Saturday, March 08, 2008

The issue of shadows

So, as many of you aesthetic tastes lean a bit on the darker was all those episodes of Dark Shadows, no doubt....which brings me to my post.

I saw the coooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooolest thing the other day. I noticed that my favorite band from my high school era, Bauhaus, had released a final album (they have been broken up and recently toured together as a reunion), so I downloaded the album and as a bonus you get a video of a 2005 live performance in which they play there most noted tune "Bela Lugosi's Dead" (you may have seen them play this live in the opening scenes of the David Bowie vampire movie "the Hunger"). Anyway the video has the lead singer, Peter Murphy, hovering onto the stage, upside down in bat pose...AND proceeds to sing the entire song this way. How hard would that be. Way cool.

Now, I'm not quite the Goth I used to be, but it still works its way into my art. I have always been attracted to shadow...after all without shadow, light cannot be defined. It is also one of the most misunderstood of aesthetics. I think the assumption is that if your work leans a bit toward the dimmer side, (whether in color or theme) that you are somehow a dark personality. I can't tell you how many times I've had people say that, by the nature of my work, they assumed that I was this pensive and foreboding personality. My belief is that the art creates is not the sum total of an artist, it is merely the part they wish to express. (the following are a few samples from a commish I just finished).

In my case my aesthetic choices came about because (this is only speculation...I'm not sure anyone can really know why they do what they do to the nth degree) of a number of reasons. Probably the most notable was being a shy insecure kid...I moved a ton and just when I would make friends I would move again. Thus the loner vampire became sort of appealing as a metaphor....they were beautiful, stylish, self confident...everything I wanted to be. But really I think there is something deeper going on. I believe that there is something archetypal, something innate, that makes us fear...yet long for the night. To me it is the metaphor of the unknown, like sleep, like death.
Through the years, the vampire in me worked it's way into my art...its more refined than it used to be, but it is really a way of releasing ideas but it is also a way to explore the complexity of existence and the mortal coil we must all shed. Someone like Monet, finds a role in art exploring beauty and light and color. For me, it is the contrast of light and dark and of time's deteriorating and transformative effect on all things. I know this sounds odd, but it is really the hint of painfully beautiful nostalgia that fascinates me. There is something so sweet, so sad, so engrossing about things lost. Yes, there is beauty in tragedy, it is the recognition of the fragility of life and light as it battles against the shadow. Or in the case of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Mexico, a celebration of the dead is really an joyous celebration of life. The dark eerie setting of a cemetery at night, is transformed with simple candles, flowers and warm hearts, into one of the most beautiful things I have ever beheld.
This brings me to the Holocaust piece that Judy and I worked on relating to her family's experience (Judy did an amazing number of in depth informative posts on the collaboration check it out). The most moving thing about working on this piece was that sense of lives lost, not in the sense of mere existence, but in Judy's father's case, childhood stolen. It is strange because as I was working on this project, what I found most disturbing was the not the photos of despair, but rather the photos of joy before the darkness came.
The next two images really punctuate the point. These are Judy's handiwork:
We know the tragedy that lies ahead yet we as viewers are helpless to reach into the past and help. It is the fragility of life that amazes me, the beauty of it despite adversity...perhaps because of it. It is how things in the universe try to block out the light, and how light tries to move through shadow. A dance...and sometimes a violent one, but if you look hard enough you will find grace and moments of beauty. This is the gift that Judy has, as an artist and as a she navigates this territory flawlessly.


kris said...

In my early 20s I visited Germany and during my stay went to Dachau and Auschwitz. I remember feeling such a solemn presence as I walked in those empty rooms, only cots remained. In the last room were photos of what the camp had been and those images brought on such a sadness and feeling of helplessness. For some reason the glass cases containing clothing worn by the prisoners stayed in my mind. In Judy's work those swatches of striped fabric bring those feelings back.

Hélène Deroubaix said...

Greetings to you fellow piscean artist:-)

I never dared say it but I truly love your work!
utterly inspiring,so many details,so much depths!

I loved that song by Bauhaus too,in fact it's surely the only one I really know by this band:)

That's funny I was thinking about the same things lately, how people sum up the artist and the soul behind.
We say we are our art because we paint and create with our guts and emotions, it's really a part we want to express but it doesn't mean we are suicidal and so eerie ^_____^;;
I can relate also to the attraction for the shadows and it is a good excuse to say "after all without shadow, light cannot be defined."

:-)so that people can let us enjoy the darkness too.
No more seriously it's very buddhist and serene to be able to accept the beauty of darkness and not fear it welcome it, it's a balance with the Lights of the Spirit/soul
I like what you say here:
"In my case my aesthetic choices came about because (this is only speculation...I'm not sure anyone can really know why they do what they do to the nth degree) of a number of reasons."

that's true, there are surely too many reasons why we do what we do, art is really expression that is beyond us, like messages from otherworlds or parallele worlds/realities, voices of the muses etc, our inner angels and demons, it's a mix of thousands of things...

loner vampire:) lovely metaphore:)

your words are as interesting as your work!
but I'll need to take a lot more time to explore your art, will you teach in Paris sometimes ?:-)
well I'm sure I could not afford it ahah:)

Many blessings and go on exploring the perfect balance of the eternal internal dichotomy:)

Judy Wise said...

They're going to make a movie about you two some day. Beautiful, stylish and self-confident. Check. And humble, generous, complex. Lawsy.

Steph said...

