An Allegory with Venus and Cupid: Unveiled

Written by Paige Hudson

October 22, 2020

The painting An Allegory with Venus and Cupid is an especially spicy piece, filled with hidden messages and drama that has left people contemplating the real meaning since its creation in 1545. It is layered in parables that have been questioned, theorized, and debated over the centuries. It is a work of art that holds symbolism prevalent throughout society and time.

Along with the formal analysis there will be personal and psychoanalytic point of view as well. In order to fully develop and elaborate on the potential of this painting, the article will be split into sections. Each figure is a parable in itself and will be most comprehensive in a subsection of their own. My effort here is to leave you with fundamental knowledge on this piece and to also wonder for yourself how it all ties in together and what you think it could mean.

Before diving into the analysis of this painting, there are some important details from the Mannerist era that went into shaping this piece.

Mannerism blossomed from the Renaissance somewhat rebelliously. This new movement broke the rules held carefully by renaissance artists. Instead of looking toward nature for inspiration, they turned toward art itself and past masterpieces.

The term ‘Mannerist’ comes from the first known art historian, Giorgio Lazatti Manierd (‘Manierd’ meaning ‘style’). This new style of painting presented figures from religion as well as mythology and held characteristics like twisted postures, ambiguous scales, distorted perspective and rich colors. All of these characteristics will be discussed along with deeper hidden messages and interpretations throughout the article.

Our master artist behind this painting is Agnolo di Cosimo, or more popularly known as Bronzino. He was thought to have been commissioned by Consimo I de’ Medici as a gift for King Francis I of France.

Visual Analysis

Each artwork veils its unique motifs through the formal elements of art. This painting in particular holds peculiarities within its colors, lighting, space, and composition.

The title alone has proved to be the first enigma of this piece because An Allegory with Venus and Cupid is not necessarilythe real title. It has also been titled Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time, as well as A Triumph of Venus. Thus, further adding mystery to the unconfirmed collection of visual allegories.

Not surprisingly, this is not the only secret behind the painting. In this part of the article I will break down the piece through its foundations in effort to unveil its truth and establish its structure.

Venus & Cupid

Upon first viewing this painting, the blatant eroticism between Cupid (young boy in the left foreground) and Venus (woman in center foreground) is evident. The scene tone shifts from romantic to uncomfortable when realizing this soft sexual pose is held by mother and son. They create this pose with Venus’ legs draped across the ground, framing the bottom of the piece, and her body upright. The positioning of her arms and body create a twisting motion. Cupid is sculpted around her, and with this, the two figures adopt the figura serpentinata pose that is classic for Mannerism style paintings. The two are highlighted with bright flush tones that contrast the Ultra Marine and Phalo blues of the background and the coldness of the other figures.

Venus is positioned as the central axis. She holds a golden apple from The Judgement of Paris in her left hand that confirms her identity for us. Cupid holds an awkward pose to pleasure Venus with one hand on her breast and the other holding her head, while also kissing her. If we look at the lower half of his body he is partially kneeling and almost kicking two doves away, this will be discussed more later on.

The two figures hold the first point of attention among many and are the forefront attention of this painting. Although Venus and Cupid are the center staple, Venus, by size comparison, is much larger than any other figure in the painting. This could be Bronzino’s way of using a hierarchal scale in his painting, showing that Venus is in control and therefore the most powerful.

Folly

To avoid this initial form of detached passion, or maybe to get a clearer answer for it, the eye travels to each of the other figures.

The little boy beside them is in movement as if to shower them in flower petals. His expression is joyous and unbothered by the many things going on behind him—as well as the thorn piercing his right foot.

I would also like to note the lighting in this painting, along with the layered bodies, there is a definition of shadow that adds depth and mystery to the underlying figures. The longer you look at it, the more chaotic things become.

Deceit/ Fraud

Behind the young boy is a girl in a green dress. She seems calm and emotionless but looking a bit closer we see her body tells a much different story. Under her gown she has the body of a serpent, the legs of a lion, and the tail of a scorpion. Her right hand holds a honeycomb while her left hand twists in a strange position to hold the stinger at the end of her tail. Below these two figures is a pile of masks that will be theorized later on.

Father Time

Above these two figures is a bearded man who we can assume to be Father Time or, Chronos, due to the hourglass hidden behind him. His skin is more vibrant with color which makes him look more human-like but his highlighted wing reinforces his godly status. We can also see that his grey beard and baldness shows age, therefore reinforcing Time, but his skin and muscle show youth.

His right arm frames the top half of the painting while his hand is bent backwards. This suggests that he is either holding up the blue sheet or trying to tear it down. It is difficult to decipher the meaning of the movement. This detail will become important in later discussion.

Oblivion

The person, or illusion of a person, in the top left corner has a mixed look of surprise and possibly disgust by Father Time’s actions. This character has been given the name of Oblivion by past art historians which will be analyzed later on, for the sake of convenience I will refer to it by its name. Oblivion’s head is only partial, with the back half missing, much like a head that was cracked open, or a mask attached to a body. The position of the hands show Oblivion is clearly holding up the blue sheet.

Jealousy

The screaming woman is likely the most debated over because she seems out of place compared to the coolness of the rest of the painting. Although it seems she is hidden, she is impossible to miss. Her colors are dull in comparison to the rest of the figures skin tones. She is the epitome of suffering. She faces away from the carnal scene in a world of her own.

What does it all mean?

Venus & Cupid

Venus and Cupid are a dichotomic representation of female and male sexuality. Another name for this is man vs. nature. I.e mother nature, chaos, and divine feminine vs. humanity, order, and divine masculine. The two are in a constant opposition, which requires balance to maintain stability. This reflection of balanced primordial energy has many names and comes in many forms throughout the expansion of life.

Female and male energy are like yin and yang. Female energy is loving, caring, and cyclic like a circle. The male energy is aloof but direct, like a straight line (phallic). Together these form a spiral, similar to the figura serpentinata (spiral) pose that Venus and Cupid create in the painting.

Venus’s facial expression is relaxed, nearly lazy in passion and her lips are slightly parted. Even though she is entangled with Cupid she does not seem to be completely focused on this affair. I believe this is because in her right hand she is taking Cupid’s arrow from its sheath as if to disarm him. Cupid seems too entranced with Venus to notice or even care that she is doing this. This could be viewed as an analogy of man vs nature.

Man becomes pleasure-obsessed, as Cupid is with Venus, which can make people become ignorant or naïve of nature and cause them take advantage of what they are given, i.e Cupid’s arrow. That is, until something happens that reminds humanity (Cupid) that we are defenseless against Mother Nature (Venus). This constant balance of order in a chaotic world is necessary for our survival, but when we become power hungry, we will be put into check by the powers that be.

Contrasting this is the pinkness in her and Cupid’s ears and cheeks. Blushing is an involuntary psychological response to a few different things, including romantic stimulation. The positioning of her hand tells one story while her body and face tell another.

Doves

In the bottom left corner are two doves, one is almost completely hidden. Historically, this bird is a symbol for innocent love and the divine. It is difficult to decipher whether they are included in this painting to be exclusively symbolic, or to show that Cupid is pushing them away.

If Bronzino painted them in to represent the purity and divinity of the two, it could mean that this affair is normal and common among gods, and that they really do love each other. However, if it is the latter, it represents the opposite. It would show us that this rendezvous is not of purity. It is not godly. It is not moral, and Cupid is trying to hide that.

Folly

Moving on to the right-hand figures, the young boy has been thought to represent Folly by previous art historians. He is so caught up in the passion between lovers that he is indifferent to the thorn piercing through his right foot. He does not register the pain because his mind is engrossed in excitement and pleasure by watching them.

I believe this is a connection to man vs. self. Once a person becomes overtly obsessed with their own pleasures, they become gluttonous. They no longer are filtering their actions through morals but justifying it through satisfaction. It seems, at the peak of this obsession, the person is no longer aware of themselves. They give up themselves and their power to attain something else, whether that be a feeling, person, or thing. The thorn in this situation could be an expression of morality, the one thing consistently grounding people in their humanity.

