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 Miguel Pichardo

Written by Alexander Greco

May 20, 2019

Miguel Pichardo

Miguel Pichardo, born in ‘92 in Pasadena, CA, is a (mostly) self-taught artist, who has delved into creating a wide variety of surreal, abstract, and psychedelic artwork. Though Miguel’s work is impressive and quite creative, for me it isn’t his technical skill or his vivid imagination that makes his artwork transfixing. It’s the freedom he has in making his art, and the intimacy he has with his ideas, whether they’re mundane, personal or philosophic. Miguel’s artwork comes from a place of wild and free thought and creativity.

Miguel’s path into art began with the reality-warping zeitgeist of 90’s cartoons. From children battling each other with adorable animal-demons, to intergalactic monkey warriors, to LSD musings of a simpler time in American history, the 90’s gave children a sensory avalanche of strange stimuli, and Miguel exemplifies the culture that emerged from this 90’s childhood.

“What inspired me to do artwork were/are so many things. At first a big influence was cartoons; Pokémon, Dragon Ball Z, Loony Toons etc. Being able to create something that was so cool to me, blew my mind. Also just being bored pushed me to get lost in my imagination which influenced me to create more.”

“As I got older my styles in artwork started to get more and more eclectic. I would say that I haven’t had a lot of training… …for the most part I am self taught.”

School Notes
Ballpoint Pen on paper
2017

As Miguel continued drawing throughout the years, his art became more original, and his talent continued growing. Miguel took art classes throughout high school, and then took a painting class at Pasadena Art Center, but otherwise was self-taught. Miguel eventually began branching his skills out into various styles, with a wide spectrum of subjects and attitudes in each piece.

While Miguel still includes the early influence of cartoons in his artwork, he also began including influences from cultural icons, and religious imagery. His artwork ranges from punk reimaginings of SpongeBob, to hallucinatory images of Mother Mary. His artwork also features sci-fi and fantasy imagery, and Americana-style tattoo-art. However, Miguel’s work frequently takes dives into the deep-ends of the brain’s imaginary YMCA.

La Bruja Negra (The Dark Witch)
Pen on paper
2019

Miguel blends the various styles of Abstraction with the wild creativity of Surrealism. Miguel’s work parallels a variety of Abstract artists, but his art seems more reminiscent of Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky. There’s also a strong influence of the psychedelic artwork that emerged from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s—Crumbian cartoon art, the graphic novels of the 80’s and 90’s, Gonzo-style psychedelia, and the more serious artwork of Alex Grey.

Still, this doesn’t quite pin down Miguel’s artwork. So much of what he does steps out of these boxes, and into what I will officially coin as “Miguelland”. The official definition of this “Miguelland” is: a space that cannot be defined. It’s a space that Miguel has carved out through his art, a space I think all artists hope to create with their work (though there can only be one Miguelland).

Untitled
Aerosol and marker on paper
2019

Though Miguel’s work is broad in style and subject matter, there is a psychic commonality across his work that ties together his disparate thoughts.

“A common theme in my work is consciousness. The connectivity that connects all. It is not always a deep concept, sometimes it is something very simple with not too much of a meaning.”

From the mundane to the transcendent, we all share the common thread of perceiving a reality around us. Though all of our perceptions might be different, all of us go out into the world each day and each night, and, in one way or another, we all have to navigate this world we find ourselves in. Though we all face unique travels, we also share in the various experiences we have. We’re all a network of waking perceptions and sleeping perceptions, daily drudgeries and daily joys, and of daydreamt fantasies and wide-awake anxieties. We’re all like a web of identities, personas, beliefs, thoughts, and perceptions. We’re all like a collage of faces, of dreams, and of experiences.

Reborn
Oil Paint on Paperboard 
2018

However, what seems to be most important to Miguel is the ability to stay flexible and free while creating his art.

“Each piece is started differently. Sometimes I have a concept before I start it, but for the most part my process is very freestyle. I try to practice enjoying the creative process now fluently, instead of structuring the piece step by step. I find the fearlessness of creating without a plan very enjoyable and satisfying.”

“Art gives me freedom so it is very important to not limit art for me. Same goes for the mediums. Sometimes I use many kinds on one piece, and sometimes I just use one medium on a piece. I use markers, different kinds of paint, pastels, charcoal, pencil, everything.”

