Category Archives: Things To Get

Love Never Dies (But It Does Get Wrinkled)

Ah forbidden love, when falling for the the wrong woman can get you buried alive and cursed for all eternity!

Worth being mummified alive for? Only Imhotep can say for sure...

Worth being mummified alive for? Only Imhotep can say for sure…

Dracula and Frankenstein were big hits for Universal studios in 1931, so they were eager to get another monster movie out there, and mummies were very much in people’s minds thanks to the recent discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb and the famous “Curse of the Pharoahs.” There weren’t actually any curses in King Tut’s tomb (one archeologist of the 30’s called the story “unadulterated clap trap”) but people really took to the idea anyway, especially after a few members of Howards Carter’s team died “mysteriously” after discovering the tomb. (This idea was actually popularized by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, who suggested “elementals” guarding the tomb were taking revenge.) Mummies were hot and thus we got — 

mummy_poster

In the 1932 film The Mummy directed by Karl Freund, archeologist Sir Joseph Whemple pays no attention to all the dire warnings guarding the tomb of Imhotep (despite the fact that these curses tend to make no distinction between thieves, grave robbers, and archeologists) and digs him right up. He also leaves the life-giving Scroll of Thoth just laying about for his idiot assistant to read aloud, raising Imhotep from the dead — and next thing you know there’s a mummy shambling about.

"Don't forget to read this bit right here…"

“Don’t forget to read this bit right here…”

Of course in proper ancient Egyptian mummification, the brain was smashed with a long hook, drawn out through the nose, and thrown away. They didn’t believe it was worth preserving, so while all the other organs got beautiful canopic jars, the brain went into the trash. (Which does make one wonder how a mummy can walk around at all, much less come up with diabolical plots.) The heart was left in place because it was believed to be the center of intelligence and feeling. If you’re wondering why they bothered to pull any organs out at all, it’s because the liver, lungs, stomach and intestines rot very quickly, so they went into gorgeous little containers.

I would love to have these on my kitchen counter for sugar, flour, etc. (You know, once the organs were dumped out.)

I would love to have these on my kitchen counter for sugar, flour, etc. (You know, once the old organs were dumped out.)

In The Mummy we get the ever fantastic Boris Karloff as Egyptian priest/mummy Imhotep, with terrific makeup by Jack Pierce, who also developed the completely iconic look for Karloff in Frankenstein. But why was Imhotep a mummy in the first place? Back in in the day, Imhotep loved the princess Ankh-es-en-amon soooooo much that he tried to resurrect her from the dead. Love makes you do the wacky! For this crime he was mummified while still alive, which actually looks pretty tame in the movie (people probably didn’t want to see Karloff’s brain being yanked out of his nose). Freshly resurrected after thousands of years, what does he want, revenge? A hot bath and a loofah? No, he wants love. Still.

At this point I need to digress and tell you about how I mummified a Barbie doll when I was a kid. Obviously I didn’t remove her organs, but I did wrap her up in gauze bandages, painted hieroglyphs all over them, and buried her in the back yard. This was necessary because I’d tried to clean ball point pen off of her face with nail polish remover (epic beautification FAIL), which removed all of her features and melted a good bit of her hair off as well, turning her into something a bit scary looking that needed to go away immediately. I was obsessed with ancient Egypt (I think the King Tut exhibit had just rolled through town) and mummifying Barbie seemed like the only logical option at the time. I like to imagine that decades later when someone was digging a flowerbed they thought, however briefly, that they’d discovered The World’s Tiniest Egyptian Mummy.

