The Last Unicorn cover art, Gervasio Gallardo

Steeped in surrealism, brimming with wide-eyed and wondrous dream imagery, and dripping with a sort of dazzling, bejeweled magical realism, Gervasio Gallardo (b. 1934) painted an enormous amount of the exquisite imagery that graced the classic Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series from the late 1960s-early 1970s. As well as having been the illustrator of a number of magazines and fiction authors, such as Peter S. Beagle, H. P. Lovecraft, F. Marion Crawford, Lord Dunsany, Clark Ashton Smith, William Morris, Hannes Bok, and Lin Carter. 

I could have sworn that I had a battered, well-loved copy of The Last Unicorn with the swoony cover art above, but alas–it is lost! I did, however, find that I had two other titles with Gervasio Gallardo’s creations gracing the covers!

Below that, you will find some of my favorite works from the artist–I don’t yet know if any or all of them are connected to any book covers, but I’m working on figuring that out and will update this blog post with more information as I find it.

 

Gervasio Gallardo

 

Gervasio Gallardo

 

Gervasio Gallardo

 

Gervasio Gallardo

 

Gervasio Gallardo

 

Gervasio Gallardo

 

Gervasio Gallardo

 

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Gertrude Abercrombie. “Strange Shadows (Shadows and Substance)”, 1950.

I’ve written way too many words already about the process of putting together a visually-rich, image-heavy book like The Art of Darkness (or The Art of the Occult, for that matter), but suffice it to say there are many, many reasons why a piece of art, maybe even a piece of art you had expected to see, might not show up within the pages of these books. So many reasons! And sure, it’s possible that maybe this or that artist/artwork didn’t occur to me to include them, I mean, I haven’t seen all the art there is to see in the world, and I don’t know everything there is to know …but I’m fairly confident in telling you that whatever it is you think might be missing from a book of dark-themed art, those omissions probably don’t boil down to reasons of me forgetting it or not being aware of its existence. 

Many people have asked me questions along the of what’s not in the book and why, or what I would have liked to have included but could not, so I thought you might be interested to see a handful of works that I would have loved to have featured in The Art of Darkness, but for whatever reason, we just weren’t able to work it out.

I want to repeat that I am so, so beyond thankful and grateful to the artists that I was able to work with! This book would have never come together if not for you! And I don’t think these missing works detract from the overall book-I’m very happy with it!

Still… there are a few of them that felt a little tragic not to see them in the finished project. See below for a gallery of art-shaped holes in my heart (and book), as well as some notes/thoughts on each.

 

Baba Yaga with Moth and Beetle, Tin Can Forest

Tackling “ancient narratives from the perspective of the shadows,” Tin Can Forest is the collaborative duo comprised of Pat Shewchuk and Marek Colek. Illustrated with moody, fog-saturated colors,  drawing inspiration from the forests of Canada, Slavic art, and occult folklore, and interwoven with secretive symbolism, esoteric emblems, and magical motifs, these fables meander and twist, a miscellany of deep folklore and nonsensical cautionary tales, and populated by a nightmarish menagerie of creatures, spirits, and familiars.

 

 

A Witch, Edgar Bundy 1896 oil on canvas

https://www.alamy.com/bundy-edgar-a-witch-british-school-19th-century-image370652286.htm

Edgar Bundy (1862 1922) specialized in detailed historical paintings in oil and watercolor, typically in a narrative style, a genre which was very popular in the Edwardian time Bundy lived in. In March 1895 a newspaper headline in England read: The Tipperary Wife Burning, describing the tragic and violent death of an Irish woman named Bridget Cleary, a dressmaker who was immolated alive as a witch by her husband and family. The death of Bridget Clearly became a focal point of culture while the trial ensued; at the time, Irish home rule was an active political issue in England, and the press coverage of the Cleary case intensified the debate over the Irish people’s ability to govern themselves. The public would have been reminded of Bridget Cleary case when viewing this painting wherein Bundy has possibly portrayed a witch to remind the British public of Ireland’s superstition, and to question their own opinions about whether or not Ireland was capable of ruling itself. Or, although darkly fantastical, it is merely just a depiction of someone’s idea of a witch.

 

 Circe resplendens  Margaret Deborah Cookesley 1913

Margaret Deborah Cookesley  (1844-1927)  was an English painter who traveled to the Middle East and painted scenes in oils and watercolors. Cookesley is noted to have visited Constantinople, where the sultan commissioned a portrait of his son; he was so pleased with this that he asked her to paint his wives as well, but she did not have time for this commission. She exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Society of Women and was awarded the Order of the Chefakat and the Medaille des Beaux-Arts in the Ottoman Empire. Scholars point out that Cookesley’s work was intended for a mass market rather than as a form of high art. Thus, instead of appearing in museums, her paintings entered private collections where they continue to be traded among collectors. Circe here, despite her powerful splendor, wears a look of loneliness and loss as she stares away from us to something just outside the canvas. Perhaps she also wishes this artist’s splendid works were more widely known. 

