Wednesday, December 5, 2007

La Muerte - ACEO

The imagery in this piece is derived from spending most of my free time in a tattoo shop, surrounded by panels upon panels of flash, cap-fulls of luscious ink, and the melodic buzz of running machines. It is also equally inspired by Dia de los Muertos imagery and the strangely arcane icons from cards of La Lotería which I encountered in Mexico.

For some more information regarding La Loteria I recommend "Loteria! or, The Ritual of Chance" which is concerned with the pervasive presence of this game in Mexican culture. A very basic explanation of the game itself as well as some imagery can be found at Lotería Mexicana. The Wikipedia entry on Loteria contains some brief introduction, history and a listing of the traditional 54 cards along with their accompanying riddles. To see examples of the cards themselves, which are reminiscent of Tarot decks and exist in different variations of style and theme, please visit the following links:
I currently have a number of double-sided, glossy prints of this piece available for sale at my Etsy shop.

Media: Prismacolor colored pencils, ballpoint pen, watercolor, acrylic, sumi ink
Size: 2.5" by 3.5"

Monday, November 26, 2007

Respecting your Elders

As an artist, I'm interested in how humans interact with and depict faeries in the present day. But as someone who is enamored with mythology, legend, etc. and also is academically inclined, I believe that artists can gain valuable touchstones to Faery through tradition and folklore which can deepen their work. I don't believe that modern people should be chained to the lore of the past or that Faery is immutable, but I do think that there is tremendous value in seeking the knowledge and experience of people whose daily lives were much more closely entwined with Faery and Nature than ours are. (Not to mention that the faeries of folklore are much more interesting and complex than their fantastical counterparts!)

Peter M. Rojcewicz, in his essay entitled Between One Eye Blink and the Next: Fairies, UFOs, and Problems of Knowledge highlights the importance of folklore to humanity:
Folklore, because of its generally unschooled, informal, and conservative nature, more clearly presents the outlines of the mind's organization than does the more self-conscious and stylistically variable popular and elite arts. Having a more intimate relationship with their own archetypal roots, traditional societies have lived closer to the quintessential spirit of nature, which employs the human mind as the context of its own 'individuation.' Nature individualizes it spirit in all forms of cognition, human or otherwise.[...]

Anomalous folklore [...], would not, rightly speaking, point to a 'supernatural' realm but toward a natural order that embraces all life. Folklore, from this perspective, does not bring us further from reality, but brings us through our 'imaginal' archetypal roots to the nature's 'truth.' Folklore is never literally true, but it may always be fundamentally true. [...] The scientific worldview would rob the universe of spirit and purpose; fairies [...] re-enchant the world, not in the way of 'glamour' or 'pishogue,' but in the sense that the world and our place in it is more and not less than it seems to the eyes. 1
In other words, folklore represents a collection of metaphorical truths. Unlike literature authored by one specific person, folklore was originally transmitted orally through numerous people, often generations prior to being recorded, and through this process its most potent elements are preserved and distilled: "Myths are naturally conservative, seeking out the archetypal pattern, so that whatever elaboration we make on a myth will, if it is not from the mythopoeic imagination, be forgotten. On the other hand, a comparatively trivial tale will always be remembered if it has come from there. 'If a tale can last, in oral tradition, for two of three generations, then it has either come from the real place, or it has found its way there'2." Folklore and mythology then are a series of powerful guides to humanity's relationship with the landscape, life, death, and other beings (human and non-human) which has been stripped of its nonessential and extraneous tidbits through the profound filter of time.

Much of the "knowledge" we currently take for granted regarding Faery is actually derived more from contemporary literature than from folklore, including the extremely tiny stature of the elfin people, their delicate insect wings, and their rather benevolent nature towards humanity — traits that a great number of people mistakenly believe to be the defining characteristics of faeries. To say that all literature regarding faeries (including work from such luminaries as Shakespeare whose writings have had a profound influence on the modern view of faeries) is false is not entirely accurate, of course, because to do so would be to deny that Faery does genuinely continue to inspire individuals. However, to take the views presented by literature as the only truths and to ignore the lessons of folklore regarding Faery is a grave mistake.