Deceit

The young girl carries a slew of meaning on her own and has been named Deceit/ Fraud. She portrays innocence in her youthful face but hides a mutated body of three combined animals. The first is the serpent. Snakes have held many forms of meaning throughout time but specifically for this painting it is seen as fraudulence or deception, as well as wisdom. She is cunning and holds truths unknown to others.

Then she has the legs of a lion or otherwise strong animal, powerful and ruling. And finally, the tail or a scorpion, venomous and therefore dangerous. The girl is a hidden figure, but she symbolizes the truth behind Mother Nature. She is beautiful and full of life, objectively innocent upon first look, but a bit closer and we see she is wicked and unexpecting with great power.

A honeycomb in her right hand is an emblematic form of temptation. In her left hand she holds the stinger of her tail. It is turned away from the viewer in effort to partially hide it. Between both hands she holds ambidextrous power. You can have the sweetness of the honeycomb, but it comes with the price of her venom. Just as we accept the fruit and harvest that nature provides, we also have to deal with the powerful misfortunes that can be laid upon us at any moment.

Additionally, the foot that is pierced with the thorn (of the boy) is encircled by the girls’ venomous tail. This connects back to the root human nature, the side of us that is entrapped in the threshold of chaotic feminine, a direct line to our animalistic tendencies. This is why his facial expression does not align with his suffering, because it is masked by appetence and consummated by mania.

The girl is in shadow because when people encounter deceit in their lives, it is usually hidden behind something or someone they were too trusting, hopeful, obsessed or infatuated with. Folly could be any one of us at some point in our lives with someone or something. Failing to objectively consider all sides of a situation could easily let us fall victim to deceit or fraud. When unguarded by the possibility of pleasure in some form, humans fail to see an important truth or possibility.

Dante’s Inferno Connection

An interesting connection is the resemblance between Bronzino’s and Dante’s personification of “Fraud.” Dante named his character “Geryon”, who resided at the eighth circle of Hell (Fraud.) He seems to resemble a dragon overall, but Geryon had the face of an innocent and happy man, the paws of a lion, the body of a wyvern, and the tail of a scorpion.  The girl in An Allegory with Venus and Cupid seems to be a reference to Dante’s Inferno.

Father Time

To the top right of the piece we see Father Time. The positioning of his hands, after much consideration, left me to believe that he is trying to hold up the sheet instead of taking it down. This is because his left hand is holding onto the fabric and the sheet is draped over his right hand.

If Bronzino wanted Father Time to give the appearance of tearing it down, I would like to think his hands would be gripping the sheet, rather than holding it up. His expression seems concerned with the figure to the far left, as if not sure if they will also continue holding it up or maybe out of concern for the situation taking place in front of them. Father Time is helping cover the truth.

Oblivion

So who is the other figure hiding this lewd affair? They have never been given a confirmed identity. However, we assume this to be Oblivion for the following reasons. In Greek mythology, he is known as Lethe. The word ‘lethe’ means forgetfulness/oblivion/concealment. This is also related to the Greek word aletheia, which means ‘truth’.

With these things in mind it would make sense why Bronzino chose Oblivion to be in opposition of Father Time. Time is holding up the fabric, trying to hide the erotic scene, and is shooting a worried look towards Oblivion in fear of him uncovering the truth. Oblivion holds a shocked expression with vacant, empty eyes. His head is partially broken and missing, this is an allusion to his names true meaning, “forgetfulness.” He is also helping to conceal the love affair taking place.

Jealousy

Last but not least is the figure with the greatest mystique. The woman (or thought to be woman) hidden behind the couple. She pulls her damp hair with clenched hands and screams in agony. The tones of her skin portray sickliness. At a closer look, the fingers are red and swollen, the gums are toothless, and there is pain reflected in her expression. These are all symptoms of syphilitic alopecia. This one figure is what lead theorists to believe that this painting was actually meant to portray the various signs of syphilis. The toothless gums are also an indication of mercury poisoning, which was common in Renaissance times for trying to provide therapy for syphilis.

Syphilis Theory

An Allegory with Cupid and Venus was created fifty years after the discovery of syphilis. It spread throughout Europe and caused a widespread panic as the “new plague” and venereal disease. This woman figure solemnly convinced people that the true meaning of this painting was that “unchaste love comes with great consequence.” This theory could be elaborated, but I do not believe it to fully justify the deeper and hidden messages given to us by Bronzino.

Another theory, one I agree with, is that this woman is Jealousy. She is suffering in undeniable agony and holding her head. Jealousy is an ugly feeling, especially when acted upon and she was meant to portray that emotion. She was not meant to be pretty or even likeable, especially among all the other attractive characters in this painting.

She is holding her head because jealousy is essentially a mix of intrusive thoughts, anxiety, and insecurity. The woman is letting jealousy take over and losing herself in the process. She is perfectly placed behind the two figures and in shadow because she is an afterthought in her own mind, and therefore is painted that way.

Psychoanalysis

The psychoanalytic side of this piece encourages us to break our minds open even further and work ourselves into the depths of this piece.

Eroticism between mother and son is, in Freudian terms, the Oedipus complex. This complex occurs during the phallic stage of psychosexual development (between 3-6 years of age (keep this in mind when looking at Cupid’s face)). The Oedipus complex is when a young boy becomes sexually attracted to his mother and apprehensive toward his father. There has been much debate over this theorized complex, but this painting portrays it well. Although this painting came long before the study of psychology, it is still relevant to it. If you find this interesting, I encourage you to do further research.

 The sexuality between young boy and mother is clear. There is emphasis of childlike features when looking at Cupid’s head, but his body is closer to that of a young adult. As we can see, Bronzino was an incredible artist and clearly understood anatomical proportion, so why would he paint Cupid this way?

 To show the love between mother and son at various stages of life, in my opinion. Young boys tend to be closer to their mother than anyone else in childhood (hence the complex) and here we see Cupid’s child-self kissing his mother. The young adult body shows a different situation, it is closer to the Genital stage in Freuds developmental chart. In this stage (puberty to adult) adolescents begin to become sexually experimental. This is evident with Cupid groping Venus’ breast.

Another idea deals with Venus taking Cupid’s arrow of love. This could mean a few things. The first is that even though mothers are (or supposed to be) loving and caring towards their children, they can also be the opposite. When we are young, we don’t understand why our mother might yell at us or treat us poorly. We don’t see her struggles or even realize that she is a real person with real emotions usually until we are well into adulthood.

Our mothers, especially for boys, can be the person who teaches us that love is a beautiful and necessary part of life, or can teach us that love is manipulation, guilt, abuse, or otherwise. In this painting we see the action taking place, but not the reaction. We don’t know what Venus is going to do with the arrow. We don’t know how Cupid will react when he realizes she has stolen it. And we don’t know how this situation as a whole will shape him into an adult.

The second explanation relates to man vs. nature, that although we have no choice but to trust and love her, hence, mother nature, she still carries the authority over us to rid us of any power or control we might think we have. Any plans (order in our lives) we have can be ruined at any moment, and when this happens, we slip into chaos. We slip back into the true identity of nature.

Masks

The other detail I would like to discuss are the masks below the boy. The masks represent the personas among people, and even gods. These items connect to Oblivion because he appears to have a mask as a face. The ambiguity of Oblivion is brilliant because it reinforces the idea that we only know what he is on the surface and keeps us guessing at who he might be. It would be ideal to think people are what they seem to be in our minds, but as we’ve learned, that isn’t the case.

The masks also connect to Deceit because she is hiding her truth, just as the masks hide a person’s true form. Each character has been painted with the purpose of making the viewer look closer and think deeper. They have a perfected persona on the outside, and we identify them with our interpretation of this. But then we can see their actions, and this shows us a peek at who they really are. The masks have been included to remind us that no one is who we think they are.