Right, so Imhotep spends the next ten years clearly applying a lot of moisturizer and turns up as Ardeth Bey. This is a great roll for Karloff because unlike the mute monster in Frankenstein, Ardeth can talk — and that voice! Those eyes! He’s completely hypnotic in every scene.

mummy_karloff

And what are we learning? Love never dies, it just gets kinda creepy and wrinkled. He posits himself as a local “expert” and helps Whemple’s son to find his beloved Ankh-es-en-amon’s tomb so they can dig her up and he can use to scroll to be reunited with his long lost love. Alas his resurrection doesn’t work — because what he needs isn’t her body, it’s her soul, currently residing in Helen Grosvenor (coincidentally Whemple junior’s GF). Believing she is the reincarnation of his lady love he realizes he must kill her so he can mummify and resurrect her. Sounds crazy but guess what? He’s not wrong, she is the reincarnation of Ankh-es-en-amon! Unfortunatley, while Imhotep’s love survived thousands of years hers somehow did not and she calls on her past life memories, praying to the goddess Isis to save her. [Spoiler Alert!] Isis’ statue raises its arm and blasts the Scroll of Thoth to ashes, which is pretty much what happens to Imhotep too. For me this kinda raises the question — if she was filled with her past life memories, where was the memory of her love for Imhotep? Honestly this ending bums me out, it’s very similar to the ending of The Bride of Frankenstein when [Spoiler Alert!] the Bride, created to be a mate for the monster, can’t stand the sight of him. I guess I’m a hopeless romantic — I’m always rooting for the monster to get the girl in the end.

Boris Karloff and Zita Johann in 'The Mummy'

Because the Mummy didn’t bring himself back to life I see him in kind of the same category as Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolfman, and the Bride — so he was the last creature to join my Monster Martyr series of paintings. Christian martyrs were often depicted holding the object of their martyrdom (aka the thing people used to put them to death), and the Mummy is holding the Sacred Scroll of Thoth. He is accompanied by a sacred ibis, which in Egypt was associated with the god of writing and scribes, Thoth.  As in all the paintings in this series, the bird represents a messenger that can fly between the worlds of the living and the dead.

"Song of the Sacred Ibis" Oil o wood, 24 x 14 inches

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

To celebrate my favorite time of year, Halloween, all of the Monster Martyr paintings are available right now as throw pillows — you can pick out your fave or collect the whole set!

monster_martyr_pillowsJust go right here:  http://www.redbubble.com/people/isabelsamaras

And lastly, I just love this theater display —

mummy_theater display

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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…

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!

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! 

Got Wood?

It may or may not be a well known fact that I like wood.  A quick stroll through the house will reveal wood-grain patterned towels, faux bois (“fake wood”) sheets, and several rolls of wood patterned contact paper with which I hope to someday cover my ugly metal filing cabinets (one of those “someday” projects that never seems to happen).  So when we decided to do a series of print editions for my recent show at Varnish Fine Art, did we print them on mere paper?  NO WE DID NOT!

"Behold My Heart". print on wood, 15 x 11 inches

“Behold My Heart”. print on wood, 15 x 11 inches

We found a fabulous company that figured out how to print them directly onto wood, allowing a hint of the beautiful wood grain to peep through.  (Which is perfect in more ways than one since I do all my paintings on wood panels.)  There are different sizes and prices, from stocking stuffers

"Lucky 7" & "Bitten", prints on wood, 5 x 7 inches (each)

“Lucky 7” & “Bitten”, prints on wood, 5 x 7 inches (each)

to “Oh honey you shouldn’t have (but I’m so glad you did!)”.

"Song of Birth (The Three Magi)", print on wood, 18 x 24 inches

“Song of Birth (The Three Magi)”, print on wood, 18 x 24 inches

These are all signed and numbered, a very limited edition of 50 each.

"Besame Mucho", print on wood, 8 x 10 inches

“Besame Mucho”, print on wood, 8 x 10 inches

And if you order right now, you can still probably get them in your hot little hands in time for Christmas.  (Otherwise I think they’d make a smashing Chinese New Year present.)

"Golden Silence", print on wood, 17 x 11 inches

“Golden Silence”, print on wood, 17 x 11 inches

The fab guys that make these prints run a solar powered shop, use FSC sustainably harvested birch, and for every purchase they donate a dollar to the Plant a Billion Trees charity.