Footnotes and Bibliography

1) Rojcewicz, Peter M. "Between One Eye Blink and the Next: Fairies, UFOs, and Problems of Knowledge." The Good People: New Fairylore Essays. Peter Narváez ed. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 1997. 502-503. ISBN: 0-8131-0939-6.

2) Harpur, Patrick. The Philosopher's secret Fire: A History of the Imagination. Chicago, IL: Ivan R. Dee, 2002. 82. ISBN: 1-56663-485-7.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Threads that Shimmer

Once upon a time something need not be literal to be real and meaningful, and myths were not falsehoods. The passage of time snarls into unwieldy knots and on rare occasions smooths into deliberate plaits. The hands of the weavers include the profound influence of Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) which place extreme importance on the historicity of their spiritual stories which they have fixed from the fluid wreath of oral teachings and rich imagery into the written word; dualistic perspectives which seek to divide and conquer, and nary shall one of the subjugated seep through the barriers to associate with another; and the cool, detached scrutiny of science. Through their hands and those of others the tapestry of our consciousness has changed. The shimmering beneath the surface of ideas, of tales, of the membranes of water, skin, stone, and leaf which threaded the world together with significance is either denied or demonized by prevailing viewpoints: those hands who would weave in their own favor.

Only what is repeatedly verifiable in controlled environments is real, they say. Only what coincides with our interpretation of holy text is true, they say. They have been saying it for so long and with such persuasion that we believe it. Their rhetoric saturates deeper than we can imagine and with profound repercussions. And then we forget that there ever was another way to perceive and relate.

Deprived of a context to make sense of that shimmering beneath the surface, we may mistake it to be a manufactured glitter we tucked under the rug in order to avoid a stern scolding for the lack of neatness and conformity in our abodes. There is a brief tolerance of so-called "magical thinking" in children, but even this is only a temporary respite until the powers that be educate the enchantment from the world:
It is said that some people retain a vivid memory of the passage from earliest childhood and its magical, fluid world to an awareness of the discrete and ordered adult world. Visual, tactile, and other sensory impressions mark such children so profoundly they forever seek to reexperience or re-create them, to keep life sensuous, mysterious, and whole, perhaps to the point of changing appearances and meaning. Perception rides on watery ripples, "real" life refuses to stay within the lines. Storytellers and artists mine these veins, Reality masks a different language, beauty its antecedent and far, far closer to instinct.1
Despite the long-standing (and largely successful) attempts by the major forces of Western culture to eradicate, ignore and dismiss the wisdom of ancestors, artists, shamans, and mystics who say that Otherworlds permeate our own, the mortal soul still hungers for that interaction, a relationship which in the past was seen as an integral part of being human.

Footnotes and Bibliography

1) Meloy, Ellen. The Anthropology of Turquoise: Reflections on Desert, Sea, Stone, and Sky. New York, Vintage Books, 2002. 61. ISBN 0-375-70813-8.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Fecundity - ACEO

My second ACEO piece is in homage to creativity in its highly sensual aspects (as opposed to a more intellectual approach) which I believe is fairly self evident in the imagery itself. The concepts of fecundity, fruitfulness, and fertility have often been represented visually via the soft curves of the female form. For example, the prehistoric sculpture known as the "Venus of Willendorf" with her pendulous breasts and rotund belly is commonly cited as a fertility figure and potentially a Goddess of growth. The association between women and fecundity in the physical realm is a strong one, of course, because women have the ability to literally give birth to new life. However, I personally do not think the association between women and creativity should only be a matter of biology nor that fecundity should relate only to making babies (or producing seeds, spores, etc.). This image is intended to convey another more metaphorical view of fecundity.

The swirling green patterns were intended to represent stylized flora and foliage, but it also ended up resembling green fire which is also appropriate in some sense.

