By the Light of the Silvery Moooooon

Hey remember that famous movie starring Bela Lugosi as the Werewolf? No? That’s because Bela the gypsy fortune teller isn’t onscreen very long before he wolfs out and chomps on Lon Chaney, turning him into The Werewolf of the 1941 movie “The Wolfman.”

wolf_poster

This was one of the few Universal monster movies not based on a book, and writer Curt Siodmak invented quite a few of the things we now think of as werewolf canon — like silver bullets, the bite of the werewolf transferring the curse, and even the idea of the full moon bringing on the transformation. (He also penned the folk poem quoted in the movie: “Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.” It’s in every Universal werewolf movie that followed, tho’ they changed the last line to “the moon is full and bright.”) Missing entirely from the movie is the scripted scene were the Wolfman was supposed to wrestle a bear. (Yes, one of the lesser known inhabitants of Wales that.. um.. no one has ever seen there.)  Apparently the bear had trouble finding his motivation that day (or maybe he thought a bear turning up in Wales was not believable) and chased leading lady Evelyn Ankers right off the set, which pretty much scrapped the scene.

wolfie_bear

The Wolfman, as played by Lon Chaney, was a perfect candidate for the Monster Martyr paintings I was working on — talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time! Larry Talbot (Chaney) had the extreme bad luck of rescuing a girl being attacked by a werewolf (transforming gypsy Bela Lugosi). Talbot was able to defeat and even kill the creature because of the nifty silver wolf’s head cane he’d just bought from a cute gal he was flirting with at the local antique shop (the aforementioned bear-bait, Ankers).

Ah the old "I'll buy something from your silly shop and then we can have dinner, right?" ploy.

Ah, the old “I’ll buy something from your silly shop and then we can have dinner, right?” ploy.

Chaney did a terrific job of conveying the torment of a man who realizes he’s become something else. His misery may have been informed a bit by the real life torture of his yak-fur make-up, which apparently took hours and hours to apply. (He also claims they used tiny flooring nails in his wolf paws, but he was known to exaggerate.) Later, he attacks his lady love and Talbot’s own father beats him to death with — you guessed it — his very own silver wolf-topped cane. (His dad then watches horrified as the creature he just killed transforms into his son — he had no idea. Need a hanky yet?)

wolfie_death

If you missed the last couple posts about Monster Martyrs, you can catch up:  Who Are The Real Monsters? and Of Brides & Breaking Wheels. The idea I was playing with is that it’s not the monsters who are truly monstrous — it’s the people. After all, we’re the ones who came up with things like this –

St. Hyppolytus the pinata

St. Hyppolytus the pińata-not-full-of-candy

And this –

St. Edmund the pincushion

St. Edmund the gooey, oozing pincushion

Aaaand this –

St. Bartholomew the... well they basically peeled all his skin off.

St. Bartholomew the… well they basically peeled all his skin off.

Larry Talbot/Chaney wasn’t a monster of his own making or choice — he wasn’t experimenting with powers beyond his understanding or pushing the boundaries of science or dabbling in witchcraft — he became afflicted with something he couldn’t control, and was put to death for it. In my painting “Song of the Owl”, the Wolfman is carrying the object of his martyrdom, the silver wolf’s head cane that killed him, and has as his companion an owl. Sacred to the Greek goddess Athena, the owl has long been associated with wisdom but because it’s nocturnal (plus that very unnatural head swiveling thing) it also has a long history of creeping people out and is considered a funereal bird and bad omen. (In the Holy Scriptures, Joel lists the owl among the “impure animals.” What bunk.)  I absolutely adore owls (as evidenced right here) and in my painting the owl is a messenger bird, capable of traveling between the worlds of the living and the dead.

"Song of the Owl" Oil on wood, 24 x 14 inches

“Song of the Owl” Oil on wood, 24 x 14 inches

If you want to bring a little of this wolfie goodness into your home, you can snag yourself something plush and yummy right here: “Song of the Owl Throw Pillow” — promise he wont scratch up your furniture!  Happy Howloween!

wolf_pillow

And finally, I leave you with this.  I miss Lux. The Cramps’ Halloween shows at the Fillmore were so fantastic…

Who Are The Real Monsters?

