So, this article and probably the next as well will be relatively short, I’m trying to get caught up after stumbling a bit the last week and try to get back on course.
Today, I will be discussing ghosts (oooh, spooooky…).
There are a number of things that can haunt you, ghosts being one of them. To harken back to a short story I wrote a long time ago, (literally A Ghost’s Story) I personally have a theory that a house represents the psyche, or the brain and all the space in it for all its various contents. The house can be filled will all kinds of normal or positive things, as well as all kinds of negative things—ghosts, ghouls, goblins, demons—and these things that fill your house all represent something about your psyche.
Demons for example might represent our “sinful” or destructive and self-destructive tendencies.
Monsters, doppelgangers and lightless rooms or hallways might be the things inside of us we are afraid of confronting, seeing or entering.
Ghosts, for me, have a relatively common motif: something haunting you from the past.
It could be a memory, it could be a person, it could be a trauma. It could be all three, or more. Whatever the case, the ghost represents something from the past which haunts your current life.
So, to explore this topic, I want to analyze several ghost-centric stories, or even non-horror stories/films that employ ghosts, and see how ghosts represent the people, places and things of the past which haunt us in the present.
Boring Classical Literature
So, I’ll begin with some of the OG ghosts of Christmas past.
Of course, the primary ghost of Hamlet is Hamlet’s father, the deceased king of Denmark.
Now, Hamlet might not be a great story to start off with, since any of Shakespeare’s more well-known plays are like a Normandy Beach of literary analysis. We’ll disregard that though.
As a ghost, Hamlet’s father is like a messenger from Hamlet’s unconscious. Actually, possibly a messenger from the unconscious of all those who care about Hamlet, Hamlet’s father and the Danish kingdom in general.
Out of the guardsmen, Horatio and Halmet (those who saw the ghost), none of them could have known the truth of what happened to Hamlet’s father. However, all of them do know that Hamlet’s father died, and Hamlet’s mother immediately married Hamlet’s uncle. So, one might be able to make a few connections here.
Hamlet’s father may be an emergent perception or feeling coming from the unconscious of those loyal to Hamlet’s father. Their minds may be correlating events of the past, and they know that something is amiss. For Halmet himself, this feeling and epiphany emerges even stronger, and Hamlet’s father outright tells Hamlet what happened and that Hamlet should avenge him.
Of course, Hamlet must confirm this, just as anyone ought to confirm their suspicions and theories. Nonetheless, Hamlet’s vision of his dead father represents Hamlet’s loyalty, responsibility and vengeance at the memory of his father and suspicions of his father’s death, which emerge from the unconsciousness.
Next, Wuthering Heights, another literary can of worms.
Wuthering Heights is a complex story and a difficult story to parse through (the older era of language not helping this). The primary ghost here is Catherine.
Catherine as a ghost “appears” in two ways. One, she appears before Lockwood in the beginning of the story. Two, she appears before Heathcliff at the end of the story, and then Catherine and Heathcliff both are seen wandering the countryside by local inhabitants (however, these two “appearances” are not directly observed in the book).
Now, Catherine could be a number of things, but, in the context of ghosts, she obviously represents the past which haunts Heathcliff. First, her appearance in the beginning of the book is followed almost immediately by Nelly retelling the history of Wuthering Heights. This, by way of approximate comparison, indicates Catherine as being symbolic of the past (Catherine’s existence at least warrants an explanation of the past).
Later on in the book, Heathcliff is haunted by the ghost of Catherine, and he cannot look at the younger generations because they have the same eyes as Catherine. This is the present (and the future) being haunted by the past. The younger generation is a product of the past, and so even the existence of the younger generation haunts Heathcliff.
Next, here are three films which utilize the ghost motif rather well, though in unique ways.
First, there’s The Sixth Sense, which is almost entirely focused on ghosts. The primary theme of the movie is reconciling with the past. Every ghost inevitably wants help reconciling themselves with prior events (particularly the events that led to their death). Almost all of these events were the result of some sort of traumatic or violent event, with the mother poisoning the daughter being one of the darkest events that took place.
It is up to the child to uncover these traumatic events and put the ghosts to rest.
Another interesting point of the movie is that the protagonist themselves is a ghost, and in the end must reconcile with their past. This is something I’ll discuss a bit more with another movie, but The Sixth Sense does a good job of de-horrifying the ghosts in this movie, and ultimately allows us to empathize with one of the ghosts. This twist off events may also imply that the “ghosts” may not even be the psychological traumas that haunt us, but that the ghosts are the people who are haunted by the psychological trauma (someone “being a ghost of who they once were”).
This one might be the most difficult piece of media on here to parse apart, and it involves a few theories about the film that aren’t explicitly confirmed by the film.
First, I’d like to mention The Shining’s reflection of what I said earlier about a “haunted house”. The empty hotel eventually becomes filled with ghosts and other malicious entities, and this may be symbolic of Jack Torrence’s mind itself.
Jack goes out to the middle of nowhere to watch over an isolated, empty hotel for the winter. Why? So he can have some peace and quiet and spend time working on his book. He tries to empty his world and empty his mind of distractions and other negative thoughts. However, this emptiness allows the ghosts and other monsters who reside in his unconscious to emerge. What ghosts would these be?
Well, there’s one very obvious and rather explicit one. Jack doesn’t feel like he’s adequate. Jack wants to prove he’s the man, prove he’s in charge, prove he’s capable and so forth. The ghosts even encourage this and treat him like he’s the man in charge of everything, the man on top of the world. Of course, they use this to manipulate him into committing violent acts. Jack’s narcissism urges him toward destructive behavior.
And then, a much less obvious and much less explicit ghost. It is almost explicitly revealed that Jack was physically abusive to his family in the past, especially when he was an alcoholic. However, it has been theorized that Jack sexually abused his own son. There’s too much to get into with this, but there’s quite a lot of small, circumstantial clues that point to this, and if you read the subtext of several scenes in the movie, Jack might have even started doing this again in the present time.
At the very least, Jack’s ghosts involving alcoholism and physical abuse certainly return to haunt him, and eventually possess him.
The Others is a rather unique film which explores ghosts in an incredibly interesting way. If you haven’t watched the film, I’m about to spoil it. If you don’t want it spoiled, skip to the next section.
It is revealed at the end of The Others that every character is actually a ghost. Everyone in the film is already dead and haunt either the mansion they live in, or, in the case of the protagonists’ father/husband, they haunt the country or land they live in.
This sort of extends the idea from The Sixth Sense, of both empathizing with the ghosts and with people becoming ghosts rather than being haunted by them. They become a ghost of their prior selves.
I won’t delve too deeply into this film, but there’s something interesting to note here. This film takes place in the 1940’s, and we discover that the protagonists’ father/husband died in WWII, the deadliest war in human history. Because of the fact that all of the characters in the film are dead (except for the living people, who were thought to be ghosts the entire time), maybe it is being implied that everyone involved in that war “died”, that perhaps humanity itself “died” after that war and that era of history. The rest of history, and the rest of humanity, will forever be haunted by the events of that war.
Now, to wrap this up, I want to examine three stories that employ ghosts and other supernatural events, but they do so in highly unique ways (and they’re very popular).
The Harry Potter series (both the books and the movies, but probably more so the books) make semi-frequent use of ghosts and ghost-like creatures.
Now, there’s two semi-obvious things here that aren’t explicitly ghosts, and I won’t discuss too much, but I’ll give a brief overview of them: the Dementors and the Patronus projections.
The Dementors are mysterious entities which siphon happiness and other positive emotions from their victims. They can drive their victims to the state of insanity, or they can even siphon the souls from their victims, leaving them in a vegetative state.
The counterpart of the Dementors—which are used to fend off the Dementors—are the animal projections made by the Patronus charm, which is in many ways like a projection of the individual’s soul itself.
So, Dementors may be like depression or some other mental illness, while the Patronus projections may be like a cure to those mental illnesses—the “true, inner self” or the spirit or soul of an individual emerging to confront the negative mental effects of an illness.
Beyond these, there are plenty of actual ghosts in Harry Potter.
There’s ghosts all throughout Hogwarts, there are many individuals who die in the series and return as ghosts (or as paintings) and even Harry Potter’s parents are ghosts.
In fact, the theme of life and death is quite prevalent throughout the film.
There are the Death Eaters. There is the phoenix, Fawkes. There is the Order of the Phoenix, led by Harry himself.
Voldemort has various horcruxes which essentially prevent him from dying. However, in the event before the beginning of the books, when Voldemort tried to kill Harry, Voldemort did “die” in a sort of Saurony way. His spirit or soul or psychic force remained alive, though his physical body had been destroyed or killed.
In addition, Harry himself even dies and returns to the end in the climax of the series.
The Deathly Hallows, which are prevalent to some degree throughout the series, but really only emerge as important factors of the series in the last book, are rooted in a legend involving the grim reaper, or Death.
With just a cursory look through the Harry Potter books/movies, ghosts and other things related to death, souls, spirits, etc. seem to be highly prevalent in the series. So how do they relate to the themes of the series?
Well, there seem to be two primary and opposing forces throughout the story: Voldemort & Co vs Potter Inc.
Both possess the death and rebirth motif, with Voldemort “coming back to life” in the fourth book, and Harry Potter dying and coming back to life in the seventh book. However, their methods of death and rebirth seem to be as opposed as their goals and methods of attaining those goals. Voldemort maintains life after death through the horcruxes (dark magic). Harry maintains life after death in a much more ambiguous and far less clear way, but Potter Inc. seems to be attached to the idea of a Phoenix (Fawkes, Order of the Phoenix, etc.), and Phoenixes of course are creatures that burn to death and then are reborn in the ashes.
This death and rebirth is typically symbolic of a spiritual death and rebirth, or of the death and rebirth of ideas, stories and culture across the succession of generations.
Now, to get more into the specific ghosts, many of them seem to serve specific symbolic purposes.
Moaning Mrytle of the second book seemed to be symbolic of a past horror that was re-emerging in the story. She herself was killed by the basilisk and helped Potter Inc discover where the basilisk was hiding.
Dumbledore as a ghost in the final story may have been a part of Harry’s spiritual catharsis: Harry, having sacrificed himself help stop Voldemort, is now dead, but Dumbledore’s ghost comes to help return Harry to the world of the living, to revive his soul. Dumbledore here may have been a more positive apparition; a reminder of the plan Harry must still follow and the goal of defeating Voldemort he had to achieve.
Harry’s parents are symbolic of the great trauma that inevitably led to all the events of the Harry Potter series. The scar on his forehead is a constant reminder of the day they died, a constant reminder of the sacrifice they made to defend Harry from evil, and the sacrifice Harry himself would one day need to make to defend the world from evil. (But… why do Harry’s parents only show up as ghosts a few times? Can’t they, like, chill with him all the time?)
Other ghosts may show up in certain times as reminders of the evil done unto others, or possibly as reasons why Harry should continue fighting (Cedric, for example).
The Silent Hill video game (and I suppose the movies as well) might be another topic that could be too complicated to get into, so I’ll be brief. However, I think Silent Hill solidifies a bit of our analytic theory here.
The town of Silent Hill is an “empty” town that had been wracked with great trauma in the past. It now possesses two “modes” or dimensions beyond normal, material reality. First, there is the fog dimension, where the entire town of Silent Hill becomes shrouded in a deep fog. Second, there is the “Otherworld”, which is a much darker, bloodier and violent dimension.
So, in this way, Silent Hill mirrors consciousness or the psyche. There is the conscious mind, the preconscious mind and the unconscious mind.
The town of Silent Hill, as I previously said, has experienced great traumas in the past. Those traumas are invisible on the surface (the town appears empty), but as one explores the traumas more deeply (delving into the unconscious mind), one discovers the existence and the effects of those traumas
My last mini-analysis about ghosts, and one of my favorite horror movies ever (from a somehow simpler time in my life), The Babadook.
The Babadook is about an Australian woman who is left to take care of her child alone after her husband dies. The relationship between the woman and her child becomes increasingly toxic, especially as both of them seem to increasingly suffer from different forms and degrees of mental illness.
At the same time, a horrific, man/cockroach-like entity known as the Babadook invades their home and terrorizes the two of them.
In the end, it is implied that the Babadook is a ghost or imposter-ghost/shade/revenant/whatever of the woman’s husband. The mother and son learn to live with the Babadook in their home, and the relationship between the three of them seems to become more positive.
The Babadook in this movie seems to be a manifestation of the grief and pain that the death of the father/husband has brought onto the family, as well as a manifestation of the ensuing mental health decline and resulting toxicity. The Babadook is the dark, sinister, bitter grief that morphs into violence towards others—especially with the mother possibly seeing the son as the source of her grief, or blaming him for the death of her husband and the hardships of having to raise him alone.
This movie is a fantastic take on grief, pain, mental illness and the toxicity of unchecked bitterness and suppressed frustration.
I think this one is a pretty obvious analysis, and I don’t think I’m illuminating too much here, but it is nonetheless a fun analysis, and it’s insightful even if it’s tried and true.
There are many variations of this theme or of this symbol, of course, as well as many tangential symbols (such as the phoenix, such as zombies, such as other paranormal spirits/eentities/whatevers), and so this line of thinking can take you far analytically.
Feel free to let me know if you have any thoughts on these analyses. Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for more Horror-Tober.
Going by the moniker of Gray Scale, Gray is a rising musician from Atlanta, Georgia. Her style blends a mix of stripped down EDM or Electronica with a mellower, more somber R&B sound. However, Gray’s music also steps outside these and other related genres, into a very unique realm where Gray expresses moods and emotions dredged up from the depths of her mind, and exorcises demons in song-form. With her background in percussion and her hands-on production of her music, Gray is emerging as a highly talented and unique musician.
For this article, like the previous one with Daniel Blake, I try to step back a bit more than I usually do and let Gray do a large portion of the talking in her own words. However, there are a few parts I step in a bit more.
While being raised in a music-rich environment, Gray herself began music with school band, and eventually transitioned into DJ’ing. Over the last few years, Gray has begun releasing singles, albums and EP’s. With these, she has grown various new skills musically.
“I was always a band nerd growing up. I taught myself a little music on my own but then joined the middle school band, high school marching band, and college marching band….
“I was on the drumline for 9 years, playing bass drum, snare drum, and cymbals, and being a drum major. In grade school, you are required to be in symphonic band, so I also know classical percussion techniques. Other than that, I am a very mediocre, self-taught piano player.”
When I asked about any influences or experiences Gray had that has shaped her music and musical career, she explained a bit about the environment she grew up in:
“I live in Atlanta, so we have a thriving music scene, especially Rap music. Because of my father’s friends, I was raised around the music industry, constantly in and around music studios and recording sessions, and around mostly rappers.
“I have anecdotes to why I am so particular about so many different aspects of my art. But as an example, I have had terrible experiences with audio engineers. I actually graduated college with the intent to set out and be an engineer. But after college, I was shut out and denied internships and opportunities to learn. I have been told ‘you don’t really want to do this’ to my face and been blown off. So that’s why it is important for me to now mix and master on my own.”
I then asked Gray a bit about her vocals, and then about her process of recording, mixing and producing music. To my surprise and admiration, I found out that Gray had been recording and producing music almost entirely on her own.
“Vocals are actually very new for me. I’ve only been doing them for a little over a year….
“[Deciding to sing] was a mix of wanting to connect with people better and also being underestimated (again). I was making beats for artists to use and I had one artist tell me ‘your music isn’t really for vocals, I only imagine it as background music.’ And I set out to prove her wrong. I also have such a logical brain that I remember learning in college Music Appreciation class that humans have an immediate and automatic connection to another human voice. So, the moment they hear it, their attention is snapped in. I wanted to bring that to my music.
“I hate the way my voice sounds, I’m no different from anyone else. I am not a trained vocalist and I can’t do anything spectacular. But mediocre voices can and do excel when everything else is around them is done properly. There are countless examples of this today. I keep telling myself that if these mumble rappers are out here ‘singing’ and winning awards in ‘Melodic Rap’ and having millions of fans, then I can do whatever the hell I want with my music and still have some fans somewhere.”
So, next, I wanted to know a bit more about Gray Scale as an artist, where she got the name from and where she wants to go with her music.
“I actually had a sweet sixteen and I made everyone wear black, white, and gray while I wore orange. I called it “Club Grayscale”. My dad and one of my brothers DJed it. But the party ended up being very fun and very memorable. So then when I started DJing other high school parties, I just took that name since my own party was such a success.
“I started DJing when I was in high school and that was the stage name that I chose for myself. I continued to DJ in college and also began working at the college radio station, so I kept the name in use. Once I graduated and decided to become an independent artist, I saw no need to use a different name, so after 10 years, it’s still here.”
X: “What’s the intent behind the music you’re making?”
GS: “The concrete intent is to definitely have my music land on television or a video game. Anywhere within the sync music realm
GS: “The deeper, more ethereal intent is what any artist is striving for, and that’s to convey a message to the masses.”
X: “What kind of television series or video game would you hope to hear your music on? Like, if you could choose what TV/Web series and what video game series you got to make music for, what would they be and why?”
GS: “I personally love the young, sexy sci-fi shows with vampires, elves, and other mythical creatures. I would love to hear my music on Shadowhunters (which is about demon slaying descendants of angels) on Freeform, The Originals (vampires) on The CW, The Magicians on SyFy, or something like The Shannara Chronicles (elves and dwarves) which started on MTV and then moved to Spike.
GS: “There is an escapism that these shows offer me, and I used that same feeling to create some of my songs that aren’t talking about a specific man and the situation around him. Not to mention I follow the artist Ruelle and the types of moves she makes, because when I started this, she was the Billboard Top Synced Artist for the year. She has had placements on every single one of those shows, and on other big names in sci-fi like HBO.”
X “And do you have a message or messages you want to get out to people?”
X: “Yes. So many. There is so much in the world to worry about and speak on that it’s overwhelming. But I will just have to take it bite by bite. I don’t have one main platform or message. Dark Mind is about depression and Life Less is my commentary on predatory capitalism and its effect on the environment. But there are many more to come.”
