of her art while immersing myself in the sumptuous verdancy and cryptic enchantments of Madeline von Forster’s cosmos. However, I realized that I am not in a position to determine what that message is or isn’t. Who is to say that art cannot be both mystical and otherworldly, while also being rooted in earthly concerns? Why can’t it be a portal to a supernatural realm and a window to the deep bond we share with the natural world that requires our attention and reverence?

Perhaps, then, it is a form of nature worship, a celebration of the deep-rooted magic that pulsates within every living thing. By capturing in her exquisite brushstrokes the intricate patterns and symbolism inherent in the natural world, she elevates it to a place of reverence. These breathtaking botanicals and wunderkammers teeming with wildness and wonder become more than just decorative elements or aesthetic choices; they are imbued with a sense of the sacred, whispered hints at the interconnectedness of all things, each revelation deepening our appreciation for the world around us.

Follow Madeline von Foerster : Website // Instagram // Facebook

Madeline von Foerster, Amazon Cabinet

 

Madeline von Foerster, Pearled Nautilus

 

Madeline von Foerster, The Tale of the Golden Toad

 

Madeline von Foerster, Wohin, Pangolin?

 

Madeline von Foerster, La Nature Sauvage

 

Madeline von Foerster, Reliquary for Rabb’s Frog

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Dionysius the Areopagite Converting the Pagan Philosophersm Antoine Caron

I post a lot of goofiness all over social media, but it doesn’t always make its way to my blog. So here is a little round-up of what I have been thinking about or observing lately, as told through various imagery and anecdotes.

Are you like that, too? Do you look at a painting or photo and illustration and give it an entirely out-of-context silly or surreal backstory? Or attach it to a bit of conversation you had with someone, or overheard or made up entirely in your head? I do that a lot. And I do mean a lot.

Anyway, I just saw someone post on Facebook last week that the eclipse “looked cool, but it’s not worth the hype,” and I don’t know why that’s so funny, but I was laughing so hard I fear I may pee myself. Not worth the hype, dummies! You can all go home now, I guess!

 

 

Give yourself fun pep talks with weird wizard advice, like, “When the instrument of sleep leaves the space of nourishment, begin the work.”

Which sounds way more magical than “I need to move the mattress out of the dining room so I can concentrate on writing again!” I want to write more, but because we are redoing our flooring and doing some renovations, our guest room mattress and related furnishings are currently in the dining room, and all of that precarious chaos is too anxiety-inducing for my brain to focus on working with words. Gimme my spaces back, please!

 

I still haven’t listened to Beyonce’s new album, other than her rendition of Jolene. It was fine, and I am sure the album is fine, and I should probably listen to it because it’s culturally important and so on, but first, I feel like we need to fix Jolene. I got my sisters on board with this idea over on Facebook, and we are working on it. That’s one of Mary’s contributions in the second image.

Someone commented on her FB page, “Oh, you mean Jolene, like the Dixie Chicks wrote it.” Oh, no, no. Jolene, if Circe and Mr. Rochester’s first wife had written it. Jolene, if Eileen Wuornos and Loreena Bobbit wrote it. No offense to anyone’s version, but no one is addressing the real problem here.

I also listened to three or four new songs on Taylor Swift’s new album, and it bored me tremendously. I know my baby sister reads this blog and will be sad to hear that because she is a huge fan, and Melissa I am sorry. There was not enough torture in the tortured poets’ department. There was like, zero torture. I feel misled.

“Isabella and the Pot of Basil” {1867} By William Holman Hunt

 

“Listen, that’s between you and your pot of basil,” is a thing I am going to start responding with when people are trying to tell me shit I don’t need to know.

 

 

I have been irrationally angry at whoever was just before me in library holds line for Diavola. They took the whole two weeks to read that book! Come on, man! But my holds for both Diavola and The Familiar finally became available (at once, of course ) and so far they do not disappoint! I usually read about 10 things at once, but because the queues are so long for the both of these, and I will not be able renew them, I am focusing on them exclusively …no great difficulty there, they both drew me in immediately and entirely.