Conclusion

An Allegory with Cupid and Venus is by far one of my favorite Mannerist paintings. It simultaneously consists of qualities taken from artistic masters before its time while still bringing fresh ideas into the art world. It has held my attention every time I have seen it as I’m sure it’s done for thousands of other artists. The longer time goes on and strays further from this painting, and the more society progresses from the state of humanity in the time this was created, I believe the true and original meaning is slowly lost and unrecoverable.

 The final and jarring conclusion I have come to is that Father Time is actually holding up the fabric of time. Although we see the painting and can attempt an answer, the answer sits with Bronzino in the grave. It is still hidden behind this blue sheet of time.

The truth is that we will most likely never have a definite answer but rather interpretations. Whether that be our own or those of the ones that choose to chime in. But maybe those perceptions of it are even more important in the long run. Maybe it’s the collection of thoughts from people that keep the painting alive. Maybe the authenticity of the piece sits inside the minds of its viewers and expands itself through time and perspective. In the end, it is the creative observer that has to dismantle this sheet of time to reveal their own truth behind the piece.

The Art of Mason Laufer

Written by Alexander Greco

August 12, 2020

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.

The Art of David Coffey

Written by Alexander Greco

July 20, 2020

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.

Picasso Portrait
Acrylic on Canvas

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:

Nephilim #3
Acrylic, Sharpie and Sealant on Canvas

“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.

Da Vinci Portrait
Acrylic on Canvas

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.

Nephilim #5
Acrylic, Sharpie, Mixed Media on Canvas

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:

Doppleganger #9
Acrylic, Sharpie, Mixed Media on Canvas

“[…] 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.

Doppleganger #8
Acrylic, Sharpie, Watercolor, Sealant on Canvas

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.

Doppleganger #3
Acrylic, Sharpie, Sealant on Canvas

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.”

Siren/Muse #1
Acrylic on Canvas
Siren/Muse #1
Acrylic on Canvas

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.

The Art of Salua Saleh

Written by Alexander Greco

June 13, 2020

“I Due”

From São Paulo, Brazil, Salua Saleh is an expressionist painter whose paintings depict dreams, emotions and everyday life with a myriad of colorful forms. Though our conversation was unfortunately impaired somewhat by our language barrier, Salua and I talked at length about her artwork, as well as the inspirations and stories behind much of her art. Carrying the torch of the expressionist movement of modern art, Salua reimagines the human figure and identity, and projects the colors and shapes of dreams onto the world around us. Through her artwork, Salua provides us with waking windows into landscapes of the mind, body and soul.

Salua is from São Paulo, Brazil, though she and her art have traveled across the world. Having been born in Brazil, she was exposed to a new generation of Brazilian artwork in Ribeirão Preto. After receiving her degree from the University of Ribeirão Preto, Salua moved to Italy, where she took painting courses and further developed her expressionist style, as well as London. Through her life and her travels, Salua’s work proliferated into a number of countries, including Britain, the United States, Lebanon, Greece and Brazil.

“As Tres Mulheres”

Salua’s style is primarily expressionism, though her artwork also has influences from the impressionists and the abstract movement, with similarities also to the fauvist movement. Her primary influences were Matisse, Klimt, Modigliani and Frida Kahlo, and these influences are quite prominent in her strong use of color and contrast, her alteration of form in landscapes and cityscapes and the expressions of her paintings’ subjects.

Salua’s paintings feature a wide range of settings and subjects. We see many paintings of figures, often nude figures, as well as portraits of people. Other paintings showcase a landscape or cityscape, and some are still life paintings, while others are much more abstract pieces that have ascended far enough from tangible, waking reality that they become difficult to readily describe.

In many of Salua’s figure paintings, portraits and nudes, we see the influence of artists like Modigliani and Klimt, as well as some of Matisse’s style.

With paintings like “As Tres Mulheres” and “As Quatro Mulheres”, there is certainly an influence of Modigliani in the reimagination of the subjects faces and expressions, as well as in nude paintings like “I Due”. Where Modigliani played with the shape of the nude form, as well as with the shape and proportion of expressions of individuals, Salua likewise transforms her subjects into new visions of an otherworldly humanity. In “I Due” and others, we can also see an influence from Klimt and the emotional dynamic of many of his nudes.

“As Quatro Mulheres”
Portrait of David Bowie

However, Salua also incorporates the fauvist style of Matisse into much of her work, including her figures and nudes. With pieces like Salua’s portrait of David Bowie, or “Blindness”, we see both the transformation of figure and form from Modigliani, as well as a vivid use of vibrant colors, replacing our normal expectation of colors with an almost otherworldly color scheme.

With the David Bowie portrait, the typical skin tones and shading are enhanced and transformed with yellows, greens, whites and blue greys for lighter tones, and reds, oranges and browns for darker tones. His hair is a blooming explosion of blues, yellows, reds, greens, turquoises, ruddy red-violets, sky-blues and sea-greens. All of this pops out even more with the dark contrast of the background, ranging from darker versions of the sea greens to the red violets of his hair, in addition to the contrasting dark and light blue on his clothing.

“O Negro”

With “O Negro”, one of Salua’s first pieces, there is a very strong resemblance to Matisse’s portrait work, particularly pieces like “Green Stripe” and “Woman With a Hat”. Regular skin topes are replaced with reds, blues and oranges, while the white’s of the subject’s eyes are made green, and his hair mixed with some orange. His lips are painted a pale dark orange, and much of his skin is highlighted with dark-pale greys, tans and peach-tones

With paintings like “Hoje è Dia de Festa”, Salua incorporates even stronger elements of abstraction and fauvism into her artwork. The figures in this painting are practically mosaics of colors, their forms transformed into simpler renditions, and their expressions are entirely obscured in the colors comprising their bodies. The landscape surrounding these figures is similarly comprised of this colorful mosaic, both land and sky. In the distant background, there is a city made of pale blue and pink tones.

“Hoje è Dia de Festa”

Salua’s abstract pieces, while they resemble in some ways the fauvists and expressionists, for me are more reminiscent of some pieces from Pollock, as well the orphists and the wilder side of abstract expressionism.

“Metamorfose”

With paintings like “Caminhos” and “Metamorfose”, Salua uses similar color schemes as Kandinsky in many of his paintings, but also uses the geometric designs found in some of Kandinsky’s work, as well as many of the paintings made by the orphists. There is a chaotic explosion of vibrant colors, at times complementing each other and at times contrasting, as well as swirls and circles, paths of colors tracing across a wild landscape of color.

“Conexões”

With other paintings like “Abstracões” and “Conexões”, we still see the Kandinsky-esque color schemes and the orphist geometry, but there is a chaos that is only really comparable to Pollock’s pieces. Salua maintains something of a semblance of rational design in the background layer of the painting, but the upper layers are storms of colors fervently blooming and bursting off the canvas.

“O Rio Amarelo”

Many other pieces are far more tame than this, such as “Anni 70”, “A Danca das Cores” or “Passagens Secretas”, though these pieces still employ vivid colors and energetic movements across the canvas. Others like “Tropicalismo” and “Todos os Olhos da Floresta Encantada” employ geometric patterns very unique to many of Salua’s other pieces. Pieces like “Tropicalismo” are almost landscape like, with many similarities to the landscapes and cityscapes Salua has created.

Salua’s cityscapes are often quite like puzzle pieces in various shapes and sizes and of various colors fit together. The colors she uses for her buildings create a fascinating arrangement of emotion across hills, mountains and other landscapes, and the composition of the shapes and forms of buildings in these cityscapes likewise suggest a sort of geometry of emotion.

“San Lorenzo Bellizzi”

One of my favorite cityscapes of hers, “San Lorenzo Bellizzi” feels truly like a representation of a city from a dream, with buildings of odd proportions stacked on top of each other, with roads and paths stretched across the city architecture, curving and wandering in and out of the blocks. It becomes difficult to distinguish wall from rooftop from road from doorway, and the proportions and shapes of each section of the painting cause the viewer’s brain to scramble trying to understand what it is seeing.