It’s possible that as a bit of a misfit kid I related a little too closely to the plight of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster. Watching Boris Karloff’s version of the creature being hunted, it seemed all too clear to me who the real monsters were. Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus” and James Whale’s brilliant “Bride of Frankenstein” touched me on an almost cellular level, and I’ve been trying to change that story in my art for years, to create a happier outcome, a real future for those characters. It’s also been pointed out to me recently that these paintings track changes in my life –

The Frisky Years…

"The Honeymoon" Acrylic & enamel on tin, 21 x 16 inches

“The Honeymoon” Acrylic & enamel on tin, 21 x 16 inches

Developing Healthier Hobbies…

"The Gardener" Oil on wood panel, 10 x 8 inches

“The Gardener” Oil on wood panel, 10 x 8 inches

Building A Family…

"Sew Much Love" Oil on wood panel, 17 x 14 inches

“Sew Much Love” Oil on wood panel, 17 x 14 inches

"Song of Birth: The 3 Magi" Oil on panel, 24 x 32 inches

“Song of Birth: The 3 Magi” Oil on panel, 24 x 32 inches

And Having Fun With Your Mate…

"Date Night" Oil on wood panel,, 15 x 24 inches

“Date Night” Oil on wood panel,, 15 x 24 inches

So yeah, you don’t have to look too hard to see that this is a common theme in much of what I do — “fixing” things that I perceive as wrong, things that have rankled around inside me since I was a child. (Another example, my seemingly endless desire to see Catwoman and Batman together.)

In my painting series Monster Ballads, I was thinking a lot about “Monsters: They’re Just Like Us!”  I painted things like Dracula relaxing on the beach moonbathing, monster friends celebrating a birth, and a series of martyr paintings because I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that so many of these creatures got a seriously bum rap. (Dracula did not appear in the martyr series because I felt that his path was a bit more self directed plus he seemed to wholly enjoy his state of being, as opposed to Frankenstein’s monster who got disinterred, hacked to bits, sewn up, and then pretty much reviled every moment of his waking life.)

As I mentioned in my last post (“Of Brides and Breaking Wheels”), paintings of martyrs often showed them with the thing that transformed them into a martyr (“a person killed because of their religious or other beliefs”), or sometimes there would simply be a visual clue. In the case of Saint Lucy, artists had a lot of options to choose from:  she was sentenced to be defiled in a brothel (but the guards couldn’t move her, even with a team of oxen), they heaped wood around her for a nice roaring fire (but she wouldn’t burn), and so they finally killed her with a sword. (Tell me again who the real monsters are?) One has to wonder, if one can do so without being utterly blasphemous, why so many of these saints seem to be under amazing and wonderful protection from all forms of harm right up until they suddenly aren’t. Around the 15th century a gruesome addition popped up in her story: torture by eye gouging, tho’ some stories say she did it to herself to deter particularly ardent suitors who admired her peepers. This story begat some of my favorite martyr images –

Saint Lucy by Domenico di Pace Beccafumi, carrying her very odd and anatomically incorrect orbs (and looking at us with her miraculously regrown ones).

Saint Lucy by Domenico di Pace Beccafumi, carrying her very odd orbs (and looking at us with her miraculously regrown ones).

And this, one of my absolute favorite paintings of all time for sheer weirdness — the eyes being held like a little flower bud, while Lucy looks at them (with her again miraculously regrown peepers) with what is clearly an “Ew!” face.

Saint Lucy by Francesco del Cossa

Saint Lucy by Francesco del Cossa

When I painted Frankenstein’s monster as a martyr, I gave him a daisy, which was a shout out to this:

daisy_scene

And he’s holding a tiny windmill in his hands, because (spoiler alert!), things do not go well at the windmill.

windmill

Each painting in this series has a messenger bird, who travels between the worlds of the living and the dead kind of like a supernatural carrier pigeon. In this piece it’s a raven, a bird which is usually not portrayed in a very flattering light in art, possibly because of the simple stigma of being black (aka “evil”), but being carrion eaters certainly didn’t help. Spotted casually pecking bits out of corpses got the idea into people’s heads that they were mediators between life and death. (In Swedish folklore they are the ghosts of murder victims.) Crows get painted with this tar brush too, you’ve all heard the term “a murder of crows” by now.

"Song of the Raven" Oil on wood panel, 24 x 14 inches

“Song of the Raven” Oil on wood panel, 24 x 14 inches. The little snow capped mountain in the distance is a nod to the ending of Shelly’s story.

In my deep need to share the love of Halloween, this week if you want to bring a monster to your home (“Friend!”) you can, in three different sizes of throw pillows –

frankie_pillowYou can get these goodies right here! 