 

La Celestina, Pablo Picasso 1904

Painted during his Blue Period, in La Celestina  (1881–1973) Pablo Picasso depicts an old woman who is dressed in somber colors, partially blind, as indicated by her milky, malformed eye. The painting is said to be inspired by Spanish literature, a character, also named Celestina, in a 15th century Spanish play, Aurora Roja. In the play, Celestina is a sorceress and procuress who casts magical spells and mixes portions. It is reported that Picasso was always fascinated by Spanish literature, ever since his adolescent years. While in Spain, he read various editions of the Spanish play. The theme of blindness had a personal meaning for Picasso, who so predominantly lived by his eyes. Equating this infliction with a sharpening of the senses, blindness signified a deeper vision; a true glimpse of reality without the restriction of physical sight.

 

Untitled, Zdzislaw Beksinski, 1972.

Polish painter, photographer, and sculptor Zdzisław Beksiński (1929–2005) specialized in dark visions of dystopian surrealism. Beksiński had no formal training as an artist but made his paintings and drawings in what he called either a ‘Baroque’ or a ‘Gothic’ manner. In the late 1960s, he entered what he referred to his ‘fantastic period’, which would last until the mid-1980s. During this time, he created very disturbing images of nightmarish post-apocalyptic environments with intensely detailed scenes of death, decay, and landscapes filled with skeletons, deformed figures, and deserts. At the time, Beksiński claimed, ‘I wish to paint in such a manner as if I were photographing dreams.’ For the most part, the artist insisted that even he did not know the meaning of his artworks and was uninterested in possible interpretations; in keeping with this, he refused to provide titles for any of his drawings or paintings. 

 


Goddess with Flares, from the portfolio “On Fire”, Judy Chicago 1972, printed 2013, inkjet print on paper

Judy Chicago (b. 1939) is an artist, author, feminist, educator, and intellectual who for over five decades, has remained fiercely steadfast in her commitment to the power of art as a vehicle for intellectual transformation and social change. Her audacious and genre-defying practice spans painting, textile arts, sculpture, and installation. Judy Chicago first turned to pyrotechnics in the late 1960s, during a time when the southern California art scene was almost entirely male dominated. Chicago recognizing the divinity of the Earth and our necessity to protect it from ourselves has noted, “I spent a considerable amount of time working on images of the feminine as sacred, drawing on scholarship that had demonstrated that all early societies were goddess worshipping,” she says. ”We need a God figure beyond gender so that both men and women can see themselves in the Godhead.” 

 

Eve & Lilith, Harmonia Rosales

From the inception of her career, contemporary artist Harmonia Rosales’s (b.?) primary artistic focus has been that of Black female empowerment in Western culture.  Her paintings, depicting and honoring the African diaspora, seeks to reimagine new forms of aesthetic beauty through art that challenges ideological hegemony in contemporary society. The black female bodies in her paintings are in memory of her ancestors, expressed in a way to heal and promote self-love. In Michelangelo’s ‘Fall and Expulsion of Man’ and Titan’s painting ‘The Fall of Man,’ Lilith is portrayed as the snake of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Rosales reframes Eve’s encounter as not one of sin, rather awakening, and that ultimately, Eve and Lilith are one and the same.

The Fates / Les Parques Gustav Adolf Mossa  1917

A French artist and late Symbolist painter whose eccentricities evoke Surrealism but whose obsession with femme fatales and hearkens to the preoccupations that haunt the decadent imagination. Gustav Adolf Mossa’s works are watercolor delicacies that bely their entrancingly eerie themes and perverse delights. The Fates are a common motif in European polytheism, most frequently represented as a trio of goddesses who shaped the destiny of each human, often expressed in textile metaphors such as spinning fibers into yarn, or weaving threads on a loom. The Fates were three female goddesses who shaped people’s lives, determining how a person would live and their individual allotment of misery. These three arbiters of kismet and consequence wear knowing expressions, as if to assure us that “our suffering will be legendary, even in hell.”

THE WHORE BABYLON, Ernst Fuchs (Draft for the Parish of St. Egyd, Parish Church of Klagenfurt), 1995
Oil-egg tempera, mixed media on wood panel

Ernst Fuchs (1930 – 2015) was an Austrian painter, draftsman, printmaker, sculptor, architect, stage designer, composer, poet, and one of the founders of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism.  His paintings, sculpture, and prints address themes of religion and mysticism, executed in luminous colors and textures, which is achieved by mixing egg tempera with paint and resin. The Whore of Babylon is described in the verses 17:3—4 in Book of Revelation: “And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of names of blasphemy with seven heads and ten horns. The woman was garbed in purple and scarlet, and gilded with gold, gems, and pearls, and bearing a golden goblet in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication.” Babylon the Great, commonly known as the Whore of Babylon, refers to both a symbolic female figure and place of evil Fuch’s version of this grand dame of apocalyptic significance is rendered in the artist’s typical textured and sumptuous style, and she looks like she came to party.

