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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