Horror-Tober VI: Ghosts as Symbols

Written by Alexander Greco

October 21, 2020

So, this article and probably the next as well will be relatively short, I’m trying to get caught up after stumbling a bit the last week and try to get back on course.

Today, I will be discussing ghosts (oooh, spooooky…).

There are a number of things that can haunt you, ghosts being one of them. To harken back to a short story I wrote a long time ago, (literally A Ghost’s Story) I personally have a theory that a house represents the psyche, or the brain and all the space in it for all its various contents. The house can be filled will all kinds of normal or positive things, as well as all kinds of negative things—ghosts, ghouls, goblins, demons—and these things that fill your house all represent something about your psyche.

Demons for example might represent our “sinful” or destructive and self-destructive tendencies.

Monsters, doppelgangers and lightless rooms or hallways might be the things inside of us we are afraid of confronting, seeing or entering.

Ghosts, for me, have a relatively common motif: something haunting you from the past.

It could be a memory, it could be a person, it could be a trauma. It could be all three, or more. Whatever the case, the ghost represents something from the past which haunts your current life.

So, to explore this topic, I want to analyze several ghost-centric stories, or even non-horror stories/films that employ ghosts, and see how ghosts represent the people, places and things of the past which haunt us in the present.

Boring Classical Literature

So, I’ll begin with some of the OG ghosts of Christmas past.

First, Hamlet.

Of course, the primary ghost of Hamlet is Hamlet’s father, the deceased king of Denmark.

Now, Hamlet might not be a great story to start off with, since any of Shakespeare’s more well-known plays are like a Normandy Beach of literary analysis. We’ll disregard that though.

As a ghost, Hamlet’s father is like a messenger from Hamlet’s unconscious. Actually, possibly a messenger from the unconscious of all those who care about Hamlet, Hamlet’s father and the Danish kingdom in general.

Out of the guardsmen, Horatio and Halmet (those who saw the ghost), none of them could have known the truth of what happened to Hamlet’s father. However, all of them do know that Hamlet’s father died, and Hamlet’s mother immediately married Hamlet’s uncle. So, one might be able to make a few connections here.

Hamlet’s father may be an emergent perception or feeling coming from the unconscious of those loyal to Hamlet’s father. Their minds may be correlating events of the past, and they know that something is amiss. For Halmet himself, this feeling and epiphany emerges even stronger, and Hamlet’s father outright tells Hamlet what happened and that Hamlet should avenge him.

Of course, Hamlet must confirm this, just as anyone ought to confirm their suspicions and theories. Nonetheless, Hamlet’s vision of his dead father represents Hamlet’s loyalty, responsibility and vengeance at the memory of his father and suspicions of his father’s death, which emerge from the unconsciousness.

Next, Wuthering Heights, another literary can of worms.

Wuthering Heights is a complex story and a difficult story to parse through (the older era of language not helping this). The primary ghost here is Catherine.

Catherine as a ghost “appears” in two ways. One, she appears before Lockwood in the beginning of the story. Two, she appears before Heathcliff at the end of the story, and then Catherine and Heathcliff both are seen wandering the countryside by local inhabitants (however, these two “appearances” are not directly observed in the book).

Now, Catherine could be a number of things, but, in the context of ghosts, she obviously represents the past which haunts Heathcliff. First, her appearance in the beginning of the book is followed almost immediately by Nelly retelling the history of Wuthering Heights. This, by way of approximate comparison, indicates Catherine as being symbolic of the past (Catherine’s existence at least warrants an explanation of the past).

Later on in the book, Heathcliff is haunted by the ghost of Catherine, and he cannot look at the younger generations because they have the same eyes as Catherine. This is the present (and the future) being haunted by the past. The younger generation is a product of the past, and so even the existence of the younger generation haunts Heathcliff.

Semi-Classic Films

Next, here are three films which utilize the ghost motif rather well, though in unique ways.

First, there’s The Sixth Sense, which is almost entirely focused on ghosts. The primary theme of the movie is reconciling with the past. Every ghost inevitably wants help reconciling themselves with prior events (particularly the events that led to their death). Almost all of these events were the result of some sort of traumatic or violent event, with the mother poisoning the daughter being one of the darkest events that took place.

It is up to the child to uncover these traumatic events and put the ghosts to rest.

Another interesting point of the movie is that the protagonist themselves is a ghost, and in the end must reconcile with their past. This is something I’ll discuss a bit more with another movie, but The Sixth Sense does a good job of de-horrifying the ghosts in this movie, and ultimately allows us to empathize with one of the ghosts. This twist off events may also imply that the “ghosts” may not even be the psychological traumas that haunt us, but that the ghosts are the people who are haunted by the psychological trauma (someone “being a ghost of who they once were”).