“Sogno Lùcido”

Another quite dreamlike city painting, “Sogno Lùcido”, we see buildings through a doorway or window frame at night. These buildings are oddly proportioned and shaped, giving them a surreal aesthetic, and the door frame or window we are looking through is surrounded with designs quite similar to the dream-like textures and fabric designs created by Klimt. The night sky in the background, in tandem with the strange architecture of the buildings and the cool colors filling much of the center of the painting, give an almost eerie or uncanny feeling to them—a feeling that can only be found in the stranger hours of night, in dreams, or captured in a painting such as this.

With Salua’s natural landscapes, as well as in her still life paintings, there is a more impressionist style similar to much of Monet’s work, as well as the post-impressionist style made famous by Van Gogh. Paintings such as “Paisagem Livre”, there is a very pronounced impressionist/post-impressionist style, with much of the emotion of the piece shown through the movement of the brushstrokes and slight derivations of natural colors. Still, other pieces like “Caos Calmo” still lean more heavily toward an expressionist style.

“Caminho Ìntimo”

In other landscape paintings, such as “Caminho Ìntimo”, which may be one of my favorite pieces by Salua, Salua blends the styles of post-impressionism and expressionism into an almost Wonderland-like dream-world of paths of vibrant colors walled on both sides by swirling patterns of flower-like designs. This painting, as with many of Salua’s paintings, is like something from colorful, beautiful dream—a landscape that possibly could only be conceived in the mind of an artist.

Salua spoke with me about how this dream-like quality of her art comes from one of her primary inspirations: her own dreams. This inspiration is quite evident in Salua’s surreal depictions of people, still life images and landscapes. There is an element of the unconscious in Salua’s work, an element of uncanny otherworldliness to her work, that can be quite difficult to capture in words, but that Salua has quite adeptly captured in paintings.

“Solitudine”

Another inspiration for Salua’s work are everyday events and settings, or even passersby in towns and cities, that many of us may take for granted, but Salua finds much beauty in. Still, other inspirations come from Salua’s own emotions, and her artwork is an expression of these feelings. At times, her artwork is an expression of inner turmoil, such as in her piece, “Solitudine”, which Salua told me is a painting of her sitting at night, staring out a window, smoking a cigarette, and dealing with personal suffering.

Despite the unique beauty of Salua’s paintings, she spoke with me about how she used to destroy some of her works of art. She often didn’t feel they were good enough, and her inner critic railed at her until she gave in and got rid of these pieces. Still, Salua felt much regret about destroying her work, and received advice from a friend that many artists, writers, musicians and other creative types might find invaluable. It is not your place to judge your own work, it is your place only to create it, and let others see what you have made for their own consideration.

It is difficult for so many of us to silence our own inner critics. As helpful as they may be—as useful as it can be to have that voice always telling you to do better and to try harder—these inner critics may also tear us down at moments we need to be built up. These acts of destruction, or other similar acts of self-inflicted emotional violence, may seem appropriate in the moment, but they cannot be the guiding force of our creativity. We must strive to follow the voices telling us, “Yes! This is good”, and “Carry on, keep creating, keep building what you have”.

It has been a delight getting to talk with Salua about her artwork, as much as it has been a pleasure going through her art and pouring over every detail of her work. It is quite an achievement for an artist to be able to capture such subtle and nuanced emotions as Salua captures with her expressionist style, as well as the uncanny quality of dream-like visions in art, and both are quite a joy to see. If you enjoyed Salua’s art and want to see more, you can find her on Instagram @saluasaleh_artgallery. Please give her artwork a deeper look, and if you enjoy what she’s made, follow her, and comment or send her a message to let her know!

The Art of Miguel Pichardo

Written by Alexander Greco

June 6, 2020

COVID-19
Mixed Media on Paper
June 2020

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.

Untitled
Acrylic and Marker on Paper
June 2020

“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.

Jazz
Acrylic on Paper
March 2019

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.

Cosmic Siren
Acrylic and Ink on Canvas
June 2020

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.

Magic Clown
Mixed Media on Paper
June 2020

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.

My Anxiety Yesterday
Marker on Paper
April 2020

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.

Spiritual Being
Paintmarker on Paper
June 2019

“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.”

Untitled
Sticker

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:

Waiting in Time
Mixed Media/Collage on Canvas
April 2020

“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.

“Waiting in Time” as a puzzle (it’s a metaphor within a metaphor)

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.

Reborn
Oil Paint on Paperboard
February 2019
The King and Queen
Aerosol and Acrylic on Canvas
June 2019

“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.

Reborn
Oil Paint on Paperboard
February 2019

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.

The Art of Maury van Loon / Fall~

Written by Alexander Greco

June 29, 2020

The more I delved into the artwork of Maury van Loon (artist name, Fall~), the more I was reminded of two books: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter, and House of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski; and I was reminded of two specific concepts from those books: consciousness as a feedback loop of infinite, mirrored reflections, and unconsciousness as a labyrinth, with our conscious egos/identities as the trapped Icarus.

Maury’s artwork really clicked for me when I saw in them these mirrors and this labyrinth.

And Then the Bubble Burst
Summer 2019
A5 paper. Pen and ink.

Making almost exclusively black and white ink art, though with a few notable pieces that include color, Maury mixes elements of surrealism and abstraction with influences from anime and similar art styles. Her artwork has wide range of content and subject, but the primary focus seems to be on identity: our identity in relation to others, and our identity in relation to ourselves. Maury does this with portrayals of faceless or featureless individuals, depictions of bodies disassociated from their faces, mirrored counterparts of either twin-like or dualistic individuals, and of people falling into vast or disintegrating spaces.

However, as Maury discussed more and more about her creative life, I discovered her interests and skills to be far broader than only visual art. In addition to surreal ink-work, Maury is active in music—including work on film scores—currently studies Japanese Language and Culture, and has worked off and on for a few years on a fantasy story. Though our interview focused on Maury’s artwork and the underlying themes of the artwork, our overlapping interests opened up a number of topics we only scratched the surface of.

“[…] I would currently describe my endeavors as an artist as ‘illustrator’, but I have a degree in music composition, and I’m currently studying Japanese which sometimes makes me feel a bit in Japanese I would say barabara, which means ‘in pieces’, as if I’m holding a handful of different identities and I am not just one person.”

Still, though Fall~ has a wide range of interests, art has been and remains a central part of their life.

Us
April 2020
A4 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

“I have been drawing since as long as I can remember. It has always been a form of expression, as I had (and to a certain degree still have) trouble grasping the meaning and reality of my being. I think I started with illustrating, since it’s a very low-key form of art. Basically I can draw whenever I want, wherever I want, because I only need a pen and paper.

“I do believe all different forms of art have their own ‘language’ of expression – music or film can take you on a whole different emotional journey – and I am more than only an illustrator, as I have done a degree in music composition with a specialization in film and I’m currently doing a degree in Japanese Language and Culture with a specialization in Japanese film and animation. But making art is the one that seems most consistent throughout my life.”

Here, I completely agree with the idea that every form of art has its own sort of language, but I would also go on from that and say that every artist has their own variation of that language, with Maury being no exception to this. So, what is the language she speaks with her art?

We Live Inside a Bubble
Summer 2019
A5 paper. Pen and ink.

Maury speaks with sharp contrasts of black and white, swarming lines like black static, and blurred clouds of grey. Maury’s syntax is the human form, floating or falling into teeming mouths of the abyss, or into the vast emptiness of space. Faces especially are key in this language, whether they are emotional, blank, expressionless, hollow, or replaced with disconnected, celestial objects.

Many of Maury’s pieces depict twisting, knotting throngs of arms reaching out to or out from the piece’s subject, or other similar serpentine forms. In many pieces, there is a symmetry to them, either a mirroring of images or some other geometric translation, and many pieces also possess a yin-yang type of duality, strongly influenced by the black and white contrasts. In others, there is an almost anti-symmetry, a chaos of lines or ink static.