Trip Out
Ballpoint Pen on Paper 
2019

Just a quick glance at Miguel’s work confirms this. In a lot of his art, this is no one style. There is no “This is what I’m doing, and I’m only doing this.” There’s blends of cartoons and urban landscapes, and colors and shapes and people—and people within people (sometimes within other people)—and sometimes there is no clear style at all. There’s just whatever came to Miguel’s mind as he put pencil to paper.

Some of his artwork is a jungle-like zoo of old styles, coming to life as some new, otherworldly depiction of life, while other works are strange storms of lines and colors, which somehow manage to form a meaningful idea in our heads. Other pieces are simple ideas, born from a small thought that crawled out of the ocean in the back of Miguel’s head, eventually making its way onto a canvas beach for us all to see. Whatever lifeforms have evolved by Miguel’s hand, they’re all unique specimens of the mind.

Jazz
Acrylic Paint on Canvas 
2019

I’m not sure if I can give a gestalt of Miguel’s work. I’m not even sure if I should try (oh, but I will). Through a blend of eccentric caricature and prefrontal obliteration, Miguel has created a vast portfolio of unique art. With only a meager amount of training by professional standards, Miguel has taught himself not only how to create high-quality artwork, but also how to create his own artwork, which is something that probably couldn’t be taught.

Miguel’s art is tied together with the same threads of consciousness that tie us together, but it’s also tied together by the complete lack of connectivity. His artwork is connected by a commonality of complete chaos—a commonality of complete creative freedom—and in this way, in this freedom, I think there is an even deeper connection between Miguel’s art and the human consciousness.

There’s something in all of our lives that we hold sacred—whether or not we’re “sacred” people. There’s something in our lives—or, perhaps, a number of things—we try to keep pure. There’s something in our lives we all try to call our own, without anyone telling us that it’s right or wrong, good or bad, yes or no.

There’s something in us, or about us, or a part of our lives we try to keep free, uncorrupted, and unburdened. For Miguel, his creativity is what must be kept free, wild and roaming. And by keeping this creativity free, you free your Self.

Dinos and UFOs 
Mixed media on paper
2019

At only 26, Miguel’s canvas travels are only just leaving the Shire. Personally, I’m quite interested to see where his creativity takes him. His imagination is quite expansive, and his stylistic influences seem to be culminating into something quite original. With a menagerie of modern influences, and without the burden of strict structure, Miguel—like many talented artists throughout the world­—may just go where no one’s been.

If you liked Miguel’s work, you can find him on Instagram @mi_arrte. He’s a great artist, he’s a family-man, and, from our small exchanges, he seems like a generally chill human being. His work has been in several galleries in the LA area so, if you find yourself in the Golden State, look him up, and check out one of these galleries to see his work and the work of other great artists in person.

A Glimpse

Written by Alexander Greco

May 10, 2019

The monk walked me through the sunlit hallways of our retreat facility. It was a sprawling wooden building, something like a minimalist’s fortress-temple in the middle of the woods. My guide was a young Tibetan man around my age who’d immigrated to America, and began working at these retreats while still studying Buddhism. I got to know him a little while we talked at the orientation, several days before I went on the five-hour drive to the middle of the North Pacific forests. Now, however, there was no talking between us.

The monk walked me through the compound, silently weaving through a honeycomb of stained wood and white painted walls. I tried to keep track of our path through this building, but I quickly lost track of where I was at. Eventually, I was brought to the door of my room—the small, squarish space with one small bed, a nightstand, a clock, and a window. No lamp, no mirror, no personal bathroom—nothing.

The monk opened the door to my small bedroom for me, and I walked inside. The monk held up two fingers. I nodded. The group meditation would begin in two hours. I closed the door behind me, then turned to my room and looked around. There wasn’t much to look at. I took off my backpack, and sat down on the floor, not entirely sure what to do.

I folded my legs, and shimmied around a bit, until I felt I was in a comfortable position. Then I closed my eyes. And I sat there in silence.

I was very self-conscious of myself there. I’d only been practicing meditation for the last year. I’d never gone to a retreat like this before. The fact that I was here, sitting on the ground. It filled my mind. I was sitting still, in a building full of people I don’t know. On this hardwood floor, in the middle of the woods, in complete silence. For ten days. Somehow, this was all supposed to “work”.