The Shining

This one might be the most difficult piece of media on here to parse apart, and it involves a few theories about the film that aren’t explicitly confirmed by the film.

First, I’d like to mention The Shining’s reflection of what I said earlier about a “haunted house”. The empty hotel eventually becomes filled with ghosts and other malicious entities, and this may be symbolic of Jack Torrence’s mind itself.

Jack goes out to the middle of nowhere to watch over an isolated, empty hotel for the winter. Why? So he can have some peace and quiet and spend time working on his book. He tries to empty his world and empty his mind of distractions and other negative thoughts. However, this emptiness allows the ghosts and other monsters who reside in his unconscious to emerge. What ghosts would these be?

Well, there’s one very obvious and rather explicit one. Jack doesn’t feel like he’s adequate. Jack wants to prove he’s the man, prove he’s in charge, prove he’s capable and so forth. The ghosts even encourage this and treat him like he’s the man in charge of everything, the man on top of the world. Of course, they use this to manipulate him into committing violent acts. Jack’s narcissism urges him toward destructive behavior.

And then, a much less obvious and much less explicit ghost. It is almost explicitly revealed that Jack was physically abusive to his family in the past, especially when he was an alcoholic. However, it has been theorized that Jack sexually abused his own son. There’s too much to get into with this, but there’s quite a lot of small, circumstantial clues that point to this, and if you read the subtext of several scenes in the movie, Jack might have even started doing this again in the present time.

At the very least, Jack’s ghosts involving alcoholism and physical abuse certainly return to haunt him, and eventually possess him.

The Others

The Others is a rather unique film which explores ghosts in an incredibly interesting way. If you haven’t watched the film, I’m about to spoil it. If you don’t want it spoiled, skip to the next section.

It is revealed at the end of The Others that every character is actually a ghost. Everyone in the film is already dead and haunt either the mansion they live in, or, in the case of the protagonists’ father/husband, they haunt the country or land they live in.

This sort of extends the idea from The Sixth Sense, of both empathizing with the ghosts and with people becoming ghosts rather than being haunted by them. They become a ghost of their prior selves.

I won’t delve too deeply into this film, but there’s something interesting to note here. This film takes place in the 1940’s, and we discover that the protagonists’ father/husband died in WWII, the deadliest war in human history. Because of the fact that all of the characters in the film are dead (except for the living people, who were thought to be ghosts the entire time), maybe it is being implied that everyone involved in that war “died”, that perhaps humanity itself “died” after that war and that era of history. The rest of history, and the rest of humanity, will forever be haunted by the events of that war.

Cool Stuff

Now, to wrap this up, I want to examine three stories that employ ghosts and other supernatural events, but they do so in highly unique ways (and they’re very popular).

Harry Potter

The Harry Potter series (both the books and the movies, but probably more so the books) make semi-frequent use of ghosts and ghost-like creatures.

Now, there’s two semi-obvious things here that aren’t explicitly ghosts, and I won’t discuss too much, but I’ll give a brief overview of them: the Dementors and the Patronus projections.

The Dementors are mysterious entities which siphon happiness and other positive emotions from their victims. They can drive their victims to the state of insanity, or they can even siphon the souls from their victims, leaving them in a vegetative state.

The counterpart of the Dementors—which are used to fend off the Dementors—are the animal projections made by the Patronus charm, which is in many ways like a projection of the individual’s soul itself.

So, Dementors may be like depression or some other mental illness, while the Patronus projections may be like a cure to those mental illnesses—the “true, inner self” or the spirit or soul of an individual emerging to confront the negative mental effects of an illness.

Beyond these, there are plenty of actual ghosts in Harry Potter.

There’s ghosts all throughout Hogwarts, there are many individuals who die in the series and return as ghosts (or as paintings) and even Harry Potter’s parents are ghosts.

In fact, the theme of life and death is quite prevalent throughout the film.

There are the Death Eaters. There is the phoenix, Fawkes. There is the Order of the Phoenix, led by Harry himself.

Voldemort has various horcruxes which essentially prevent him from dying. However, in the event before the beginning of the books, when Voldemort tried to kill Harry, Voldemort did “die” in a sort of Saurony way. His spirit or soul or psychic force remained alive, though his physical body had been destroyed or killed.

In addition, Harry himself even dies and returns to the end in the climax of the series.

The Deathly Hallows, which are prevalent to some degree throughout the series, but really only emerge as important factors of the series in the last book, are rooted in a legend involving the grim reaper, or Death.