Delving more specifically into Gray Scale’s music, Gray’s music has a unique array of sounds that sets her music apart, but is still centered, focused on a particular vibe and manages to carry that particular vibe in different variations across her different songs.
Gray’s music employs sounds and styles from a variety of genres of music, and her musical toolkit seems to have grown rather impressively over recent years. Primarily, from what I can hear in Gray’s sounds, she employs styles and sounds from EDM or Dance Music, Hip-Hop, R&B, and a lot of the instrumental style of Electronica and Production-Instrumental music
The first key note to talk about is the rhythm of Gray’s songs. Being a percussionist for much of her life, Gray’s expertise in rhythm definitely comes out strong. While every song varies rhythmically, Gray often uses a hip-hop or dance style rhythm. This employs things like syncopated beats, or strong backbeats—something that’s also employed in a lot of R&B music.
Now, while Gray’s music is a bit stripped down compared to the endless piles of layers of stacks of music in EDM and other Electronica, she does layer her sounds quite effectively, adding things like piano, various forms of synth and more natural sounds to the mix. Keeping with our discussion of rhythm, Gray’s background sounds often either support or inform the rhythm quite well, while in other songs provide the rhythm.
As far as the mood or tone of Gray’s songs, there is definitely a melancholy tone to much of the music. In some songs there’s hints at a bitterness, in others a sense of listlessness or loss. Many of Gray’s songs are about relationships that have soured, whether romantic or personal, and others are about personal or internal states of mind or being Gray has experienced.
And this mood certainly comes out in Gray’s voice. She manages to express her emotions quite clearly, and, made especially impressive since Gray is the producer of her own music, manages to meld her voice with the instrumentals and the tone of the instrumentals very well.
Vocally, Gray steps towards a more R&B style, though taking her tone to a darker and more somber place than much of R&B often is.
The one criticism I might have in some of her vocals is that there are a few parts where I think I can hear a lack of confidence in her voice. Of course, I cannot know this, I can only go off of what I hear, and this is something I only heard in a few particular parts of her music. But, Gray is relatively new to vocals, and while her tone and the articulations of her voice are spot on as far as I can tell, sometimes her voice lacks a stronger force behind it.
That said, her vocals in “Retrograde” did possess a more confident timbre to them, so she is definitely capable of providing that extra umph to her sound. All the “pieces” are in place for her to evolve into a strong vocalist, and I think she might just need some more time to step into this role as a vocalist and become more comfortable with it.
X: “And can you tell me about the EP you’re coming out with soon, Becoming? What is the intent behind this EP? And how will the music with this EP compare with other music you’ve made?
GS: “Becoming is the first time I am doing a fully lyrical project. I have released a few lyrical singles, but most of my body of work up until this point was instrumentals. Becoming is about constantly changing, and so it is parallel with the fact that when I first came out as an artist, I never would have even thought about writing lyrics, let alone singing them for other human beings to hear, yet here I am releasing a full EP doing exactly that.”
X: “Is there anything new to your style, your songwriting or your sound you’ve been developing with it?”
GS: “Besides lyrics, I took time to really school myself on the engineering side of the music. It has been almost a year since I’ve released new music and I have spent that time digging and grinding in to mixing and mastering more than anything. I have invested hundreds of dollars on new equipment and software. I have spent hundreds of hours watching tutorials, reading step by steps, tweaking and critiquing my mixing and mastering process. One of the songs on Becoming is a track that I originally released last year, but I have now taken the time to re-record, re-mix, and re-master it for this re-release.
“It is not just important to me, but it is crucial to the success of any musical project to have solid engineering. I am still not perfect, but I am in an unrecognizably better sonic space than I was in before, and so my music sounds exponentially better now. It sounds like a completely different artist than 2 years ago.”
X: “Now, since the article will be coming out after Becoming is dropped, and there won’t be any spoilers, are there any songs you’d like to give deeper insight to? Whether it’s the background of the song or why you made it, or even how you made it and what the process of making the different songs was like, what are some things you’d want people to know about the songs?”
GS: “I just think I have started to carve out my own styles. So if you have been a fan of my music, it’s going to be easy to pick out your favorite tracks. But for anyone’s first run in with me, here is the run down of some of the songs on the new EP.
“If you liked my previous single Retrograde, you’re going to like the first track Missing It. Both are about boys putting me in emotionally compromising situations and therefore have a little bit more of an Alt-R&B style.
“If you liked my previous release of Beast, then not only are you going to be pleased with the remixed/remastered 2020 release, but you will probably also dig Tormented. Both are dark, bass driven songs with spooky subject matters and some heavy drum passages.
“Lastly, if you liked Hope Like Water and my other orchestral pieces, I released Dark Mind as a orchestral song, just to play around with the composition of that piece.”
Being able to talk with musicians like Gray Scale, as well as other artists and creators has been quite a joy. I love getting to pick people’s brains on things, delve into their thoughts a bit, and connect with someone who’s talented, driven and experienced in their particular field or craft. Talking with Gray has been no different.
While Gray is still relatively new to music, her work so far has been quite excellent, and I think as she pushes forward, she will find—and we will find—her ability, her personal expression through her sound, and her toolkit of music creation will only expand. From there, I can only hope that the range of people who appreciate her craft expand as well.
Before I end with some parting words from Gray, you can find her music on all common platforms, you can find Gray on Instagram as @gray_scale_ and on linktree with https://linktr.ee/gray_scale_ .
And so, with these parting words, thank you for reading. I bid you adieu.
X: “Do you have any advice for musicians–or creators in general–who are largely independent/self-reliant and self-taught?”
GS: “It is tough being on your own. So, remember why you got started and why you’re doing it. That always jumpstarts my motivation. And don’t be afraid to reach out for help when you need it. I am pretty bad at this but I still keep a small clutch of people/mentors that I go to for questions or just to talk and get new information from.”
X: “Any advice maybe for someone who is just starting to get their toes wet and might need some wisdom from someone further down the path?”
GS: “If you’re just starting out, try everything. It’s the time to experiment and to get out of your comfort zone. None of your plans are set in stone, so play around with your options when it comes to sounds and instrumentation, visuals and graphics, marketing, everything. You never know what will end up working because you don’t know what works at all, so there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
Evlampia, an alumnus of the magazine, is a Russian artist who mixes the morbid, the horrid, the haunting and the beautiful. Her artwork presents dark, dream-like visions of animals, figures, creatures, settings or objects, many of which seem esoteric, uncanny or possess a mystique. This will actually be the second article I’ve done with Evlampia, the first article having been published about a year ago, and it is as much a joy to write about Evlampia this time as it was with the last article.
While it may in part be due to a language barrier between her and I (or perhaps misaligned expectations on my part), Evlampia has at times seemed like an opaque and elusive individual to talk with, which only adds to the mystique of her work. Nonetheless, Evlampia is a sweet, thoughtful individual, dedicated to her craft, and her artwork, though at times morbid, dark or uncanny, carry with them beauty, feeling and love.
Since our first article, Evlampia (@ginger_dragon_bones on Instagram) has continued creating and putting out artwork on a regular basis, sharing the contents of her mind and notebooks with a dedicated group of admirers who love her style and tone (including myself).
With a few exceptions, Evlampia’s art is mostly black and white. Most of her art is made with ink, though she uses graphite and/or paint in some of her pieces. The pieces she does make that include color other than black white usually only add red, though there’s an even smaller number of pieces with more than black, white and red. That said, Evlampia has been experimenting with more color lately.
“I tried adding new colors in my art. They didn’t really fit in. Still, my favorite colors are red, black, and white. It is always interesting to put yourself in new conditions.
“I try to combine tenderness with cruelty in my works, not in the drawing technique but in the idea itself. Regarding technique, the combination of rough strokes and fine lines frustrate me. I’m always trying to find new details. Some of them take root and move from one piece to another.”
There are a number of themes, series or styles Evlampia has maintained since she began posting her art. There are a few figure-series she’s developed, which either possess recurring characters or themes. She has a series of animal drawings, which are all done on a parchment-like paper. These depict various animals on a starry background that are dripping with some sort of black fluid. Other creations of Evlampia’s include strange, nightmarish creatures, dark, surreal scenes, or other miscellaneous and ominous creations of a nocturnal mind.
One series of Evlampia’s figures that has been around since she first started posting her art have been a male and female duo. These two are often depicted in nocturnal settings, sometimes alone and sometimes together, are shown fighting monsters at times, and are almost always wearing iconic dragon-skull masks.
Other newer series of figures include a yoga-pose figure, a series of bat-like figures accompanied by various internal organs, and an “insane” series, featuring a figure with black pants and red fur coat. These figures develop a wider cast of characters and ongoing themes in Evlampia’s work, and help explore more elements of her style.
“The Surgery series was completely accidental. I drew a brain, then a heart, and so on. Why is the bowel worse? Lungs? They are also indispensable for our bodies.
Yoga got its name because of quirky poses. Only yogis are capable of such tricks. The red yoga mat is included.”
Other than her color schemes, Evlampia’s style does vary a bit from piece to piece and series to series. Many individual pieces, particularly still-life’s that usually contain skulls, bones, flowers and insects, fall more into realism, and are impressively detailed. Other pieces depict more surreal and fantastic visions of otherworldly creatures or settings, or near-hallucinogenic spectacles of violent elegance and tenebrous epiphany.
However, there is a consistent balance in Evlampia’s art between the uncanny, eerie or disturbing with images that are intriguing, beautiful or sweet and nostalgic.
As one example, her animal series depicts animals dripping in black fluid, oftentimes with other macabre or fearsome details included, but the animals are also made in such a way that they remain cute, beautiful or in some other way likeable. They are not presented in a way that repulses the viewer from them, despite the macabre style of Evlampia’s work.
Another example would be her organ series, where a fox bat-like person accompanies images of internal organs. The animal-person alone has a darker style to it, with a pitch-black body and a face that only possesses white eyes and no other visible feature. The organs are starkly displayed in all their grotesque unmasking, serving as a reminder that we humans really are quite disturbing machines once you look beneath our skin.
Still, the animal-people have a sympathetic and cute quality to them, on top of their mysterious, ominous visage. They are both foreboding and welcoming in appearance. The organs are neatly and cleanly displayed, almost like organs you might find in a text book or on display in some anatomical museum, where their strangeness and the shock of seeing them is made safe by the environment. In addition, they are displayed inside circles, like frames or windows, encircling them almost protectively like you might protect an insect collection behind glass; and each piece includes some form of vegetation, like leaves, grass or vines.
Similarly, another animal, the “circle of death” series, uses circles in every image. This second series of animals depicts zombie-like critters with rotting flesh and exposed bones, all of which are paired with a large, red circle, oftentimes set like a halo behind their heads. There are the disturbing elements of zombified animals, but they are still beautifully depicted, and the circle adds a sort of symbolic meaningfulness to the animals.
Her ongoing series with the male and female figures act in the same way, where there is a sympathy towards the characters and the relationship between the two. While there are many mundane situations the two of them are depicted in, they are also often put into violent or ominous situations.
Beyond this, and beyond the recurring styles of Evlampia’s different series, there are a variety of individual pieces that stand out quite distinctly in Evlampia’s artwork.
In one of Evlampia’s pieces that includes additional color, she has a squid or octopus paired with red flowers and orange leaves. There’s definitely an autumn-color scheme going on here, but there’s also a neat parallel between the flowers and the movement of the octopus tentacles. These are both paired by the shared red and orange colors the flowers and octopus have, but also contrasted by the black-and-white colors of the octopus. The shapes of the plants and the octopus similarly are paired together by the flowery, spreading design of both, but then contrasted by the more fleshy, aquatic shape of the octopus vs the vegetative, terrestrial shape of the plants.
The colors give that same foreboding sense we might feel in autumn, as the world grows colder, the nights longer and darker, and we begin to watch things die. That paired with the strange, alien shapes of cephalopod appendages creates something eerie and strange. However, the limbs paired with the flowers takes this eerie, uncanny imagery and turns it into something as beautiful and elegant as it is foreboding and haunting.
In another colorful piece, this one of the male and female characters, Evlampia shows us the dragon-skull-wearing protagonists of much of her art investigating some fleshy, surreal landscape full of otherworldy vines and vegetation, bloody, bulging masses across the floor and walls, and many other small details that set this near-psychedelic scene.
This nightmarish space would normally repulse most people, maybe even drive them mad if they were to ever find it in real life, but Evlampia’s characters seem perfectly at ease exploring this landscape, which makes the viewer at ease as well. Evlampia’s “fairy tale” world is presented like a happy invitation to gleefully explore new curiosities, rather than a depiction of a nightmare we ought to recoil and flee from.
I think this contrast between terror and dread, and beauty and warmth we can find in Evlampia’s art is epitomized in a painting she made of a woman with various animals: birds, wolves, a hyena. The colors are like the shadows and the moonlight at midnight—blacks, inky indigos and pale blue-grays. The woman is wearing a horned skull on her head, and she is surrounded by predatory animals, except for the raven, which perches on a branch like a living omen in the dark. Everything about the scene ought to elicit some level of fear, dread or revulsion. And yet, the darkness of the image is accompanied by something comforting.
The cool blues relax and calm as much as the excite. The animals seem to be in no way threatening to the girl, who stares at with a calm expression and peaceful eyes. She somehow seems both all-knowing to the threatening and dark world around her, and also perfectly innocent and at one with it. We are entranced by this midnight world, and enveloped in nature and the wild.
Still, these descriptions of the unity of threat and comfort in Evlampia’s art doesn’t completely describe her art, or the emotions and thoughts Evlampia’s art elicit inside you. This might be because words aren’t the right language to describe the deeper waters and darker forests of Evlampia’s artwork.
With Evlampia’s work, it’s difficult to really pin down specific themes or ideas behind her art, and Evlampia doesn’t delve into these too deeply in conversation. With her artwork, it’s more about feeling what she is showing you. It’s about getting lost in the tentacled tangles of unconscious creatures and denizens of a dreaming landscape. It’s about empathizing with the characters she shows us, or feeling the emotions of the animals and the contrasts in colors, textures and images.
Evlampia shows us a world pulled up from her unconscious and from the landscapes of her thoughts, emotions, daydreams and perceptions of the world around us.
Evlampia said this about her male-female-duo pieces, but I think it reflects quite a bit of her work:
“These are just fragments of my life and the life of my friends. Perhaps, you can also find a fragment from your life in these drawings. These are human emotions. Almost all of us tied a blanket as if it was a knight cloak. Here it is – the emotion when we did it.”
There’s almost something like a veil around a lot of Evlampia’s work—a veil like the veil of darkness in the woods at night, hiding the secret comings and goings of nocturnal beasts; a veil like the shroud of leaves, the hide of bark or the skin of grass and dirt hiding the secret societies of plants and insects; a veil like the stony face of rocky hills hiding the caverns and tunnels behind it.
The key is not to try pulling this veil out of the way, tearing at it with your hands, or prying at it with logic or theory, but delving into her artwork and exploring the visions and feelings she depicts for yourself. Explore the midnight fields and underground forests with knowingness and innocence, and let Evlampia’s art show what she was feeling and seeing when she made it. That’s the beauty of her work, the quiet things that suddenly become as loud as a symphony when you quiet your own mind.
“The unconscious is something that we once gave up, intentionally and accidentally. This happens under the influence of society, mostly. Everyone is dependent on the opinions of others and all strive for personal satisfaction. The approval of others is a joy for us. Therefore, everything that does not find a response, praise, or some kind of approval eventually goes out of our lives and turns into the unconscious. In some secret desires, in magical creatures, in the Treasury of our brain. Sometimes they go for a walk.”
I asked Evlampia a bit about her moniker, “Ginger Dragon Bones”, trying to see if I could pull back the veil a little here, and she replied with this:
“Once upon a time, there was a prince and he went to rescue a princess from a tower. The tower was guarded by a dragon, of course. He didn’t get to the princess. The dragon had a fire inside that made the dragon’s bones red hot. This sight was beautiful and terrible at the same time. Prince took the dragon, leaving the princess to rot in the tower. And they lived almost long and almost happily.
As with all of Evlampia’s artwork—all of its beauty and cruelty, all of its tenderness and terror—make of her story what you will. Don’t pry at the veil, delve into it.
Though I’ve only talked to Evlampia over the internet, she comes across as a very sweet person, and she is certainly a talented and incredibly imaginative artist deserving of your time. And despite the wild, fantastic visions depicted in her artwork, she seems like someone you’d want to have a conversation with over coffee, or go on a quiet walk with to discover the extraordinary details of an ordinary world.
I asked Evlampia a bit about her life and where she lived—mostly because I’ve never met her in person, and, despite being an admirer of hers, I don’t really know much about her beyond what I’ve talked with her about and what I can find on Instagram. She told me this:
“There are no unexciting things. There are incomprehensible ones. They will remain incomprehensible until you want to understand them.
“There won’t be enough time to find out everything.
“There is a saying, ‘The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.’ In my subjective opinion, my life is pretty standard. Yes, it is not limited to the usual route from home to work and back, but without circumnavigating the world, red carpets, skydiving and other standard attributes of ‘interesting’ life. Instead of this there are yellow-headed wagtails on the lake at 5 am, there is a delicious ginger coffee boiled for my arrival, there are night walks and observations of the tow truck taking incorrectly parked cars. All this is happening daily and right now.
“What is it like where I am?
“I am in balance. It’s like being on a tightrope over a precipice. But sometimes it’s like being on the seashore.
“Every bit of life is important. This is a lot of emotions that teach us something, lead us to something. They help you understand, make choices, and become aware of something. We make mistakes, try new things, meet people, break up with them, spend time apart. We are bored, we are happy, we are sad, we are angry, we are mad. All these moments are very important, whatever they may be. It doesn’t matter if they are good or bad.”