Circles are a consistent motif, some being the subject’s head, some being in or through the subject’s head, others being in the subject’s chest or abdomen, and others surround an individual or individuals. These circles—often comprised of circles within circles (sometimes within even more circles); and often ringed with jagged lines or objects, or with twisting, looping, knotting forms—recall the forms of the labyrinth, particularly the Classical Cretan labyrinth and the Medieval Chartres pattern.

However, the best example of this Labyrinth is not in any of the pieces with primarily circular patterns, but in “Lost in Thought”, which really shows this maze-like nature of the mind.

Lost in Thought
June 2020
A4 paper. Pen.

“This piece is about how far you can become separated from your true self, by trying to fit in or please people around you. It’s a recent piece, but it reflects back to a time when I truly lost myself and now I regularly evaluate my choices and how far I stand from things that matter for me, instead of trying to become the ideal of society (or rather, how I think society would like me to be). The further you get, the harder it becomes, so the line between body and brain becomes this maze-like thing and at some point, you will get stuck and lose (like in the Nokia 3310 snake-game).”

So much of Maury’s artwork relates to identity: either finding or rediscovering oneself.

How is it that the most difficult thing to find on this planet is yourself?

How is it that so many of our own thoughts can be so much harder to understand than the endlessly complex machinations of the external world?

How is it that our own minds—the place we ought to feel most at home, the place we ought to know better than any other landscape, the place we ought to feel safest can be the most frightening and cruel of landscapes; can possess the deepest jungles of the uncanny and unfamiliar; and, in times of great uncertainty, in moments of overwhelming depravity and in the darkest architectures of our Dreams’ wild cinemas, can our own minds be venues of such tremendous violence, disorientation and disassociation?

Let Us Catch You
February 2020
A4 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

There is also a recurrent theme of falling, though the movement of many subjects is ambivalent (in many pieces, individuals could potentially be perceived either as falling or rising). Paired with this theme of falling/rising, there is often an impalement or explosion from the abdomen, and in a few, there is another body emerging from the abdomen, implying something like a birth or a rebirth (similar in some ways to the emergence from a cocoon or chrysalis). This also carries on the ambivalence of rising/falling, as one body seems limp and lifeless, while another living body reaches up above it.

On this theme, Maury explained:

“It contains this sense of loss and despair, living in a world that doesn’t feel quite right. A world where you don’t seem to belong. When you long for something, someone, anyone, and reach out, but you can never really grasp it. Is it just an illusion meant for someone else? Are you not worthy?

“It’s a sense of the fear of not being in control yet at the same time it’s the realization and acceptance you’re not in control and that it’s completely fine. Maybe it’s not falling, but letting go.”

A number of pieces possess the motif of a wave-like object/figure which seems to be just about to crash onto the subject of the piece like crashing water of an ocean. This might be the internal ocean of the unconsciousness crashing down on the conscious ego, but this might also be the minotaur stalking that unconsciousness, overpowering the conscious mind.

The piece “Shadowself” puts a face to this crashing wave or cave minotaur, and Maury gives it a name.

Shadowself
March 2020
A4 paper. Pen and ink.

“My official artist name is Fall~ and the right character in this piece is the visualization of Fall~. It represents the unexplainable core of feelings and thoughts that want to break out.”

Does this make the figure on the left Maury?

Is this Maury studying Fall~?

And Fall~ studying Maury?

And if Fall~, as depicted here, is the “Shadowself”, the unexplainable core of feelings and thoughts attempting to break out, does that mean the Minotaur stalking Maury’s mind is Maury’s own creativity? Is the Shadowself (Fall~) a rejection and repression of creativity—of ideas, talents and expressions not welcomed by society—and the projection of negative attributes onto oneself?

A loathing of something you love—of something that makes you unique—until it becomes a monster you must reconcile with?

But Maury, rather than flee as Icarus did, confronted this minotaur in her artwork, and it became Fall~.

Here, I think I’m actually reminded of Gandalf and the Balrog’s fall in the Mines of Moria, prompted not by the wizard fleeing, but by his confrontation. This fall—this confrontation—not partially parallels the Icarus myth (Moria being the Labyrinth, the Balrog being the minotaur), but also has the ambivalent duality of rising and falling. The two’s fall eventually led to a rise back up from the depths, where the battle finally concluded on top of a mountain peak. This of course led to transformation, metamorphosis and rebirth.

These complexities of identity, self-identity and self-transformation do not end here, however, and Maury had quite a lot more to say about both one’s self and one’s ego, as well as one’s self in relationship to others.

“I think one’s identity is relative and thus continuously changing. Without people around us and memories to mirror who we were, who we are, and who we do or do not want to become, there is no ego. There is a certain human connection to it, whether through a shared experience, a longing, or a realization that you have gone so far from your true self. By exploring these areas through art, I can identify, acknowledge and express things that are blocking me, but also things I couldn’t or wouldn’t say out loud.”

Here, I asked if this fluidity of identity was something inherent in being human, or if it was a contemporary issue of modernity, and also if there was any way of truly getting to know one’s self. Maury replied:

“It’s probably part of human nature, but I do think modernity has amplified our sense of self and our capability to manipulate our self-image. One reason is that we are now encouraged to become individuals and have our own opinion, and this seems to go hand in hand with a sense or a wish to be unique and different […] On the other hand, there’s social media and textual communication, which allows you to have a big control on how you represent yourself in your use of words, your looks, your identity. With which sub-culture do you associate yourself with?

“Maybe we have become a lot more self-centered, but maybe we also have become a lot more dependent on the approval people around us. We’re more fluid. And because upbringing and environment have such a huge influence on the development of oneself, I don’t think you could ever purely be your true inner self. Maybe if you live in a shack up a mountain in Farawayistan. I try to keep myself in check by really trying to listen to my belly-feeling (inner-universe 🙂 ) to feel if choices I’m making feel right for me and feel right for my moral-compass, and if my moral-compass is still moral enough, so I can keep going without self-doubt or regret.”

How do you go about defining yourself? And where do you plant your flag in saying, “This is ‘I’; this is what ‘I’ am and what ‘I’ believe”?

So many, if not all, of our own ideas and beliefs are ideas have been circulating throughout cultures and societies across history—evolving or adapting with each new age or era and growing into new ideas or spawning new fields of knowledge. So much of what we call our own mind are collections of ideas passed on to us through our parents, through school, through our friends, or through televisions, computers and phones. So much of our behavior is either instinctually or chemically influenced, or they are behaviors we’ve picked up from those around us, people we see on TV, characters in books, comics, movies or shows.

How much of “you” can actually be found amidst this carnival of “not you”? And how much of the “not you” has influenced and altered “you”?

Beyond this, “who we are” can be such a fleeting reality. We’re one person at one moment, then we’re angry or sad or scared the next moment, and suddenly we’re practically a completely different person. We may even change how we act depending on what we wear, who we talk to, where we talk to them. How different of a person are you if you’re having drinks at a bar compared to drinks at a friend’s house, or how different are you when you wear denim jeans and sneakers compared to shorts and flip flops, or when you’re at work compared to when you’re at home?

How different of a person might you be just based on the colors of the walls around you, the smell of the room you’re in, the expressions and body language of the people nearby?

Maury further explores the influences that others have on us and our sense of self, particularly the painful and at times frightening aspects of it, in the piece, “Kings”.

Kings
Summer 2019
A5 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

“’Kings’ kind of represents all the people around us that we feel are judging us (often with no good reason). It could be that guy in the train, or the woman in the store. They gang up, stare, judge. Them against us. There is a sense of power and arrogance in it, hence that they are self-proclaimed kings. I think it is also influenced by the growth of the importance of individualism, in which many are prone to believe they themselves are the most important, rather than the wellbeing of the community.

But obviously this judging only happens in my head, because 99% of the people you pass in the streets don’t even notice you, let alone care.”