 

Llanthony Abbey, John Craxton, 1942 Ink and watercolour on board

John Craxton 1922–2009 was championed from the age of 19 as one of the great hopes of modern painting in Britain. Born into a large, musical, and bohemian family in London, the artist has been described as a Neo-Romantic, but he called himself a “kind of Arcadian.” This drawing is of the medieval Llanthony Abbey which stands in an isolated position on the bottom of a steep valley in the Black Mountains, South Wales. A portent of writhing, menacing vegetation frames the ruined Gothic abbey; this sense of an imperiled bit of secluded paradise had resonated considerably in wartime Britain.

A Little Medicine and Magic, Julie Buffalohead 2018, oil on canvas

Contemporary Indigenous American Julie Buffalohead (b.1972) creates visual narratives through personal metaphors to describe the American Indian cultural experience.  As a member of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma, Buffalohead uses storytelling and an eclectic palette of imagery expressed through whimsical anthropomorphic animal subjects and trickster tropes to link the mythical with the ordinary, the imaginary, and the real. Through wit, wisdom and metaphor, we become aware of additional layers of meaning when engaged with her world– themes of racial injustice, indigenous rights, and abuse of power.

Swan, James Jean, 2008

James Jean (b. 1979) creates simultaneously lush and decaying fantasy worlds populated by mythical creatures in his complex, mesmerizing large-scale paintings brimming with allegorical and contemporary imagery. Fusing inspiration from the archaic, the rare, and the unconscious,  the artist incorporates elements of traditional Chinese and Japanese scroll paintings, Japanese woodblock prints, Renaissance portraiture, comic books, and anime into these exquisitely detailed compositions. As he experiments with such different styles and art historical genres, Jean blurs the boundary between past and present and between Eastern and Western artmaking in his timeless dreamworlds. 

 

“Destroyer II,” Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum’s  2020, pencil, oil, and acrylic on wood panel.

Driven by a fascination with ancient mythologies, and ethenography multidisciplinary artist Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum (b.1980)   muses on the origins of time and theories on the nature of the universe. Her works on paper, large-scale installations, and stop-motion films are rooted in autobiography, addressing the development of transnational identities, human connections, and cross-border rituals. Sunstrum’s drawings take the form of narrative landscapes that appear simultaneously futuristic and ancient, showing Black female identity to be fluid and ever-changing, a multiplicity of stories across time and often negotiate what it means to be both the hero and the villain of the same story.

 

Remix 01, Amanda Arcuri 2020  

Contemporary photographer Amanda Arcuri (b?) explores our connection with the natural world around us. Through various techniques like dramatic lighting and long exposures in her surreally vivid photographic works, she accentuates the beauty and poetry of decaying foliage. Arcuri ritualistically burns the discarded and expired floral arrangements, using the flame and the act of burning as metaphors for change and upheaval, a dynamic opposition wherein the viewer is challenged to contemplate the ways in which they experience change and time.

 

The Slow Rising Smoke From Your Bedroom Window at 6:23am, Fumi Mini Nakamura, 2014, graphite and ink on Bristol papers

Though illustrator and designer Fumi Mini Nakamura (b. 1984) lives and works in the NYC-area, she was born in a small town in Japan, growing up surrounded by lofty mountains and endless ocean– a rural upbringing which has unmistakably impacted her art, which features beautifully rendered flora and fauna. Nakamura pulls from the subconscious, using metaphor and imagery to create striking pieces with each aspect carefully considered to represent elements of life, memory, body, and soul.

Old Faun (The Parterres of Aranjuez series) Santiago Rusiñol Aranjuez, 1911 oil on canvas

Santiago Rusiñol i Prats (1861 -1931) was a Spanish Post-Impressionist and Symbolist painter, poet, and playwright.  Well known for his landscape art and garden canvases, he created more than a thousand paintings and it seems he died doing what he loved in 1931, while painting its famous gardens. On the surface, while not an overtly dark piece, this oil painting depicts a labyrinth awash in autumnal glow. However, the mesmerizing, winding routes of a maze can be an uncanny thing to contemplate, and for the cleithrophobic (the fear of being trapped) amongst us, this escape room avant le letter can certainly seem an endless nightmare! But remember, labyrinths are ancient archetypes, tools for personal, psychological and spiritual transformation. Used as a walking meditation, choreographed dance, or site of rituals and ceremony among other things, labyrinths evoke metaphor, mindfulness, environmental art, and community building. There’s not always a monster waiting for you at its center. Sometimes there’s nothing waiting for us at all. The importance was in the getting there. (And getting back out!)