If you want to check out more of Evlampia’s work for yourself (and please do), you can find her on Instagram @ginger_dragon_bones. There, not only can you view her artwork, but you can also contact her about commissions, prints and other merch. Please give Evlampia’s art a look, and, if you enjoy her artwork, give her a follow.
Depicting visions of madness, surreal hellscapes and realms outside our scope of understanding, Mason Laufer is a New York based artist who uses photo-editing software to create surreal environments and a menagerie of abyssal and otherworldly creatures. Mason’s dark, eldritch visions draw on a broad spectrum of influences, including psychology, religion, occultism, science fiction, horror and more. Beyond just what Mason creates, how Mason creates and his inner motivations to grow and create are just as interesting. As deep as Mason reaches into dark pits of the unknown below, Mason reaches equally as high into bright vaults of potential above.
Mason and I quickly connected on a number of subjects when we first started talking with each other, and my respect for him and his work only grew as I learned more and more about his journey from playful, creative experiments to making a leap into the unknown, starting his own art business at the onset of the Covid Pandemic.
“[…] I never had any formal art training past simply doing the required art classes throughout school. I was always frustrated because I was not naturally gifted artistically in the slightest. Both my handwriting and my drawing abilities have been poor since I was young. Which forced me into other creative avenues. […] I honestly just started making fun photo edits as inside jokes with my best friend. Eventually, I would just make stuff with photoshop type apps in my free time. The idea that I had a talent for it didn’t come about until my best friend said that some of my stuff was actually really good. So, I slowly started taking it more seriously.
“Once I learned about being able to promote your art on Instagram, I decided to convert my personal account to an account for art. […] And then I decided to go full out on creating an art business when I stopped going to work at the start of Covid. So, I spent my stimulus check on my new iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. And I began teaching myself how to paint digitally. So, I didn’t have any formal training, I just watched a lot of tutorials as I had all the time in the world since I didn’t work.”
All the causes and effects of the Pandemic, and of course all its eventual outcomes, are yet to be seen. Some of the effects I’ve been interested in is how the Pandemic will affect things music, writing and art. While the effects of the Pandemic on live performance have been devastating, the effects on online media have been particularly positive, and Mason’s story is an example of this.
What potential is lying in wait for those who can seek it? What opportunities might have been shaken loose by the world in wake of catastrophe? What experiments with art, music, writing, business, travel and so on are hanging ripe and ready to be picked by those who reach out to grasp them?
Of course, Mason’s story is not as simple as this, and the subject matter underlying his artwork is not something arbitrary he stumbled on one day. Mason’s art has roots spread across a number of creative genres, intellectual traditions and religious and occult teachings, and these roots of course dig into Mason’s own personal history.
The subjects and settings of Mason’s pieces vary widely, though they bimodally tend toward either the surreal or the occult, with both containing dark or weird elements.
Many pieces depict strange, monstrous entities, giants with flayed skin and flesh, or prehistoric, alien wastelands. In one image, there is a tropical landscape with a river or lake at its center. In the foreground is a woman or girl in a white dress, and in the background is a tentacled behemoth with a transparent, grid-lined head. This gives the impression not only of some dark, aquatic god wandering deep in some primal landscape, untouched by humanity, but of something that exists outside the bounds of knowledge and reason, something existing beneath, through and above our reality.
In another image, the skeletons of dinosaurs wander and fly through a dead, desert landscape. There is an eye hanging above the desert, beaming red light onto the land below it, and the hybrid of a skull and nautilus shell in the foreground. This seems almost like a mix between Salvador Dali’s surrealism and the imagination of weird sci-fi pulp authors.
Another depicts a woman held in the clouds by the tentacled embrace of some half-seen monstrosity, dangling in the heavens like a goddess in the embrace of an otherworldly demon-god.
On the darker and more occult side, there are depictions of skeleton, abyssal entities haunting the depths of forests, or fiery, volcanic bull-gods emerging in ashen storms from the violent eruptions of a volcano. Many pieces depict the body in a half-corpse form, or even as a completely mangled body devoid of any humanity.
There’s an unsettling violence done unto the body, an anti-worship of the flesh as foul, horrible, mangled subject than as something beautiful or sacred. The bloody, fleshy chaos beneath our skin is exposed, revealing the madness of the true human form we all try to ignore. Perhaps these fleshy, maddening bodies are one in the same with the fleshy, tentacled bodies of the ancient gods that roam primeval and ruined landscapes of ancient and forgotten realms.
There is a disfigured, horrifying creature that lurks just under our skins, and we constantly seek to ignore this vile, terrible vision, just as we constantly seek to ignore the terrible visions of reality and the cosmos that lurk just under the illusions of our perception. The monsters Mason depicts stalking the woods, lumbering through jungles or peering through caves are monsters stalking, lumbering and peering through our own perception of reality—the fear we have of what hunts in the dark; the dread of those forces we cannot understand, cannot reason with, cannot intervene upon; the anxiety of being seen, being watched, being known by things unknowable; and the imposed self-ignorance of the chaos beneath our skin.
Addressing how Mason came up with his ideas, he said:
“I always keep a note page of ideas so that whenever I hear a word or phrase that I like, I just write it down in my ‘idea cauldron’ haha. That way I always have content to pull from. But usually I go off whatever idea I’m super into at that moment. I follow the idea and then make something from that. I also like to consume media a lot because seeing and reading and observing is what will start the sparks of ideas in my head. Consuming topics I’m interested in is like the gas to the fire of my brain in a way. It fuels my creativity.
“[…] usually I like to free associate. So, I open my mind when consuming any kind of media to allow thoughts to connect and make new ideas. So, super imagery-heavy texts like The Divine Comedy allow my brain to make connections and basically brainstorm in real time. Sometimes, a simple phrase can trigger some sort of connection in my head that I then visualize and write down what I’m thinking so I can [actualize] it later. A lot of what I make usually comes from just reading articles about topics I’m into or source material from those topics. One book that I pull ideas from often is the book of House of Leaves. The fascination of an imperceptible paradox challenges me to dive deeper and really try to personify what should be impersonifiable.”
I found Mason’s style of generating ideas quite interesting, and his methods of free association harkened back to some of my favorite thinkers: the psychoanalysts. There’s a blend of conscious effort and unconscious “fishing” or “farming”, where one goes out and consciously gathers various ideas, lets them grow and blend in the unconscious, and gather whatever fish or fruit come to the surface. This half-conscious, half-unconscious approach is definitely reflected in many of his pieces.
Mason spoke at length about the sprawling collection of influences that inspired his work, much of which I resonated with as personal influences or inspirations as well:
“[…] a lot of my art is obviously on the darker side, thematically. That’s just honestly the kind of stuff I’ve always been interested in. Growing up in a strict Catholic household, and going to Catholic school, I know much more about the Bible and Christianity than most. I never really bought into religion, however, I fixated on the darker aspects of the faith as early as 5 years old. The idea of fire and brimstone, Lucifer and Revelation were so fascinating to me. So, I dug deeper, and began to incorporate those elements into my writing, which was easy to transfer over to my art.
“I started reading books on these subjects and the imagery of hell and devils, The Divine Comedy and Paradise Lost being two of my favorites. Such beautiful imagery being used to describe such horrors really captivated my mind. It wasn’t until college that I started doing research on my own time into other forms of this literature. It’s almost as if it was sort of a subconscious rebellion against my upbringing to be naturally drawn to the most taboo topics. I started reading books on demonology, satanism, hermeticism, paganism, books on serial killers, the paranormal, true crime. And for some reason, delving into the darkest subjects was where I felt the most at ease.
“I really more recently started getting into the idea of cosmic horror. So, naturally I consumed all of HP Lovecraft, John Carpenter, Cronenberg, Albert Camus, etc. I loved the challenge that the genre posed to creatives—describing and depicting the unknowable and indescribable. I took these elements of the unknown and used what I’d learned in classes I took in college, namely a class on the American Gothic, and a Film Horror class. So, I guess I brought a completely different and unconventional set of skills and interests into art with no real knowledge on art theory. So, I could see art through a different lens than most artists.
“Other more passive influences would be artists of the surrealism movement, such as my favorite artists, Francis Bacon, as well as Salvador Dali and strangely enough his lesser-known poetry that he wrote. Again, I loved the ethereal and musical imagery they used.”
Thematically and visually, Mason draws on a number of disparate yet complementary creative traditions. From writers like Dante and Milton, we get dream-like or nightmarish, or even hallucinogenic, visions of hell and its denizens, and heaven and its lofty, inarticulable grandeur—which much of modern horror, fantasy and sci-fi still struggle to match in scope. From authors who mastered elements of either existential absurdism or cosmic nihilism—among the few who have managed to match the scope of ancient mythologies—Mason draws on the vastness of reality, the inexplicable nature of being that escapes humanity except in fleeting moments of enlightenment or maddening visions of the infinite. And then, from the surrealists, Mason blends these mythological and cosmic elements into artistic visions that carry the torch of modern art’s rebellious, reality-warping ventures.
However, these influences on Mason go deeper than just aesthetic considerations, and Mason explained to me how many of these influences impacted him and his outlook on life:
“Growing up in that [Catholic] environment was very repressive to growing emotionally mature. Entering adulthood, I felt very sheltered and naïve about the complicated grey nature of most things as opposed to the black and white, right and wrong view that Catholicism teaches. Thankfully, I was a curious child and always loved learning and attaining more knowledge on things I found interesting. So, this allowed me to learn to critically think, which led to a lot of questioning what I was being taught as I got older. I would research on my own, not just blindly follow an ideology that I didn’t believe in. I think that helped me to form this fascination with the grey that exists between good and evil, how there is actually a lot of beauty behind most concepts that we are afraid of.
“But people are so ingrained in believing that dark topics are bad and not to look into them. I began immersing myself in this world and finding that by not allowing the darkness into our minds, that we are repressing a major part of our nature. So, I let the dark thoughts in and let them have their space. And I found that the more I did this, the more I found peace and the less afraid I was of things like death, pain, horror, evil. They say the root of fear is that of the unknown. But a lot of times that’s because we don’t allow it to BE known. We shun the very idea of it. By letting it in and acknowledging it, it actually makes us less afraid.
“And as far as the Occult, if people took the time to really look into those ideas, they’d find that the methods of living these faiths suggest are much healthier emotionally and mentally than traditional religion. Applying these ideas into my mental health has actually made me so much happier in general than I used to be. Using magick and rituals are actually just a form of meditation and mindfulness. Creating sigils and doing rituals actually [act] as positive affirmation. At their core, it’s not about ‘worshipping demons, or believing in hell and monsters and suffering.’ It’s actually about believing in yourself. They teach you to create the positive change that you desire in life, as opposed to following archaic teachings rooted in fear of eternal damnation and a vengeful creator. These ideas open your mind to the grey area. It’s taught me how to be more emotionally healthy, much more empathetic, and just generally in tune with humanity.”
For some, it can be difficult to accept the beliefs and practices of others, and people often choose to close their minds—whether consciously or unconsciously—to the ways and wills of others.
While there are certainly some who take occult practices too far (just as anyone can take anything to far), I’ve always found Pagan and occult beliefs, from Wicca to Satanism, to be far different than most people assume.
Satanism, for example—easily the most misunderstood practice or belief system in the West—is focused on life-affirming actions, individualism and personal growth and self-education. Really, Satanism seems to be focused on freedom—on freeing oneself from constraints of society, from moral or cultural conformity, from intellectual or ideological tyranny—and, more particularly, the freedom to become the Individual one desires to become. While some aspects of such beliefs, such as the more hedonic side of Satanism some people practice, could come under practical scrutiny, the broader implications of Satanic practices and other occult or Pagan practices are to question and challenge authority and belief systems; break down barriers to sources of knowledge or different states of mind; and live life according to your own values, rather than values hand down to you by the dictates of society.
The darker aspects of occult practices and aesthetics are often not a worshiping or revelry in the horrors they depict, but an acknowledgement of them, as Mason explained. In conjunction with the ideas and states of mind society and culture can obstruct, or even attempt to annihilate, there are entire portions or aspects of reality that people try to hide or ignore. People try to hide, suppress or mask the realities of sex, violence and madness. People try to hide the extreme, indifferent cruelty of existence. People comfort themselves with illusory stories and narratives, and attack anyone who questions those narratives.
Occultism is often not a conformity or worship to these darker aspects of reality, or to another narrative involving these darker realities, but simply an acknowledgement of these things.
Mason’s art reveals these dark aspects. Mason’s art pushes down boundaries into the unknown, and opens doors of perception into darker vistas of the cosmos. Mason depicts visions of what most would want to avert their eyes and their minds from—showing us without fear the monsters, demons and dark gods that inhabit the grey spaces and the inarticulable architectures of the cosmos and the unconscious.
As previously mentioned, Mason has begun developing a business with his art, and is currently broadening his horizons online.
“Yeah actually since you sent me these questions I’ve opened up a print shop to sell merchandise on. I’m starting out with prints and in a bit I will start doing shirts and hoodies and stickers maybe! As far as album art goes, I’ve done some commissions doing album art and it’s been a good format for that. Now I just put some of my designs up on an art grab account so people can buy the license to any of the pieces that I post and use it for whatever they want. It’s mainly intended for album art so I figured that may streamline the process for people looking for that kind of thing!
“I’m still exploring what other avenues there may be in regards to showcasing my art on a larger scale and finding new ways to monetize my stuff. Ideally I’d like to build my own website to use as a portfolio/blog so I don’t have to rely on Instagram’s fickle nature. It’s always a bit unnerving to know that they can shut me down or do whatever they want at any moment without my input, but it’s really been the best medium to build an audience.”
Give Mason some support by checking out his profile on Instagram, @bleede_art . There you can check out his artwork, follow him if you want see his art as it comes out, and check out the link to his merch and artwork.
Hailing from Dallas, TX, David Coffey’s is an artist whose figurative style and darker undertones and themes I quickly resonated with. Ranging across themes of power, abuse, human duality and beauty, David’s artwork expresses tangled and conflicting aspects of human nature, much of which we are averse to confronting in our waking lives, but are ever-present in our psyches.
David has been creating art since childhood and, as with many underground artists and creators, is self-taught.
“I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember. My love for art began with sketching during class at school, continued into drawing while lying on the carpet floor of my room as a boy, and I’ve never stopped drawing since. I didn’t start painting until just about 2 years ago, so that’s been a learning experience. I never have had any formal training. I use a lot of books, tutorials, and such to learn. I also just experiment a lot to see how things turn out. I try to imitate things that I really like. My greatest inspiration is other artists both living and dead. They are my teachers.”
Despite the many faults of living in this Digital Era, one of the great benefits—possibly one of the greatest benefits—is the access that everyone now has to information and education that might have previously been barred from many because of money or circumstance. While books and various forms of public access to them have been around for hundreds of years, the sheer level of information that can be accessed now is unprecedented, and it’s a tool that few seem to really appreciate.
So, I wonder how many artists and other creators like David—how many people even outside the arts—we’ll hear about in the coming years who found success from circumventing traditional routes of education and taking their talents and ambitions into their own hands.
David spoke quite a bit about some of his influences and inspirations, which span across historic eras and artistic genres:
“[…] my love of art began with comic book art as a boy. I still adore comic book art. Since around my teenage years I’ve been enamored with a number of famous artists: Picasso, Van Gogh, Francis Bacon, Bosch, Baselitz, Philip Guston, Max Beckmann, and others. I pretty much like anything that’s in the modern art time period. I also adore Japanese art of all flavors from the old school landscapes to contemporary stuff and Manga art.”
“[…] I’ve been reading [comics] ever since I was a boy and still at it. Swamp Thing (old and new), Watchmen, Sandman, Hellboy, anything by Charles Burns, Fables, Books of Magic, Paper Girls, Saga, Buddha (by Tezuka), Bone, Amulet, The Walking Dead, to name a few in my collection.”
“Yes, my Doppelgänger and Nephilim [series] definitely have some Bacon influence. They are dark in theme, have a fairly solid background, and involve a lot of chance and improvisation both within the body structures and the textured backgrounds.”
In David’s first figurative series, his “Artist Portraits” series, many of these famous artists emerge on canvas in a blend of David’s and the artist’s style. His comic book and manga influence likewise can be seen throughout many of his series, whether as reference material or as thematic inspiration for some of his work.
Regarding his art process and how he plans or organizes his pieces, David discussed quite thoroughly how his pieces come to be:
“I think about a larger general idea I’d like to explore, such as power or exploitation, I think about what sort of human figures I’d like to experiment with, some general thoughts about style and composition, and how many I’d like to include in the set. […].
“I don’t tackle any details at all until I start working on an individual painting. When I’m focusing on a single painting, I usually begin with source images that I want to use for composition. […] From there, I start making vague decisions about other elements that I’ll include in the painting (such as including snakes to the interact with the main character) and what colors I might like to use.
“On the actual canvas, I usually begin with a pencil sketch that is very close to the original pic I’m using as a basis. From there I alter the pencil markings. This is pretty intuitive, so I just keep changing things until I see what I like. The pencil serves as a basic sketch for where I might place paint. The painting process is super intuitive. I have ideas about what I might like to do, but I rarely make decisions beyond what I’m doing in the moment. I change colors often, experiment with movements and blends, add, cover, etc. It’s really just a constant work of adding and covering elements that I don’t like. I evaluate the work about every 30 seconds or so.”
The process of creation is something I’ve personally been interested in. The mechanical aspects of various forms of creation are endlessly fascinating. Composition, color arrangement, grammar, narrative structure, chord progressions—these are all the architectures of paintings, music and stories we’ve all come to love. But then there’s this sort of black-box of intuition, where the mechanics of art end and the subtler mechanics of the psyche begin. There’s a sort of jumping off point, a place where you’re swimming in open water.
With David’s work, this jumping off point comes as soon as the brush begins spreading color across the canvas. There’s the underlying structure of the sketch, and the themes he plans to incorporate, and then it’s all based on intuition from there.
Beginning with his “Artist Portraits” series, there is a lean towards figuratism, as well as expressionist and impressionist styles. For each different artist, David mixed the style of the artist with his own personal way of painting, making portraits that reflect both his and the artist’s work.