 

Pemberton-Longman, Joanne; Professional Jealousy

 

I have been writing and sharing on the internet for a long time. Both personal blogs and social media, as well as more widely read websites. But. As a writer of things, I could never say something like, “y’all liked my X thing so much, I’m back with another!” I mention this because it was something I saw over on fragrance reddit this week. Man. I don’t know. That seems wildly, toe-curlingly cringe to me. When I read that, I was stricken with the most intense fremdschämen.

But there’s an admirable audacity, too. Like… you truly believe people enjoyed the words you wrote. I love that for you. I want that, too.

 

 

On Tuesdays we wear gold. And hearts and moons and eyes. Light aloeswood incense. Find a perfectly preserved moth behind a picture frame. Listen to the owls’s hoot fluttering through the wind chimes. Slurp a scalding soup of bitter greens. Plant a crimson sunflower seed. Tuesday stuff.

 

Vertigo, Leon Spilliaert 1908

 

A joke, but it’s a recurring nightmare from another life; a joke, but it’s a voice from the moon in the dark; a joke, but it’s a beckoning finger from a broken mirror; ha ha haa ahh ahh.

 

The Vegetable Gardener, Giuseppe Arcimboldo

 

I forgot the word for “vegan” and was like, “You know…vegetable edge lord?” VEGLORD, if you will.

 

 

Something I tried to sneak into each of my books was at least one instance of an image that had been shared and memed all over the Internet without credit. Something that you see people repost all over the place with “artist unknown.” I want people to know there were actual human artists that created these works! I wanted it in black and white, something that couldn’t be lost to 404 errors and lazy reblogs.

These artworks from Ruth Marten (top) and Mr. Werewolf (b0ttom) were two of them, and you can find them in The Art of Darkness: A Treasury of the Morbid, Melancholic, and Macabre, and The Art of Fantasy: A Visual Sourcebook of All That Is Unreal, respectively. There were obviously quite a few in this category, but unfortunately, I did not get permission from those artists. Three others that I had in mind were Omar Rayyon’s The Favorite, this little guy from Lily Seika-Jones, and this owl tea party by Yoshioka.

 

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In the weird, woodland magics of of Brett Manning’s art, one will find a labyrinth of moss-covered pathways and mushroom-dotted clearings, where one might imagine hearing the whispers of faeries and the footsteps of forest spirits.

Whimsy dances hand in hand with shadows and decay, creating a thicket of contrasts that defies simple categorization. While her creations exude a playful charm, there’s an underlying hint of shadow that adds depth and complexity to her work. Think Beatrix Potter goes to the Goblin Market, told via the forested strangeness of a gloomy Twin Peaksian folklore, tinged with the cryptic mystery and intrigue of the X-Files; channel that through an impish imagination, a flair for visual storytelling, and an eye for the uncanny, and you begin to grasp the enigmatic allure of Manning’s realms.

Basically what I am trying to say here is that Brett Manning’s artworks embrace the wild and the wondrous, they are the artistic equalivalent of the unhinged urge to disappear from society and rewild as a feral forest goblin, and embody the idea of a gnome riding on the back of a possom, rolling up to you in a little car made of autumnal forest detritus and saying, “get in losers, we’re gonna admire moss and mushrooms in the forest.”

 

 

Faerie Music, Brett Manning, 2021, ink.

 

Faerie Music in The Art of Fantasy

 

Faerie Music caption, Korean to English translation

 

The three images above, let me explain them. The first is “Faerie Music,” which Brett kindly permitted me to include the the pages of The Art of Fantasy: A Treasury of All That Is Unreal.

Here is the caption I wrote for it and which you will find included in the book:

“Fiddling, strumming and tootling through the twilight while lounging about on cosy toadstools, the faerie folk musicians by contemporary artist Brett Manning are a captivating blend of dainty and earthy, and seem envisioned from both ancient books of forest folklore and your favourite well-thumbed local woodland cryptid guide. A maker who wears many hats (probably woven by gnomes with spider silk and beetle wings), Manning’s whimsical, magic creations take the form of illustrations as well as cavorting and capering all over the clothing that she designs.”

The second image is a photo of Brett’s artwork in the Korean language edition of The Art of Fantasy, and the third photo is from where I ran the Korean caption through a translator, and it gave me back an English version. I don’t think this is actually how it reads in Korean, but …I also kind of hope so?