My mind stretched across those ten days, watching a small fraction of infinity unfurl. For ten days, I would be that small infinity, stretching on. For ten days, I would be completely silent. For ten days, I would be completely silent, in a building in the middle of nowhere, with complete strangers, all of whom were also silent. That was my existence.

In an effort to ignore the hardwood floor,

And then I wondered about why I was even here. I was here to, what, clear my mind I suppose? I was here to solve all my problems, right? I was here to fix myself, to be a happier, more wholesome person. I was here to live a better life.

I was here to be silent, to clear my head out of all this garbage, yes, yes that was it. I was going to come here to clear all that bullshit out of my head. Erase it all—that’s what meditation is for, right? It’s for clearing all the stress out, erasing the anxieties.

Yes, that’s what I was here for. That’s what I’ll do. And so I sat. And I sat. And I sat.

Breathing, yes, listen to your breathing.

So, I inhaled, and I exhaled. I inhaled. And I exhaled.

And I listened to each breath, fighting the urge to count the breaths, or make some inner commentary on how a certain breath sounded. I listened to each breath, and I felt my body as it moved, and I felt the room around me.

And I realized for the first time since I’d driven up here that it was rather humid here. I didn’t think there was any air-conditioning here—it was all open-aired, somewhat Bohemian or New Agey—but I suppose that was supposed to be the effect. Take it all in.

Just take it all…

In…

All the humidity, all the clammy hands, and all the sticky hair. All the muscle groans and strained spine, and all the ringing ear and itching nose, and all the distant insect sounds and pollen-filled air. It was all so clear, and all so simultaneously focused, and all so simultaneously distracting, and all these distractions were all so good at making me twitch or reposition, or think, and rethink, and monitor, and worry, and wonder, and walk through thoughts I’d thought days ago, wondering always, and wondering, always, “Why?”

And why was I in this room?

Yes, yes, I know, I’d gone through the list myself. We’ve gone over this, to clear this trash from my head.

Then why aren’t you doing that? Look, you’re thinking, you’re not supposed to be thinking.

Then stop!

Hey, calm down, it’s okay. Calm down, we’re here to get rid of the stress.

Right, right, you’re right.

Big breaths.

Big breaths.

In, out.

In, out.

Clear your mind.

Yes, I’m clearing my mind.

Okay, good, good.

Clearing my mind. Clearing my mind. Clearing my mind.

And for moments, there was silence.

I listened to my breathing. I felt the sensation of my skin. And I quieted my mind from all the internal clutter.

I could feel the thoughts threaten to erupt—like a violin bow coming dangerously close to the string—but I did not think any thoughts.

Oh, but how they silently hummed, and how the tear of a squealing note almost escaped several times. How the thoughts tried to be thunk. How the long tensions threatened to erupt.

If only I could think just one thought, I thought, and maybe just pay attention to that thought. Focus, right, and don’t think about anything else? So I sat and thought, well, what one thing would I want to think?

Bills? Love life? My life goals? What I want to do next week?

What was the most important thing I could be thinking about?

Well, I could be thinking about any number of important things, and god there were so many important things to choose from—and so many important things that overlapped in ways where you couldn’t think about one without the other (and god, were those things the worst!—those nests of spiteful misfortune and bad luck, where filthy, diseased hydras lurk in swamps of modern grievance).

Car insurance, rent, scholarships, grants, loans and debt and bills and credit, and repainting the bathroom walls so it wouldn’t come out of my deposit, and my statistics class I’d be taking when the semester began, and the spot where my hair has begun to thin (I’m only barely 21 now), and did all the booze and late night cigarettes do it? Was it all the stress, compounding onto one another? And wouldn’t all that stress affect everything else I had to do? Wouldn’t the raised cortisol, the difficulty sleeping, the straining brain, and the constant drag of anxiety ruin the rest of my life? And what would my mom think? What if I don’t do well in classes? What if the last few years were simply a fluke, and it would all fall apart spectacularly in the next year? One stumbled test, and I might be reeling for the rest of the year—who knows what might happen? Who know what rock I might break my ankle on? Oh, god, a broken ankle. Imagine an actual broken ankle. What in the world would I do? Who knows what river current might drag me down while I’m still padding through this mess without a boat? And then what would I do? What would I do for money? Where would I live? How would I live? How would I pay for the necessities of survival? How would I keep my hair from thinning if this whole world simply collapsed?