“The artist series was an attempt to explore some of my favorite artists by incorporating elements of their style into a portrait. I was the one making it thought so it actually was more about me than them and how I thought about them, what I wanted to learn from them and their lives. […] I mostly chose artists that I admire and that I personally felt provided major breakthroughs in the art world, but that’s just according to my own bias.”
These portraits include Egon Schiele, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh and William de Kooning. The one exception to this blending of styles seems to be with Leonardo da Vinci, where, rather than blend styles, David includes personal, childhood icons with his portrait of a man who made incredibly iconic pieces of art.
In the next series, the “Nephilim” series, David pushes his artwork into an almost surreal space of impressionist figuratism—which carries on into the series after it, “Doppelgänger”. This series consists of incredibly muscular—at times grotesquely muscular—figures painted in a style that blends abstract with impressionist. The figures in these paintings strike intimidating and violent poses, and are presented over backgrounds of layered and textured color. However, the most striking feature of these paintings are the unreal, bulging, chorded muscles of the Nephilim—showing the unhealthy excess of power each possesses.
“The Nephilim is basically about power and how it leads to destruction and isolation. Some of the stories of the Nephilim were based off of biblical accounts, extra biblical accounts, and some of it I just made up in a growing narrative. […] The figures were all inspired by comic book art. I chose some of my favorite comic drawings as source material for the forms, mostly coming from modern Swamp Thing comics and Animal Man.
“I did a lot of experimenting with using markers, various acrylics and sealants to get the affects. Lots of back and forth between drawing with black sharpie, covering it with white paint, letting it dry, adding a sealant, adding more marker, etc. They are better to see in person because they have so many layers they actually have very thick textures. Some of them are actually quite heavy and have deep grooves.”
In much of David’s lore surrounding the Nephilim, there are themes of isolation and corruption, and we spoke about these themes in tandem together.
My primary thoughts were, does corruption lead to an isolation from the larger community? Or does isolation lead to corruption? Do we seek power because of our own corruption? Or does the search for and eventual gaining of power corrupt us?
Or, coming around to the first questions, is it powerlessness and isolation that urges us towards seeking power, and having that power as an isolated, “evicted” individual spurn us toward abuse of that power onto the community that expulsed us?
These are a complicated tangle of ideas to parse apart, and it was interesting hearing David’s take on the themes:
“[…] I believe the corruption is both passed down and generated through personal actions. […] Though perhaps they desired to use it for good, the nature of the world must win out. Yes, their form does evolve over time. The more they use their power for evil, the more deformed their bodies become. The black form (the last in the series) is almost a purely spiritual form, but, in a sense, in the end the nephilim become fallen angles just like their fathers.
“I think power pretty much always lead to corruption, at least that’s all I’ve ever seen or experienced in this life. But I like your point that isolation could also lead to a hunger for power. A desire to change one’s destiny or perhaps hurt those who put one into a position of isolation. The thought that the ability to change circumstances and overcome others would lead to happiness is an interesting one. It’s very natural to think that way, but false I believe. […] All that being said, I don’t believe power itself is bad. I think there is a possibility of it being used for good…”
This corrupting influence—whether an inherited disfiguration or a maladaptation evolved across time—can be seen in the bodies of the Nephilim and in the heads and faces.
While the bodies certainly do have grotesquely muscular, powerful forms, it’s their heads transformed the most, and in many ways heads and faces communicate an individual’s identity.
With Nephilim #3 and #5, the rectangular and spherical-headed Nephilim, there’s a transformation to simplicity in shape, expression and simplicity, and a sort of self-dehumanization.
With Nephilim #3, the rectangular head reflects a flatness—an almost uni-dimensional, machine-like personality, devoid of warmth, compassion or empathy. It looks cold and calculating, like a computer screen, and the narrowness of its eyes and mouth might be the narrowness of its vision—it’s vision of power—and the narrowness of its ability to communicated with others—a narrowness of empathy and an inability to socially connect.
With Nephilim #5, the shape of its head is roughly spherical, but it’s like a head that’s been crudely molded and can’t decide what it is. It lacks any expression except for it’s tiny, slitted eyes and enormous, toothy mouth. This giant has lost any defining features, its vision has been narrowed to a tiny slit, and its mouth appears to be useful for little more than violence, consumption and animalistic vocalizations.
Following a similar thread as the “Nephilim”, the “Doppelgänger” series features surreal, heavily muscled figures over a textured background of simple colors. With the “Doppelgänger” series, David pushes both the surreal musculature of his figures and a darker, more abstract vision of human nature through their entangled forms.
“The doppelgänger series is about a personal belief in the dual nature of humans. I personified it in these figures. A lot of it relates to personal inner conflicts I’ve had throughout my life. The forms are inspired by comic book art again. I did get more experimental with the forms than in the ‘Nephilim’. […]
“In my view most of the interactions are negative. Either one form dominates the other or the forms are in conflict. There is a very strong undercurrent of violence and domination. When I drew details on the forms, I got more abstract with the muscle forms sometimes making it close to a vegetative or organic bubbly form. This was all very intuitive. I used the basic shapes as my guide but created lines from a moment to moment basis.”
The “Doppelgänger” series immediately struck me when I first look through it. There’s a tremendous intensity to many of these forms, and the various emotions of each piece seem to be ripping out of each figure’s bodies (perhaps the internal force that’s turning these subject’s muscles into such grotesque shapes). The extreme musculature shows the power of these forces, but their inhumanness and occasional grotesqueness show how they warp the subject into something equally inhuman or grotesque.
As David alluded to in his explanation of the pieces, with the doppelgängers, there seems to be this sort of reversion into a chaotic state, where the bodies of the figures are turning into stringy, tubular, or wet, bubbling, oozing states. The figures seem to be returning to the chaotic state of nature—to the bubbling, swampy morasses of life that we come from: the violent, grotesque state of nature modernity often tries to ignore, but that is ever present.
Doppelgänger #7, the white-background doppelgänger, is beating its identical twin—its clone, copy or its self—into a thick, viscous, frothing foam. The muscles on its body are on the verge of bursting—of popping with blood and bulging flesh—and even parts of its body seem to be turning into this bubbling, oozing material.
There’s this blend of violence done unto the self, or possibly of self-domination and self-submission, and this reversion into a primordial, hyper-violent chaotic state—the animalistic and grotesque reality humans have emerged from.
Doppelgänger #3, the red-background doppelgänger, similarly has this reversion into a dissolving, deindividualizing state. The muscles have lost any real resemblance to a healthy body, and are more like piles of intestines strung up on a skeleton frame. The two bodies are intertwined to the point where its difficult to tell which limbs belongs to which body, and, at certain points, there seems to be an entire dissolution of a concrete, bodily form. There’s just this fleshy, dripping entanglement where individuality reverts to primordial flesh and organs.
Finally, there is David’s “Siren/Muse” series, which is David’s latest and still ongoing series. Here, David takes a large leap from the style of his previous two series, but still retains elements of his figurative style, and explores similarly dark and all-too-human themes.
“For the ‘Siren/Muse’ set, I really wanted to go with more colorful figures that were females. I didn’t want them to look aggressive or violent, so I gave them more of an anime inspired smooth appearance. I also wanted to convey a sense of ‘fake-ness’. […].
“This series is basically about a potential danger in the pursuit of beauty. Hence the toxic creatures. It made sense to meld music and art. They accomplish a lot of the same things. I also liked exploring the myth of the sirens and the myth of the muses. I do think they’re related. I guess with the siren there’s a draw toward sex that ends in destruction. With the muses there is a desire for inspiration and the ability to create perhaps at the expense or abuse of the muse herself. I think those are both about creation in a way. Both can end in the abortion of a desire. Both can consume and ultimately destroy. I really love contradiction and contrast.”
When I was first reading David’s explanation of this, I was reminded of story arc in the Sandman comic book series where an author has kidnapped one of the Greek muses and sexually exploits her in order to find inspiration for his books. I brought this up with David, and found that this was indeed part of the inspiration for this series.
“So glad you mentioned the Sandman story about the muse. That actually was what first got this idea for the siren/must series percolating in my mind! What an amazing story (by the way, Sandman is probably my fav comic series of all time). I was so drawn to the idea of someone abusing a muse in order to get inspiration it made me think that perhaps that is a deeper truth about the lengths people will go to grasp fame or fortune, much like the writer did in that story.
“It also melds the idea of sexual dominance, but really again just a picture of abuse for personal gain. I guess when you think in terms of a siren though the tables are turned. The female is in the position of power.”
As with our conversations over David’s other sets, our conversation of “Siren/Muse” delved down its own rabbit hole.
In modernity, there is a tension between fact and opinion. This tension likely goes deeper than most people realize, but one of the most obvious tensions comes from beauty and aesthetic. Can something be objectively beautiful? Is there anything that can be said to be truly beautiful?
Or is everything regarding beauty and aesthetic just an arbitrary illusion of the mind? Is there a tangible reality or truth to beauty? Or is it all arbitrary opinion?
“I do think there is definitely something objective about beauty, but I’m not really sure what it is. I just know that people often agree on what is beautiful, but if it were totally subjective maybe that wouldn’t happen as often. For me though, beauty is just what I find physically appealing to my eyes. The structure, composition, color, framing, etc. so many things go into it. And the more refined your eye becomes the more you are able to appreciate beauty, like a fine wine.
“Personally, I’m obsessed with beautiful things because I love to consume them with my eyes. It’s much like enjoying a good steak or tasty beer. It’s very visceral to me and just flat out pleasing to my soul. But beauty can also be a marker that points to something beyond it. A deeper truth or a more lofty ideal. This is what creates such strong emotional reactions and perhaps has something to do with why people sometimes seek to destroy it.”
David’s “Siren/Muse” set has only just been started, with two completed pieces so far. One features a blonde-haired pop singer with green snakes emerging from behind her—similar, I would say, to not only the sirens and muses, but the gorgons as well. We have a beautiful woman, whose face implies pleasure, in front of a microphone onstage, with snakes surrounding her and facing the audience while her eyes are closed.
There’s a sort of narcissism here, being the center of attention and finding pleasure in one’s own existence as the center of attention. There are also a number of quasi-sexual phallic elements here, one being the microphone in front of the woman’s lips, the others being the snakes emerging from the woman herself. The microphone is where the singer projects herself—the center of her self-pleasuring narcissism, as well as the tool by which she holds the crowd’s attention.
Every man in the crowd might wish they could take the place of the microphone, and let the singer speak—or more—to them. The microphone might actually be the stand-in or an idol representing every man in the audience, almost like a voodoo doll by which she can manipulate from afar.
But this also comes at a cost, as everyone in the audience is ogling her. She loses her identity as well, and becomes simply an object of desire, just like the microphone is every man being turned into a tool to derive attention from. She is no longer who she was before she got dressed, put on her makeup and went on stage, she has become a sexual and artistic or musical object—her trade for siphoning the audience’s attention.
The snakes also hold additional meaning, as the snakes are what make her unapproachable. Though all eyes are on the singer, though every man in the audience wishes he could be the microphone she sings to, she is also writhed in fear and danger. Just as when we see someone we are attracted to, and freeze in fear, unable to think clearly or do anything but act like an idiot, we see the beautiful woman on stage singing to us, but we also see the fear of death around her like a venomous halo.
How often then do we seek to abuse, deface and destroy these beautiful things we are afraid of?
At times, these living idols, these people made living statues, are sources of inspiration. At other times, they are source of zealotry and obsession. At other times, they are the sources of our fear, contempt and resentment—the objects of our hate as much as of our love.
The second “Siren/Muse” piece possesses similar elements, though I won’t delve too deeply into these. The emotion of the singer is more lively, more energetic. Rather than snakes, the singer is surrounded with bees like loyal drones. With the first painting, the color scheme is roughly green, black and golden/yellow, which is somewhat suggestive of a dragon guarding gold. The second painting, by contrast, is primarily violet, blue and yellow, which contrasts cooler colors with the more energetic yellow body and red eyes of the bees. So, there is a calming effect, but there is still an awareness of danger. In the second painting, there is also the sexual implication of the microphone.
David’s art journey is still relatively early in its story. His works are still experimental in many ways, and his style and talent are still developing. However, the works he’s made so far are quite impressive. The emotions and ideas he’s able to capture in his paintings have drawn my own eye, and seem to be catching many others’ eyes. It will be interesting to see where he goes next with his “Siren/Muse” set, but it will also be interesting to see where he goes both with his work and with the themes he explores after this set.
There was much more we both could have talked about with each other regarding both his artwork and the themes surrounding his artwork (and, also, the long list of comic books we both love). Hopefully we can extend some of these conversations in the future.
In addition to his artwork on @davidcoffey_figz on Instagram, David also has many other pieces, primarily commission pieces, on his Instagram page @davidcoffey_artstudio. There are many beautiful paintings here as well, many of which follow a more impressionist or post-impressionist style. Please give his work a look and a like, and if you enjoy his creations, give his pages a follow.
Hailing from Los Angeles, CA, Miguel Pichardo’s artwork has an incredibly unique, psychedelic blend of surrealism, abstraction and Gonzo-style artwork, which span across a tremendous breadth of style. Miguel and I first got in contact with each other over a year ago when I wrote my first article on him, and since then, his body of work has grown tremendously. In addition to talking about his recent developments in art, Miguel and I talked about his own growth as an artist over the last year, and the influence spirituality has had on Miguel and his art.
Since the last time we spoke, over a year ago, Miguel’s artwork has been getting more and more attention, including a restaurant and cafes his art has been featured in, including the Jesus Wall Brewery Artwalk in LA, and a number of projects and galleries he’s been involved with. Notably, Miguel has been working with Puzzle Crazy, a puzzle-making company who has been turning some of Miguel’s artwork into puzzles, and Miguel’s art was put into in the Pacha Moma Art Museum as a permanent installation.
For any major art lovers reading this, Pacha Moma is an insanely cool museum that features some incredibly talented and imaginative artists (so it’s no surprise Miguel has been featured here). I’ll post links to them, as well as links to Puzzle Crazy, at the end of the article.
Another major aspect to Miguel’s artwork is his focus over the last year on being able to connect more with his art and art process on a more intuitive level.
“Currently what I been doing with my work is that I’ve been practicing letting ‘the flow’ take over and kinda in a way let it create itself. I’ve found so much pleasure and satisfaction through that technique. I’ve gotten countless commission offers, but I turned them all down for the reason that I am focusing my time on creating what I enjoy. 2019 was a very magical year for me, if you will. I learned a lot about myself, as well as directing myself where I want to be. So yes, the goal for the future to me is becoming more clear.
“[…] I used to do it and it would take me hours to get in that zone. And now that I understand better that ‘zone’ I can tap into it faster. Some people also call it the ‘flow zone’ like you become fluent with your craft. Which create real master pieces. I believe.”
This style of creating art becomes especially impressive when you take into consideration the amount of detail in each piece. The ideas seem to be pouring out of Miguel’s head onto his canvas.
I think one piece that epitomizes this improvisational style is Miguel’s painting, “Jazz”. Named after one of the most improvisational and wildly flowing styles of music, “Jazz” zig-zags, twists, curls and loops across the canvas like a vision of controlled chaos. There’s somehow both a precision and a wildness to this painting. Miguel talked a bit about “Jazz” with me:
“I love this one for its simple yet powerful composition. What this piece represents to me is just the vibe of jazz the motion the rhythm the emotion of it. This piece brought back memories of my buddie Grover who has passed away. When I was a kid, he would express to me how much he loved bebop. As I was creating this piece I had him in mind as well. At the time I was have trouble with pricing my work. I finally stuck with a price and the piece sold for the price of $2000 which for me was a sign to have faith in my gut feelings or my intuition.”
While Miguel’s style can vary quite a bit from piece to piece, in general, this wild energy of controlled chaos is practically a staple in Miguel’s artwork. Some of them seem almost alive with movement and personality.
Once you get to know Miguel’s style enough, it’s impossible to mistake for anyone else’s style, but it’s still difficult to pin that style down, as it can vary so much from piece to piece. Some paintings, like his recent painting, “Cosmic Siren”, or his painting, “La Catrina”, have a heavy Cubist influence on them, while others range in style from Kandinsky-style abstraction to Ralph Steadman’s Gonzo-style of art. Still, Miguel’s art, though similar in many ways to these styles, blends these elements as much as it breaks free of any of these molds.
In pieces like “The Buddha” and “Enat”, there’s a mix of some realism, and then a sort of static or sheen of color—clouds, lines, splatters, constellations, swirls, sprays.
With “The Buddha”, the Buddha’s eyes have been replaced by twin nebulae of specks, spots, dots and blots. Miguel almost creates a new atmosphere, or a new fabric of reality in some of his pieces. Maybe he’s peeled back the mundane, crisp and clean surface of material reality, and revealed the chaos beneath it all.
“Enat” more deeply enters the realm of realism, though it depicts the ancient and somewhat abstract “Venus of Willendorf”, but even hear, there is that slight mushroom-haze of specs and spots and spatterings of color. This same messy atmosphere or peeled back reality can be found in a wide variety of pieces.
Miguel’s still life paintings, “Florero de Septiembre” and “Still Life Cacophany” are rich and dense with this atmosphere. In “Florero de Septiembre”, the air and the color of the background seem tangible, like I could reach out and grab the fabric of yellow-golden light, hold it like it was clay, or like the air itself was paint. “Still Life Cacophany” is an explosion of colors and lines coming alive with extradimensional energy. Here the blurred lines of slight realism and wild abstraction make the painting feel like its exploding both in front of you, and like the image is coming alive and moving in your head while you’re looking at it.
And with others paintings, the fabric of reality seems to erode even further. “Magic Clown” and “Al Fin de la Jornada” are barely clinging on to any semblance of realism. Small threads of realistic detail tie them to something tangible, but a surreal madness has all but overcome the paintings’ subjects.