“Modern painter Brett Manning sat on a cosy poisonous mushroom, in the twilight, played the violin, ripped the harp, drew fairy flute musicians, capturing the elegant earthy nature. In this paining, we can think of both ancient folk tales and our favourite guides to unidentified creatures in our woods and our neighborhood. Manning’s quirky and magical creation, which mainly uses a hat (like a fairy in the ground woven with spider’s webs and beetle wings), is not only embodied in illustrations, but also plays cheerfully in the clothes she designs.”

I love the idea of Brett sitting on a mushroom, playing a violin and ripping a harp, and using a hat to create! Honestly, that may have been better than what I wrote.

Bauchan, Brett Manning
Springtime, Brett Maning

Through her art, Manning invites us to peek into hidden nooks and corners where we can almost hear the lilting melodies played on instruments of nature, a secret serenade echoing through the twilight woods, performed by faeries, cryptids, spirits, and other strange entities that exist on the fringes and in the peripheries.  So next time you find yourself wandering through a sun-dappled sylvan setting, keep an ear out. Perhaps you’ll catch a glimpse of Manning’s whimsical creations, their music weaving a spell of wonder and enchantment, their whispers urging you to get lost in the woods and never to be seen again.

As you contemplate trading modern trappings for the untamed beauty of fanciful forest realms, and perhaps even become one with moss and bugs, indulge in daydreams of the things between and unseen.

Below, a gallery awaits, showcasing my favorites among Manning’s works, inviting you to embark on your own journey through her weird woodland worlds.

 

 

Artwork by Brett Manning
Artwork by Brett Manning

 

Artwork by Brett Manning
Snarly Yow, A West Virginia Cryptid

 

The Seven Whistlers, Brett Manning

 

Find Brett Manning: Etsy // Instagram // Book: One Foot In The Green

 

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Anna Mond, Swan Lake

 

The creations borne of Anna Mond’s marvelously strange brain noodles are gleefully grotesque, wickedly cheeky, ghoulishly precious brouhahas with a through line of the weirdest humor steeped in simultaneous cups of cracked darkness and silliness. A chorus line of goggle-eyed electric blue skeletons pirouette madly; a fuzzy mushroom-homunculi-thing drunkenly rides on the back of a bewildered spider; a celestial diablerie of witchy critters deliriously possess the midnight sky.

All manner of creatures and beings and God knows what else cavort and caper in garish, gooey blurbling blobs of color drooled across the canvas in a vibrant rascality of shenanigans. I stare at these paintings rapturously, my bones all vibrating in a mad, magic jig and they make me want to do something crazy!

 

Anna Mond, 1am
Anna Mond, 1am

 

…and I don’t think I am the only one! The comment section of the artist’s Instagram account are frenzied fever dream free-for-all digital art raves where everyone’s losing their minds in the best way possible.

Fans are obsessed with the imaginative artist’s work and are moved to express their wild interpretations and emotions. They compliment the canvases, caption them with an imaginary script or song lyrics or meme du jour, analyze the content, the inspiration, the technique; they ramble at length with the fables and fictions the work evokes in them; they share last night’s unrelated dream, and recipes, and various theories and conspiracies!

 

Anna Mond, Schatz

 

From what I can tell, Anna Mond is a somewhat enigmatic individual. The artist’s website doesn’t offer much in the way of information, and although the handful of interviews do illuminate various inspirations in the form of artists: Atsuko Tanaka, Clementine Hunter, Zinaida Serebryakova, Sister Plautilla Nelli and music: Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and Elvis and a love of fairy tales and horror, I haven’t found much more insight into the mind of this artist.

One thing I did learn was that Anna Mond refers to the work as “Fantasticalizm”–and really, how peculiar and playful and perfect is that? Fantasticalizm! I don’t need to know anything more, really!

Just let me fill my eyeballs with these visions of wild, wondrous, weirdness forever, please.

Find Anna Mond: website // Instagram

 

Anna Mond, Let me show you my bats

 

Anna Mond, Homeric Poem

 

Anna Mond, Mad Mushroom

 

Anna Mond, Wish-Fish

 

Anna Mond, Peanuts

 

Anna Mond, Wolfgang

 

Anna Mond, Rebirth


If you enjoy these art-related writings, or if you have ever enjoyed or been inspired by something I have written, and you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?

…or support me on Patreon!

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