 

Harm Less, Sonia Rentsch 

Australian artist Sonia Rentsch (b?) is known for her clever concepts and eccentric still life scenes with a signature a dash of theatrical play and surrealism. With an eye for composition, she strives to “find the beauty in everything,” even instruments of violence. Her Harm Less series depicts a series of weapons made from organic materials –sticks, leaves, seeds, spikes, leaves, twigs, and flowers– which reflect the human proclivity to take elements of our environment and manipulate them through technology to suit our desires. Though the detailing is immense, these weapons are far from functional. They do, however, resemble forms which are instantly recognizable and invoke an emotional response.  

 

All the Flowers and Insects, Toru Kamei 2013 Oil on Linen mounted on Panel

Tokyo-born artist Toru Kamei (b. 1976) is renowned for painting what he calls “beautiful nightmares,” bewitching oil scenes combining classical painting techniques with surrealist concepts that balance nature and morbidity. Reminiscent of vanitas paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries, these works juxtapose motifs such as abundant blooming flowers and grim, hollow-eyed skulls, and a masterful use of lighting and color that suffuses these scenes of death and decay with a glowing opulence and a hushed sense of mystery and yearning through which little souls flit and flutter, seemingly untethered, yet connecting it all. 

Indovina Nicola Samorì  (2017) Oil on panel

Nicola Samorì (b. 1977) creates in an aura of darkness and Baroque-influenced drama, rendered in a characteristic chiaroscuro technique. His paintings are gouged, distorted, and destroyed before reaching their final state, expressions of ruinous beauty and exquisite torment. With a technique that intertwines both destruction and classic traditional art, what once may have resembled a painting akin to the work of the old masters becomes a powerful work of contemporary art creating a dialogue with the viewer of silent mutual understanding, expressing the universal horror of being-in-the-world.

Andrew Wyeth, No Trespassing, 1991. Watercolour on paper.

Andrew Wyeth  (1917-2009)  was a polarizing figure amongst art critics; some deride his art as drab and kitschy, and others might call it morbid or mawkish, but Wyeth’s melancholy paintings were also praised by many as profound reflections of 20th century alienation and existentialism. Love it or hate it, the central themes of the artist’s works—poverty, loneliness, existential desperation, gender and sexuality, human cruelty, of struggling to survive in an inhospitable planet—even today emanate from the canvas with a powerful timelessness that resonates with viewers and transcend the labels of the critics and commentators.

 

I Want to Live Honestly, Like the Eye in the Picture, Yayoi Kusama, 2009. Acrylic on canvas

A renowned Japanese artist known for her larger than life, all-encompassing canvases, Yayoi Kusama was born in 1929 in rural Japan into a family of merchants who deeply opposed her artistic practice. Traumatized by aspects of  both parental figures as well as the desperate surroundings of post-war Japan, Yayoi experienced mental health issues from the time of her childhood, including obsessive-compulsive behavior and vivid hallucinations which she described as ‘flashes of light, auras, or dense fields of dots’ which would come to life, multiply and engulf herself and her surroundings in a process she called ‘self-obliteration’. By 1950, Kusama began covering walls, floors canvases and household objects with her trademark polka dots in reference to these early childhood hallucinations; she described these dense paintings as “white nets enveloping the black dots of silent death against a pitch-dark background of nothingness.” In the mid-1970s, Kusama voluntarily checked herself into the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill, where she still resides and continues to create. For her, creating art is not just an avant-garde exercise but a catharsis, and the fulfillment of a psychological need.

 At The Bottom of The Anxiety Swamp, Jayoon Choi 2017  Indian Ink, Paper

London-based artist and lecturer Jayoon Choi’s artistic practice challenges the boundary between traditional drawing methods and experimental moving images to approach the audience in multifaceted ways, and is dedicated to expressing the vast spectrum of mental states that we possess, buried beneath the physical body we own. She turns various psychological states into a form of experience, and questions what forms a self. Jay states of her work, “In that numberless crowd we are continually surrounded by others, we can see ourselves as we experience the same things, going through the same systematic steps in life, despite all our many differences. Sooner or later, we all head in the same direction.” 

The Haunted House. Simeon Solomon, 1855

Anglo-Jewish artist Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) until relatively recently remained a little-known Victorian artist of interest only to those immersed in Pre-Raphaelite studies. Over the past thirty years increased interest in the Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetes, Jewish studies, and gender/gay/queer studies have generated a resurgence of information on one of the dreamiest Victorian artist you’ve most likely never heard of. A child prodigy who showed at the Royal Academy aged 18, he went on to become a vital member of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. His contemporary, Edward Burne-Jones, called him ‘the best of us all’. The Haunted House represents a moment in a gothic-toned poem of the same title by Thomas Hood (1799–1845). Solomon has drawn a woman with her arm around a young girl, peering through a doorway into a room in which a man leans over a coffin, while a female mourner holds a handkerchief to her face. The following stanza explains, “O, very, very dreary is the room Where Love, domestic Love, no longer nestles, But smitten by the common stroke of doom, The Corpse lies on the trestles.”