With “Magic Clown”, the edges of objects have frayed in many places, and in other places, complete chaos has poured out or emerged forth onto the canvas. The crown of the clown’s head is all but nonexistent, and some unbounded limbo-world is exploding out of it. In “Al Fin de la Jornada”, reality has given way to geometric forms blooming out of the subject’s neck, shoulders and chest. Their mouth has transformed into pillars and skyscrapers of lines and color that run off the edge of his face.
When all semblance of reality breaks down, when humans people are little more than the colors and shapes of ideas of personalities, a psychic geometry of identity, we find highly abstract pieces like “The Sheriff in Town”, “My Anxiety Yesterday”, and “Una Noche”. Pieces like these show an almost final breakdown of reality, where anything tangible or bounded becomes almost formless.
Still, this doesn’t fully describe Miguel’s broad range of style. There’s collages of colliding faces and forms, such as with “Relajate”, or psychedelic fauvist art, reminiscient of Alex Grey, such as “Mama Pacha”. There’s jaw-dropping blends of styles, such as with “Look Forward”, and there’s even a painting of Patrick star losing his mind on acid with “Patrick Star ‘Woah’”.
I can try and articulate these things to you, and I can try to box Miguel’s artwork into this category or that category, but you’ll have to go look at more of his artwork with your own eyes to really get his unique style.
Much of this unique style comes from Miguel’s own spiritual connection to his work.
“This is one of my favorite pieces it’s titled ‘Spiritual Being’ which is basically a self-portrait of my spirit. The significance of this piece is basically the awareness of my connection to the great spirit and that I am a part of it and that I have complete faith in it. As well as gratitude. On the right side you can kinda see another face. Which to me is my spiritual mother. I believe she has always been with me guiding and protecting me
“[…] The hands up on the being (me) signify surrendering to god or the ‘light source’, which creates or births faith, which in many circumstances has brought me peace and understanding.
“The great spirit, or God, or source or the universe I believe to be everything literally. I believe that we are all connected to everything in many different ways. I believe there is so much that we can’t even imagine, imagining the entirety of ‘it’. I believe it is so complex that that we as humans cannot fathom in anyway. So yes, my belief is closer to Native Americans’.
“And yes, ‘Spiritual Being’ the piece was not planned in anyway. It just came out as I went. I built on it. And after I finished it I looked at it for a while and saw the significance in it..but as you can see on the piece . It is in mostly rainbow color and pattern. Which to me represents light. I believe we are in our highest connection with god when we are in light form. A rainbow is created by light. The half skull half human face represents that I am aware of what will happen after death. For I believe I’ve died already in this life once. That’s a long story. But what I experienced was the most significant thing that had ever happened to me hands down. But to answer your question yes. I believe My consciousness or intuition guided me in doing the piece. And the reason I found out after I did it.”
This spiritual connection is evident throughout much of Miguel’s work, which features a wide range of religious themes and iconography. These pieces include “The Buddha”, “Mama Pacha”, “Duality”, “Reborn”, and an untitled drawing with a Mother Mary-like figure. However, this spirituality may spill over into other pieces that might not be overtly religious.
In many religions, just as Miguel mentioned, the Great Spirit, the One God or Monad, the Source, the thing from which reality emerged is everywhere and in everything. From beautiful, cloudy skies to incomprehensibly large galaxies to city streets and empty parking lots. This Spirit fills everything in the universe, permeates it just like atoms and molecules, and likewise, this Spirit might be filling each of Miguel’s pieces of artwork.
In addition to spirituality, Miguel discussed the inspiration for one of his pieces, “Waiting in Time”, and how he’s changed throughout his life:
“This one is titled, ‘Waiting in Time’. What it represents is an adolescent me waiting for answers to all my questions. Closure to all my doubts. Around the time I was working on the piece I was receiving some of those answers and closure. And that’s one example on how 2019 was very mystical or magical for me. I was finally using consciousness to bring in what I was waiting for. Even though there are many other favorites of mine.
“[…] I feel like yes, I have changed a lot since that way of thinking. The state of mind I tried to portray in ‘Waiting in Time’ I now understand why I went through all those challenges that I went through as an adolescent which were like karmic cycles repeating so that I can understand more about ‘the afterlife’ understand not anchoring yourself to materialistic state of mind, or to practice living without ego. Which I haven’t accomplished. I believe I now understand and need to start practicing that life style more and more. So that’s the current position I feel I’m in. I feel like I’m entering a new chapter in my spiritual life.”
What I love with this painting is all the tiny details and shapes that comprise the image as a whole. It’s almost like there’s no solid image or figure here, it’s just a formation of fragments of images—even in the landscape around the younger-Miguel and the sky in the background.
I don’t want to put words into Miguel’s mouth, but, for me, it’s like the collection of memories coming together into how we remember the person we used to be. It’s all the photographs in our heads being taped together into a collage that forms a single, solid person, but it’s still a haze. Miguel in this picture seems hazy, maybe only halfway there. In fact, his face in this picture is only halfway there. It’s half normal and half almost alien or monster like. The mouth is almost entirely inhuman, and the teeth look almost like a mismatched collection of wrong shaped, wrong sized pieces, stuck together because there was nothing else to stick in.
There’s this puzzle we’re trying to put together of who we once were in order to figure out who we are now (coincidentally, you can buy this painting as a puzzle from Puzzle Crazy).
There’s this puzzle, and at the end, it gives us the image of our identity. The pieces are all made of memories, little bits of emotions and old sensations or feelings, and thoughts we had that we halfway recall. If you pick up all the pieces of who you once were, you get to put them all back together the way you want. Become someone new.
One of the last things we talked about was art pricing.
Miguel mentioned a bit about pricing his art, so I asked him if he had any advice for other artists who are looking to start selling their work:
“Pricing art. There is still no real set structure in pricing art. Just like the freedom of expression is so vast, so is its pricing. If you know a little about the art market, you know paintings have sold for crazy amounts. But basically, there are is way a lot of artists have used to price their work, which is by square inch. So, like $2 the square inch. Which is what I do, but sometimes I price lower or higher depending on the piece, but for the most part that’s how I do it. And as time passes the $ mark increases as well as my popularity.
“I guess I’m still kinda new to all this stuff. I feel I still have a lot to learn, but at the same time, I’ve learned a lot in the time I’ve been doing it. Keep in mind, I’m a dad, and my time is divided. And my advice to other artists is just do it. Do it all. We have Google and social media. We have it all in the palm of our hands. Haha all you need is the initiative of starting and finishing. Things are gonna go wrong just like everything else: there is its good times and bad times. Just keep pushing.
I would also say ask questions. If a gallery doesn’t wanna show your work, don’t feel bad keep going! Always practice optimistic mentality. That will help with longevity, and also invest, invest invest. You gotta water the tree before it gives you fruits haha.”
There’s a lot to be learned from Miguel. He’s a father of two children, and, before Covid-19, was working a full-time job, and still managed to find time to make this insanely cool artwork (so shut the fuck up with whatever excuses you have). He’s stuck to his artwork, and keeps consistently growing and developing his style. He’s open to branching out into venues and ways of showing or selling his art.
Possibly most importantly, Miguel’s style is genuine, authentic. There’s no mistaking this style, and Miguel incorporates the things he finds most meaningful into his artwork, especially his spirituality. Miguel’s art comes from somewhere deep, beyond the rational, waking mind. It’s like he opens up this faucet somewhere deep in his unconscious or in his soul, and all these thoughts and emotions and images come spilling out onto canvas. It’s brilliant to see, and if you haven’t checked out more of his artwork, you need to.
You can find Miguel on Instagram @9ichardo. If you want to check out the Pacha Moma museum, they can be found on Instagram @pacha_moma. If you want to buy one of the puzzles made with Miguel’s artwork, or check out some of Puzzle Crazy’s other work, you can find them on Instagram @puzzlecrazyuk, or look them up on Etsy at www.etsy.com/uk/puzzlecrazyGB.
Please give them all a look, follow them if you enjoy what they do, and support artists and other creators in whatever way you can.
Max and Robert Egger’s 2019 “The Lighthouse” is a surreal dark comedy horror film, reminiscent of “Eraserhead”, “Dead Man” and “The Wickerman”. Set in the late 1800’s on a small, isolated island, “The Lighthouse” portrays the slow descent into madness of Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) with a subtle, well-balanced mix of gritty realism and dream-like paranoia. The film is both disturbing and fascinating, bewildering audiences and critics with its near-schizophrenic plot, bizarre and bipolar dialogues and the stark, dream-like imagery presented in Ephraim’s growing insanity. However, despite the tangled web of absurdity, ambiguous symbolism and distorted reality, the film is highly intentional in its events and imagery, and “The Lighthouse” yields great depths of meaning once the layers of its web have been dissected.
The first problem with understanding this movie is the immense intentionality in every shot. Many scenes in “The Lighthouse” might take an hour or more to decompose, especially in relationship or in context to every other scene in the film. Despite this, I will try to summarize the movie as briefly as I can without losing important cohesiveness. The second problem is this problem of density and complexity. There’s honestly too much in this movie to discuss without writing at least another 2-3 analyses of the same length as this one. However, I intend to only follow one thread of analysis here (a long and at times winding thread, but one thread nonetheless).
“The Lighthouse” begins with the arrival of Ephraim and Tom to the mid-ocean lighthouse they will be manning for the next four weeks, the two of them entirely isolated from society for a month. Tom, the senior lighthouse-keeper, makes it clear to Ephraim, the new junior, that the duty of maintaining the actual lighthouse will solely be Tom’s responsibility, and the manual labor (shoveling coal for the foghorn, cleaning and maintaining the house, purifying the cistern and so forth) will be left entirely to Ephraim. Tom wavers between being intensely critical of Ephraim and tyrannically domineering; and being warm, friendly and jovial with Ephraim, usually during their dinner.
Shortly into the film, we witness the beginning of both characters’ insanity. Tom stands in front of the Lighthouse at night and removes all of his clothes, speaking to the lighthouse lamp affectionately. Then, Ephraim goes out to the ocean shore and sees wooden logs floating in the water, before seeing a dead body in the water. Ephraim walks into the water until he is fully submerged, then sees a mermaid or siren swimming in the water, screeching at him.
Over dinner, Tom tells Ephraim about his time as a ship captain and how he solved a mutiny by giving his sailors liquor until they made it to land. After telling Ephraim how his former junior-keeper went mad and died, Tom tells Ephraim he shouldn’t kill seagulls because its bad luck, and Tom later explains seabirds are the souls of dead sailors. In the next scene, Ephraim masturbates in the supply shed to a small, ivory trinket shaped like a mermaid he found in the beginning of the film.
Leading up to the midpoint of the film, we begin to see the intensification of a master-slave relationship between Tom and Ephraim, with Tom repeatedly calling Ephraim a dog and treating him as subhuman, juxtaposed with a much friendlier relationship between the two.
Ephraim goes to the top of the lighthouse one night, where he hears Tom muttering to himself. White slime drips from the metal grate above Ephraim, where Tom is standing, and Ephraim then sees a tentacle slithering across the metal-grate above. Ephraim eventually kills a seagull, which has been continually harassing him, and this action causes the wind to change direction. A storm rolls in just before the two are to be relieved of their duties at the end of their four-week stay. They find themselves marooned on the island, and either Tom’s or Ephraim’s sense of time begins to slip.
At the midpoint, Tom gives one of the greatest monologues in cinema-history as he curses Ephraim in the name of Neptune for a whole two minutes (as a side note, Willem Dafoe won at least 8 awards for his performance in this film, and was nominated for at least 17 others). As the two keepers remain stranded on the island, they steadily drink more and more alcohol, Ephraim continues furiously masturbating in his spare time and reality slips into a strange back-and-forth state of hallucination, paranoia and glimpses of sanity. Ephraim reveals that his name is actually Thomas Howard and that he let his former foreman, Ephraim Winslow, drown to death before taking his foreman’s name (you will probably forget this detail, but, nonetheless, try to remember it for the very end). Ephraim (or Tommy) tries to leave the island, but Tom chases him down with an axe and destroys the island’s only lifeboat. After calming down, Tom tells Ephraim that they’ve run out of alcohol, so the two begin drinking lamp oil (likely to be kerosene).
The storm, which has been raging for weeks, days or months now, finally ends after flooding the island and the lighthouse, all but ruining the home they’ve been staying in. Ephraim wakes up and finds Tom’s logbook and finds that Tom has been writing highly critical notes about Ephraim, even going so far as to say Ephraim should be fired from the job without being paid. Ephraim attacks Tom, and the two begin grappling, punching and strangling each other. After a hallucinatory moment where Ephraim sees Tom as his former foreman, the siren he’s been fantasizing about and masturbating to and as the sea-god Neptune himself, Ephraim nearly beats Tom to death.
Stopping himself before killing Tom, Ephraim stands over Tom and begins commanding Tom to bark like a dog. Ephraim then leads Tom out of the building on a leash to a hole they previously dug in front of the Lighthouse. Ephraim begins burying Tom, while Tom gives another masterful dialogue about “Protean forms”, “Promethean plunder”, “divine graces” and “the fiddler’s green”. Once Tom is presumably dead, Ephraim steals the key to the lighthouse, but, once inside the building, Tom returns with an axe and strikes Ephraim with it. Ephraim takes the axe, kills Tom and proceeds to the top of the lighthouse.
Ephraim reaches into the lighthouse lamp, presumably reaching into the lamp-flame, and begins laughing and screaming as the light engulfs him, then falls down the stairs to the bottom of the lighthouse. The movie ends with Ephraim laying naked across a rock formation alongside the ocean. Seagulls have shit on his body, and they are now devouring the innards of a still-living Ephraim. And that’s the movie.
There are a few other notable details to mention here. There is a foghorn on the island, which can be heard in the background throughout the movie, as well as a ticking clock which is likewise heard throughout the movie. There are a number of Christian and Greco-Roman allusions throughout the movie, as well as allusions to maritime folklore. In addition, there are quite a few phallic symbols throughout the movie, as well as a large (like, dinner-platter-sized) mermaid vagina. However, I probably won’t be able to get into all the various symbols and their potential meanings.
To begin understanding the movie’s deeper meanings, we need to understand the relationship between Ephraim and Tom, Ephraim and the mermaid, the lighthouse itself and Ephraim’s character. What we find here are the psychoanalytic dynamics of the Ego (Ephraim), the Super-Ego (Tom), the Id and the Anima (the mermaid/siren), and the Self or the Godhead (the lighthouse). Ephraim is the individual struggling against the forces of the Super-Ego/Authority/Society and the Id/Sexuality/Material-Satiation in order to find freedom and independence, as well as to reunite with the Self or the Godhead, symbolic of the power and freedom of true individuality. How do we pull such a lofty meaning from such a bizarre movie?
At its core, “The Lighthouse” is a mythological psychodrama. The movie is about an individual struggling with God the Father and the Sirens of instinct and sexuality. It is about an individual struggling with the oppressive demands and absurd behaviors of society, as well as struggling with one’s own nature—an individual struggling against these forces in order to maintain their individuality.
Ephraim is the Everyman, a term describing an ordinary, non-spectacular character whom the audience can sympathize with because of their mundanity. Ephraim, despite moments of fluctuating insanity, is mostly level-headed throughout the movie, and most of his actions or reactions seem sane compared to Tom’s. Ephraim is relatable—he’s the average person working a shitty job with an overbearing boss—and he reflects many of the ideas and hopes that most people share. Not only does Ephraim share these hopes with the audience, but Tom frequently reminds Ephraim of the mundanity of these hopes.
Ephraim remains pretty quiet throughout the first act of the movie, to which Tom tells him he’s not special in that regard. At one point, Ephraim tells Tom about his plans to build a house somewhere, so he can be free of others’ demands. Tom replies to this with, “Same old boring story, eh?” Midway through the third act, Ephraim begins telling Tom of his troubled past, and Tom tells him, “Yer guilty conscience is ever as tiresome-boring as any guilty conscience.” Then, near the end of the film, Tom begins telling Ephraim how unspectacular he is, saying things like:
“Come to this rock playin’ the tough. Ye make me laugh with yer false grum.”
“Ye pretended to mystery with yer false quietudes, but there ain’t no mystery.”
“Ye’re an open book. A picture, says I.”
Not only is Ephraim subjected to inglorious manual labor by Tom throughout the movie; not only is Ephraim constantly criticized throughout the movie, culminating in Tom’s logbook full of Ephraim’s many supposed infractions; and not only is Ephraim led to disaster by many of Tom’s actions (such as the insistence on constantly getting drunk (which Ephraim is later blamed for)), but Ephraim is then told he isn’t even special in any way, and his existence as an individual is denigrated to a final extreme
Tom calls Ephraim, “A painted actress, screaming in the footlights, a bitch what wants to be coveted for nothin’ but the silver spoon what should have been yours.” Ephraim begins crying here, for which Tom mocks him. As this scene escalates, Tom begins calling Ephraim a dog over and over again.
“Thomas [Ephraim], ye’re a dog! A filthy dog! A dog!”
All Ephraim wants is a life free of servitude and domination. He tells Tom at one point, “I ain’t never intended to be no housewife or slave.” And yet, despite his dreams of freedom, he seeks that freedom through servitude, by taking a job to save up money. Anyone and everyone can sympathize with the desire to be free, the necessity of working for this freedom and the eventual boot on our necks that weighs heavier and heavier with each passing day. Perhaps there is nothing special with Ephraim, as he is just like everyone else, but it’s that normalcy that makes him such an empathetic individual, and why his role as the Everyman plays such an integral role in the meaning of this story.
Connecting this back to the Ego, all of us, in our immediate, conscious sense of reality, are confronted on the psychic level by the injunctions of the Super-Ego (society, law and order, Tom, God the Father) and the needs of the Id (survival, sexuality, the Siren, Mother Nature). Among the injunctions of the Ego, however, is that we accomplish this in a manner that will maintain our dignity and ensure our freedom and independence. Survival, security and self-dignity are three of the deepest desires of every human, and they all stack like weights on the shoulders of the Ego: that which consciously perceives and consciously decides.
