Tuesday 28 February 2017

Art in focus: 'The Devil'

'The Devil' is a card all about lust, impulses and the darker side of human nature. In a Tarot reading the card can relate to despair, addiction, lust, sex, negativity, fear, illusion and human impulses considered sinful. As you would probably imagine the connotations of the card are considered negative. But the message of the card does not attempt to blame 'The Devil' as a character for these things, it warns that these feelings come from within us, and the devilish nature within us which may be out of control.

Depending on Tarot deck 'The Devil' has a great many guises, from horned beasts, to Baphomet-esque princes of darkness, to modern day red monsters. The Devil and a physical representation of evil is featured within most cultures, hence many artists have a clear idea and personal identity for this card. The earliest Tarot depictions of 'The Devil' relate largely, as you would expect, to historical portrayals of the Devil from Medieval art. A Horned beast, satyr-esque, with female breasts and male genitals, as in most ancient western depictions of Satan, a grotesque face resides upon the stomach (sometimes this was the genitals), and wings denote the fall of an angel from grace, and the creation of Satan. A male and female Satyr were usually a common feature also, possibly denoting the Devils relationship with mankind. 

When designing my depiction of 'The Devil' I wanted to draw on original features which appeared in early images of Satan from across Europe, including dual gender, horns, hoofed feet, part animal part beast, wings and satyrs. But I also wanted to mold my demon with modern day depictions of Satan in mind, largely Baphomet, the Sabbatic Goat and the association goats have with occultism. In many cultures, goats are considered lustful and unclean, which is from where their ties with Satanism have been drawn. By combining many elements used when depicting the Devil, and Baphomet in art, I came up with my own interpretation of 'The Devil'.
In one hand the Devil holds a torch, this represents the flame of original sin which burns within us all, he holds this flame as a reminder of Lust, Passion, Greed and human nature. His other hand is raised to bar entrance to his domain. His arms are positioned in the 'as above, so below' pose, representing harmony. Above the door to Satan's domain in the inverted pentagram, s symbol of Satan himself, and also of the darker side of magic and occultism, which the Devil is barring access to for the unworthy.
A man and a woman, representing mankind, are transforming into Satyrs - the longer spent by Satan's side, the more mankind comes to resemble him and act as his servants. Their physical traits, such as their horns and tails, represent primal, animalistic instincts, and the transformation of their physical characteristics suggests that they are becoming more like their master. Depending on your interpretation the Satyrs are enslaved, but I prefer to think of them as having made a conscious choice to live a life considered sinful, indulging in instincts such as lust, greed, and all that they desire. They are bound by chains to Satan's pedestal, but it is a choice they have made of their own free will.

In my depiction I felt it was important to draw a clear connection between sin, Satan and humanity. This card expresses the interconnection of these factors, and I wanted that to be the clear focus within my image.

Tuesday 21 February 2017

Art in focus: 'The Tower'

'The Tower' is the one card in Tarot that shakes the very foundations of your life. Dismay, disaster and destruction are written in the cards and great turmoil is upon you. You must face this difficult time reassured in the knowledge that hardship, pain and fear will pass, the tower may be destroyed, but the destruction of its falsehood leaves room for a new beginning rooted in truth and strength.

Traditionally, 'The Tower' is illustrated in a very literal manner. Usually with a stony tower rising up from the earth (sometimes as if from nowhere), and its destruction is depicted full of fire and brimstone, struck down with a lightening bolt sent from the heavens, and its occupants falling foul, cursed by the Tower and falling to their doom. Most depictions maintain these key elements, with stylistic elements varying from deck to deck. 

Chronologically this was the first Tarot I started work on and the first concept I developed when I first began to seriously sketch ideas with a view to doing the series.
I had the vision of a crumbling stone tower being devoured by Hell Mouth, and that was my initial conceptual basis for 'The Tower'.
I wanted the imagery of 'The Tower' to be very dark and dismal, utterly despair inducing. When designing the tower itself, I wanted the shape and form to be quite simple. Something easily identifiable and suitably ancient looking, but I wanted it to have the appearance of having been some sort of defensive tower, a fortification that had fallen to evil and dismay. As an element in many depictions of 'The Tower' I chose to keep the lightening bolt causing the destruction of the tower, to suggest divine intervention and falling foul at the hands of an unknown force. 
Hellmouth is an ancient idea which I have been fascinated with for a number of years. It is a recurring element within my Tarot series, as a physical representation of the gate to hell.
I wanted the landscape surrounding the tower to be very bleak and harsh, so I chose to isolate the tower with jagged, hostile looking mountains and no other signs of life. 
The palette I chose is very muted and dark, it is purposely dominated by Hellmouth and the deep red sky, which symbolises death.
I wanted my interpretation to be as accessible as other depictions, with the imagery speaking for itself about what is occurring within the scene, the disaster and tragedy which is occurring, The suffering and misfortune of the unfortunate few, devoured and damned by Hellmouth, with his unblinking eye staring out; unforgiving, unresponsive and unsympathetic.

