As (Not) Seen In The Art of Darkness
categories: art, The Art of Darkness
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
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.
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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