There is a Camusian element of absurdity in this movie. Ephraim took the job as lighthouse keeper out of sheer arbitrariness. It paid well, that was it. Tom treats Ephraim like dogshit for no real reason, other than the fact he has the authority to, and then randomly starts treating him warmly at various moments.
At the end of the film, Ephraim is judged by Tom both verbally and in his logbook, and that judgement is almost entirely arbitrary. Some of the things Ephraim did were reprehensible. Some of the things Ephraim did weren’t. Some of the things Ephraim is judged for have no evidence to back them. Some of the things Ephraim were judged for were influenced by Tom himself. And that’s fucking life.
These events have parallels to one of the greatest works of absurdist art, Albert Camus’ novel, “The Stranger”, in which the protagonist’s mother dies one day, and he feels indifferent about this (death just happens, and why should we act one way or another about it). The protagonist’s neighbor is a volatile human, who careens between abuse and friendliness. A woman randomly begins having sex with the protagonist, then wants to know if he’ll marry her. He tells her it wouldn’t make any difference to him, and later tells her that marriage wasn’t special and he would have married any woman. In a half-awake daze, the protagonist is walking on the beach and runs into a man he knows nothing about, except that he has a feud with the protagonist’s friend, and so the protagonist kills this man for no real reason.
In the end, the protagonist is brought to court for killing this man and is found guilty essentially because he doesn’t feel one way or another about things. The primary evidence used against him is the fact he felt indifferent about his mother’s death. Things simply are the way they are, and the protagonist simply acts the way he acts out of his own detached volition. Because the protagonist does not wish to play the same games as everyone, carry the same sense of morality and imbue things with the same emotional weight as everyone else, he is sentenced to death, he is hated and he is, essentially, declared evil. The protagonist finally accepts his fate and accepts the absurdity of life.
“As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself—so like a brother, really—I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.”
I would argue that meaningfulness—true meaningfulness—can be found in life, but there is indeed an enormous degree of arbitrariness to reality. We’re just born one day, in a certain period of history, which has its own set of rules and customs we’re told to abide by. We’re told to be a certain person, to act a certain way and to feel certain emotions for given events, and we’re told not to question any of it. We’re called a villain for questioning or going against the status quo. We’re judged for things that are out of our control, or that have no real impact on life. There are seemingly arbitrary standards and traditions by which we’re judged, and then there’s entirely novel arbitrariness by which we’re judged (things that aren’t even a part of broadly accepted standards), and then there’s false or fabricated claims about us by which we’re judged.
This is the weight foisted upon Ephraim, the weight of arbitrary judgement, and this is the weight foisted upon the Everyman, the proxy of the collective individual or collective Ego. This is the weight carried by everyone living within a society. This is the guilt and condemnation which degrades: the arbitrary tyranny: the absurd, laughable, comically bizarre oppression of culture. And yet, that’s just life. Camus’ protagonist in “The Stranger” becomes what Camus called an Absurd Hero. The Absurd Hero is the individual who does not shy away from or seek to destroy the absurd reality around them, but rather accepts the empty arbitrariness of life and continues to live their life as an individual: continues to affirm life as being good and worthy, without the dishonesty of dogma, ideology or personal delusion. Shy of eradicating life, or at least eradicating your own life, one must learn to live heroically amidst absurdity, to remain free, individualized and dignified amidst our bizarre world because there is no escape from the necessary evil that is society, which is the Super-Ego, which is Tom.
Tom is the nagging, oppressive and at times nonsensical voice of the Super-Ego within Ephraim’s mind. Tom is the smiling, friendly face of society, which barks commands at us, and condemns our actions with spite and fury. Tom is society keeping Ephraim from achieving individuality by flooding his life with menial tasks, deprecating the value of the individual and forbidding Ephraim from witnessing the divine, and Tom is the same society which asks Ephraim to be as a friend: to love Tom, to forgive and overlook Tom’s flaws (of which, as we see at the end of the movie, Tom seems completely blind to).
Tom is what pushes Ephraim to insanity, and then denounces Ephraim as a madman. And yet, Tom is also what guides and protects Ephraim. There is an ambiguity in the nature of Tom and Ephraim’s relationship, just as there is an ambiguity in the nature of the Ego and Super-Ego’s relationship. The Super-Ego is typically represented in mythology as God the Father, or as some other variant of the masculine-authority archetype, which is simultaneously protective and wise, and oppressive and tyrannical. It is culture and society which protect us from the ravages of nature, and it is culture and society which tyrannize us with unyielding dictates. It is culture and society which rewards us meaningful work, and it is culture and society which enslave us with meaningless tasks. It is culture and society which gives us the wisdom of tradition, and it is culture and society which fascistically conforms individuals with this tradition.
In “The Lighthouse”, we quite clearly witness this paradoxical relationship between Ephraim and Tom, the Son and the Father, the Individual and the Society, the Ego and the Super-Ego. Tom teaches and guides Ephraim. He tells Ephraim when he’s doing something wrong or foolish. We see this in the concrete form when Ephraim carries the drum of oil up the lighthouse stairs rather than fill the small pail with oil, and we see this in the absurd form when Tom superstitiously warns Ephraim of the dangers of killing seabirds, which he later explains are the souls of dead sailors. There’s an ambiguity even in this superstitious tradition, since Ephraim’s act of killing the seagull that’s been harassing him is implicated as the cause of the storm which maroons them on the island.
Tom is also a part of what protects Ephraim from the terrors of nature. Tom cooks food to feed Ephraim, keeping him from starving; Tom gives orders to Ephraim to maintain the house they live in, thus protecting them from the cold and the rain; and Tom gives Ephraim advice that helps him stay alive and healthy. The island is a lone territory of protection from the chaos of the ocean (the suffocating depths, the dehydrating waters, the monsters of the sea), and the lighthouse itself is a mechanism of security: a light in the dark which keeps sailors from crashing their ships in the night.
Yet, Tom is also the highly critical or judgmental aspect of society and the oppressive or tyrannical aspect of society. Tom is constantly criticizing Ephraim, telling him how poorly he’s performing his tasks, even at one point asking Ephraim if he’s a “dullard”. Tom not only criticizes Ephraim’s work, but also criticizes Ephraim as a person, essentially calling him boringly normal and morally reprehensible throughout the film.
Beyond just the criticism, Tom is constantly giving Ephraim orders and loading him up with manual labor, while Tom’s sole responsibility (beyond making sure Ephraim is performing his tasks) is to man the lighthouse lamp, which is the most glorious and honorable of tasks. Tom gives Ephraim all the shit jobs, while Tom gets to perform the single easiest and most respectable job. Even then, Tom does his one job poorly and strangely. While manning the lighthouse lamp at night, Tom drinks and, presumably, masturbates (though we’re not shown Defoe’s jerk sessions as explicitly as we’re shown Pattinson’s). Tom orders Ephraim around and judges him for all his faults, while declaring himself to be the unfaultable and supreme authority of the island.
And, just to hammer it home, that’s life.
You can’t live with society, and you can’t live without it.
So where does Ephraim’s heroism come in this story? It comes in his insanity, as it does with every individual striving for freedom within society.
It comes, initially, from his repeated visions of the mermaid and her siren’s call. I’ve come to believe the mermaid is symbolic of three things.
The mermaid is Ephraim’s Id, represented as his sexual desires (the siren’s call). The mermaid is Ephraim’s Anima, which, in Jungian psychology, is the feminine, psychic force in men, which guides the Ego into the depths of the psyche. The mermaid is also Ephraim’s Shadow, or at least that which guides Ephraim to his Shadow. In Jungian terminology, the Shadow is the repressed part of the psyche, oftentimes synonymous with the Id, though not necessarily. The Shadow is the parts of our personality that we bury or repress, such as sexuality, aggression and even self-importance or self-love. Though the Shadow contains many negative aspects of our personality, those aspects of our personality might be what save us from the problems of our lives. Holding back the contents of the Shadow holds back the individual’s potential for actualization, or from becoming the free, independent, dignified individual we all hope we can become.
The mermaid in Ephraim’s hallucinations is repeatedly coupled with the image of Ephraim’s previous foreman, whom Ephraim effectively murdered by letting him drown. Throughout the movie, Ephraim is repressing three things: his sexuality, through nearly constant masturbation, his aggression, the same aggression that let Ephraim dispassionately watch his foreman die, and his desire to see the lighthouse lamp. The ultimate repression is the latter, repressing the desire to climb to the top of the lighthouse. The lighthouse is a phallic symbol of divine power, which is roughly parallel to Ephraim’s inner divine power, which is roughly akin to the Libido. The lighthouse can also be seen as a symbol of social power, as in the social hierarchies of society, or as moral authority, the light being the highest moral good.
Though I argue the lighthouse to be a symbol of psychological hierarchy, I would also argue the lighthouse is symbolic of all three of these at once, and that these representations may in fact be synonymous with each other at a certain level of analysis.
Ephraim represses this divine power, the psychic energy of the Libido, through masturbation, and, by repressing his aggression, represses his ability to overthrow Tom, the Super-Ego, which is also denying him his divine power. Throughout the movie, Ephraim masturbates to a small, ivory trinket carved in the shape of a mermaid. He’s not actually having sex, he’s not actually incorporating the repressed portions of his psyche; he’s fantasizing about the act and arbitrarily giving himself pleasure and release from the repressed Libido. He’s worshipping a false idol, he’s worshipping a fetish, and he’s silencing the siren’s call by sexual release, rather than actually uniting himself with those repressed forces (the divine or psychic marriage).
Ephraim is keeping himself from attaining his desires by shutting down and repressing those desires with short-term gratification. Ephraim wants to be a free human being, that is his ultimate desire. He wants to have power—not power over others, but power over himself: not the power of authority, but the power of individuality. However, rather than fulfilling that desire, Ephraim spends most of the movie bending to the will of Tom, the Super-Ego, or, in other words, bending to the will of society. At the end of the movie, Ephraim fulfills this desire by first destroying the mermaid trinket, the object of false sexual desire, and then by killing Tom, the judgmental and tyrannical force of society. It’s at this point that Ephraim finally ascends to the top of the lighthouse and finally witnesses the glory of the fire within the lighthouse lamp.
What is the lighthouse, and what is this divine power within its lamp? The lighthouse symbolizes a number of things. It is that which protects sailors from death as they sail through the horrors of the night. It is that which is most high upon Ephraim and Tom’s little rock, as well as that which shines most brightly. It is the most valued and coveted thing upon the island, and it is the most important thing on the island (it’s literally the only reason they’re there). The lighthouse is also a phallic symbol (among many), as previously mentioned, and an analog in some ways to Ephraim’s sexual frustrations. He is denied actual sexual release, and he is denied access to the top of the lighthouse.
I mentioned earlier that the lighthouse is the Self or the Godhead, which it is, to a certain degree. It is the source of divine power within ourselves. It is the axis mundi, source of all life-renewing energy: the world navel. As Joseph Campbell explains in “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”:
“The torrent pours forth from an invisible source, the point of entry being the center of the symbolic circle of the universe, the Immovable Spot of the Buddha legend, around which the world may be said to revolve… The tree of life, i.e., the universe itself, grows from this point. It is rooted in the supporting darkness; the golden sun bird birches on its peak…Or the figure may be that of a cosmic mountain, with the city of gods, like a lotus of light, upon its summit…”
The lighthouse is the axis mundi, with the bright, burning spirit or entity of light at its top (sunbird/phoenix, city of gods, lotus of light, etc.), and it is from the lighthouse that Ephraim discovers reinvigorating, life-giving energies.
However, there is more to the lighthouse than simply this. What is interesting about this Axis Mundi or Godhead (this source of divine energy and the divine “Self”), is that it is manmade. The center of Ephraim and Tom’s universe is a manmade construction, and it is designed to keep sailors safe amidst the ocean’s turmoils. In some sense, this is showing that the new source of rebirth comes from the humanity’s creations, or their ability to create, alter the world around us and constantly innovate.
The new source of divine energy comes not from our ability to confront the natural world and its horrors, or from society and its oppression, but from our ability to create, a traditionally divine ability in itself, and through our creations, alter nature and alter society. Originally, creation was seen as the province gods, and then, in the West, the cosmos was seen as crafted by Jehovah or Yahweh, the Judeo-Christian God. Now, the divine power of creation is a human power.
Now, there’s another piece here, you may have already noticed it, and this is the Greek story of the Titan, Prometheus. There are many details and variations to the myth, but the central story is that Prometheus stole fire from the Greek gods and gave it to humans. As punishment, Prometheus was chained to rocks, and everyday his liver was eaten by an eagle. This almost directly parallels the ending of “The Lighthouse”, in which Ephraim “steals the fire” from the lighthouse lamp and is then seen lying naked across oceanside rocks, his insides being eaten by seagulls.
To add to this, one of the details of the broader Prometheus myth is that Prometheus is seen as a hero in a Greek Deluge or Flood myth. The son of Prometheus, Deucalion, builds a boat with the help of his Titan father, and Deucalion and his wife survive a massive flood brought on by the wrath of Zeus. Just before the climax of the story, there is a similar flood in “The Lighthouse”. During their night of drinking lamp oil/kerosene, the unending storm that has been assaulting Tom and Ephraim floods the lighthouse and ruins the interior.
There are two things to parse apart here: Prometheus and the Deluge, or the Flood.
Beginning with the Deluge, because it occurs first in “The Lighthouse”, the Great Flood represents the Flood of Chaos. In mythology, from Greek mythology to Judeo-Christian myth, the Flood is typically a punishment on humanity because of their hubris or their sins. Why is a society of sinners punished with a flood? Because they were too arrogant to prevent or prepare for a flood. The floodwaters represent the accumulation of Chaos, disorder or poor behavior, accumulating over time until the water level, or the Chaos level, is too high to stop.
If a society, a group of people or even a single individual do not take the time to deal with all the small annoyances of their lives, or all the small problems they know they should fix (internally or externally), those problems begin to accumulate until your life is flooded with them. Maybe there’s a leak in your roof, and you do nothing about it. Maybe there’s some damage to the electrical circuits in your house, and you put off having it repaired. Maybe you feel like you should buy home insurance, and you never do.
Maybe that leaky roof keeps getting worse: the wood rots and more water gets into your house every day. Maybe the state of the wiring in your home continues to deteriorate, and maybe it does so without your knowledge because you don’t think it will ever be a problem. Maybe one day, a huge storm rolls over the city you live in, and your roof does nothing to keep your house dry. The water comes into the attic, maybe it drenches your floors, maybe it interferes with the damaged electrical circuits, and maybe the day after the storm, you’re left with a water-damaged house, ruined furniture and no electricity, and there’s nothing you can do about it because you don’t have home insurance. That’s the Deluge.
It doesn’t have to actually involve water, it might involve parking tickets, or it might involve bill collectors, or it might involve that skin rash you’ve been hiding for three months, hoping it’ll magically go away, or it might involve the steady and growing supply of alcohol you’ve been consuming for ten years, or it might involve anything in your life that you know you should have fixed, prevented or prepared for, but didn’t.
In “The Lighthouse”, the Deluge begins with Ephraim killing the seagull, thus bringing on the near-unending storm as a result. Once Tom and Ephraim are thoroughly marooned on the island, they begin drinking copious amounts of alcohol, which results in them acting irrationally, damaging parts of the house and not performing their tasks as well as they should be. In the end, the storm floods the lighthouse and ruins the interior of the first floor, but the question here is:
Was it the storm’s fault? Or was it their fault?
The other part of this is the Promethean mytheme of stealing the fire. If Prometheus stole the fire of the Olympic gods, and Ephraim’s tragic character arc is a parallel to Prometheus’s, then what fire does Ephraim steal?
Here, I come back to the Self and Ephraim’s desire to unify with his inner, “divine” Self.
Ephraim has two core desires within “The Lighthouse”. One is to become a free, independent individual, and the other is to gain access to the lighthouse lamp. The desire to become free and independent aligns with the Jungian notion of Individuation or Actualization, in which an individual unifies the disparate portions of their psyche or personality (their Ego, their Super-Ego and their Id, for simplicity), in order to become the greatest version of themselves: in order to become a complete, unified individual. Once they become this complete, unified version of themselves, they are capable of actualizing their fullest potential. They become a person who is fully equipped to seek out and satisfy their deepest desires.
Another description of the Jungian process of Individuation and Actualization is unifying oneself with the deeper Self, the True Self. There are the superficial, extrinsic and animalistic parts of one’s personality: the Persona—the mask we wear for society—the Ego, the Super-Ego and the Id. Then there is the deeper part of one’s personality: The Self. The Self is our true identity, the unified whole of our fragmented personality, where our most pressing desires and profound personal capabilities reside.
It is this Self, this deeper source of individuality and personal power, which Ephraim is seeking throughout the movie, both as his desire for freedom and his desire for the lighthouse lamp.
In this sense, the Self, the divine spark of the Godhead, is what Ephraim is stealing and giving to humanity. The cure for a sickly, stagnant or corrupt society—symbolized by Tom—does not come from a collective—the cure for society isn’t society. The cure for society is the individual capable and willing to transgress society. Ephraim’s theft of the divine flame—of the inner Self—is punished in the form of laying naked across rocks and being eaten alive by seagulls, which is a reflection of the actual punishment such an accomplishment might engender. Much of the writing of Friedrich Nietzsche centered around the notion of the Ubermensch or the Superman, a hypothetical individual Nietzsche posited as not only being able to overcome the horrors of nature and the shackles of society, but also capable of overcoming themselves and their own flaws—an individual capable of personal greatness. However, this Superman is an individual who is misunderstood by broader society, sometimes envied, oftentimes villainized, and, in many cases, abused by society.