 

Strange Shadows (Shadows and Substance) Gertrude Abercrombie, 1950.

Gertrude Abercrombie’s (1909-1977) unique and transfixing dreamscapes combined the aesthetic inclinations of artists such as Salvador Dalí and René Magritte with a focus on the “psychic geography” of rural spaces. Although a notable staple of the Chicago jazz scene, often referred to as the “queen of the bohemian artists, Stein was an underrated fixture of mid-century American Surrealism. With her enigmatic portraits, landscapes, and paintings of interiors, Gertrude Abercrombie added a distinctly American, female voice to the heavily European, male Surrealist movement. Filled with eerie symbols and centered on women modeled on herself, these stark, solitary paintings often depict nocturnal journeys, meditations, and rituals, Abercrombie is noted as observing “I paint the way I do because I’m just plain scared. I mean, I think it’s a scream that we’re alive at all—don’t you?

 

Matsui Fuyuko, Keeping Up the Pureness, (2004), color on silk

Japanese artist and pop icon Fuyuko Matsui (b.1974) explores the haunted, interconnected realms of traditional and modern aesthetics and in doing so conjures the universally feared specters of the unknown inner self, and the inexpressible shadows that roam between the personal and collective past. In Keeping Up the Pureness, the ghostly rot of the canvas’s central figure recalls the Japanese art of Kusōzu (‘painting of the nine stages of a decaying corpse’) developed between the 14th and 18th centuries, which illustrates the decay of a human corpse with breathtaking graphical accuracy; in this modern depiction, the artist breathes new life into this centuries-old practice of capturing intimately unsettling imagery.

Media

Female Corpse, Back View, Hyman Bloom, 1947

Boston painter Hyman Bloom’s (1913–2009) complex works combined the physical and the spiritual on canvas in drawing upon the artist’s Jewish faith, his interest in Eastern religions, and his transcendent belief in regeneration. Bloom employed thick paint in jewel-like tones to make gripping and beautiful works that challenge our concepts of beauty and our understanding of the true meaning of “still life.” In Female Corpse, Back View (1947), pictured above, he renders a decomposing cadaver with a palette of rich colors. An artist who got beneath the surface of things, exploring form and seeking significance, he remarked, in such images “the paradox of the harrowing and the beautiful could be brought into unity.” 

 

Happy Birthday to You, Angela Deane, 2020 Acrylic on found photograph

Baltimore based artist Angela Deane (b?) while best known for her small paintings on photographs, is currently pursuing an ever-growing body of larger works on canvas. In many of her creations there is a playfulness to be found; one tied to nostalgia, the sweet married to the bittersweet, but also emerging is a strong buoyancy of spirit, a kind of spiritual mapping, both in process and evocation of the completed piece.

 

The Wandering Ghost, part 1 Matsuyama Miyabi

 Matsuyama Miyabi defines her artistic style as “Neo-Ukiyo-e.” Juxtaposing the feminine beauty of traditional Edo-era floating world imagery with themes of death and fate and a gorgeously gloomy atmosphere, she conjures shadowy, unsettling truths and reveals the darkness of unspeakable fears. The ghosts haunting these works evoke both the old and new, the modern and timeless, the beautiful and disturbing.

 

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15 Dec
2022

Dandelion by @kristinkwanart // Kristin Kwan

The year’s end has got me feeling all kinds of ways, so there’s nothing to do about it but look at some art. Here’s a few wonderful works that have thrilled my eyeballs over the last few months.

amy_earles // Amy Earles

 

@alexeckmanlawn // Alex Eckman-Lawn

 

Sharp Tone by @marcomazzoniart // Marco Mazzoni

 

@valeriehammondstudio // Valerie Hammond

 

@nunziopaci // Nunzio Paci

 

@kreetakreeta // KREETTA JÄRVENPÄÄ

 

Euphoria by @rachaelbridge // Rachael Bridge

 

shine with dignity by @tachikiyoshie // Tachiki Yoshie

 

Flora by @hannahflowers_tattoos // Hannah Flowers

 

@robin_isely // Robin Isely

 

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If I am being very, very honest, I think my chief reason for starting a Patreon was to use it as an excuse to collaborate with some of my favorite artists to create treats for my supporters. It’s not sustainable for me, funds-wise, to commission an artist every month, or even every other month, but I make it happen when I can, and the results have been absolutely enchanting.