And lastly, in honor of those who’ve lost their heads to love, science or an executioner’s blade:

Of Brides and Breaking Wheels

In my intense need to share the joys of the High Holy Holiday of Halloween I’m going to be posting a few of my paintings as household goodies this week — starting with “Song of the Goldfinch” which you can snag as a pillow (available in three different sizes).  If you can’t wait and wanna read the rest of this later, you can pick it up right here! 

bride_pillow

And as a tote bag, also in 3 sizes …

bride_tote

These are images of my painting “Song of the Goldfinch”, part of the Monster Ballads series, where I was thinking (as I often seem to do) about what it means to be a “monster”. In this series, the classic creatures were all depicted as martyrs — because if you think about it, The Bride of Frankenstein didn’t exactly ask to be dug up and reanimated. Her companion, the goldfinch, often appeared in Renaissance paintings as a symbol for the soul, resurrection, sacrifice and death. I see it as a messenger who can travel between two worlds.

In many historical painting of martyrs they are depicted holding the object of their martyrdom (aka “the thing used to kill them”). Saint Catherine of Alexandria was sentenced to be crushed to death by a spiked “breaking wheel”, so you often seen her with what looks like a big old wagon wheel at her side like she was Loretta Lynn’s great, great, great, grandma.

st_catherine+of+alexandria

Awful as it must have been, it didn’t work (“at her touch this instrument of torture was miraculously destroyed”), so the Roman Emperor Maxentius, who was already pretty pissed because he’d offered to get Catherine out of this nasty jam by marrying her (an offer she declined, explaining she was already married to Jesus), decided to have her beheaded. Unfortunately her miraculous way with wheels didn’t seem to apply to blades, and this attempt on her life was entirely too successful. This is why you often also see Catherine with a sword, or sometimes both a sword and a wheel. I particularly like the smashed wheel in this one:

stcatherine

In my painting the Bride is holding the instrument of her death which, according the heartbreaking film “The Bride of Frankenstein” by James Whale, is fire. The fire that the monster set when his bride-to-be rejected him and he decided “We belong dead.” (This movie makes me cry every time, people. Every. Time. “Friend?” Cue the waterworks.)

"Song of the Goldfinch", oil on wood panel, 24 x 14 inches

“Song of the Goldfinch”, oil on wood panel, 24 x 14 inches

If you want to bring any of this juicy goodness home, just bunny on over to this site right here. (Yes, simply click that link like your clacking your ruby slippers together and you’ll be magically whisked over.)

More goodies to come!

Darkling I Listen…

I call him LL Scrub Jay. He’s a Western Scrub Jay that hangs out in the necto-plum tree outside of my studio, and I feed him peanuts from time to time. He and his buddies turn up in my “bird a day” sketchbook (full disclosure, I don’t always have time to draw a bird a day, but I try).

2_box

I’m pretty sure the neighbors think I’m bonkers but when I do my pathetically bad scrub jay call he usually shows up for a few nuts, and this makes me feel like we have a “relationship”, which resulted in this painting:

3_box

Flash forward a bit to when I was asked to contribute a piece to the show “Boxes of Death 5″, in which artists are all given a 2′ high wooden coffin to paint/alter/play with. The blank casket arrived on my doorstep at about the same time that I read an article about how Western Scrub Jays have funerals. When one finds a dead comrade, they start up a loud screeching call — but not to warn other jays away, to gather them around. The assembled birds all perch near the dead bird’s body and screech together for as long as 30 minutes. (You can read more about this right here.)  That’s when I decided I would create a funerary piece about LL.

First step, paint it black.

First step, paint it black.

In my paintings I’ve often toyed with the idea of an animal kingdom where the critters have dragged elements of human culture back into their world, and pondered what sort of things they might take a shine to and value. With the idea of “pouring one out” in remembrance of a fallen friend, I decided the background for the piece should be hand-painted labels from Olde English 40 oz bottles — as close to “gold leaf” as a bird might be able to scavenge.

tumblr_mt4zizE8Hb1sh5sfno1_500

Which started to come together something like this (with the help of my studio assistant, who feels there should be massive amounts of feline hair in everything I do).

This is about the point where I was starting to really regret the decision to hand-paint a bunch of beer labels.

This is about the point where I was starting to really regret the decision to hand-paint a bunch of beer labels.