Ephraim achieves Individuation and Actualization, then returns this divine spark of freedom and personal power to society—symbolized by him falling back down the lighthouse, or falling back to Earth—but then is punished for the very same act. Ephraim steals the fire of the lighthouse, returns to society, and then is consumed by the souls of dead sailors. Not only is he consumed by the souls of the dead sailors, but he was never saved by living sailors—no one came to rescue him from his isolated island.
In this sense, Ephraim becomes like the lighthouse. He becomes the beacon of light keeping sailors across life’s ocean from death. However, twisting the meaning of Ephraim’s punishment a bit, he, like the lighthouse, becomes a stationary object, neglected by the very people he has saved. Not only is he neglected, but he is also abused by those he couldn’t save—the sailors who weren’t saved by the lighthouse. This could be guilt, these could be parasites of society, or these birds could be metaphoric critics eating Ephraim alive. The lighthouse is revered, and yet it is also an object used as a lifeless tool by the society that reveres it. Ephraim saves society, so to speak, by his actions, but then is left for dead and eaten alive by that society. No deed goes unpunished.
Now, despite the dissections of these symbols, the meaning of the story still hasn’t fully been articulated.
“The Lighthouse” is a movie about an individual attempting to maintain their individuality within the confines of the Id and the Super-Ego, but, moreover, attempting to transcend those confines in order to save that society. Ephraim and his story are offered up to us like a sacrificial lamb to feast upon. The lighthouse is a construction of individuals, and this construction is a gift to society, a gift which is both revered and abused. Similarly, we in our own lives can become individuated and actualized human beings, which in turn makes us beacons of light that save our society from death at sea. This in turn makes us something like sacrifices to the society we are trying to save.
Now, there’s an interesting dynamic to this all. The individual attempting to save society—the individual stealing the fire from the gods—must first transcend or overcome society in order to then save society. This exact structure can be found in the Christ myth.
Christ is born on Earth as a normal human. Christ led a revolutionary movement in his society, rebelling against the authorities of that society, as well as challenging the traditions and social norms of that society. Christ was then crucified for his rebellion and revolution. And yet, there is an even deeper sub-structure to this.
It is interesting to note that this film takes place in the late 1800’s, which was around the same time Nietzsche made his famous declaration, “God is Dead”.
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?” In order for Ephraim to ascend the lighthouse and steal its fire, he first had to kill Tom.
As I mentioned before, the Super-Ego is often symbolized mythologically as God the Father, or as the Benevolent or Tyrannical King. Society, as well as the fatherly-authority god, are both derivatives of the Super-Ego—the standards, traditions and practices of society which both protect and oppress us. Ephraim killed Tom, the analogue of Society, the Super-Ego and God the Father. It was only through this act that Ephraim was able to attain wholeness and individuality, but this was not necessarily a happy act. Through killing Tom, through killing God, Ephraim’s world fell apart, and he was punished for it.
Christ, by challenging society, by challenging the Jewish high priests and by challenging the governors of the Roman Empire, was in fact challenging God himself.
To dig deeper into this, and to dig deeper into what the Death of Christ ultimately means, I’ll now come to the work of the contemporary Hegelian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek. Nietzsche believed that Christianity, by holding Truth to be its highest virtue, was inevitably a self-extinguishing religion. It was Christianity’s insistence on Truth which led to the Age of Enlightenment, which led to Nietzsche’s claim that “God is dead”. In a similar vein, Slavoj Zizek has made claims that Christianity is in fact an atheistic religion.
In Slavoj’s words:
“I think that this [the story of Job] is maybe an incredible ethical revolution because this is already the first step out of this traditional pagan view where justice means you should be at your own place, do your particular duty, and so on and so on, you know, this withdrawal, which then I think culminates in the death of Christ.
“What dies on the cross? … As Hegel says, what dies on the cross is God of beyond himself. It’s precisely God as that transcendent power which somehow secretly pulls the strings. This is, I think, the secret of Christianity… This God abdicates. I think that something tremendous happens in Christianity because remember, after the death of Christ, we don’t get back to the father. What we get is Holy Spirit… So, for me, again, this is a tremendously important message of freedom.
“Again, as my beloved Chesterton said… in all other religions, you have atheists, people who don’t believe in God, but Chesterton‘s reading of those famous ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani?’ (‘Father, why have you forsaken me?’) is that only in Christianity, and for him this is crucial, God himself becomes for a moment an atheist.”
To sum up what Slavoj is saying, though eroding much of the subtleties here, at Christ’s death, Christ looks up to the sky and asks, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” Here, Christ, being a manifestation of God himself, is God realizing the truth of his own non-existence.
The revolution of Christ was not the continuation of a religion, but the annihilation of a religion, albeit a slow annihilation, and, to this day, not a complete annihilation (which might be evidence of the psychological vitality of the Christian myth). Christ: the Logos, the Word of God, the Truth made Flesh—Christ is what killed God.
The resurrection of Christ is not the resurrection of the flesh, but the resurrection of the spirit. Christ as spirit—Christ as the spirit of the Logos—paradoxically could only be kept alive by the Death of Christ as flesh, or by the Death of God by science and the Enlightenment. And now, this concept of the Spirit, decoupled from God as flesh and God as Divine Authority, lives on with us as the Logos, or rational thought and truthful speech.
Just as God died because of what Christianity valued most highly—the Logos, or the Truth—Tom, the analogue of God, died because of what he valued most highly, the lighthouse, or the Divine Self. It was Ephraim, the analogue of Christ, who killed Tom and sacrificed himself for the betterment of society. Just as Christ was the Logos, or Truth, made flesh, and it was Truth which murdered God; Ephraim was the Self, or Individuality, made flesh, and it was Individuality which murdered Society.
Just as Christ saved society and saved God by killing both society and God with Truth, Ephraim saves society and saves the fire of Individuality by killing Tom and both murdering and sacrificing himself to society with Individualism. In both stories, the murders are in fact suicides. God the Father, the manifestation of society and the Super-Ego, the manifestation of the crowds at Judaea, sends Christ as a sacrifice to die at the cross, and, in doing so, sends himself to die at the cross. Christ, the manifestation of the Logos, kills God, thus killing himself. Ephraim’s real name is Thomas. This means that Thomas killed Tom, and, in doing so, Tommy essentially sacrificed himself.
Just as Catholics consume the body and blood of Christ, an act of ingesting the divine Logos, the seagulls now consume the body and blood of Ephraim, an act of ingesting the divine Self. Christ will become resurrected as the Holy Spirit, the dove, and Ephraim will be resurrected as the soul of a dead sailor, a seagull.
Wolves, ravens, dragons and rabbits, eyes in the dark,
beasts in the deep and blood on a baseball bat: the citizens and denizens of
Evlampia’s art form a story of mystique and nostalgia, of fear and tenderness, of
survival and belonging, and of making the most of life in the madness of a
There’s no strict mythos to her corpus of art, but
Evlampia’s work contains many overarching themes, communicated by many
recurring or similar symbols from wordless thoughts and echoes of dreams. While
Evlampia uses her art to reflect the reality we walk around in every day, it
maintains an arms-length distance as well, just how the night is a shrouded
reflection of day, and dreams an irrational reflection of waking perceptions
“Ginger Dragon Bones is tender cruelty. This is what we can
see every day and do not notice. This is what everyone feels at least once.”
Evlampia is a Russian artist who creates primarily black and
white art, which often borders on morbid and surreal. Her work is drawn from emotions
of old memories, feelings from our experiences, and the thoughts and
perceptions in our heads we can’t quite describe with words. Using a wide array
of symbols, and a unique style that boarders on macabre and dream-like,
Evlampia’s pieces capture those inexplicable emotions, ideas and perceptions,
and the stories that surround them.
X: “Could you tell me a bit about yourself?”
E: “I have 3 cats and a dog. I love animals and wildlife. I
wouldn’t limit myself having 4 pets if I could.
I don’t like people, fish, and liver.
I love coffee and ginger.
I am happy.
Perhaps this is the most accurate description of me.”
X: “What are some of your inspirations for ideas? Any
artists you particularly like? Any music that inspires you? Any books, or
movies, or anything like that?”
E: “You know how it is. You’re talking to someone and some
of their words stick to your mind. Words are lacking the shape, picture of
their description. They are lacking emotion. So you’re only able to draw it.
“I don’t use other artists works as an inspirational source.
They have their background, I have my own.
“The same with music. The same song can cause different
emotions when placed in different contexts. Our inspiration lives in our brain,
not movies, books, music, and other creators.”
X: “What are some other things that interest you outside of
E: “Nothing. Anyhow, things that interest me related to art.
I take pictures, prefer reportage photography. I read various literature:
Pelevin, Gaiman, A. D. Foster, Castaneda, Tatyana Tolstaya, Lyudmila
“I prefer blues, rock, and classical music. Make tattoos,
get tattoos. I attend live music shows of my friends and other musicians.”
Evlampia’s style incorporates heavy shadows and solid black
fill, a variety of shading—though in particular she uses a mix of hatching and
stippling—and often uses a dripping, oily or bloody effect in her art. Though
much of her art is black and white, several of her pieces include other colors,
particularly red. Many of her pieces incorporate surrealism, whether it’s the
depiction of some nighttime horror, or of an otherworldly creature, while
others delve into the controlled chaos of abstraction.
X: “How did you get started?”
E: “How does everyone start? Draw circles and stars on
notebook margins. Then your drawing spreads beyond the margin lines. Takes up
the entire sheet then. They draw on school desks, then someone tells them that
they are good at it: ‘Go ahead!’. I never had any of that. No one said
anything. The only comment was from the art teacher when I was 11: ‘Don’t draw
these torn lines.’
So, I started to draw on margins, notebooks, school desks,
asphalt. Then came A4 paper, A3, A2, the walls.”
X: “How did you develop your style?”
E: “It’s still developing, from picture to picture, from
detail to detail. I add color to some of my works, or lines which are new for
my technics. My style does not stand still. It constantly evolves, absorbing
X: “Where do you come up with these almost nightmarish
E: “From my life. From my head. I’m looking for inspiration
in what’s happening around me and my friends. What happens to the world formed
into ideas for my works. I think if I had dreams, they’d be like this. I don’t
think they look like nightmares. Conversely, many of them nice and innocent.”
Throughout her artwork, Evlampia uses a host of imagery,
with a common thread of skulls, bones, nocturnal settings, and magical symbols.
Several of her pieces are somewhat gruesome and dark, but many of them maintain
a nostalgic or childish quality to them, while others are more fantastic and
dream-like. A common theme in Evlampia’s work involves what seems to be a
father-daughter pair (or perhaps older brother, younger sister, or something
The pieces pertaining to this father-daughter pair, or an
analogous pair, seem to involve the vanquishing of monsters, and the protection
and mentoring of youth. It also seems to involve the relationship of different
generations; the good and the bad of that relationship: the kindness and the
playfulness, the protective and the stern. Both figures in the pair wear skull
masks, which give them a sinister appearance.
However, these are only masks, perhaps worn to appear as
frightening as the monsters around them, and, despite their appearance, there’s
a deeply human bond between the two. The art that portrays them feels like a portrayal
of everyday life—the joys, boredoms, fears and loves, and all the in-betweens.
The occult or magical symbols that Evlampia uses giver her
work a sense of uncanny mystery, making her artwork seem more esoteric and
foreboding. However, despite the typical stigmas or preconceptions of such
symbols, and the sort of mainstream ideas we have of magic or the occult,
Evlampia uses these symbols in a more personal way to further develop the sense
of emotions from moments of our past.
X: “I also noticed you include a fair bit of occult, magic,
and alchemical imagery, as well as astrological or celestial imagery. What is
the importance of this sort of imagery in your art? What is the importance of
occult practices and astrology in your own life?”
E: “For me it is impossible to depict emotions and feelings
without resorting to this imagery. They will look vulgar and not authentic. By
adding something different, I give the opportunity to tell and compose stories
of these emotions: ‘Look how I feel. Feel what I’m seeing.’
But real life is real life. These magic images have no
significance in my own. None at all.”
In Evlampia’s works, I also sensed a deep connection with
the natural world, though this connection is often tempered with imagery of the
modern, industrial world. Throughout much of Evlampia’s work, there are
animals, or animalistic chimera-creatures, and natural, plant-filled settings.
In several of the pieces with the father-daughter pair, the foreground is
grassy or rocky, often with a tree, with a distant city in the background.
In this piece, the “setting” could be in the woods, or in
some other natural environment, and has a tree reaching to the black moon at
the center of the piece.
Along the inside of the circle are various images, symbols
and objects, including a person sitting in a swing among the clouds, a person
laying on the ground, gazing up at the sky, and a hand emerging from a pile of
pills, holding one of them between their fingers. Among the stars in the sky,
there’s a hot air balloon and a space probe.
At the top of the circle, someone is hanging from a noose.
They look like they could be standing on the tree, or falling into the dark
moon at the center of the circle. Maybe they would fall into space—maybe they want
to fall into space—but they’re held down to earth by a rope around their neck.
Try as I might to analyze Evlampia’s work, much of it
remains ambiguous. When I asked Evlampia about what some of her pieces might
mean, or how they relate to her view of the world, she opted to maintain this
E: “My works are the sound at the moment when you heard it.
I caught a moment, an emotion, a touch, a look, a memory and put on paper what
has emerged in my consciousness. I don’t overlap my images over the world. It
would be a lie, a distortion of reality.”
E: “My pieces have no names. Like I said, my works for me as
my feelings applied to paper. So I never gave a name to my works. For me it is
redundant. I also don’t really like to talk about the meaning of my works. I’ve
noticed that many authors who give a special meaning to their works, they turn
out to be those who have nothing to say on closer examination. Well, this is
just my observation. I wouldn’t want to be among them. Imagine that the artist
died. Give the meaning to my works on your own. Or don’t. Or you can just
follow me on Instagram to like my pictures along with your friends’ pets. I
Bearing in mind the source of inspiration for much of
Evlampia’s work—from the moments of emotions and feelings we have from memories
and experiences—words might not be able to describe the meanings of her work.
How do you describe the meaning of something that emerges from a deeper place
in the psyche than language and articulation?
X: “Why do you enjoy making art?”
E: “It’s sublimation. It’s meditation. It’s discovering the
world, or rather worlds into myself. It’s opening myself up to the world. I
show what’s inside me and the way I feel the world. It’s the way to stop time
or kill it. When I’m drawing it captures me. I put my feelings and experiences
on paper. When I look at my old drawing, I remember what I exactly felt at that
moment. For me it’s important. My works for me are like magic lantern slides
with my conditions on them.”
X: “Does your personality match the style and tone of your
E: “Yes, totally. I think I must explain. Everyone sees what
they want to see. Someone sees nightmares, fear, and horror. Someone sees
tenderness and innocence. I feel that the mood of my art precisely represents
Art in a lot of ways is like a Rorschach test—an inkblot. Whatever
rests in your unconsciousness—whatever demons and angels of psychological
patterns reside there—get projected onto the visual patterns you see in art.
In addition to her pen-and-paint-and-paper art, Evlampia
works as a tattoo artist. Here, her personal art style blends into her
X: “I noticed you do tattoo work. How did you get started in
that? What sort of tattoo-work do you normally do? How much of your personal
style emerges in your tattoos?”
E: “Since childhood I dreamed of tattooed sleeves. Over
time, I fulfilled my dream.
“At some point, I thought, why not me? I can do it too. I’ve
been putting it off for a long time. Close friends pushed me out of my box so I
started with a good helping kick.
“Regarding my style, I would say that 90 percent of my
tattoo works consist of it.”
Though Evlampia’s style is unique, with her own brand of
symbols, imagery and combinations of techniques, what really defines her work
is how personal it is to her. Her art emerges from a deeper place, and
expresses ideas that might not be possible to express otherwise. Who she is
bleeds out onto paper, and seals itself into the skin of people she tattoos.
Though her and her artwork’s ambiguity might not immediately
reveal a cut-and-paste definition of their meaning, that same ambiguity
preserves the memories and feelings they come from. Articulating their meaning
with words might detract or alter their original form, and might detract or
alter what the observer sees when they look at Evlampia’s artwork. Instead, they
remain free to be what they are in Evlampia’s mind, and free to be what they
are in our own minds.
X: “Lastly, what is your favorite piece of art, or favorite
pieces? And why?”
E: “I don’t have any favorite pieces. Every one of them is a
part of me.”
If you want to see more of Evlampia’s artwork, you can find her on Instagram @ginger_dragon_bones. The artwork in this article only barely scratches the surface of what she’s made. If you live in Russia, or find yourself visiting Russia, and you want one of Evlampia’s signature tattoos, you can message her on Instagram to set up an appointment.
Pierre Lucero is an artist from Aurora, IL, who creates wild explosions of colorful imagery with marker and pen. Each of his pieces showcase a command of color theory and detailed linework, while also displaying insane supernovas of psychedelic visuals. With artwork that spans across a vast multitude of subjects, and near-infinite variations of his style, it’s difficult to know where to begin with Lucero’s art.
For each piece of art, Lucero seems to open a small bottle of inky chaos, then pours the contents of that bottle over a blank sheet of paper, until all the irrational contents of a dozen dreams and a dozen nightmares cover the page. Many of Lucero’s pieces show a storm of multicolored guts and flames, and fluids and brains, all radiating from some insane epicenter. In some pieces, the images converge at the center onto an eye, or a mouth, a skull, or an alien head. Other pieces have more concrete images or designs, while others portray landscapes, creatures, or people. Many pieces are just nightmares emerging from fever dreams, with no primary subject or object to focus on.
Then there are pieces like “Spongebub”, where Lucero takes everyone’s favorite sea sponge, and transforms him into a tornado of texture, objects and imagery.
“A tribute to one of my favorite cartoon characters growing
up as a child, “Spongebub” is a psychedelic doodlebob originating from none
other than Nickelodeon’s classic SpongeBob. I incorporated transparencies as
the arms flailing throughout the piece, since I didn’t know exactly what to do
with them from the start. The effect is achieved by not adding any line work
inside the shape, but still coloring it in as it would be, then outlining it
with white highlight. Maybe I’ll return to this little series with a Patrick.”
