The Devil’s violin is the embodiment of Mozart’s Requiem Lacrimosa. A haunting piece of music that he allegedly never completed. It is believed that he only finished the first couple of bars of Lacrimosa on his deathbed, while the rest is thought to be completed posthumously. It’s a dark, funeral-inspiring composition that’s been heard in countless films: The lament of life.
This piece of eerie music is the perfect inspiration for a drawing, which is what lead me to the idea for Violin del Diablo. String instruments are synonymous with mystery and melancholy, and some of them are unusual, with the most primal sounds. The violin is more light and airy, compared to the deep tones of a cello. Then, of course, you get the hurdy-gurdy, bowed lyre, and my absolute favourite: the nyckelharpa. Its ghostly notes reach deep within the confines of your soul. In this illustration, however, I opted for a violin.
Instead of playing the instrument, the arms become the instrument. Disembodied hands play it with a bow carved from bone, and the Lacrimosa plays through it. The strings are nothing but the blood running down the arm. My drawing reflects the incompleteness of the music, starting with definite lines and dark shading that fades into a slight afterthought. The cuts symbolize how time runs out from the moment we are born to our last breath. Life is a precious song that we play, and once it’s done, there’s no replay.
The title refers to the idea that the Devil could play such an instrument designed to torture His captives. I can imagine tears streaming down His face as He plays the lament of the human’s soul. Even in horror, there is poetry.
Listen to the composition here to get the whole picture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1-TrAvp_xs
“If you want to interpret a flower, you can mimic it,
and it will be everybody’s flower, banal, without interest.
Or on the contrary, if you put the beauty of that flower
and the emotions it evokes into your dead body,
the flower that you create will be true and unique,
and the public will be moved.”
– Kazuo Ohno
Almost everyone has, at some point in their lives doodled on a piece of scrap paper. Either intentionally out of boredom during a telephone conversation. It’s a time-filler, a thought or feeling suddenly finding itself etched into being. For me, it’s usually an idea that needs to be materialized before it escapes into the ether: a way of burning it into my mind forever. All my artwork originated from a doodle, in the most unassuming form.
Every situation calls for a doodle: sitting in a bustling coffee shop, in line at a casting, at a petrol station, and even at home, waiting for the floor to dry after mopping it. But not all doodles are created to live long and prosperous lives. Most of them will see the inside of a wastebasket quicker than the time it took to create them. I’m guilty of committing such atrocities. Many a doodle has been crumpled up and discarded because they did what they were supposed to do: kill time. Or after completion, seemed too primitive to be regarded as something of importance.
But it is more than that; it deserves so much more than an untimely end. Most artists have perfected the art of doodling and have consequently created comic strips, caricatures and dreamlike abstract patterns that are revered by others.
Even caves of prehistoric times are filled with simple hand-drawn lines, teaching the modern man about how it was like to live in those times. Since then the doodle has become more sophisticated: from being scratched into cave walls and pyramids to clay tablets, to sand sketches in the desert, to paper, to human skin, to computers, to electronic tablets and mobile devices and can now even be printed in 3-dimensional space. This art form is thriving and will continue to do so.
Doodling is very meditative and has been reported not only to calm and centre your mind but also to assist in memory retention. That’s one of the main reasons I do it. A bolt of inspiration will strike me in the middle of the night, and if I don’t write it down immediately, with doodles to reinforce it, it will be lost in the dark corridors of my mind forever.
Lately, my doodling skills have improved dramatically, and I no longer scribble hastily. I create detailed little drawings with smooth blending and unique ideas. They might not be accurate enough to be specified as Drawings. They are created within a few minutes, usually on a scrap piece of paper, and I forego strict anatomic rules in favour of speed. In my eyes, they are still humble doodles.
Every fine artist’s work can usually be placed within a category that sums up their style perfectly. But what do you do when you don’t fit into just one class? Cue frantic research.
For decades I’ve been creating art without burdening myself with which art movement my work belongs. I’ve always seen my art as surreal, but I don’t express dream worlds and visions exclusively free from conscious rational control only. My technique is representational of the original object’s existent form. So that must make me more of a Figurative artist, but I don’t paint the human form. I create work that is sometimes just conceptual and emotional. I suppose all art comes from conceptualization and abstract ideas and even photographic reference.
Although I’ve used different mediums, I keep going back to graphite. No other medium feels as comfortable to me as my trusty pencils. My style is somewhere between the dark and whimsical scale. It probably has to do with my love for black and white and greyscale imagery. Am I a Surrealist or a Conceptual Surrealist, or a Realist with hints of Dark Art?