Size: 2.5" x 3.5"
Media: Prismacolor colored pencils, watercolor, acrylic

Friday, October 26, 2007

Dusk + Down: the beginning of an ACEO journey

This is my very first ACEO (Art Cards, Editions and Originals) image. I only truly learned about this art movement rather recently, although I had some knowledge of ATC (Artist Trading Cards) which are essentially the same except for the fact that ATCs cannot be sold, only traded. In keeping with the requirements of ACEOs, this drawing is 2.5" x 3.5" meaning that the full size image on your screen is bigger than the actual piece. This drawing actually began in black ballpoint pen while I was contorted in the seat of a plane on my way to Mexico.

The title is inspired by the color palette and by the texture of soft feathers. Perhaps the figure is Freyja with Her falcon cloak? He or She was not very forthcoming with His/Her identity.

I think ACEOs will prove to be a true blessing for me at this point in my hectic life. Long periods without art-making cause me to feel as if some integral part of my soul begins to slip away, and numbness begins to bleed in from the edges - I start to become someone other than myself. While I have not had the time to produce larger images, the small format (and thus portability) of ACEOs have opened up a portal for me to more easily incorporate my art in my schedule. They are pages from a Book of Hours of my own devising.

Size: 2.5" x 3.5"
Media: black ballpoint pen, Prismacolor colored pencils, watercolor, acrylics, sumi ink

Monday, October 8, 2007

A Muse in México

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Mayan Riviera region of Mexico for some sorely-needed respite from my busy schedule (I'm actually going back to that same area in a few days for business too). When browsing the shops lining 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen, my boyfriend and I took notice of some wonderful artwork created by a local artist. While there is certainly no shortage of shops offering hand-crafted folk art, crafts, jewelry, etc. I was really taken by this artist's unique melding of traditional imagery with her own vision and style. Luckily, she has a website so her work can be shared more readily than having to take a plane or cruise ship to Playa del Carmen (seeing some of her work in person is a lovely excuse to escape to the Mayan Riviera though, not that one really needs an excuse to visit!):

Her work is an interesting combination of playfulness and eroticism populated by scarlet-horned women, dual-tailed sirens, bird- and insect-winged folk, and numerous hybrid creatures. Much of it is embellished with Mendoza's own scrawled handwriting (en Español, of course) as well as with found materials:
My work is a primitive struggle between sweet nightmares and grotesque dreams, of people with tame bull horns and bitter bird wings, fish tails, forgotten insects, impossible bodies dancing with unnatural positions to music that never happened...

I have learned that art has a life on its own and how I play with it is my endless task. I could say my work is often aggressively-whimsical, much like my own country México.

Although not native to the region of Mexico I visited, the Yucatan peninsula, there were numerous pieces of art available for sale created by the indigenous Wixárika (Huichol) people of western Mexico. Upon entering one particular shop, I was immediately drawn to a yarn painting of a deerwoman with a resonant voice singing beneath a midnight sun (or at least that is my interpretation). I knew that piece was going to have to come home with me. I also purchased another beautiful painting of a multi-hued deer sigil so she would not be too lonely ;) Deer play a very important part in Wixárika mythology not only because they are a major, sacred food source, but also because the God Kauyumarie in the form of a deer enables shamans to communicate with the rest of the Wixárika pantheon. Deer are also said to have the ability to transform themselves into the greatest sacrament of the Wixárika, the peyote cactus Lophophora williamsii, which is ingested to inspire divine visions and for medicinal purposes. (You can click on the image at left to see a larger version.)

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Brian Froud's World of Faerie { book review }

I always look foreword to new offerings from Brian Froud, and World of Faerie is no exception. Overall, I was pleased with this collection of words and images, and my reaction to this, his first major faery-dedicated book in numerous years, is composed more of commentary rather than any real criticism. The original Faeries will always be the pinnacle of his work, in my opinion, but this is not to suggest that his artistic growth in the past 25 years since its publication is not valuable; it is just that Faeries had such a profound influence on my own artwork and worldview from a very early age that it's difficult to supplant something so personally significant. (I also have to take into consideration that 'Faeries' was a collaboration with an equally-gifted artist, Alan Lee, and I do believe that 'Faeries' contains more enchantment than the sum of the talents of both artists.)