Sunday 19 February 2017

Aspirations and Inspiations: Sir John Everett Millais

Sir John Everett Millais has long been one of the artists with which my fascination never seems to end. Millais is my favourite Pre-Raphaelite artist, and I consider his combination of artistic skill, incredible photorealism, significant symbolism and ability to tell an in depth story through one still image the pinnacle of artistic perfection.

The paintings which Millais created during the 19th Century have become some of the most recognisable, iconic images in British art. Millais was the one Pre-Raphaelite artist who really achieved critical acclaim and success during his lifetime. He had the ability to bring a scene to life with vivid clarity, and posessed in depth knowledge of literature and symbolism to back up his work contextually, making every detail within his art both important and intentional. Millais was not afraid of commercial success, and with 8 children to feed who can blame him? Millais has been accused of compromising his Pre-Raphaelite style, accepting highly paid commissions and becoming a popular mainstream artist, but Millais' choices made him one of the most successful artists of his age and earned him a prominent place in British art history.

Pre-Raphaelite art has been ever present throughout my life, I have admired and marvelled at the work of the Brotherhood for as long as I can remember.  I recall thinking as a child the pieces were incomprehensibly perfect and technically at a level I could never hope to achieve. But it wasn't until I was at college I truly began to appreciate the in depth symbolism and stories behind the artworks which had been a part of my life for so long.

Millais famous masterpiece 'Ophelia' is a prime example of the complexities of Millais work, in subject matter, technique and symbolism. Depicting the tragic death of Ophelia, told in Shakespeare's 'Hamlet', Ophelia is driven mad by grief  and drowns herself in a brook, singing all the time while she sinks to her muddy death. The riverbank which is the setting for the tragic scene was painted by Millais in situ over a long period of time, come rain or shine, every detail of the bank was laboriously recorded and painted. Every single flower in Ophelia's sodden posy has a symbolic meaning, dictated by the popular Victorian 'Language of Flowers', which Millais carefully chose to convey characteristics about Ophelia and her death. Famously, Elizabeth Siddal (whom later married fellow Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti) modeled for Ophelia, added into the already complete landscape, however after several hours in a cold bath tub she became ill, and unfortunately for Millais, he was considered responsible and had to foot Siddal's medical bill. His portrayal of Ophelia is truly haunting, with her vacant, sorrowful expression and hands outstretched in willing submission, she welcomes the release of death from her insanity and pain.  

Nothing can quite prepare you for the wonder of seeing Millais' work up close and personal for the first time. I had arrogantly thought I would be unmoved having spent so many years staring at books and prints. But my first ever trip to Tate Britain (and subsequent ones) have proved just how wrong I was. Everything is a feast for the eyes, every artwork a joy to absorb and even the gilded frames which fill the walls are a masterpiece of craftsmanship and conception themselves.
The incredible vivid green and sheer vibrancy of Ophelia I remember was larger than life. And the painstaking detail of every leaf and flower, and every shadow and highlight upon them, regardless of their place in the composition is artistic perfection I could only dream of achieving.
The electric blue of Mariana's dress was utterly breathtaking, I recall being absolutely transfixed by its sheer boldness, and in awe of the delicacy of the velvet texture. The detailed memory and emotions it caused have stayed with me ever since, as fresh now as they were all those years ago.
In my naivety I had no idea that no amount of books and internet images could prepare me for the true majesty and skill with which these images were painstakingly rendered.

The work of The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood continues to force me to challenge myself as an artist. Skill and technique is an ever improving, constantly developing factor. Reflecting on the works of artists I admire so much, such as Millais, always serves as a reminder that self improvement and striving for brilliance is essential. Millais always prompts me to have the deepest context and consideration possible about what I'm trying to portray, to attempt the highest and most reasonable level of detail and ensure the technical accuracy possible for your piece, always adhere to the rules of real life, proportion and perspective cannot be bent.  If you don't believe in the picture you're painting, how can anybody else be expected to?

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Art in focus: 'The Lovers'

'The Lovers', as you might imagine represents love, relationships and union. It also represents harmony, balance and perfection. The trust, bond and dedication of the lovers incredibly strong. The card has emotional connotations as well as sexual ones, summing up 'The Lovers' in every sense of their connection and union.

Unusually, 'The Lovers' is a tarot with hugely varied depictions depending on deck, I would summise this is because love and relationships is something most people experience personally, so form their own ideals about what love means to them, and thus develop very personalised imagery.
Ancient Tarot decks would often feature a cupid and depict the act of actually falling in love as a snapshot, but more modern interpretations have largely traded this for more deeply emotional, sexual or symbolic approach.
The Rider-Waite depiction shows a nude man and a woman stood below the angel Raphael, who is blessing and protecting the couple. Raphael is the angel of air, which represents communication and its importance in a healthy relationship. The couple are in a lush landscape, suggesting fertility, the scene also has connections with the story of Adam and Eve and the fall of humanity. The card has phallic imagery such as a snake and a mountain, but is not overtly sexual in any way, though many modern artists have taken a much more carnal approach to the card today.  