An often overlooked or undervalued aspect of understanding someone’s creations is understanding where these ideas have grown from—the inspirations and influences of someone’s art, music, writing and so forth.

In addition to anime, Maury mentioned a number of other influences, including film and music.

“I have this peculiar habit of intensely loving only a few artists so much that their work is on repeat rather than exploring a quantitative amount of artists. My current repeat playlist (named “repeat”) consists of #2 by Nils Frahm and a handful of tracks from the Westworld soundtrack by Ramin Djawadi. I especially love films that are thought provoking, or take me on a journey and preferably have an amazing atmospheric original score. Watching the Lord of the Rings Trilogy kind of has become a yearly tradition, and I have become so familiar with the lines that I bought the Japanese dubbed version to use it for my language studies haha. Anime is also a huge influence, especially visual, since the Japanese seem to apply a lot of shots and poses that I find beautiful and my computer is full of screenshots that I use as reference.

“In the end I love the feeling these works give me, this feeling of inspiration, or they maybe even make me feel alive and that I’m allowed to live. That there’s more to life than only living. And that’s what I want to give back to the world. If the inspired-me can inspire someone else again, who then can inspire another and so forth… That would be enough.”

In discussing her favorite anime, Maury said:

“One of my favorite anime films is Ghost in the Shell, because it’s full of layers. As humans we are watching a drawn representation of human-like cyborgs, so there is this double sense of artificiality. The director Oshii Mamoru also uses a lot of visual symbolisms and mechanisms that confuse the spectator. This is even more noticeable in his other animation film Angel’s Egg in collaboration with illustrator Amano Yoshitaka, who also worked on the Final Fantasy series (which I love 🙂 also the soundtrack!). The themes in Angel’s Egg are about loneliness and purpose and faith, and it’s set in a very dark world where this girl wanders through a deserted town with an egg, until she meets a man of whom we never truly know if he is friend of foe. It’s on YouTube with subtitles if anyone’s interested.

The original Fullmetal Alchemist has been hugely influential, which I prefer over Brotherhood because I think the original is more dramatic. Although, both soundtracks are wonderful. The hands that are represent in my work definitely find their origin in this series. The parallel universe/time travel theory of Steins;Gate also had a very big impact on my own way of theorizing an approach to life choices. They have a timeline that breaks up in several timelines, and made it really visible. Nowadays, when I look back at choices I have made and how they lead me to where I am now, I imagine the choices being forked roads and every path is another Maury leading a different life.”

Welcome to My Mirrored World
Winter 2018
A3 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

The influence of both Ghost in the Shell and Fullmetal Alchemist can be seen in Maury’s works, “Welcome to My Mirrored World” and “Let Us Catch You”.

Maury mentioned that a shot from the 1995 Ghost in the Shell anime film inspired “Welcome to My Mirrored World”, and though I don’t know specifically which shot this was, the scene I immediately thought of was one where the protagonist is rising to the surface of a body of water, and her reflection creates a sort of mirrored, parallel reality before she breaks the surface of the water. With “Let Us Catch You” and several other pieces, we see the inspiration of the long, tendril-like arms related to Truth and various scenes where certain types of Alchemy are performed in Fullmetal Alchemist.

Though we didn’t discuss her art process in as much depth as we discussed other topics, Maury did explain how she comes up with many of her ideas, as well as part of her process of using recurring motifs in her art:

“There are two ways. Way 1: I live life. Life gives emotional friction. This emotional friction finds a visual representation that I doodle in my book of ideas. Way 2: I watch film. Film merges with random thoughts and memories of other things and I doodle it in my book of ideas. When I feel creative or a necessity to deal with my thoughts and emotions, I open my book of ideas, pick a pre-sketch and start drawing the composition. A lot of times inspiration and this feeling of necessity happen in the same moment.

“Often, I already know what kind of textures I want to use, or I decide to use several, for example I make one with a universe background, while the other will get a tree growing out of somewhere. For this reason, I create a template for most of my designs so I can easily make several versions with the help of a light box. I kind of see it as a puzzle. I have several reoccurring textures and motifs which I keep switching around in new compositions. Sometimes new ones are added or old ones become obsolete.”

Along with discussing her art, Maury and I talked a bit about her music, film projects she’s been involved with and a story of hers she’s been working with off and on for a few years.

“I would love to compose a score for a Japanese animation. That’s definitely in the top three of my bucket list.

“During my music degree at Plymouth University I worked on the feature film Jannertown with director Guy Brasher, which was such an amazing experience. His film is presented in several chapters that all have their own genre, but everything is connected. So musically this meant working with several themes that could return in various ways ranging from elevator music to futuristic synth music and orchestral superhero music.

“More recently I have worked with Pim Kromhout on a performance theater act inspired by the painting “Golconde” by René Magritte. The act consists of four very tall men with umbrella’s and there is music coming out of the umbrellas. Although the four men look the same and the music sounds as one whole, every man has his own tune that symbolizes his individuality. Unfortunately, it’s on hold because of Covid-19.

“[…]

Chaos
2016
A4 paper. Pen, ink, coloured pencils.

“My art and my music come from the same inner-location, which I at some point started to see as a fictional world. In my art there are returning characters which were initially just personifications of emotions, but at some point, influenced by the endless amounts of binge-watched/read-stories, I thought I could try to make my own story. And I got as far as plotting the whole first part of a trilogy, including strange dimensional travel laws, gods and prophecies, geographical maps. It was supposed to get a soundtrack too, with themes for different locations and characters. There was a lot of longing and tragedy.

“Unfortunately, I’m not a very good reader, so I failed to read back what I had written and then I lost track of all the complexities and now we’re three years later. But with all the free time Covid-19 has given me I’m actually taking a different approach in telling the story in a visual novel style. (trying to.) (also giving me a temporary meaning in this meaningless existence.)

“The story is set in an unchanging world. Characters that do administration of administration of administration. They look like barcodes and every minute of every day of every day is planned out for them. The world has long ago reached a form of perfection and so they are in a state of preservation, because if there would be any change, Being would change to Becoming and he would carry the world back to Chaos. (this works better in Dutch). While this barcode-species called ‘Others’ are supposed to be like robots, the main character has this inside-universe that makes her set out into the world and then things happen and she meets all kinds of people and discovers all sorts of secrets.”

The fortunate and the unfortunate aspect of Maury and I’s discussion is that we had a huge overlap in interests and so much to discuss. There was a lot Maury had to say that I could not fit into the article, as well a lot I wanted to say about Maury’s artwork and a number of topics related to her artwork that I could not fit in. Nonetheless, it has been a pleasure going through her artwork and hearing her thoughts on many things.

Whaleoplane
March 2020
A3 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

Maury’s artwork spans across philosophical and psychological themes and subjects, but her artwork stands on its own even without these underlying themes. The stark contrasts of black and white captures your attention, pulling your mind into a reeling labyrinth of shifting identities, crashing emotions, and the enveloping hands and faces of a comforting, conforming throng of people. With every day being another trek through a maze of faces, words, beliefs, motivations, personalities, relationships—and all the twisting, knotted, overlapping, intersecting crossroads between them—how long can we avoid the minotaur we’ve kept imprisoned inside our minds?

How long until the walls come down? And all the thoughts, emotions and beliefs we keep bottled inside come surging out?

Maury’s art is able to show both the tension between ourselves and others, and the tension between ourselves and our own minds: the mazes and the mirrors we navigate every day.

If you would like to see more of Maury’s work, you can find her on Instagram at www.instagram.com/fallsomnia or @fallsomnia and @fall.in.progress. Her primary website is www.fallsomnia.com and her music can be found on www.soundcloud.com/fallsomnia. Please give her art as well as her music a look/listen, and if you enjoy it, be sure to follow her.

The Art of Gradi Nitert (Studio Sacre Bleu)

Article Written by Alexander Greco

June 6, 2019

sa·cré bleu

/ˌsäkrā ˈblə/

1) The expression today is not used in the major French-speaking countries, France, Belgium or Switzerland, but in the English-speaking world it is well known from Agatha Christie’s books about the fictional Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot.