"There is something so sweet, so sad, so engrossing about things lost. Yes, there is beauty in tragedy, it is the recognition of the fragility of life and light as it battles against the shadow."

I just feel the same about things put words on a thought about my work I have been trying to express for days ... thanks!

Lola said...

Yes, beautifully said. Many don't understand that if your "aesthetic tastes lean a bit on the darker side" that doesn't mean I am some creepy, scary person. I can still be a domestic goddess baking delicious organic chocolate (dark of course) cookies for my family while my freezer contains peacock skulls and antique books. What we do or create can seem creepy but that doesn't define who we are as a whole. Some of the creepiest people I've come across are those that don't embrace any aspect of darkness. It's just not natural.

Sam Marshall said...

Your work is jaw droppingly stunning and it has such appeal because I think we all, (secretly and not so secretly), have a darker side to our nature.
Love the collaborative piece. I'd love to do your workshop!

azirca said...

You have just perfectly and so eloquently expressed what I'm sure many struggle to put into words.

Your commission piece looks absolutely stunning.

Judy said...

That has to be the best posts I have ever read, eloquent, an amazing and dynamic flow.
Bebe, you are a genius.

michelle said...

I totally get it. I took photography in college and really was not happy with my work until I started taking pictures of dead flowers and broken down buildings. I eventually realized that I was exhuming the negative emotions that were inside me. Art is great therapy!

kelsey said...

I've said it before and I'll say it two guys just "feed" off each other!!! (Did you like the vampire inference? lol)

This was a wonderful post and I have also been accused of being a "dark" sort of person because of my work and the type of things that I like. But it is just a part of my complex personality ...hey, I'm a Gemini - I'm allowed to be ambi-dextrous!!! hahahahaha

Vickie said...

Magical post my Dark Shadows compadre. Those of us who enjoy the shadow side of life in addition to the sunny side appreciate your description of your feelings about dark and light.
I have no tiny skulls in my freezer but do have jewel beetle wings, a weasel skull and some fantastic leather barbed wire out for a new project. It works for me. My vampire novel is almost ready for publication and I am loving it. Life is good. Remembering and reminding people of genocide is so important. It is still happening today sadly. Never let us forget.

Anthroid_X said...

I agree with you about the darkness and also about tragedy. I too get that whole "but you are so nice" thing when people meet me in person. And it doesn't just involve my art either. The old ladies at the library always say "you are such a nice girl.. why do you sometimes read horrible books?!". And then we laugh about my choice of reading materials. Art... Decor... Sewing.. True Crime :)

Your Holocaust piece is beautiful. Bravo to you and Judy!


Stacy said...

Your post was just fabulous. I dont have a way with words like that, but it was a beautiful way of describing such things. Love the Bauhaus reference (Peter Murphy is prob one of my fave solo acts now). This post really touched home since i just lost my father to homicide last fall (he was 71 at the time) so I certainly seem to be engulfed with the darker side right now but still manage to find some bright sides to life. I have to tell you that your collaboration with Judy was so incredible. I saw it in the Cloth, Paper & Scissors issue and have been so amazed at her great blog and artwork as well. A big fan of both of you and Judys work :)

Ro Bruhn said...

What's the opposite meaning then to all the darks, as you know I work in such 'lollipop' colours, Judy's words, does this mean I'm hiding a lingering dark side?
Love your work and your words, you phrase it all so well.

Izabella~ said...

Michael, you put into words what I wish I could, this post is "fabulously tragic" your words ring true to my ears, I don't know why I create on the darker side, I don't intend to, it just comes out of me like a delightful madness~

I looooove Peter Murphy! Bauhaus was my fav too ;)

Did you know that Dracula's Castle is up for sale?! I have dreamt of buying it, to have art retreats & masquerade balls, it's just a bit out of my price range...I believe it's 40 mill? All of us artistic/ vampires could gather at the castle ;)

thank you for sharing your brilliant words!! You & Judy are pure inspiration to me~

xo ~Bella
p.s. I need to post this on my blog, hope you don't mind ;)

it's just me....searching for hidden treasure said...

michael, what is a mortal coil? delta in fort collins

Jen Crossley said...

Amazing post Michael,I two could not of said it more perfect than you did.
Your work is just amazing,You and Judy are true soul mate in art and life

Karen Cole said...

It is times like this that I am so sorry words are not my forte.

So beautifully written, so beautifully crafted.

You are so right, when I finally met you, I was dumbfounded, there was so much light in your personality. The shadows appear more in your work and even that has become brighter since Judy has come into your life....don't haunt me for that comment, please.

~Eyescream~ said...

Yes beauty in the thickets. Nests of time & decay. Beauty in darkness & shadows. And yes, Dark Shadows, Bauhaus... Dark Entries!
I've always had a passion for shooting pictures of Decay in nature & love to focus in great detail upon the mundane & creepy aspects of ordinary things & finding the beauty in them.
And even though I am ColorPhyll (pun intended) in so many ways,... creepy, melancholic & Haunted, are also aspects of myself that I delve into... without that my art & soul would not function the same way. Hence why I create my Haunting sounds.
Embracing the dark can also bring you closer to your light. Whatever that 'Light' force is to you.
It is always good to have balance.

Lovely work as always.

Thank you for connecting & a wonderful post.

Gretz said...

Oh I love the commissioned piece Michael!

I havee made another soda pop icon. Am really enjoying using what I learnt in your classes. i am still tool-ophobic but I manage to get by ;-)

Anonymous said...

I love it ! Very creative ! That's actually really cool Thanks.