This book is something of a compilation and its contents span the course of Froud's thirty-year eldritch journey. There are familiar and well-loved images in its pages — paintings recognizable from Faeries, The Faerie Oracle, The Runes of Elfland, Good Faeries/Bad Faeries, work that has made fleeting appearances on his website over the years, etc. In addition, it includes numerous pieces which were created to accompany Terri Windling's lovely mythopoetic novel The Wood Wife. While these images have appeared online on the Endicott Studio website, I believe this may be the first time they are widely available in print. For die-hard Froudians, there are a few never-before (publicly) seen paintings and drawings scattered throughout. The Unicorn Women are richly-detailed, symbol-laden pieces which are brand new.

Observant fans of Froud's work will also find not just familiar pieces within its pages, but also familiar faces. To my knowledge, Froud often uses his own photographs of friends and acquaintances who pose for him as reference for his artwork, and one can note the features of his favorite muses (including, of course, his preeminent muse Wendy Froud to whom the book is dedicated) reflected throughout. For example, the male faery in the drawing on page 121 is obviously based on the same model for the painting on page 128. The gorgeous olive-skinned fay on page 39 also appears in sketch form on page 8. One of my only criticisms though might be that there are a handful of paintings in which virtually the same exact pose and/or composition is replicated. There is a painting of a faery called "Lilu" in Good Faeries/Bad Faeries whose visage also appears in World of Faery on page 44 along with other members of the Unseelie Court. For some reason this is especially the case with his depictions of Frog Women. I would love to see Brian take a slightly new perspective on these beautiful creatures who are some of my favorite of the fae who visit his studio.

Taking a presentational cue from the Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy series, this book also incorporates three smaller booklets: one in memory of a late friend and composer, one of Froud's digital/photomanipulated art, and one relating to Greenmen and other arboreal fay. There is also a poster tucked away on the inside of the back cover featuring a poem by Neil Gaiman. Froud mentions in his introduction that an alternate title for World of Faerie is "Brian Froud's Book on How to Paint and Draw Faeries," and Gaiman's Instructions is definitely in the spirit of a genuine approach to creating mythic art, infinitely more so than the slew of previously published books which claim to teach one to do so.

The conscious role of World of Faerie as a catalyst to (hopefully) initiate a shifting towards more soulful faery art in the face of the overly-commercialized facet of the genre is only indirectly derived from Froud's own words — the explicit statements to this affect are outlined in Ari Berk's foreword. Berk is an author/artist/scholar after my own heart, and I am pleased to see concerns and sentiments that I have been writing about for years1 expressed in such a broadly dispersed, printed form.

I wholeheartedly agree with David Riche's statements in his review regarding this book as a powerful touchstone to counter the onslaught of superficial "fairy art" which has become popular in recent years:
A major publication from Brian Froud his `World of Faerie' and his image of faeries scythes through popular fairy art and Disney type fairies.[...]It seeks maturity in the tide of current commercial perception of fairy, on this point alone Froud will continue to be revered.[...][H]is work may be seen as mad and incomprehensible especially to those influenced by lack of folklore knowledge and vision, yet energy bursts artistically from every page with detailed explanation. His timing to publish on the current wave of juvenile images and enthusiasm such a volume is a brave and welcome lesson for adolescent artists to reach maturity he will undoubtedly be regarded with awe and devotion.2
I feel it is also important to explicate that the juvenility which is cited in Riche's comments as well as being implied in Berk's foreword should not be bounded by biological age. In my experience, some of the more juvenile visual approaches to depicting Faery (please note that a visual approach is not necessarily synonymous with artistic skill level and one may be independent from the other) come from older individuals while there are younger artists whose work resonates more with the "knowledge of the past, sacrifice, and dedication" which Berk rightfully highlights as paramount in the creation of mythic faery art. With all due respect to Riche, however, I feel that this book (specifically Berk's foreword) is intended to counter much of the content that is presented in Riche's own roster of fairy art books and products, which he has been kind enough to list below his review. In my own personal opinion, his books have greatly helped to encourage the perception of faeries which Froud and Berk seek to dispel with their own artistic endeavors: "[W]ith wings thrown in to add mere difference, we are shown fairies with attitude but little verisimilitude; little symbolic meaning or resonance; little learning or lore or experience behind their depiction; no depth." Perhaps though Riche's review is a testament to the truly transformative power of Froud's new book, in which case a wonderful change has been wrought, and I can only hope that World of Faery will have a similar effect upon other readers.

