Tag Archives: pop surrealism

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.”


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.


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?)


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!


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! 


And as a tote bag, also in 3 sizes …


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.


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:


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!

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!

“Step Into My Parlour…”

I absolutely love peeping into other artists’ studios because I’m endlessly curious about how everyone works and what they surround themselves with, so I’ve been enjoying the Warholian’s “Artist Profile Series” for a while.  Imagine my tickled pink reaction when they came to my studio!

A sliver of my Catwoman/Batman collection...

About one third of my brush hoard...

And a shelf holding loads of film soundtracks and "The Avengers Complete Emma Peel Megaset Collectors Edition" DVDs.

Now you can take a peep inside my art cave and listen to me ramble and laugh about what I do.  Just click this link right here.

If you’re unfamiliar with the apparently endless grooviness that is the Warholian, they provide “an in depth journey into what’s currently hot in the world of contemporary art.”  Featuring artist interviews, gallery openings, and video how-to’s, Warholian.com ladles out heaping spoonfuls of the current art scene, it’s posse, and it’s inspiring figures.  Editor in Chief Michael Cuffe cleverly puts it this way: “It’s a Warholian world. Welcome to the future.”

New Brow in the Northwest

If you’re up in the Seattle area, don’t miss this chance (several chances actually) to see the fab documentary “New Brow.”

New Brow presents interviews from artists, galleries and collectors who initiated and gave momentum to the New American Art Movement. The revealing footage captures the makeshift studios and gallery spaces where the movement began, and the intensity and passion required to birth a new genre. The film also sheds light on non-traditional influences that are often overlooked and under appreciated. These “low brow” references encompass everything from underground comix, Kustum Kulture, graffiti and tattoo to skate and surf culture, punk art and others amidst Californian sub-cultures.”

I’m in it for a few minutes too, but don’t blink or you’ll miss me!

Check the schedule right here for showtimes and info:  “New Brow” @ the Northwest Film Forum.

New Brow

A couples weeks ago we were visiting a community garden (I was visiting; Marcos and Nico were trailing behind me as somewhat unwilling companions, one saying what I’m sure the other was also thinking:  “This is borrrring!”).  As we rounded a long planting bed I saw a particularly brazen hoard of snails, a brawny pack of brown shells wilding all over a lovely fava bean plant.  Of course I plucked them all off and crushed them under my sneaker, because this is what anyone who has ever grown anything and found snails gobbling up the tender results of their labor does — we deal out instant snail death.  I turned around all pleased with myself, my good deed done for the day, to find Nico and Marcos standing with their jaws hanging open.  They were staring at me like I’d just dumped a nest of baby sparrows onto the dirt and ground them underfoot.  “They’re SNAILS!” I said — because as far as I was concerned that pretty much explained everything.  But I’m not sure either of them has looked at me the same way since.


If you’re looking to see something in a new way yourself, head on over to the Roxie Theater this Saturday, June 13th at 4:30pm for the San Francisco premiere screening of “New Brow: Contemporary Underground Art.”  This fab documentary is being show as part of the San Francisco United film festival, and you can snag some tickets right here.

What’s it all about?  The populist art movement that’s been called Pop Surrealism and/or Low Brow, all the stuff that burbled up out of underground comix, punk music, hotrod street culture, Kustum culture, Street Art, Graffiti, Graphic Design, Tattoo, Surf Culture, Tiki Culture and other California sub-cultures.  The film is filled with first hand accounts from the artists, galleries and collectors who started and continue this “new american art movement.”

The film has all the usual suspects in it, including me (though I may have to go get popcorn when that part comes up because watching myself on film is 10,000 times worse than hearing my voice on the answering machine).

Into the Woodz

What other brand would Goldy buy but "Just Right"?

What other brand would Goldy buy but "Just Right"?

So a couple people have pointed out to me that I’ve neglected to post any real concrete info about my upcoming show — d’oh!  Blame it on the paint fumes, I’ve been so ding dang busy doing the paintings I forgot to crow about it a bit.

Before I digress (as is inevitable), mark your calendars, gentle readers! The big opening which is also the launch party for my book is Saturday, May 9th, at the Shooting Gallery in San Francisco.

When I started working on the paintings for this show I was thinking about the Princess culture being sold to little girls – how your highest aspiration is to be rescued, married off and whisked away to a far off castle.  But what happened to the girl who didn’t hook up with a Prince, who stayed in the woods?  I wanted to explore that story so for this show I picked Goldilocks, and as I so often do I created my own version of a happier ending — that the moment when she and Baby Bear lay eyes on each other it was love at first sight.  (Goldy has definitely gone to the bears.) In my imagination the girl who stayed in the woods got to find herself after she got lost — she didn’t trade her identity in for a tiara, and she found true love (because love conquers all, even inter-species romance).

But then *I* didn’t come out of the woods either — I found myself there too.  The forest that is seen in the distant background of the earlier pieces became the setting for the rest of the paintings — I wanted to know who else lived in there.  And it turns out it’s very Woodland Fabulous, inhabited by blinged-out critters with gold dookie ropes, boomin’ boom boxes and shiny afro pics.

You’ll have to come to the show to see the whole gang, but here are a few detail shots as a sneak peek.

Details of a few of the new paintings...

Details of a few of the new paintings...

These pieces continue in the vein of exploring fairy tales that I tapped into a few years ago when I started wondering what happened to Red Riding Hood (another girl who never left the woods.)  There are foggy distant blurry trees and tiny hairs and claws and lots of lush, lush color in sexy “smells so good it must be bad for you” oil paint on wood panels.

May 9th, come and see ‘em all, pick up a copy of the brand new book and get it signed!

“Into The Woodz”

New paintings by Isabel Samaras

Opening and book launch party

Saturday, May 9th, 7-9pm

The Shooting Gallery

839 Larkin Street

San Francisco, CA