I am a huge believer in “tiny arts. ” I know that the purchasing of art is not always an accessible enthusiasm for everyone, and I am not at all saying that artists charge too much, not at all! You deserve to be paid for your time, effort, and talent! But I’m always appreciative when artists make smaller pieces—postcards, pins, small prints, bookmarks, etc., so that folks with limited budgets can treat themselves as well. And I really wanted tiny arts on a perfume theme to be part of my Midnight Stinks Patreon.

For my top-tier Aromatic Angels supporters this month, I’m getting ready to send out these beautiful bookmarks brimming with botanical mystery, designed by the strange and wonderful imagination of Melissa Kojima. And I hope to do so much more of these magical, fantastical creative joinings as we head into the new year!

These lovely little works of art are pictured here with a book utterly luxuriating in shadowy, artful treasures, and which I’m sure you’re tired of hearing about! These chapters of melancholic plants and flowers and gloomy landscapes are my very favorites (aaaaand I have two signed copies left!)

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“Takk for at du ser meg.” (“Thank you for seeing me.”) 

After reading the details of Aleksander Nordaas’ new Kickstarter project for his Huldra photography book, it was those words above, that jumped forth from his description of the undertaking, and which burrowed their way into my brain. But I think I am getting ahead of myself.  First, a bit of background.

In 2013 Nordaas released the beguiling film Thale (which I recently found out was pretty much made in his father’s basement!), drawing on Norway’s rich folklore to explore the concept of certain forest spirits, the huldra. A beautiful, tricksy supernatural being–with the tail of a cow, according to Scandinavian myth.  I recall seeing this odd little gem of a film and being absolutely entranced, from beginning to end. I bet a few of you have seen it as well.

It seems Nordaas has been obsessed with the huldra for nearly a lifetime, and recounts hearing stories from his grandmother about these creatures:

And I guess that’s where it started; my belief in the huldra. Some inherit their parents faith and religion – my grandmother made me believe in human-like creatures with tails.

The folklore proved true, he observes: once she gets hold of you, she won’t let go. And five years later, Nordaas created his second huldra project:  Heim (Home.)A short film “about finding home with oneself – the back to basics, remembering who we are, w[h]ere and how we got here. And how to use that (self-)insight to change course.” For the endeavor, he aimed to get ahold of six extras. But ended up with 54!

 

From this interest, the idea of the book was born, the concept for which initially was to create a photography book portraying the folklore creature herself, in all kinds of traditional and modern settings. Nordaas shares that though the old folklore stories and creatures have always fascinated him, it’s the huldra in particular that he’s drawn to – “perhaps because she’s the most complex of them all, being quite similar to us humans. And it was that very human essence that turned this project into something a lot more than just fiction.”

He goes on to explain:

“The human side of the project – making sure everyone were 100% OK with everything before, during and after the shoot – wasn’t just my major priority. It re-shaped the whole project..Body-positivity was and is a core aim of the project; that we’re all of different shapes, sizes, colors and ages. It’s what makes us all unique, it’s the most natural thing in the world – and it’s absolutely ridiculous that it needs to be repeated over and over again.”

After one of the early shoots, Nordaas sent the model some sample pictures and got this in return: “Takk for at du ser meg.” (“Thank you for seeing me.”)

“The Huldra” is the combo of that raw, natural and powerful creature that the huldra is, and all these authentic, badass North Norwegian women portraying her, and themselves – side by side, in flock. All these stories, all these different lives, challenges, sorrows and joys – the lives lost, and the lives brewing. They’re all part of the project for different reasons, ranging from “Why the hell not?” to dealing with the deep-down personal; shattered body images, eating disorders, self-harm and abuse.

Though not in words, all these stories are in here. In the faces, the scars, the tattoos – in what once was, and now is.

We all need to be seen – for who we are, not necessarily were.”

What a glorious sentiment and a gorgeous freaking project. I wish I could figure out out to share the video on my blog here, but instead of saying more and giving the whole thing away, I hope you’ll take a peek at Aleksander’s Kickstarter page and consider backing this stunning book of intimate power, vulnerability, and magic.

The Huldra – 97 women, in all shapes, sizes and ages – with tails. A very different XXL folklore photo book – five years in the making.

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Today there is an interview with me up at the very excellent blog, A Universe in Words! I thoroughly enjoyed answering these engaging and thought-provoking questions and I do hope that you will give it a read.

Juliane has previously reviewed both The Art of Darkness and The Art of the Occult, and it was a real pleasure to share a bit about the process that went into these writings and the curation of the art included in the books, as well as having the opportunity to articulate why I even want to write about–or look at!–these things in the first place!