Another thoughtful review of this book was written by Brenda Sutton for the Mythic Imagination Institute.

Footnotes and Bibliography

1) For example, see my essay A Personal Philosophy of Faery Art which was written in September of 2004. The major points I present in that essay as well as in my numerous writings addressing the issue here and on my website are mirrored in Ari Berk's foreword quite closely. I do wonder if Berk has read that essay or if we just happen to be on the same wavelength.

Update 10/15/07: A short while ago I was contacted by one of Dr. Berk's students who mentioned that Dr. Berk recommended my Livejournal to him (see the comment dated from September 26th). So obviously Dr. Berk is familiar with at least some of my art and writing.

2) David J. Riche, "Fairy Godfather." Energy bursts artistically from every page. September 6, 2007.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Mistress of the Wild Hunt

This piece was inspired by traditional tales of the Wilde Jagd (German for "Wild Hunt") gleaned from various sources, and specifically by a particular entry describing Frau Goden as the main huntress of this spectral procession in German folklore. "Goden" is likely a morphing of the name of the God Woden/Odin who was also said to lead the Wild Hunt in Teutonic lore, and She is likely His female counterpart. Frau Holda in some cases also takes this role.

The Wild Hunt in various forms existed across many European cultures as a group of hounds and riders spilling out from the Otherworld in a fevered search for quarry. In Scotland the Wild Hunt was expressed in the form of the Sluagh or the Host and was composed of the restless spirits of the Unforgiven Dead. In other cases, the daimons which ravenged the countryside could be composed of the souls of the unbaptized, fallen angels, and/or the fay Themselves.

The faery hounds accompanying the Hunt are often said to be either black or white with red-tipped ears, and they have also accumulated their own share of names depending upon the locality including: Gabriel Hounds, sky yelpers, Gabriel Ratchets, Yell-Hounds, Yeth-Hounds, Wish Hounds (these former three terms are said to refer to a headless variety), Devil's Dandy Dogs, Cwn Annwn, hell hounds, etc.

In my depiction of this fey mistress she carries a horn inscribed with Norse knotwork, and woven through her fingers she balances a stone-tipped arrow. In the past, the discovery of Neolithic arrowheads was often attributed to faery craftsmen. The fey were said to use such arrowheads in the infliction of the "elf-shot" or "elf-blow" which could cause immediate paralysis and indicated that the soul of the person or animal wounded had been carried off by Them, leaving only a physical shell behind.

If you are interested in learning more about the Wild Hunt in folklore, and especially in the context of Germanic culture, I would highly recommend Penance, Power, and Pursuit: On the Trail of the Wild Hunt.