2) A stereotypical French curse that is never used by real French people. Similar to the mustache and the beret—something only non-French people think is typical of the French.

Gradi Nitert

As with many artists, it’s difficult to pin-point exactly what makes Gradi Nitert’s artwork stand out from others’, but it is immediately apparent that her artwork possesses an original style. Yet, Gradi’s work ranges across a wide spectrum of subjects and technique so, what common thread brings her artwork together?

“I think I now deeply realize my deepest core desire or ‘why’ is creating worlds where others—and myself—can find wonder; be surprised by the estrangement and alienation.”

Gradi Nitert is a dutch illustrator, maker and creator from Zwolle, in the Netherlands. Her work spans across collages, paintings and digital artwork, and her art incorporates elements of surrealism, fauvism, and abstraction. Drawing inspiration from dreams, oddities, music and a sense of nostalgia, Gradi pushes the boundaries of conscious and unconscious perceptions, and creates small pocket-realities of memories, imagination and fragments of reality.

With this kaleidoscope of the unconscious, the strange, and the familiarity of the past, Gradi’s artwork stretches the walls of reality, until Gradi simply steps over those walls. Outside the confines of a prescribed reality, Gradi defines her own rules, shapes her own landscapes, and gives life to her own people and places. Yet, for all the absurd strangeness of her work, Gradi has managed to build a bridge between her imagination and the world we inhabit.

“Vision”
Acrylics on Wood
2013

“As a little girl, I started creating little worlds—sometimes with small, hidden moments in them that made me laugh. When making 2D or 3D work, I always want to create an ambience where people feel nice, and with every piece there is a journey of discovery. I love to get out of reality, stepping or crawling into a new world—not to escape reality, just to discover a new one. Creating new worlds is my passion, and in surrealism I can do that infinitely, with a sense of connection.

“The curious thing is that I often like a sense of nostalgia in my work—a hint to the past. So, again, by creating a new world, I don’t want to lose our connection to reality. With things from the past, I want to give my art a cozy, comfortable feeling. The past is like our own, personal collection. I love to collect old, curious and peculiar things, so that I have that comfortable sense of nostalgia in my personal life. Surrounding myself with nice things, it gives me space to create and simply be.”

From the start, I found Gradi’s connection to music quite interesting.

“Music is the oil that makes the ideas come out. For all my ideas I do first visualize them in my head, which sometimes is a problem because by experimenting you’ll find yourself in things you never thought of in the first place. I try to do both, pushing myself to experiment with materials, and ‘to just do it’ and make ‘mistakes’, but I think still 70% of my work I see in my head. How? I don’t know. Maybe the music is a trigger; maybe the ambience or mood creates unconscious links and triggers. I love instrumental music the best; classical music, music from movies, or orchestras. Orchestra plus rock or electronic beats and other mashups are perfect too. I love Rob Dougan, as well as big band music—music from the 20’s to 40’s.”

In music, like in art, meaning is formed from the relationships of small components, and the patterns across a piece. Chords harmonize from notes across a scale. Chord progressions and rhythms form a landscape of sound, with melodies and improvisations roaming across that landscape. Together, these things form a cohesive whole. Formed from the placement of many small parts, the composer creates their own, unique space within the sound.

In art, colors, lines and shapes harmonize into the fundamental forms of a piece. These come together into the images or symbols of the piece. The placement and composition of each image forms a relationship with the other images, and together they create a new world of the artists design.

What’s peculiar about Gradi’s artwork is that, despite the seeming arbitrariness of her art, she forms something cohesive and meaningful. Similar to jazz, orchestra, and other instrumental music, Gradi’s art doesn’t tell you what you should be thinking about, and yet it still feels familiar. The worlds she creates define their own rules, patterns and relationships, and it’s from these patterns and relationships that Gradi creates its meaningfulness.

“Decoupage”
Digital Collage/Illustration
2014

“I was asked by producer-duo Seven League Beats to create a cd-cover while they were finishing their music. I saw their process develop from “sketches of sound” to the final CD. It was an amazing project. They gave me very personal notes of why they created that CD, what drove them to make the music, and what inspired them. Since they were a duo, there were two experiences I had to fuse into one ambience-world. Listening and isolating myself with the music made me create the final design. Sound and music have always been a huge inspiration for me—it easily takes me into that ‘world’ in my head, and the creations flow out of my head onto paper. Some movies, I listened to over 200 times, and never fully watched them, just because the sound design and music is so inspiring.”

The two most prominent ways Gradi portrays her small worlds are with her choice of imagery, and her application of color theory. Gradi’s work achieves its dream-like effect by pairing random subjects and objects together, and by blending realism with abstraction. This is seen particularly in her collage-work, where she pairs together animals, people, plants, architecture, and other random objects.

Some of her work anthropomorphizes animals, or clumps odd arrangements of visuals together. Some of her work pushes towards more uncanny cliff-edges of the weird and strange, but never comes across as disturbing, or so strange or novel that it’s unpleasant to look at. By toeing the line between strange and familiar, Gradi pulls us into the worlds of her invention, and invites us into spaces created from her dreams and imagination.

“Weirdscape”
Collage
2018

With “Weirdscape”, from Gradi’s “Nation of Nonsense” series, Gradi combines three rocks, a planet, a bear, and a pathway of boxes. The bear is walking across the path of boxes, with a planet emerging from its body, and the rocks projecting up and out from the planet. It’s arbitrary, it’s random, it’s nonsense, yet it feels meaningful to look at.

There is an orderly placement of each object, with the direction of the bear, planet and rocks centered and perpendicular to the boxes, and there is a hierarchy of size with the objects. There is a single, small rock at the top, the bear and the planet at the center, and the endless rows of boxes at the bottom. Despite its apparent nonsense, there’s a pattern and an organization to the image.

Beyond the selection and arrangement of images, a major part of what gives “Weirdscape” and other pieces of Gradi’s meaning is her use of color. Much like the Fauvists of the modern art movement, Gradi uses color in a surreal, dream-like way. Rather than depict reality as we know it, Gradi colors her new worlds in muted tones and unnatural hues.

Though some of Gradi’s art appears to have random color schemes, Gradi’s use of color is just as organized and meaningful as it is dream-like and strange. She uses scales of complimentary and analogous colors, but also uses scales of values—from neutral tones to brighter, vibrant colors—to create dreamy, pleasing and cohesive color schemes.

In “Weirdscape”, she uses a light, muted purple as her background, with a dark purple bear and a light blue-purple planet at the center. The two uppermost rocks are colored with orange/red-orange and purple/red-purple, with a few hints of blue. At the bottom are the neutral-tan boxes, which contrast with the other colors, but also pair with the muted and lighter shades throughout the rest of the piece. Though the colors are strange and otherworldly, they’re arranged in a pleasing pattern, which clicks in our heads as something meaningful and familiar.

“Cult”
Acrylics on Wood
2013

Another example of this use of color can be seen in “Cult”. The background is a chalky black, which transitions into the dark, red-purple bodies of the figures. The heads range on one end of the color spectrum from red-orange to violet, and on the other end, blue-green to yellow. Despite the abstract use of color, the hues of the odd figures are tied together like notes along a scale, with the purple-red bodies grounded in the black background.

While “Cult” can be analyzed technically, this piece also ties back to Gradi’s interest in the unconscious—which is actually her inspiration for the color choice.

 “This is one of my paintings I made in response to some dreams I had. A period of my life I couldn’t sleep during the nights and barely stayed awake during the day. That period had some really inspiring visuals for me. The dreams were so complex, so deep, I had to recreate them. I even tried to make myself have lucid dreams, but I never really succeeded. The colors I saw were so consistently intense, it took me a while, but I managed to ‘catch’ them and transfer them on my canvas. That period was one of the darkest in my life, you can imagine lack of sleep is a real killer. When I look back at the works I created that time, I can still see and feel the darkness I sunk into.”