Much of Lucero’s art is seemingly pulled straight from the
ether, with only a small thread of reality being cast into a gulf of
imagination, where some irrational leviathan is caught and hauled onto Lucero’s
blank bristol. On “Bloomer”, Lucero had this to say:
“This piece means a lot to me in terms of the direction I
try to achieve in my artwork. An obvious centerpiece filled with an explosion
of random objects protruding outwards. I made it in the summer of 2016. The
idea was given to me by my girlfriend when we took a photo together, and I had
put a flower over my eye. The bottom pyramid piece was made to poke at the
Illuminati joke I always get from people, claiming that my art is so good I
must have sold my soul to get to where I’m at. Or maybe I actually did sell my
soul at one point, who knows.”
A few glances at his work, and it’s not difficult to believe
Lucero’s ideas might come from some sultan of a yawning, artistic void.
Yet, calling Lucero’s work pure chaos, or chalking it up to
infernal intervention, would not do it justice, as each piece is a feat of
time, effort and creativity. Lucero’s artwork is meticulously detailed and
colored—with Lucero pulling infrequent all-nighters to finish various
pieces—yet much of his artwork comes from spontaneous imaginings, rather than
“I’m still unsure where my ideas come from… …Very often do I
have any idea what I’m actually going to create next. It’s always a blank sheet
and continuously caking things on that I think would look unique bunched up
On his piece, “Broken”, Lucero said:
“This is another random drawing that probably has no real
meaning, just solely for the purpose of looking weird. Repeating hands didn’t
become a thing in my artwork until 2018, and I’ve been addicted to incorporating
them ever since. This also makes me more interested in animation. I think this
piece also is a good example of how bright and vivid my work can look when
there is no limitations. We may be finite physically, but our imagination is
Lucero typically utilizes graphite, copic markers, and ink,
though he also uses watercolor and acrylic in some of his work. His pieces
typically begin with a small idea drawn with graphite, and then another small
idea, and then, perhaps, another, until a pile of ideas are laid out across a
formerly blank sheet of paper. From there, Lucero goes over his initial drawing
with a size 1 micron (if he hasn’t already been going over them), and then goes
over everything with thicker microns and fills in any black space. Lucero then
begins with the base colors of the image (almost always starting with any hands
or mouths), before filling in the entire image with color. To finish each piece
off, Lucero shades all the images, goes over them with different shades of
gray, and finally adds highlights to the piece.
Though many of his pieces are wildly ambiguous, and filled
at times with seemingly arbitrary images, much of Lucero’s art coalesces into
themes present in all our lives.
For “Caterpillar”, Lucero said:
“I created this piece with the thought of insect evolution
and how far it may go. Exaggerated for dynamic effects in the art piece alone,
but the idea remains. I’ve always wondered if certain animals or insects would
follow the same evolution path as humans did. Will any species’ make it past a
point where their ancestors branch out a different route and become as highly
intelligent as humans are? Extinction plays a big factor in this question,
seeing as every living creature’s goal is survival, so what is the pinnacle of
intelligence and are humans #1 when it is all said and done.”
In “Caterpillar”, we see a tangled mass of multicolored
brain matter (presumably) in the bottom right corner, and arms reaching from the
same corner. Then, swerving across the page, we see a series of images, all eventually
converging into a caterpillar head. It begins with octopus tentacles and a
butterfly, then morphs into a strange face, then a demon-like head, mouths,
skulls, fluids, hands, eyes, and a pharaoh’s mask. The last leg of “Caterpillar”
is a flaming head, roses, a variety of ribbons, colorful spheres, a burning
animal head, and finally the caterpillar head.
Lucero demonstrates a sort of evolutionary shift from one
image to the next—from a brain, to tentacles and a butterfly, to peace signs
and angry, gaping mouths, to a caterpillar. It shows the movement of evolution
as one continuous thread, the movement of states of being across thousands of
generations of existence, and ends with an insect that naturally shifts and
metamorphoses across time.
Just how the caterpillar evolved across time to become
something which metamorphoses throughout its life, humans are a creature who’ve
evolved across millions of years to become what we are now—a creature with the
capacity to metamorphose itself. And yet, it’s possible something else may take
our place at the top of the food chain. Reality is not static, it is dynamic
and ever-changing, and the lives we all know and believe to be firm may one day
fall out from beneath our feet.
“This drawing was made after the election of Trump. The idea
of mass destruction and nuclear weapons didn’t become a reality until that for
me. Although I’d rather not be right about the situation, the idea of it will
always be there. Its crazy to think how many nuclear weapons are already made
and ready to detonate, I find it highly, highly unlikely that nothing will ever
be set off again. But I also fear that in this modern are, it’ll be the last
time they do, when they do.”
“Fallout” depicts a skeleton flying through the air, filled
with multicolored organs of some sort. Though this presumably depicts the physical
effects of a nuclear war, I wonder also if this depicts the psychological
effects of the threat of nuclear war.
Since 2016, how many of us worldwide have been affected by the political and
cultural shifts we’ve seen? How many of us still regard life in the same way?
How many of us—right or left or center—have walked away from the 2016 elections
unchanged? How many of us have returned unharmed and unmutated by the bombs
that were so carelessly dropped—from the left, right, and center—and how many
of us have escaped the fallout that remains today?
And, for “Mankind”, Lucero says:
“Sometimes I wish I could see the linear timeline for the
human race. What will eventually make us extinct? Future
discoveries/inventions, wars not yet had, evolutionary traits, space
exploration/alien contact, and so on. I wonder how different the year 2019 will
be from the year 14780—if we’d be living far more advanced lives, if we’d nuke ourselves
back to the stoneage, or maybe we’d colonize another planet by then.”
“Mankind” is a head melting away from some internal
explosion of information and chaos. It almost harkens back to “Caterpillar” and
“Fallout”, and depicts our minds as we grapple with life. We see the good in
here, we see the bad in here—creativity and progress, spaceships and confetti, and
gnashing mouths, barbed-wire fence and melting brain matter. We see the future,
and the progress of mankind. We see extinction, and we see lost civilization.
And we see us, staring out at the world from a ruined head, wondering what we’re
looking at (though we can’t seem to turn our eyes around and gaze at the realities
in our heads).
However, try as I might, Lucero’s art isn’t intended to have
one, specific meaning. Some of his artwork isn’t intended to have any specific
meaning, other than what we see when we look at it.
“People are free to think about whatever they’d like when
they look at my art. I hope people can take away more than the usual “I wonder
how long this took him!” Not saying that’s a bad thing, but its often what
people are left wondering with. I believe there’s so much more in each piece of
mine that makes it hard for people not to take away something. Some objects in
my work, or entire pieces, might correspond differently to different people and
vice versa. I only hope people are left inspired to create something themselves
after viewing one of my pieces. Not only that, but to view composition and
contrast differently, being able to alter reality through a piece of paper on
canvas holds tremendous power.”
This last piece, “Blue”, seems to show everything that makes
Lucero’s art his own. It’s an amorphous, tumbling and roiling glob of texture,
images, objects, and forms. We see a skull at its epicenter, and Lucero’s somewhat-signature
mouths and hands. We see chains and spires and eyes and signs and organs and
fluids and tendrils and limbs and stars, and even a fetus near the center,
still in the placenta.
And this is the art of Pierre Lucero. It’s wild, it’s
chaotic. It’s amorphous and ambiguous. It’s mildly insane, but it also come
from much discipline and practice. It comes from hours upon hours, multiplied
across days, across months, across years, and the result is a portfolio of
incredibly detailed and fascinating images. Do they all have a purpose and
meaning? Perhaps not, but they’re all capable of eliciting some deeper,
internal response upon seeing them, which makes you wonder, “Where do these ideas
Pierre Lucero has been included in a number of expos and galleries, so, if you’re in his area, look him up, and try seeing his art in person if there are any shows he’s currently in. If you’d like to buy any stickers, prints, pins, shirts, or original artwork of his, you can find his work here:
I told myself to keep my mind silent for three minutes, and then I could stop
meditating for the day. Just three minutes of silence. Then, I quieted my mind.
I listened to my breathing. I felt my body sitting against the ground beneath
me. I listened to the groans of all my subtle aches and pains. I let my
emotions drift through my mind, and noticed how anxious and frustrated I was.
Then I imagined it all dissolving, and that I was alone with my consciousness.
I was alone.
And I was quiet. And I was at peace.
And I remembered
deciding to start meditation after the editor-and-chief of our small-time newspaper
emailed me. It was something along the lines of, “Angela, I’m sending this as a
warning in advance. You’ve done great here for the last few years, but you’re
starting to fall apart a little. What’s going on? You’ve had three weeks of poor
decision after poor decision. I don’t want to call you in–I don’t want this to
become a ‘thing’—but I’ll have to if this keeps up.”
How do you
respond to that? How do you deal with that? What do you do after that? I guess
you get better, somehow—obviously—but what do you do to get better? I didn’t even
know I’d been making “poor decision after poor decision”, no one had told me!
And I have to
let go of that for right now.
Return to being
alone, and imagining myself dissolving.
I imagined that
I was sitting with the silence, as a sort of friend and companion. I breathed
in all my worries, where they filtered through my lungs like tarry particulates…
Then breathed out
all the worries, retaining only peace and goodness…
in all the worries…
Then a stray
thought entered my mind.
trivial—something about a YouTube video I‘d watched the other day.
Well, I guess
it was more the memory of the video popping up in my head, not so much the
thought of the video. I could hear the two girls in the video talking in my
head, then laughing. I think it was about Yoga?
Yoga would be
good today—Yoga and meditation. And museli and dates—Ah! What a day that’d be… …but
the carbs. Oh, the carbs! What if I slowly gain more and more weight eating
more and more carbs? But museli and dates, those have good carbs, right? Fiber
and whole grains, and good sugar. Is there such a thing as good sugar? As good
matter. We’ll think about it later.
Breathe in… my
lungs expand with a windy whooshing sound…
Quiet the mind.
with a groaning relief of pressure.
the anxieties, the troubles…
peace and goodness…
yourself back to a state of calm and quiet.
My dog. I
forgot to feed my dog this morning.
Shit, that’s an
important one. I need to do that this morning before for work. I should do that
sooner than later, before I forget. I almost started standing up to go feed my
dog, but then I remembered, and sat back down. In and out. In and out.
In and out.
I had listened
to a podcast once, with the host and his guest talking for almost half an hour
on how hard it is to get into meditation. They said for a while it’d be tough,
but then you get to some sort of breakthrough, or you notice it getting easier,
or you work out your own routine or technique or whatever—something personalized
that works just for you. I wonder what’s not working for me? Because I keep
getting distracted. I’d been sitting still for seventeen minutes, and I
probably couldn’t keep my mind silent for more than thirty seconds. Seventeen
minutes after I started meditating, I realized I’d wasted seventeen minutes,
gained nothing, and had three minutes left to be “productive”.
meditation because I’d been having a slew of issues. I guess the tipping point
was work, but really it was everything—it was a life riddled with problems like
worms in an overripe apple. It was not
being able to sit still at work. It was not being able to focus while I wrote.
It was acting anxiously around co-workers. It was making impulse-buys at the
grocery store. It was getting on my phone at all hours of the day. It was—
It was my
wind-up alarm going off. Three minutes was over. That was that.
I sighed… Then…
I sort of gave up for the day and stood up.
Before I leave,
I’ll grab some food, maybe start listening to a podcast, and—oh! My dog! I
still need to feed my dog. I hope he still has food left—he should, I bought
some not too long ago (right? Didn’t I?). But I need to go to the grocery store
anyway, I was almost out of milk, so I could grab some more then. Ooh, and
after work today, maybe I could…
I opened the
didn’t come on, no Freon-infused air came out, and there was no sound of
After a moment
of hesitation, I closed the door. I walked around to the back of the
refrigerator, and it was still plugged in. Huh.
I turned and looked
at the microwave. There was no time on the microwave. There was no time on the
oven either. Something had happened to the power, I suppose, but I wasn’t too
worried. I figured I’d go check the breakers downstairs. My cellphone was
laying on the kitchen counter, and I grabbed it before I began walking to my
Along the way,
I thought I’d check the time, maybe see if I got any Facebook notifications,
see if anyone I subscribed to on YouTube posted something neat. But, my phone
wouldn’t turn on. Strange. I thought I charged it overnight. It should be
radiating with life right now. Maybe it was just turned off?
I held down the
power button down. And I held it down. And I held it down. And I stopped at the
doors to my basement. My phone wasn’t turning on. My heart dropped, but I
consoled myself—I can just…
I can’t charge
it. My power is gone. And I can’t go into the basement now, my only flashlight
is on my phone.
through my body. I tried to calm myself down, tell myself how silly I was, but
it didn’t help. I even felt like I might start panicking. What the fuck do I do
now? My car! My car has a USB port. I’ll just turn my car on, plug my phone in,
let it charge long enough that I can use the flashlight and check the breakers,
then call someone and head to work. I walked back through my house, into my
living room, grabbed a USB charging cable, my keys, and walked out the front
door to my car.
When I pressed
the button to unlock my car, nothing happened. I pressed it again, now coming
to next to the car, and nothing happened. I put my key into the door lock and turned
it. The door unlocked. I sat down in my car, put the key in the ignition, and
turned the key. Nothing. Nothing happened. My heart skipped a beat. I told
myself that nothing bad was happening, that this situation would sort of
magically fix itself
I turned my key
again. The situation wasn’t magically fixed.
I kept turning
my key and turning my key, but the car refused to turn on. Finally, I reached
down and pulled the little lever to pop the hood, then got out of the car and
walked around to look under the hood. I knew next to nothing about cars, but
upon first inspection everything seemed fine. I checked the battery terminals,
and they seemed to be on pretty tight. I looked around at all the various
parts, but I didn’t know what to look for. It seemed fine. That’s the best that
I could say.
panicking, I closed the hood. I tried not to worry. I tried not to begin stressing.
I tried not to freak out and have an anxiety attack. I told myself it was silly
to do a thing like that—I’m an adult, a modern adult, and I don’t have anything
to worry about—but I couldn’t console myself. Then, from the edge of my
peripheral vision, I saw them all. I looked up.
My house is at
the very end of a cul-de-sac in a nice, suburban neighborhood. My street—my
cul-de-sac—is pretty long. There’s quite a few houses on it, with quite a bit
of distance between all of them. From where I live, I can see all the houses on
my street without having to turn my head. From where I stood now, I saw people
from at least half of the houses standing on their front yards, their driveways,
and on the street.
It might be an
overstatement to say my jaw dropped, but it was ajar when I regained any sort
of self-awareness. The sight of all these people frightened me. From where I
was, they all looked as dazed as I was. I almost didn’t want to approach them,
as if doing so might be an admission some dark, unknown truth pressing against
me at that moment. Terror—actual terror—crept through me. Something was going
on, and I didn’t know what—andmy car
wouldn’t turn on, and I had no power
in my home, and my phone was dead.
Then, a thought
occurred to me. Maybe they know what’s going on. Maybe they’ve got it figured
it out. Surely they’ll have the answer, and, besides, we’re all adults. We’re
all grown-ups here. We can help each other out. We’ll be alright.
people around the cul-de-sac, I saw a small cluster of five people, and I
recognized three of them. One of them, a guy named Paul, I knew rather well. Then
there was a couple, John and Mary—whom I had talked to a few times—and I
recognized the other two people- an older man and middle-aged woman who both
lived alone -but I didn’t know their names. I began walking over to them. I was
still anxious, but I knew there were other people dealing with all this—other
people who probably knew what was going on (whatever
was going on).
Paul noticed me
when I was about twenty yards away and began waving at me. I waved back, then
the rest of the group turned around and looked at me. Their faces told me they
shared my worries. When I was within twenty feet of them, Paul called out, “Do
you know what’s going on?”
I slowed for a
moment and almost stopped, then picked the pace up again to reach them. I shook
my head as I approached, then stopped about six feet away from their small knot.
“No,” I said, “I was hoping you all might know about… Whatever… Whatever seems
to be happening.”
We all looked
at each other for a few seconds, and, in the silence of that moment, everything
felt incredibly real and deceitfully fake at the same time. I broke the
silence, trying to get on the same page as everyone. “Is the power out at all
of your houses?”
almost painfully—almost tragically—they all nodded.
Wheels in my
head began to spin. “So, none of you know what’s going on at all?”
They all shook
“None you can
go anywhere unless you go on foot?”
their heads. “Or bike,” Paul added.
“And you can’t
get in contact… With anyone?”
they shook their heads.
Panic began to
creep into my nerves again. I felt cold and hot, and confused, and angry and
scared, and lost—like I didn’t know where I was anymore. “What… What the fuck?”
I said, “Why? Wha… What’s… What the hell?”
to fall out from beneath me. How could these other adults not know what was
going on? We were all well-educated grown-ups living in a nice, suburban neighborhood—how
could we not know what was going on?”
Paul spoke up,
“We were talking about walking into the city, seeing if we could find some cops
or something. Do you want to come with us?”
“I have to go
to work,” I said.
I hadn’t thought
about this. I panicked even more, thinking that I might miss work. “I don’t
know,” I said.
“So, come with
us,” said Paul, gently and cheerfully. I think he could tell I was stressing
out. I think they could all tell.
“But, I mean… I
have to go to work.”
“I think they’ll
understand,” said John, “especially if this is happening in the rest of the city.”
“Come with us,”
Paul spoke with a smile. “We’ll figure this out.”
I thought for a
moment, then slowly nodded.
“Yea,” I said,
We talked for a
little while—talked about where we might go, how we’ll get there, who we might
see, what might be going on—and then eventually set out for the city. This was
good. We were all adults, working together. We had a plan; we were going
somewhere with the purpose of… Of figuring out what was going on and finding…
Finding someone, anyone, who might know how to fix any of this… So that… So
that I could go to work, then go home, then watch YouTube videos about Yoga,
then set the alarm on my phone for 5 AM, and then go to sleep We were good.