Size: 4.5" x 6"
Media: Prismacolor colored pencils, acrylic, ink, and watercolor on wood panel (the actual panel has semi-circular shapes which are cut out of each corner)

Monday, July 9, 2007

All Underneath the Eildon Tree

I was contacted a sort while ago by Aranea/Drema of If... Journal with the prospect of illustrating the cover image for the July 2007 issue on the potent topic of Spiritual Transformation. She presented me with three visually evocative ideas:
the face of a person, the face appearing worn, slightly off-color or
sickly, peeling away (like an apple peeling, reminiscent of the
Escher sketch?) to reveal the same face beneath, but clean, shining,
healthy and glowing
a face peeling away to reveal the same face beneath, but the face
that is peeling away is all black and white, while the face being
revealed is all full color
a person's face with their hand reaching up to pull away the outer
face as if it were a mask (same with coloration and imagery above,
but pulling away a "mask" instead of peeling it away)."
She also suggested perhaps a background of butterflies. The imagery in all of the options was definitely appealing and I intended to stick to those ideas fairly closely. I was a bit strapped for time, so I had decided to take a straight forward approach and depict exactly what was suggested in my own style. Actually, I chose to accept the commission in the first place due to the tight deadline. It had been too long since I had the luxury to make a piece like this, and I knew the time constraints would prove a great impetus to complete such a work.

Somehow along the way though the image became much more personal. The idea of the removal of a mask or the shedding of a worn skin morphed into the semblance of dry and crackling leaves being torn away by the wind. The leaves necessitated a tree, and that tree became one with thorns (representing the fact that spiritual transformation rarely comes without pain and/or sacrifice). "It should be a hawthorn tree," I thought to myself.

I was determined from the beginning that the figure would be male. Again it was another challenge I presented for myself on top of the short time period I had to complete the piece. As the face progressed layer by layer it appropriately went through a similar transformation. The golden yellow of the paper made him initially sallow and wan, and early in the process he had very deep crevices along his nose and mouth which made him appear almost sinister. Along the way the background illuminating the transformed face glowed a vibrant green.

Although at first unbeknownst to me, it later became clear that this was my vision of Thomas the Rhymer. True Thomas (another of his well-known epithets) has featured very strongly in my own personal spirituality over the past year or so, corresponding with my immersion in traditional faerylore. I have been in the process of writing a very pivotal essay (pivotal to me, anyways; that essay is actually in hiding until completion in this very journal) revolving around both the themes of the Ballad of Thomas the Rhymer and the Romance of Thomas the Rhymer since last October. In brief, Thomas Rhymer was a medieval bard who was taken by the Faery Queen to Elphame where he remained for seven years. There his eyes were opened and he was given the gift of a tongue that cannot lie - in other words, he was transformed. At the end of his seven year service, he returned from the realm of Faerie with the abilities to prophecy and write inspired poetry and songs.

When Thomas first meets the Faery Queen she is wearing a "shirt o' the grass-green silk." Upon his return to the mortal world, he was given "a coat of even cloth / and a pair of shoes of velvet green" which were a tokens of his transformation. Clearly in the ballad and the romance, green represents Faery and its gifts, therefore it only makes sense that the verdant glow in my image is associated with the transformed portion of the face.

The title of this piece is a verse taken directly from the ballad. Thomas meets the Faery Queen after awakening from a nap which he has taken beneath the boughs of the Eildon tree, a particular hawthorn which once grew in the Eildon Hills of Scotland.

Media: Prismacolor colored pencils, watercolor, acrylic, sumi-e ink, pen & ink
Size: approximately 8.5" x 11"
copyright Desirée Isphording 2007 - all rights reserved -

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Dearly Beloved

Lest you think I have been in complete hibernation . . .

These two pen & ink drawings are for a project I am working on which will hopefully come to light in the not-too-distant future. They are inspired by a great deal of Art Nouveau illustration and book design. The thorny vines are intended to be stylized wild rasberries while the plants at their feet are bloodroot.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Some brief musings on the Otherworld

Otherworldy should not necessarily be taken to mean supernatural or extraterrestrial. Otherworldly simply and literally means "of another world", and "world" is a thoroughly human idea: a globe criss-crossed with imaginary tracery segregating political, social, cultural realms of influence. "World" is an abstract created by humans for human use. The Earth, on the other hand, existed long before humanity and will continue to do so regardless of regime changes, revolutions, and the redrawing of boundaries.