So I’ve looked at other artists throughout history, to try and recognize my style. I started with Francis Picabia because he shared the same date of birth as me: 22 January. But Francis was more of an avant-garde painter who experimented with Impressionism and Pointillism. I have experimented with the same styles as well, but it didn’t stick. I moved onto Photorealism and Hyperrealism, but it’s very time-consuming and restricted the images I wanted to bring across. Then there is Salvador Dali. I admire his work, but mine does not look anything like his. I don’t want to copy other artists, I have my ideas, with a unique point of view and with a unique way of creating.
The closest description I can find is Figurative Surrealism: a mental representation of a human or animal form which has no intention of being logically comprehensible. But that won’t be true for me, because I also draw still objects. And my art is more realistic, and it gives a sense that what you are seeing is very real, but there is something off about it: it’s either too dark or too pale or slightly distorted. So that makes it Surreal Figurative Realism? That’s a bit of a mouthful. I need something catchier and shorter. Maybe I’m getting closer to Outsider Art. Cue some more frantic research. I’ve read through the entire Dictionary and found myself at the edge of the internet to get a single word that sums up my art:
- Emotive: Expressing the artist’s feelings and inspiring emotion in viewers.
- Artistic Pluralism: Diversity of art movements that are all-encompassing diverse cultures.
- Abstract Realism: The marriage of 2 contradictory terms without reference to real objects.
- Contemporary Realism: figurative works executed in a raw objective style, without the distortions of Cubist or Expressionist interpretation. Contemporary Realists deliberately rejected abstract art, choosing instead to depict down-to-earth subjects in a straightforward naturalistic manner also known as Representational Art.
- Idiosyncratic: art that is peculiar to the individual artist, in its originality and meaning.
- Macabre: the quality of having a grim or ghastly atmosphere. Macabre works emphasize the details and symbols of death.
- Lowbrow: underground visual art movement originally from Los Angeles in the late 1970s. A populist art movement with its cultural roots in underground comics, punk music, tiki culture, and hot-rod cultures of the street.
- Magic and necromancy: Conjuring the spirits of the deceased or demonic entities while sipping herbal tea and burning incense.
- Whimsy: Playful, fanciful, light and airy with a dash of fairy dust and bubbles.
- Creepy-cute: Kawaii, creepy, but also a little endearing in some way.
If I could mix all the ingredients above in a large cauldron, I’d have to conclude that my art is Bewitching Decomposition.
Who knows, maybe over the years my style will change dramatically, seeing that I’ve already started using softer blending and less rough textures than five years ago.
Whenever I feel lost or need a little guidance, I consult my trusty bag of runes without thinking twice. I chant them when I need to centre myself, and I wear them like battle armour when a daunting task lies ahead by drawing them on my arms or legs with a humble ballpoint pen. They ward off unwanted visitors and energies from my windows and doorways. Runes are as much a part of me as the air is. My love for them compelled me to make my own set from pebbles I collected over the years, and I love them dearly.
It isn’t easy to pick a favourite from the bunch, but I feel that Elhaz or Algiz resonates with me the most at this point. Elhaz is the final letter in the runic alphabet, also known as the Futhark. It is the protector, the great Elk that governs the element air. Elhaz is known to safeguard people and their homes by casting a shield against attackers of a physical or spiritual kind. He gives you a firm conviction and gives you focus on your task ahead.
Every great Nordic tale needs an epic soundtrack, and finding the right sound is critical in creating artwork with powerful spiritual associations. Of course, I turned to Scandinavian folk music and tumbled down the rabbit hole until I found myself soul-deep in the black metal liquid vocals of Myrkur. I’ve seen the exact sound of my spirit, and it sounds like a Nyckelharpa with the echoes of a herding call. The more I listened, the more I imagined Elhaz as a living entity in the shape of a Wapiti, with its horns reaching up into the branches of Yggdrasil (the tree of life), and becoming actual branches of an Oak tree. Tree and antler are indistinguishable from each other. Gold adornments bleed through the graphite. His body is shaped like a Bonsai tree with hind legs ending in a curl of smoke. The eyes are a trinity in the shape of a woven knot reminiscent of the Triple Horn of Odin. He stares at you with youthful amusement and is but a visitor called forth from another world.
Elhaz is the type of creature you can find on the edge of dreams, in the thick mist of mountains, and within the sacred lines of a rune stone.
Children of the Kings (två konungabarn)
There were two noble children of the kings
Who exchanged their vows
And the one who will break it
Will live in great unrest
There was an old witch
Who overheard them talking
“I want to destroy their love
If I may live that day”.
And the duke got ready and sailed
And the billow hit him in his chest
But when he was sinking
The light in the lantern ceased burning
The young maiden asked her father
“Near the little green river
Am I allowed to go for a walk
Near the little green river?”
“It’s enough I give permission to go for a walk.
Near the little green river
Wake up your younger brother
He can well go with you”.
“What will my brother do there?
He doesn’t understand much
He shoots all little birds
That go along his way”.
And the young maiden went for a walk.
Near the little green river
And there she saw a fisherman
Who was fishing on his boat?