What a monster. What a hydra.

No. No, I shouldn’t think of those things. I shouldn’t dare think of those things, not while I’m here—not while I’m trying to get rid of the stress.

But maybe you should meditate on those things, maybe you could discover some deep, dark secret about the meaning of life—or something.

No, that’s not how it works—you don’t focus on the negative, you don’t get distracted with thoughts, you don’t stress yourself out.

What do you do then?

You stop worrying.

But there’s so much to worry about.

That’s why you’re here, to stop worrying, so you can go back to normal life, and…

And find all the same old worries.

Yes, perhaps, but you’ll be better equipped to—

To cope with them? To deal with them? To think about them?

…yes.

What sort of plan is this?

It’s our plan, now sit and meditate. Come on, we’ve been meditating for a year now—we’ve been trying so hard—why can’t you meditate here? Why can’t you do this? Why can’t you—

We’ve been half-ass meditating. We came here to get better at meditation.

Right, right—that’s right! We came here to get better at meditation, so we could meditate better once we went back.

And look at how well we’re doing.

It’s only been [I opened my eyes and looked at the clock]—

It’s been twenty minutes. Of sitting.

It’s been twenty whole minutes? [I was still staring at the clock]

Twenty whole minutes.

But… But we’ve barely been meditating.

Yeah.

Like… No, really, we’ve barely begun.

Twenty minutes.

What will we be like in 10 days?

What will we be like in another twenty minutes?

I was in fact silent now.

My brain sort of stopped. I felt a small amount of panic. A somber, frantic sort of remorse.

I’d already fucked up, hadn’t I?

I’d fucked up from birth, I was sure of that now.

This life had been one long tunnel of fuck-ups leading to this fuck up, I’d realized that.

I was born into the mouths of the hydra. At the hospital, they must have been smiling in wait between my mother’s legs.

Two heads bit onto my feet and pulled me out. All the others wrapped around my body, and they’ve been constricting just tightly enough that I’ve been gasping for air, but I can’t do anything to stop them.

And now, you can’t even sit down to meditate.

Well, give it a try, I told myself, we have ten days to figure this out—we’ve only been here twenty minutes—

Half an hour.

—and we’ve been practicing for a year—

Half ass practicing.

Ten minutes passed by? [I looked back at the clock]

Yupp.

How? What happened?

You were thinking.

But… but I wasn’t even thinking about anything that mattered. Why… What am I doing?

The hydra squeezed until my spine cracked. A numbing, irritating, cold, hot sensation rose from my pelvis. I could feel it spread like wings near my kidneys, and a hellish winter breath billowed up my throat and into my head. My eyes watered from the chill and the burn, and the gripping, grasping, constricting pressure of a thousand worries. I couldn’t keep the rain from raining.

It won’t leave me alone, will it? There’s no escape.

No, maybe there’s not. But we’re here now. We’re right here, in this room, sitting on a stranger’s floor in a stranger’s forest. So, try.

And, so, I did.

I sat. I closed my eyes. And I didn’t think.

For a long time, I could still feel the great beast engulfing me in its gnashing, burning, frigid pressure. Its teeth lazily tore at my body like a pack of wild dogs. The furnace in its belly burnt my eyes, and the rain wouldn’t stop raining. But I just sat there, and let myself feel it.

I felt my body. I felt myself resting on the ground. I felt my chest rising and falling, rising and falling. And I felt the world smothering me in its infinite coils.

And then I felt the air against my skin. I watched the light hitting my closed eyelids. I mapped the movements of quiet sounds.

I sat there, feeling the world, feeling myself, feeling whatever my mind thought I should feel. And I sat there for second after second, minute after minute, feeling and watching and waiting, and giving in to the world I felt. Perhaps, I thought, if I did this long enough, I might feel the Earth spinning in the void. If I watched myself long enough, I might watch myself sleep in the soil. If I listened long enough, I might hear the sound of nothing.

And suddenly, I felt the coils no longer.

I was silent.

And all I saw was black. All I saw were the back of my eyelids cutting the sunlight of the rest of the cosmos off from my pupils, severing the beams of oceans of photons. All I saw was the flesh of the back of my eyelid, staring back at me.