Faeries belong to another world, one not defined by humans and our social conventions and mores but irrevocably tied to our own nonetheless. Like the worlds of animals, plants, fungi, and the elements themselves, we perpetually live beside - even within - the Otherworld, yet just as with the animal and plant kingdoms (again, note more political terminology applied by humans to non-human Nature) these realms are generally inscrutable to us. They can certainly seem alien to us at times, but flora, fauna, and faery are certainly not alien to this planet.
"Fairyland is a state or condition, realm of place, very much like, if not the same as, that wherein civilized and uncivilized men alike place the souls of the dead, in company with other invisible beings such as gods, daemons, and all sorts of good and bad spirits. Not only do both educated and uneducated Celtic seers so conceive Fairyland, but they go much further, and say that Fairyland actually exists as an invisible world within which the visible world is immersed like an island in an unexplored ocean, and that it is peopled by more species of living beings than this world, because incomparably more vast and varied in its possibilities."
- W.Y. Evans-Wentz in The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries

"The Underworld is not just under the ground; it is under/within the surface of every leaf, under the surface of every human thought, under the surface of every pool or water, and deep in the infinite heart of even a tiny pebble."
- Robin Artisson in The Witching Way of the Hollow Hill

"The Otherworld begins where this world ends. Tradtionally it is imagined as a parallel society of daimons or animals or the Dead. It can even be adjacent to us, in the forest or wilderness outside the sacred enclosure of the village. It can be underground, or in the sky, or in the west - or even, like the land of the Sidhe, in all of these places. Indeed, 'it may not be far from any of us'. [...] The Otherworld lies, as it were, all around us, at the points where our world ceases. It lies beyond the edge of the maps where 'there be dragons', or below the threshold of consciousness where there be archetypes.[...] The boundaries where this world ends and the Otherworld begins are always shifting - but Nature contains them both."
- Patrick Harpur in The Philosopher's Secret Fire: A History of the Imagination

"Sometimes Faerie is not a country but a shifting light upon the land, a wistful song, a moment in between other moments. Some people have a greater facility for feeling its presence than others. Children see it easily and often. So do the mad. Shamans and visionaries can travel there and back again. So can the artist who humbly gives his life over to mystery."
- Ari Berk in the foreword to Brian Froud's World of Faerie

Monday, April 9, 2007

Sallow Mushroom Elder

Like many of my finished pieces, this one began as a doodle using the supplies I had available at the time. Initially I did not have a subject matter in mind and was simply laying down some interesting forms and lines with the highlighter marker. The central portion of those forms became a wizened face, and the swirling area surrounding it was first a shroud, then hair, and finally an equally wizened tree. Due to the worn nature of the face and hands, the fungi, as well as the yellow tone of the marker, I tentatively titled this piece "Sallow Mushroom Elder." At that point in time it was still incomplete and I wasn't sure who this imposing figure was, I also had no idea if this figure was male or female.

Around the same time period I really began trying to investigate Teutonic faerylore. Resources on Celtic faerylore abound (there are some that seem to believe that the Celts have a sort of cultural monopoly on faeries, but this is definitely not the case), but I am also interested in learning about the creatures my ancestors may have recognized and honored. The Irish have been known to reroute new highways around trees and hedges sacred to the fae, Icelanders have been known to do likewise with stones sacred to the fae. The religions of the Germanic ruling classes have come down to us more preserved in the form of Eddas and Sagas than the beliefs and practices of commoners, but even in those we find the Light Elves residing in Alfheim and Dark Elves who reside in Svartálfaheim. Beyond the more "official" mythology, there is also strong faery presence in Teutonic folklore.

One faery of folklore that caught my attention was the Hylde-Moer ("Elder Mother") or Hylde-Vinde ("Elder Queen"), who is the guardian spirit of a certain tree, the Sambucus nigra. It was customary to request permission from this spirit before taking any of her wood. She required a compact of sorts before someone took the task of cutting her tree: "Ourd gal, give me of thy wood / An Oi will give some of moine / when Oi grows inter a tree" and "Lady Elder, give me some of thy wood; then I will give thee, also, some of mine when it grows in the forest" are variations on that promise. In some cases, this tree was regarded as a witch in plant form.