Across cultures and throughout history, humans have a fascination with dreams, and, since Freud and his contemporaries, there’s been a fascination with the unconscious parts of our mind. It’s become apparent to many that there seems to be some connection with the unconscious and art, music, or writing—with creativity and ingenuity in general.

This connection between dreaming and reality has been a major inspiration for Gradi and her art.

“I think I can analyze my work more and more after looking back at myself when I made the piece. Dreams are a way of processing. By not giving yourself time and rest to do so, it will be a mess starting with intense dreams. I don’t think dreams give you literal answers or views of your mind, but I think you can learn from them sometimes; maybe you have to think things over more. Maybe you have more difficulties with a subject than you thought. But also, the weirdness of dreams is amazing, right? It’s funny to think you sometimes dream unthinkable weirdness, but it’s still your head thinking it. That makes you think, don’t you think?

“I love how endless your brain can be, the unique ideas and images you can create, and how unfortunate 80% of the stuff we make looks like each other. Unfortunately, I don’t remember my dreams anymore the last few years—though, for me personally, I know that is a good thing. I have some peace—some rest in my head—but my unconscious is of course still influencing my work. In a good way, but also some times in a bad way.”

On her piece, “Dreamsight”, Gradi stated:

“Dreamsight”
Acrylics on Wood
2013

 “In the same series as ‘Cult’, is Dreamsight. Notably, I always hid the faces during that time. I think it’s an unconscious choice I made. I wanted to hide—trying to understand this intensely confusing feeling. I still often make my paintings like that.”

Dreams, daydreams, the unconscious, and the storm of thoughts that can invade our waking minds, can all be seen as a window to the soul, or to the Self. Yes, we must mediate between our personal selves and the selves we put out into the world, but we must do so without obscuring our inner realities, our inner selves. I think this might be one of the greatest challenges of the modern era—of rediscovering the things that made humanity, and that make each of our lives, meaningful.

Gradi shows this with her piece, “Block”.

“Block”
Acrylics on Wood
2015

“I think this is the painting that describes my most dominant and recurrent topic in my personal work and life. Trying to escape the mold of society. I painted myself stuck in the structure (I call ‘the mold’) and the pressure I feel very deeply in the Western world. We constantly get shown how we should live. People just assume it is the way you should go. And how simple the solution looks like, I still have to remind myself as an adult to follow my own path. It’s easy to float in the stream, you know.

“Stuck, oppressive, trying to get out. The world walking numb in circles around you.”

When I asked Gradi to explain this sense of pressure from society, she explained:

“I think it’s the unnatural overload of advertisement, the core of materialism and capitalism, and the acceleration and the growing presence of social media everywhere. The way ‘normal’ is portrayed, and the way it must be in your life is constantly rubbed in your face. It’s really a struggle, the jealousy (really nasty feeling), and thinking 10,000 people can do what I do better, so why should I make this stuff.

“What can I contribute to this (art) world? All slowly slipped in my mind. Good thing you can go offline—literally stop or unplug—but it had me, and I didn’t even know it… …it is just something that unconsciously slips into my life, and by not reminding myself, I will do and make stuff I don’t want.”

My favorite piece of Gradi’s—the beautiful, vibrant and expressive, “Silence”—expands on this idea.

“Silence”
Acrylics on Wood
2018

 “This one I made more recently. I think my style constantly develops. I also believe that experiment and development is crucial to your work and your own, personal development. I don’t want to stand still. I always try to find new, other, or better ways to express myself.

“’Silence’ is made with the feeling that you have to be your own explorer, instead of listening or looking at others. I think this is an important topic in my work. Look at ‘Dreamsight’. So many influences with the same eggs. Don’t create the same egg. Create your own.”

Let it out. Let yourself, your ideas, your creativity—your inner reality—flow out from your head, and into the world around you. Let the space you inhabit be your own, and don’t let the world constrict you so much that you lose sight of what’s important and meaningful—don’t let the world constrict you so much you lose sight of who you even are. Bring your own vision to bear upon the society that bears down on each of us.

When talking about developing her style, Gradi stated:

“I can’t remember not wanting to be an artist; it is my love, my why. It never was and still is not easy—to be an independent artist, to make art most of my time. To develop my own style, I always push myself to reflect my work and myself—reminding myself why I want to make art, what inspires me, and what has always driven me.

“After being ‘lost’, and not being true to myself as an artist, I slowly started making stuff I thought others would love to have. Since I had to make money, pay my rent, pay my bills, and not really have other degrees or skills, I HAD TO MAKE IT, I HAD to make MONEY. People had to love my work and pay for it so I could make art and not have to work elsewhere—elsewhere meant no energy or inspiration left to make art. Otherwise it was office jobs, and that would slowly dull me out. But I realized that I only want to inspire people, make people feel good a little bit by looking at my work.

“Not money. I just want to MAKE. And the only way to do so, is make what I love. Make what inspires me, only then can I give that spark to someone else. And so, I try to experiment, and also remind myself often why I make what I make. And that makes me go forward, and it makes me happy.”

The last piece of Gradi’s in this article, “Circus”, is a simple yet beautiful example of what makes her work unique. It’s like a photograph taken from a distant mindscape—possibly an image from a textbook on the geography of dreams and the unconscious.

“Circus”
Collage/Illustration/Paint

“Okay, after the previous works, I want to show you the other side of creating. The fun just drips off this work. It was made after I read Kafka’s ‘Ein Hungerkünstler’ [A Hunger Artist] (1924). Shuffling and combining collages and pieces of paper, until I created the right ambience of that masterpiece by Kafka. It shows my hints of nostalgia, my love of paper and oddity, and the experiment I always recommend.

‘Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.’

—a quote by Albert Einstein.”

I was a little surprised that the inspiration from this came from Kafka’s “Ein Hungerkünstler”, as it’s a rather dark read. It’s about an artist who starves himself in a cage for days on end for the entertainment of others. When the artist finally dies from starvation, they are replaced by a panther, which the crowd finds far more entertaining than the artist. However, I thought about this for a little while, and it began to make sense to me.

I don’t want to speak too much for Gradi’s interpretation of Kafka, but, relating it back to her other artwork, between the self-starving artist and the panther, the crowd found the panther far more enjoyable. Why? Because the original artist became a hollow husk for the sake of others’ pleasure, but the panther was something wild and true—something full of life, something that didn’t apologize for its existence, or seek to please others with its own demise.

Gradi likewise overcame her need to please others with her art, and became an artist as wild, true and full of life as the panther. We’re not searching for artwork that was designed to entertain, we’re searching for creations that emerged out of someplace deeper. Gradi’s art not only emerges from that deeper place, but creates a bridge for us to cross over and join her in the worlds of her creation.

If you enjoyed Gradi’s work, you can find her on Instagram @studiosacrebleu. You can purchase prints, original artwork, and other products of her design at https://www.studiosacrebleu.nl/. If you’re ever in Europe (or, if you live in Europe), her work can be found in a wide variety of shops (which you can find on her website), and—if you catch her at the right time—festivals, galleries and other events.

The Art of Pierre Lucero

Article Written by Alexander Greco

June 5, 2019

Pierre at the Grand Canyon

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.

“Zig Zag”
Copic Markers/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2018

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.

“Spongebub”
Copic Markers/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2018

“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:

“Bloomer”
Watercolors/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2016

“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 planned pieces.

“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 together.”

On his piece, “Broken”, Lucero said:

“Broken”
Copic Markers/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2018

“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 endless.”

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:

“Caterpillar”
Copic Markers/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2018

“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.

For “Fallout”:


“Fallout”
Watercolors/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2017

“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:

“Mankind”
Copic Markers/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2017

“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.”

“Blue”
Copic Markers/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2019

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 come from?”

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:

www.AbnormalPerspective.com/PeeAirs

If you want to see more of Pierre Lucero’s work, you can find him on Instagram @peeairs. If you’ve enjoyed his work, give his work a like, or leave him a comment letting him know what you think.