And I decided to embrace the silence—that’s all I could do really—and fill myself with it, and feel myself in it, and watch myself feeling it.

But there was still nothing.

Only silence.

Perhaps a calm.

But not a happy calm.

Not a victorious calm.

Not an enlightened calm.

Just less blustery winds.

And I still wasn’t sure what I was doing there.

But I embraced that.

And, nonetheless, I sat.

And sat.

And sat.

And stared at my eyelids.

And then I tried something different.

I decided to focus on the darkness inside my eyes. I tried to focus on the silence in my ears. I tried to focus on the emptiness in my head.

All my attention of the world around me waned, and my awareness of the world inside my head blossomed. Slowly, the reality in my head eclipsed the reality outside my head. Slowly. Slowly. Slowly the moon crossed over the Sun.

And there was only the silence, the dark, and the emptiness, with fringe coronas of an external reality.

Everything was still. Everything was empty. Everything was nothing.

Silence.

Pure, pure silence.

And then, there was a humming.

A ringing.

A keening.

A crashing.

A baying.

A billowing.

A howling storm inside a vast empty cavern—a numb, midnight-blue, frigid hellfire of silence.

And then it went quiet. And there was nothing there.

Nothing…

And then…

I saw something.

Eyes. Staring at me.

I opened my own eyes. There was just the room around me. Nothing more.

I closed my eyes again. And I was in the void of my head. And there I saw the eyes again.

Violet and indigo, and ultraviolet and gamma-ray eyes. They were glowing eyes in the dark, staring into mine, beaming into the holes in my skull like two supernovas focused at my retina—beaming a crashing river of thoughts into my head. It was so much information, all streaming into my thoughts, or perhaps it was my thoughts streaming into my thoughts, wreathing in quilts of the color spectrum that danced and hummed and shook and shattered.

It was the Truth. I don’t know how I knew; I don’t know what told me so, I don’t know why I believed it, I don’t know what caused me to believe it, but I knew it to be so.

I saw the Truth staring at me with indigo and ultraviolet eyes. I saw myself staring back at me. I saw my self in and of myself. I saw my eyes looking into my eyes. Between my eyes and my eyes, between the black holes staring into our black holes, where all the light disappeared into our retina, was an infinite space. Between my self and I was an infinite mirror, an infinite, lightless pit, and an infinite, empty space. There, in the space between our eyes. That was the Truth.

Something greater than myself, something greater that I was a part of, rose in the space between our eyes. It was a vast thing, a voluminous thing, a cascading and rampant thing. It was the hydra, but it was something more. It was a machine that grew between my self and I like wildfires and swarms of ants—a machine made of letters and numbers, and the crawling insects that formed the shifting architecture carried grammatical nuts and bolts, and division rods, and axles of integration, and the wildfires carried seeds of trees in screaming hands of industrial decorum. My skull bulged at its limits—squeezing diamonds of quilted thought, pushing at the cage around my brain—as I witnessed the mechanisms of gods and daemons and artificers of cosmic muse, and of the architecture that remains ignorantly omniscient and blindly omnipotent.

For a moment, only the briefest moment, I was my self, and I was the universe staring back at its self through an astronaut’s suit of carbon, iron, calcium, oxygen, lipids, proteins, and strings of chemical archives.

And then I opened my eyes.

And I was in my room again.

There was a knock on the door.

It was time to go meditate with the others.

The Art of Lauren Power

Written by Alexander Greco

April 22, 2019

Lauren with her children’s book, “A is for Art”

Hailing from Houston, TX, Lauren Power is a mother, an art and art history teacher at Waltrip High School, and the creator of uniquely beautiful and grotesque artwork. In much of her work, Lauren aims at pairing vivid colors and imagery—such as animals, flowers, and women—with dark, unsettling, and at times disgusting imagery—intestines, bones, brains, hearts and other organs. However, her pieces have a wide range of style, subject matter, and medium—ranging from painting, to digital art, to tattoo work.


Eye in Mouth
Watercolor
2018


Lauren’s art blends the technical work of realism, experiments with color theory, and elements of surrealism to create these oddly intoxicating images. All at once, her art hits us with the mesmerizing beauty of nature, the strangeness of dream-like visuals, and a train wreck we can’t look away from.