What other sorts of embellishments might a bird have access to? Years ago when we were picnicking in Joshua Tree, we shared some scraps with a scrub jay, and once he’d had his fill he flew off to rustle around in a nearby bush. He returned to us and dropped a small shiny object in the middle of our picnic — it was a small brass 9mm shell casing. I can only imagine he thought it was a fair trade, that we would appreciate this piece of shiny human stuff. Or he was trying to give us a clue (like Lassie, “Bark! Bark!” “What Lassie, little Timmy is trapped in the well?”) to some nefarious crime, but we didn’t follow up on it. We were busy moving to San Francisco from New York. Remembering that bird holding the metal shell casing in his beak, I decided the coffin needed bottle caps, which I’d been saving for gawd-only-knows-what-project, and which I went to friend Phil Horton’s machine shop to drill.

Yes I absolutely am the kind of goofball that dresses up like Rosie the Riveter to go work in a machine shop for the day.

Yes I absolutely am the kind of goofball that dresses up like Rosie the Riveter to go work in a machine shop for the day.

8_box

Sorted by color so I could create a pleasingly "random rhythm" pattern

Sorted by color so I could create a pleasingly “random rhythm” pattern

10_box

My studio assistant needed to make sure everything had enough hair on it before I photographed it.

My studio assistant needed to make sure everything had enough hair on it before I photographed it.

(The back)

(The back)

And the finished piece!

And the finished piece!

“Boxes of Death 5″, with work by 50 artists, will be traveling for a series of four one-night-only openings — try to catch one if it’s in your neck o’ the woods!

PDX Antler Gallery -10/3
SF Gauntlet Gallery – 10/8
LA The Chun – 10/11
SEA Piranha Gallery – 10/17

BOD5_hero3

“Boxes of Death is an art exhibition where 50 artists are each given their own coffin to do with what they want. The idea spawned from Kane Quaye, a famous coffin maker from Africa. His philosophy was that a coffin should not just be a pine box, but something that represents the person inside and their life. Each artist in the show uses the same coffin canvas format to create their own artistic statement surrounding the preconceived notions and ideas of the coffin shape. The people in the show have a chance to step out of their comfort zone and faced with the idea of death, react to it.

The result is a visually compelling installation contrasting repetition and individuality. Boxes of Death showcases artists from the farthest reaches of the continental US as well as some international artists and highlights an incredibly diverse range of creative backgrounds.

Sponsored by Rudy’s and Juxtapoz, co-curated by Roq La Rue, the 2014 Boxes of Death tour show has grown to include 50 artists and has evolved into a four stop tour. The artist roster includes world renowned painters, illustrators, graphic designers, motorcycle builders, tattoo artists, assemblage masters and print makers.”

You can find out more about the show right here:  Boxes of Death 5

Sometimes I’m The Last To Know…

Google Alerts kinda failed me here — apparently a couple years back when one of my paintings (“Chill Quill”) was used as the cover for Madlib’s Medicine Show 11, it made a “Best Album Cover” list, dropping in at number two (just behind Wiz Khalifa’s “Rolling Papers”).  Jeff Jank, the art director over at Stones Throw Records, did a beautiful job — the LP cover isn’t cluttered up with type and design frippery.

Madlib Medicine Show 11

Madlib Medicine Show 11

But if you pick up the CD you get a great little booklet that Jeff designed with an additional three full color reproductions of paintings from my “Into The Woodz” series.

madlib(inside)

On top of all that, it’s beat heavy, super smooth ear candy, crafted with humor from a deep musical sea:  “hip-hop productions, remixes, beat tapes, and jazz, as well as mixtapes of funk, soul, Brazilian, psych, jazz and other undefined forms of music from the Beat Konducta’s 4-ton stack of vinyl.”

You can read the Top Ten list right here

And pick up your very own copy of either the LP or CD right here

And if you don’t know from Madlib, check this out! 

When Art, Sun and Drinks With Mustaches Collide

artpad

What do a ceramic bust of The Notorious BIG, Spock wearing a zippered rubber fetish mask, and a China marker drawing of an Asiatic chevrotain (the Cadillac of small artiodactyls) all have in common?  They are just a small sampling of the art that was on view at this year’s ArtPadSF art fair, held poolside at the Phoenix Hotel.  You know you wanna see — and you can!  Just click the link right here for my tour through the fair for Cartwheel.

Come Take A Stroll

San Francisco was recently host to a big “feast for the eyeballs” weekend of art fairs, with both ArtMRKT and ArtPadSF opening their doors and isles to thousands of patrons and imbibers of free alcohol.  If you didn’t have a chance to see for yourself or you want to revisit some choice tidbits, come stroll the endless white cubicles with me and Cartwheel, who kindly asked me to cover the fairs for them.

artMRKT_crowd_2

First up: click for  ArtMRKT!