My Depiction of 'The Lovers' is a somewhat different approach to most. When initially designing the card I wanted it to have intimacy, warmth and express a deep love and passion between the couple which is both emotional and physical. I decided to depict the couple under cover of night,where they are alone with their love and nothing else. The fire represents their passion for each other and their life together, but also the warmth and love in their hearts. The passion and love illuminates their existence and brightens their lives. The couple are within the fires glow, I purposefully left their actions open to interpretation by the viewer, they are either making love, or sat in embrace, either way they are sharing a tender moment which reflects their relationship and love for each other.
They embody unity, harmony and understanding.
The moon blesses their union with his presence and by bathing the couple in moonlight, but he does not look upon them. The moon closes his eyes for their love is for nobody but themselves, it is private and scared, the moon knows and respects this.
The stars form constellations which are related to love and couples, such as Andromeda, Gemini and Orion, suggesting that the universe is aligned in favour of the lovers.
Within the landscape, the mountain is a phallic symbol representing the male, and the river is a fertility symbol representing the female, the two run parallel and at the horizon become one, reaffirming the unity of the lovers.
I wanted my card in contrast with some others to express the true nature of love and lovers. To represent their dedication, connection and emotions without any grandeur or pomp, to simply show the warmth, passion and love in their hearts, and their mental and physical connection and attraction. I was aiming for a down to earth depiction that people could relate to, understand and represented genuine feelings, hopefully I managed to achieve this. 

Friday 10 February 2017

Faded Specimens - Wollaton Hall

Entomology is a long time interest of mine. Throughout the years this had manifested itself in many forms; wanting to learn the names of endless insects, studying minute details in the physical traits of certain bugs, beetles, moths and the like, and laboriously drawing insects in as minuter detail as it's possible for me to capture, what I call 'ethical taxidermy'. 

When visiting museums I'm always on the look out for their natural history exhibits, and the chance to indulge my creepy crawly curiosity. As well as a large range of Victorian Taxidermy, there are many insect specimens on offer at Wollaton Hall that certainly don't disappoint.
Hidden behind protective cloths to guard the specimens from harmful light when not being viewed, the butterflies, moths and beetles on display are somewhat different and far more charming than most modern displays. Harking back to days gone by when the displays were put together, the hand written or type-writer rendered species notes all laboriously pinned in place bring a certain ancient atmosphere to the specimens which suits their lightly faded majesty. Personally, I think there's something very beautiful and fitting about displaying these cases in their original state, it pays hommage to the time, patience and artistic flair of their original creator and collector. 

Tuesday 7 February 2017

Art in Focus: 'Judgement'

In Tarot readings the 'Judgement' card is all about new beginnings, the reevaluation of your own life and following the right path for you. You have life changing choices to make, you have reached a crossroads and have the chance to follow your true calling and intuition. Trust your own judgement, follow it and embrace your new beginning. When making your decisions be sure to follow your head and your heart. 'Judgement' can also have messages of being cleansed and refreshed, ready to face the world anew.

Typically the 'Judgement' card depicts the dead rising from their graves to face final judgement. The Archangel Gabriel summons them with his trumpet and their souls are ready to face judgement, for better or for worse. The scenes are usually rather joyous with only salvation depicted. This simple and largely christian scene is the most common depiction of 'Judgement' across traditional Tarot decks.

When designing my version of 'Judgement' I wanted to maintain the theme of reward and punishment which is featured in a number of my cards. I drew on a lot of christian traditions relating to the last judgement and the apocalypse. All of the dead across the globe are rising again to face their final fate and be judged and cast into hell or ascend up to heaven. Those who deserve damnation are being condemned mercilessly by a demon into the Mouth of Hell. The Hellmouth is a recurring element in a number of my Tarot and is used as the physical representation of the gate to Hell. A man prays and begs as he awaits his fate, but it is too late to change the course of his life and atone for his bad karma.  
The trumpets protruding from the clouds represent 'gods trumpets' from the book of Revelation, which signify the beginning of the end and the last judgement. Seven trumpets are said to sound ushering in the end of the world. With each trumpet comes a different catastrophe or disaster. The final 3 trumpets are called the 'three woes', and what my tarot depicts is the third trumpet being sounded, opening up both heaven and hell.
The landscape is barren and bleak, as the events of the apocalypse have decimated its beauty. All that remain are the dead waiting to face their final fate.

I had a very clear idea of what I wanted the completed 'Judgement' to look like from the very beginning of my sketching. Because the cards are closely related I worked on 'Wheel of Fortune' and 'Judgement' simultaneously, and wanted to have some of the same key features in each card. It was however 'Wheel of Fortune' which proved difficult to resolve, but thankfully 'Judgement' lead the way to a greater design.