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My fantastical, fabulous friends! I am so excited for Kjersti Faret’s Everyday Fantasy Clothing Collection, which she just launched on Kickstarter earlier this month–and I think you will be, too! I have long been a fan of the fierce, joyous, tender oddball sensiblilities manifesting in her art, which explores fascinating facets of art history, queerness, and the occult (read more about this in a previous interview with Kjersti)

…and now we can WEAR some of this artful magic!

The “Everyday Fantasy: Clothing Collection” is inspired by medieval art and fantasy worlds but made for daily life. A dress, tunic, leggings and cincher belt – each piece has been thoughtfully designed by artist Kjersti Faret, the creator behind Cat Coven. The clothing is made in LA and is available for all genders in sizes small – 5XL. Right now the campaign is live on Kickstarter, which ends October 1st.

Read further for Kjersti’s insights regarding the inspiration and process for this marvelous, and I will insist –MUCH-NEEDED– collection,  and get a peek at all of the magical pieces that will be available!

I love dressing up in fantastical clothing (think Renaissance Faire) but most of it is impractical for everyday life. I took the designs I love and made them to suit modern wardrobes while still feeling playful. Most fabric is made from a machine-washable blend of linen and rayon, and everything has POCKETS! Also, when I usually see a beautiful laced-up dress, they’re just a solid color and I wanted to make it more whimsical with the prints. I want my clothing to be fun!

I put a lot of humor in my work and the art that gets me excited are things filled with silliness. Medieval manuscripts are my number one all-time favorite inspiration since they’re serious religious texts with silly doodles in the margins. These monks are spending the majority of their time crafting these, and yet the margins are filled with pooping monkeys or nuns picking dicks off a tree. To me, those manuscripts are the physical embodiment of “don’t take life too seriously.”

The “Tapestry” fabric pattern was inspired by various medieval tapestries and the classic “mille fleur” (“thousand flowers”) pattern that was popular in the middle ages and early Renaissance. I created some of my own creatures to add into the pattern based on other forms of historical art like manuscripts as well. While coloring the design I tried to imagine I was a weaver and what would translate well to graphic shapes in a textile. That’s what helped me choose colors and shapes, to keep it as authentic as I could to the source material.

The patterns were drawn on multiple pieces of computer paper with microns. To make the pattern repeat you have to shuffle the squares around as you draw so all the edges meet. Once the ink part was done, I scanned and stitched it in photoshop and added the color digitally.

The “Armor” pattern was inspired by decorative etchings on armor. A lot of the armor I looked at was “costume” armor, or armor that was worn for ceremonial events and was way too fancy to have actually been worn out on a battlefield. There are so many good examples in the Met’s Arms and Armor exhibit. None of it is a copy from historical references – I created my own filigree swirls and put in creatures that are nods to existing beings or my own imaginings. If you take a close look at this pattern it’s like a weird “where’s Waldo?” game. Little witches, toads, faces, and boobies are hidden throughout.

Being an art history nerd, I also named each piece after some of my favorite artists.

The Leonora Belt is named after surrealist Leonora Carrington. I love her work so much and think she would have enjoyed the sphinxes in the screen printed design.

The Edvard tunic is named after my favorite expressionist, Edvard Munch who you will know as the artist behind The Scream. A secondary layer to the name is that it’s a nod to Edward Teach A.K.A. Blackbeard, because inspirations for the shirt came from “pirate shirts”. By that I mean, shirts pirates usually wear in movies and television shows. It’s got a loose flowy fit that goes perfect with a belt and of course, has pockets.

The Artemisia Leggings are named after Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi, who I just love and wanted to name something after her. The leggings are made from recycled water bottles. They also have “chito sante” (organic biomass from crab and shrimp shells AKA food waste) impregnated on the fabric, which gives it anti-bacterial and moisture wicking properties. Side pockets are perfect for cell phones.

The Gunhild dress is named after someone nobody will recognize because it’s my own grandmother. She was an artist and art teacher who passed away in 2020, partly due to Covid. Without her encouragement in my early years, I wouldn’t be the artist I am today.

I love this dress because it looks like a princess dress but it’s actually comfortable and there is a practicality to it – the laces in the back are adjustable. If you gain or lose a few inches, the dress can be adjusted to your shape. And of course, pockets!

The inclusive sizing was really important to me. Right now the range is from small to 5XL, but if I continue doing clothes like this in the future I’d like to expand it further. A lot of brands (both small and large) barely go beyond 3X (and a lot of times they aren’t even true plus size measurements). I looked at other true plus-size brands to make sure we got the measurements right. As a very small business, I understand how expensive it can get to grade so many sizes. But at a certain point (for larger companies) it becomes a conscious choice to exclude larger bodies.