Size: 5.5" by 6.75"
Media: black ballpoint pen, highlighter marker

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

EverGreen: Baby and the Faerie Queene

EverGreen: Baby and the Faerie Queene is a piece dedicated to my late cat Baby, who my mother and I found deceased on the side of the road in front of my home on Friday, October 13th of 2006, presumably the victim of a passing car. I have lost pets before, but not in such an untimely manner. Our other pets were old and obviously suffering, for them death was a quiet release. For Baby it seemed too soon and we were not there to ease his transition. We discovered him already stiff and cold. We had adopted him as an adult cat from one of my mother's coworkers who was moving and could not bring him with her, but he fit in perfectly with our already multiple-pet household. He was there to greet me when I went to school or work and he was there to welcome me back when I returned.

I was not angry at Death for taking him, I was just deeply sad and it was almost incomprehensible to me to realize that the only contact I would have with him from that point on would be relegated to dreams, visions, and memories.

This piece is such a vision - my vision of Baby's transition to the Otherworld. He is welcomed by the Mistress of the Wild Hunt for souls Herself, the Faerie Queene. They share milk from an earthenware chalice. The milk is significant in two main aspects: firstly, Baby was a stereotypical feline in that he adored drinking milk, and secondly, milk and/or cream are traditional offerings left for the fae, especially as payment for the household spirits who often perform domestic chores on the property. Baby performed his share of domestic duties by being a diligent mouse- and mole-catcher. The chalice itself is directly inspired by the goblet in Victorian faery artist Richard Dadd's 1862 painting Bacchanalian Scene. In Dadd's piece it also is adorned with a Death's head motif, but there is also a verse in Latin inscribed upon it. On the reverse of his painting is a legible version of the same phrase which translated means "Each man then has his own unlucky fate both here and beyond - like must be added to like and one's due paid to the appointed spirit." The winged Death's head in my version though is drawn from American gravestone art.

The Faerie Queene is Herself a blending of the western and northern European traditions from which She hails and physical features which link her to the soil in which Baby was actually laid to rest. I believe that Faery is deeply tied to the Land, it may perhaps be regarded as the Land's dreaming heart. I also believe that the spiritual creatures, much like their material counterparts in plants and animals, endemic to a certain landscape reflect its uniqueness. Therefore, I don't necessarily think that the Faerie Queene in the south-eastern woodlands of Pennsylvania may appear exactly as She does in the forests of Germany or in the English countryside.

In traditional fairylore the realm of the dead and the ancestors was associated and in some cases perceived to by synonymous with the Faery world. Early accounts even go so far as to link the Faery Queen and King with the rulers of the classical Underworld, Proserpina and Pluto. The faeries themselves were said to especially haunt ancient barrows and tombs, and human visitors to Elfhame often reported seeing their deceased friends and relatives among the inhabitants of the Otherworld.

The title "EverGreen" is both a hopeful metaphor for the life beyond this life and a reference to the main sylvan component in this piece, Taxus baccata otherwise known as the Yew tree. Since it produces small, red, cup-like fruits known as arils and does not yield resin, it is technically not a coniferous tree, but it is evergreen and possesses needles rather than leaves. Yews are among the longest-lived trees on earth, yet they also grow at a very slow rate. The Norse commemorated the Yew as the 13th rune in the Elder Futhark, "eiwaz" and regarded it as a symbol of of the related nature of death and rebirth. Due to such associations, Yews are to be found planted at gravesites. While Christian churches often sit beside these cemeteries, the Yews themselves often greatly predate the construction of those buildings.

Size: approximately 11" in width x 12" in height
Media: Prismacolor colored pencils, watercolor, acrylic, sumi-e ink