With just a cursory look through the Harry Potter books/movies, ghosts and other things related to death, souls, spirits, etc. seem to be highly prevalent in the series. So how do they relate to the themes of the series?

Well, there seem to be two primary and opposing forces throughout the story: Voldemort & Co vs Potter Inc.

Both possess the death and rebirth motif, with Voldemort “coming back to life” in the fourth book, and Harry Potter dying and coming back to life in the seventh book. However, their methods of death and rebirth seem to be as opposed as their goals and methods of attaining those goals. Voldemort maintains life after death through the horcruxes (dark magic). Harry maintains life after death in a much more ambiguous and far less clear way, but Potter Inc. seems to be attached to the idea of a Phoenix (Fawkes, Order of the Phoenix, etc.), and Phoenixes of course are creatures that burn to death and then are reborn in the ashes.

This death and rebirth is typically symbolic of a spiritual death and rebirth, or of the death and rebirth of ideas, stories and culture across the succession of generations.

Now, to get more into the specific ghosts, many of them seem to serve specific symbolic purposes.

Moaning Mrytle of the second book seemed to be symbolic of a past horror that was re-emerging in the story. She herself was killed by the basilisk and helped Potter Inc discover where the basilisk was hiding.

Dumbledore as a ghost in the final story may have been a part of Harry’s spiritual catharsis: Harry, having sacrificed himself help stop Voldemort, is now dead, but Dumbledore’s ghost comes to help return Harry to the world of the living, to revive his soul. Dumbledore here may have been a more positive apparition; a reminder of the plan Harry must still follow and the goal of defeating Voldemort he had to achieve.

Harry’s parents are symbolic of the great trauma that inevitably led to all the events of the Harry Potter series. The scar on his forehead is a constant reminder of the day they died, a constant reminder of the sacrifice they made to defend Harry from evil, and the sacrifice Harry himself would one day need to make to defend the world from evil. (But… why do Harry’s parents only show up as ghosts a few times? Can’t they, like, chill with him all the time?)

Other ghosts may show up in certain times as reminders of the evil done unto others, or possibly as reasons why Harry should continue fighting (Cedric, for example).

Silent Hill

The Silent Hill video game (and I suppose the movies as well) might be another topic that could be too complicated to get into, so I’ll be brief. However, I think Silent Hill solidifies a bit of our analytic theory here.

The town of Silent Hill is an “empty” town that had been wracked with great trauma in the past. It now possesses two “modes” or dimensions beyond normal, material reality. First, there is the fog dimension, where the entire town of Silent Hill becomes shrouded in a deep fog. Second, there is the “Otherworld”, which is a much darker, bloodier and violent dimension.

So, in this way, Silent Hill mirrors consciousness or the psyche. There is the conscious mind, the preconscious mind and the unconscious mind.

The town of Silent Hill, as I previously said, has experienced great traumas in the past. Those traumas are invisible on the surface (the town appears empty), but as one explores the traumas more deeply (delving into the unconscious mind), one discovers the existence and the effects of those traumas

Babadook

My last mini-analysis about ghosts, and one of my favorite horror movies ever (from a somehow simpler time in my life), The Babadook.

The Babadook is about an Australian woman who is left to take care of her child alone after her husband dies. The relationship between the woman and her child becomes increasingly toxic, especially as both of them seem to increasingly suffer from different forms and degrees of mental illness.

At the same time, a horrific, man/cockroach-like entity known as the Babadook invades their home and terrorizes the two of them.

In the end, it is implied that the Babadook is a ghost or imposter-ghost/shade/revenant/whatever of the woman’s husband. The mother and son learn to live with the Babadook in their home, and the relationship between the three of them seems to become more positive.

The Babadook in this movie seems to be a manifestation of the grief and pain that the death of the father/husband has brought onto the family, as well as a manifestation of the ensuing mental health decline and resulting toxicity. The Babadook is the dark, sinister, bitter grief that morphs into violence towards others—especially with the mother possibly seeing the son as the source of her grief, or blaming him for the death of her husband and the hardships of having to raise him alone.

This movie is a fantastic take on grief, pain, mental illness and the toxicity of unchecked bitterness and suppressed frustration.

La Fin

I think this one is a pretty obvious analysis, and I don’t think I’m illuminating too much here, but it is nonetheless a fun analysis, and it’s insightful even if it’s tried and true.

There are many variations of this theme or of this symbol, of course, as well as many tangential symbols (such as the phoenix, such as zombies, such as other paranormal spirits/eentities/whatevers), and so this line of thinking can take you far analytically.

Feel free to let me know if you have any thoughts on these analyses. Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for more Horror-Tober.

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.