When it comes to how clothes fit, I personally dread it when I gain or lose a few pounds over the years because then my favorite pieces become too tight or too baggy. Each piece in this collection is meant to be forgiving. The leggings are stretchy and the laces on the bottom give a little extra room in your calf if you want. The dress has adjustable lacing, as does the Leonora belt. The tunic has a flowy, loose shape that can be worn as is or cinched with a belt. So while the prices are more expensive, it’s because they are made of high-quality materials and fair labor and are made to evolve with your body.

This collection is really an ode to art history and the craftspeople that came before me. So many artisans throughout history were anonymous or just lost to time. Printmakers, etchers, weavers, embroiderers, woodcarvers, engravers – these and more are all crafts that inspire me and require much time and dedication to become a master. Some of these I’ve tried myself so I know the patience required and how tedious the processes can be. A big project like this couldn’t have been created without many hands. I had a great production team and factories in LA that helped make this collection a reality.

All the chainmaille in these photos is hand woven by It Is Known, a women-owned small business in NYC. Get 10% off on Itisknown.net with code COVENXKNOWN10 until October 1, 2022.

Click here to visit the Everyday Fantasy Clothing Collection Kickstarter!

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I still can’t get over the beautiful vision that Alyssa Thorne brought to life with the darkly flamboyant gorgeousness of these promotional photos for The Art of Darkness. I mean…JUST LOOK AT THEM.

I realized that I’d shared them everywhere except for here on the blog, so today I am rectifying that oversight. And once you are done gorging your eyeballs on the profound beauty of these images, I entreat you to have a look at Alyssa’s website, where she has this week released her stunning Autumn Collection!

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One of my very favorite things is to work closely with a beloved artist whose work I adore and together, we endeavor to bring a weird vision or dream to life. Granted, my input is minimal and vague and probably not too helpful, so trust me when I sing the praises of these creators’ brilliance. Taking my infinitesimal, unformed inkling of an idea and somehow these makers are able to coax forth, conceptualize, develop, construct and create exactly what was in my head? What witchcraft, what wizardry!

But not really magic at all, as fun as that is to think about. It’s the hard work of *really* listening when someone shares their dreams with you, and the knowing which are the important questions to ask to tease out further details to gild the lily of that special dream. Its dedication and diligence to excelling at their craft, and all of the hard, sometimes weird, and vulnerable work that goes into it. Knowing this as I do, I am so appreciative every time someone has wrought something beautiful from my reveries!

The Midnight Stinks Patreon vanity banner by Becky Munich is one such meeting of minds and the fabulous artistic consequence that ensued. Today I wanted to share another such dreamy bit of synergy: this glorious Midnight Stinks tableaux by Alyssa Thorne, photographer of lustrous blooms and kindred glooms in the fluttery signs and tenebrous twilights of her gorgeous midnight floriography.

I am a firm believer in accessible art for everyone, and I am always so pleased when artists offer smaller-sized prints, postcards, and even bookmarks. Working with Alyssa, we have made a limited number of postcard-sized versions of this piece, and they are not for sale. They are *only* for the stinkers on my Patreon. I hope to get them in the mail for patrons sometime in the next few weeks and I hope that you love them as much as I do.

P.S. if you would like to read more about Alyssa and her work, I interviewed her last October!

 

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18 Aug
2022

MY BODY IS READY

categories: art

The Pond at Versailles in Autumn, Henri Eugene Augustin Le Sidan

It’s mid-August. I am ready for you, Autumn. Any time now, okay?

Well, until you see fit to grace us with your presence, I’m just going to slip into the warm, waning light of these paintings and the shadowy autumnal promises of a few poems. Care to sit quietly with me for a while?

 

Autumn Sun, Egon Schiele

 

The Harvest Moon, Charles Rennie Mackintosh

UNDER THE HARVEST MOON BY CARL SANDBURG

Under the harvest moon,
When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.

Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.

 

Falling Leaves, Ivan Goryushkin-Sorokopudov

 

Autumn Leaves, Tom Scott 

 

Autumn Morning by John Atkinson Grimshaw

FALL, LEAVES, FALL BY EMILY BRONTË

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen day and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

Still Life with Mushrooms, Apples and Blackberries, Alice Wilson

 

Still Life with Pumpkins, Sientje Mesdag van Houten 

FIRST FALL BY MAGGIE SMITH

I’m your guide here. In the evening-dark
morning streets, I point and name.
Look, the sycamores, their mottled,
paint-by-number bark. Look, the leaves
rusting and crisping at the edges.
I walk through Schiller Park with you
on my chest. Stars smolder well
into daylight. Look, the pond, the ducks,
the dogs paddling after their prized sticks.
Fall is when the only things you know
because I’ve named them
begin to end. Soon I’ll have another
season to offer you: frost soft
on the window and a porthole
sighed there, ice sleeving the bare
gray branches. The first time you see
something die, you won’t know it might
come back. I’m desperate for you
to love the world because I brought you here.

 

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