"The Birth of Ginger", print on wood, 16 x 20 inches

“The Birth of Ginger”, print on wood, 16 x 20 inches

What are you waiting for?  Click right here to see ’em all and snatch something up for yourself.

"Gone Native", prints on wood, 10 x 8 inches (each)

“Gone Native”, prints on wood, 10 x 8 inches (each)

This pair is sold separately or as a set, and you get to write their story in your mind — are they arriving at the tiny island in the background or escaping? Are they coming together or pulling apart? Is the storm brewing or passing?

"The Honey Dripper", print on wood, 14 x 11 inches

“The Honey Dripper”, print on wood, 14 x 11 inches

What if the moment when Baby Bear and Goldilocks first saw each other, that instant when he cast his big brown bear eyes on her as she slept in his bed, was a “love at first sight” moment?  Maybe she would have stayed in the woods…

"Sew Much Love", print on wood, 14 x 11 inches

“Sew Much Love”, print on wood, 14 x 11 inches

And if things had gone a little differently for the Bride of Frankenstein and her Monster, perhaps they’d have decided to expand their family the best way they knew how.

Other goodies are also available at the Varnish Emporium, including Jennybird Alcantara’s new catalog “Creatures of Saintly Disguise”, prints by Jennybird, Mike Davis, and Attaboy, the Hi-Fructose Collector’s Edition boxed set, and gorgeous art books by and about all your fave artists.  One stop holiday shopping for everyone who’s been naughty or nice!

Happy Holidaze everyone, we made it another year around the sun!

Get Your Freak On!

Please tell me you aren’t one of those strange creatures who’s already finished all their holiday shopping, because what are the holidays for except the panic of running around like a headless chicken?!? The only way to experience the true joy and spirit of giving is to leave some shopping till the last minute so you can get that heady high that comes from snatching up The Perfect Thing with mere days to spare. And let’s not forget the time honored tradition of buying something wonderful for yourself, just in case Santa fills your stocking with coal this year. (It was worth being naughty.)

So fear not, the solution to all your gift fretting is at hand — the Holiday Freaktastic Art & Book Sale at Varnish Fine Art is December 21st, 11am until 8pm, 16 Jessie Street, San Francisco, CA. The sale includes special artist prints and unique items that you wont find in the regular Varnish Emporium, including some of these goodies:

“Nutz!” porcelain collector plates, my saucy book “On Tender Hooks”, limited edition signed & numbered “Song of the Magi” jigsaw puzzles, and kickin’ little “Doe Knocker” knickers will be among the many treats awaiting you, so get on down to Varnish, support local artists and scoop up something special for the holidaze!

Here’s a little Missy to motivate you to get out:

“Wize” Owl, Now With Bigger Balls!

Woot! I mean HOOT!

‘Tis the season to give handcrafted and in our merry woodland workshop my friend Bea and I have been tinkering to make you a little friend. Based on the painting “Wize” from the “Into the Woodz” series, this little guy is ready to gaze fiercely from your couch, knick knack shelf, or pocket, imparting his woodsy wisdom.

From this...

... to THIS!

Another fine “Woodland Fabulous” collectible, each “Wize” owl is completely handmade, 100 cotton, with a cozy dark chocolate corduroy back and your choice of two colors of ball fringe. (Ignore the puny balls, we tried them out and found them to be lacking in fun and frolic.)

Your choice as long as they last: Chocolate Brown or Golden Rod balls!

“Wize” is 9 x 4 1/2 inches (not including festive balls), $45 (+S&H) and comes with a certificate of authenticity signed by both makers. Yours to squeeze, display and treasure forever — but we will only be able to make a handful to ship before the holidaze, so please contact me ASAP if you want one and we’ll do our best!

Small but intriguing, ready to party with you at Hooters or settle in for a nice bottle of champers...