“I’ve always enjoyed flowers and highly saturated colors, but I often pair them with internal organs or dark backgrounds. I feel my work can be both hideous and beautiful at the same time, but that’s mostly what interests me. The contrasts we experience in this world of the pretty façade hiding a sinister ulterior.”

“Kiss of Death”
Oil on Linen Canvas
2019

Lauren’s work blurs the line between the things we love and adore, and the things we fear or loathe. In her piece, “Kiss of Death”, she molds a severed heart into a face with seductive lips, and frames it with dark and cool tones, which contrasts attraction and revulsion.

“…originally [I] had sat down to paint a rose. While sketching, that rose evolved into deadly nightshade flowers and I kept thinking about that type of toxic love that tricks you with her beauty, but will ultimately destroy you. This heart is both seductive and deadly, contrasting the vibrant greens and lush pink.”

Lauren—who has been happily married for nearly 10 years—created this piece to show how some people fall head-over-heels for people that eventually hurt them. Sometimes we become entranced by someone we hardly know. Other times we fall in love with a false identity that someone has created, or we fall in love with a false identity that we fabricated in our heads. Whether through this person’s manipulation, their card-castle of lies, or through seeing the person with sober clarity, these relationships eventually collapse.

In other pieces, we see an outpouring of emotion, and the inner tension we often feel as we bury our emotions deeper into our psyche.

“Rainbow Guts”
Watercolor, India Ink, and Gel Pen on Paper
2019


“Rainbow Guts” is about the insecurities and anxieties that wrack us from the inside out. Whether we feel worthless in the eyes of others, or feel like those we love and care about don’t love us back, we often find ourselves wondering if anyone truly accepts us as who we are. And even beyond this, life is filled with doubts and hurtles and uncertain times.

For the most part, we try to shield these troubles and insecurities from friends, family and co-workers, so as not to worry them with. However, this often comes at a cost to us, as the more we bury our emotions, the more our emotions strive to burst forth.

“The week I made this, I was experiencing a lot of anxiety. This is what I imagined you would see if you cut me open and looked inside—a twisting mess of color and confusion.”

“Dreams”
Multimedia
2015

In “Rainbow Guts”, we see a small storm of different colors, and often when we bottle ourselves up, even the things that make us happy, content or excited become muddied up with our anxieties and frustrations. It becomes difficult to differentiate between our fears and our desires, our love and our hate, and our doubts and our hopes. When the storms of emotions inside us become too much, often the best way to get rid of them is to let it all out and find some way to express the convoluted thoughts we have. (Meditation and morning runs help too.)

With “Electric Heart”, Lauren uses grotesque imagery to create a sense of masculinity, and frames the heart in black, which gives it a sense of detachment or isolation. This grotesque and isolated heart stares up at the world above it, or perhaps at the world outside of it. Oftentimes men have difficulties expressing themselves, or repress their thoughts or feelings. However, the feeling of being isolated inside our own minds is something universal. We often feel vulnerable when revealing how we truly feel or think.

“Electric Heart”
Water Color and Gel Pen on Paper
2019

“I inherently like pretty things like flowers… …but I often try to combine them with masculine elements. For me, hard elements like bones or grotesque things like internal organs seem very masculine to me… …I feel like the grotesque represents all the things we hold inside, that we internalize and compartmentalize. That is an inherently masculine activity, concealing one’s emotions inside, whereas the feminine is more open and up front about feelings.”

What fearsome, repulsive, or hard personas do we put up to shield our vulnerabilities inside? For a lot of us, it’s almost instinctual to conceal our inner selves. We don’t know how to drop our hardened, angry, absurd or serious personas, and reveal our true dreams, doubts and ideas.

Beyond her work with the grotesque, the surreal, and the introspective, Lauren has experimented with various mediums, and with her use of color theory. In addition to traditional oil and watercolor, and drawing, Lauren uses alcohol markers, gel pens, microns and India ink. Lauren has even tried her hand at tattoo-work, and has written a children’s book.

“Garden Skull”
Alcohol Marker, Watercolor, and Micron on Paper
2018

With “Garden Skull”, Lauren uses a mix of watercolor, micron pens, and alcohol markers to create a haunting and beautiful skull.

“I just love the graphic nature, saturation, and blendability of alcohol markers. I was previously super involved in watercolor, but couldn’t get the clean saturation that I now get from copics and Prismacolor markers.”

In “Smokey Eye”, Lauren mixes alcohol markers and microns with gel pens. What I personally liked about this piece is how the linework, the colors, and the places where she used gel pen all seem disconnected from each other, like they were physically laid on top of each other, but not actually the same image. And yet, despite this, they still complimented each other a formed a dazzling whole.

“Smokey Eyes”
Alcohol Marker, Micron and Gel Pen
2019

While working on this surreal and glamorous piece, Lauren found that “Smokey Eye” emboldened her sense of creativity.

“My past really lied in traditional painting and realism; I was enjoying the excitement of something outside of that comfort zone. I love gel pens specifically for their saturation and ability to create high contrast highlights. I fell like they give my work a sense of sparkly otherworldness.”

With “Jessica Rabbit”, Lauren plays around with form and color to produce a portrait that is strange, yet still beautiful. Lauren emphasizes this woman’s eyes and lips, while de-emphasizing other aspects of her. Lauren also matches typical hair and skin tones with more vibrant colors, which gives a sense of realism, yet also causes the colors to pop in a way we wouldn’t see in real life. This makes the subject seem more natural than the original Jessica Rabbit, but still surreal compared to someone in real life.

“Jessica Rabbit”
Oil Paint on Canvas Panel
2019


“I have a background in traditional realism painting, but lately I’ve been pushing my color theory and style… …my reference photo for this piece was actually a very soft pink. She had brown hair and was overall very regular. I enjoyed punching up the complements of turquoise and red in this one. I have a tendency to draw giant chins and small eyes, so I tried to do the opposite here to stylize the figure.”

With both “Jessica Rabbit” and “Smokey Eye”, Lauren mentioned an influence from digital art, saying, “…I do draw inspiration from their ability to stylize the figure, emphasizing eyes, saturated colors, blends, and sparkly highlights.”

However, Lauren still prefers physical mediums over digital art.

Rainbow is my Favorite Color
Gouache on Panel
2019

“I’ve been super inspired by digital art, but have more enjoyed seeing its translation in my traditional paint medium. I feel a closer connection to paint and brushes than I do a stylus… …when I actually attempted digital art, I felt very disconnected.”

As with many other things that’ve been changed with digitization, many people embrace digital artwork, but many people still prefer physical, tangible art. Of course, many artists who work with physical mediums still admire the work of digital artists, but for artists like Lauren, nothing compares to holding a paintbrush and watching a canvas come to life.

On top of all this work, Lauren found inspiration from her 2-year-old daughter to create a children’s book. Lauren’s book pairs each letter of the alphabet with a wide variety of different images and color schemes, ranging from a fauvist Jellyfish to a living Ukulele. This helps young children associate abstract letters with visual representations, and gives them something fun and creative to flip through.

“I initially made it just to print for myself and [my] daughter, but decided to publish it with Amazon KDP. I really only thought my family would end up buying it, but my friends are so supportive, they promoted it so widely that people I didn’t even know were purchasing it and leaving reviews. I even had some people ask me to autograph their copy, which really tickled me.

“The Letter R”
Alcohol Marker and Micron
2019
From “A is for Art”

“I wanted a book that focused on visuals and aesthetics. I wanted my little one (she’s 2 and a half) to have to sort of guess what each letter represented. There’s some pretty out there references like Z for Zap and Q for Quiet. It is currently my daughter’s favorite book, she calls it the mommy book, as it has my picture on the back cover.”

Though much of Lauren’s work focuses on the ugly and grotesque, the real and surreal, Lauren also draws inspiration from her daughter, her loving husband, and the beauty of the world around her. The inspiration that Lauren takes from the world, she also gives back out to her family, friends, students and fans.

If you haven’t seen the rest of her work on Instagram, I would highly recommend checking it out (@artistlaurenpower), and you can find her students’ artwork on Instagram as well (@waltripvisualarts). If you like her work, let her know and give her a follow. If you’re interested in her book, you can find it at www.amazon.com/dp/1790918030. Lauren has also designed graphics for tee-shirts, which you can find at https://www.teepublic.com/user/artistlaurenpower.

“I ❤ You”
Dropper Paint
2018