“Good day, good day to you fisherman
Good day to your boat
Have you seen a nobleman
Floating on the blue waves?”
“His socks were made of silk,
His shoes were with golden buckles.
And I would never think.
That I’ll see a corpse smiling”.
And the young maiden took the rings off her hand.
And golden chain off her neck.
And gave them to the little fisherman.
Who lead the boats forward
To be honest, this year has not been kind to me. I’ve suffered an onslaught of disappointments, health issues and failures. But I’m still standing, and I still have some fight left in me. It wasn’t an entire fiasco, art-wise at least.
2019 has been a big year for my art career. My website launched, with a design that represents my artistic spirit, and I’ve had success in selling online, albeit a small number of sales. It feels like an absolute success to me because, in the past, I’ve only sold one measly artwork. It took me a few years to build up a substantial body of work and to find my artistic style and creative voice. It’s been a journey filled with so many learning experiences, all culminating in the next step forward: actually, selling my art.
I’ve also taken the step to approach art galleries. (Insert audible gulp) Finding gallery representation in art leaning on the darker side is tricky, but I was fortunate enough to be part of 2 exhibitions this year. The first was the massive group exhibition at the Julie Miller Investment Art Institute: Africa’s Art Collective Autumn Edition. It was a show-stopper of an event showcasing artwork from emerging as well as established artists in South Africa. My second exhibition was at the relaunch of Underculture Contemporary Gallery. The event was intimate, and it was a huge honour to showcase my art alongside fellow artists in a space dedicated to our unconventional aptitude.
Towards the end of the year, I’ve set aside the entire month of October to partake in the annual art challenges: Inktober and Drawlloween. Inktober is a worldwide phenomenon. Thirty-one days of creating artworks in ink with the help of a prompt list to get your creativity flowing. Artists and non-artists alike enjoy the challenge of creating artwork every day. Some of us decided to do a double challenge by joining Mab Graves’ Drawlloween Club. The same rules apply, but with a Halloween and pop culture themes, and instead of using ink exclusively, any medium is welcome. Halfway through, I started burning out and struggled to push through.
Shortly after Inktober / Drawlloween, I dived right into an artwork that’s close to my heart. Long it has been a dream of mine to create a Tarot Deck, but my limitations kept me from taking it further. I’ve been graciously accepted to submit a design for 78 Tarot’s up-coming deck: Tarot Ecological. Myself and 77 other artists from across the globe have been assigned a single card to create an artwork for. It has been the jolt I needed to start planning my deck.
Currently on my desk is a series of illustrations I’ve been working on entitled Delusions of Disintegration. I aim to have the series ready for an exclusive digital exhibition in 2020, which is an exciting project I’ve been planning.
Being an artist from humble beginnings, and knowing what it feels like to live in poverty, I’ve found that innovation plays an essential role in creating your art with limited resources. Mentorship was something I wasn’t privy to, which is why I’ve been forging connections with artists on social media, at various stages of their careers, offering advice and encouragement. Recently I launched a newsletter explicitly aimed at artists, to share the knowledge and resources I’ve gained throughout my life. It may be a drop in the bucket, but I struggled on my own to figure everything out, and I hope it adds value to someone. Seeing others succeed is something I value highly.
Nothing irks me more than pretentious people bragging about their supposed original artwork from someone who died centuries ago. Countless living artists make art that blows my mind, and to see them struggle for survival is unfair. Let’s make 2020 the year where we shove our art into the faces of the high-browed hypocrites. They can’t ignore us if we keep creating.
No matter what 2019 threw at you, or what the next year will bring, keep making your art.
The Oryx, or as South Africans call it, Gemsbok, is a majestic, large antelope with distinct black markings that sort of look like its wearing corpse makeup and might start head-banging spontaneously. Although it looks heavy metal, it behaves more like a soft Chopin composition. It’s a creature that doesn’t like violence but will defend its herd fiercely. (Judging by those long horns)
For me, an Oryx is a reminder that I have many arduous obstacles to overcome that might be doable if I shake myself out of complacency. It is the silent strength of dragging myself out of bed each day and creating something, either digitally or with pencil on paper. It is the strength to hold the pieces together gracefully.
In my illustration, the creature exists peacefully, looking off into the distance, lost in its thoughts. It seems unperturbed by the violent disintegration of its face. It just accepts it as usual. So it is in my life as well. I only exist, staring off into the distance, while it feels like I’m violently disintegrating.
The multitude of glazed-over eyes has the same calm demeanour of the Oryx, except for one slightly alarmed eye. It evokes a feeling of calmness on the surface, with underlying chaos and turmoil: All is not what it’s supposed to be. It is like knowing you’ve been exposed to lethal amounts of radiation and can do nothing but wait as the effects take hold of you—an inevitability, and therefore an acceptance of your fate.
The eyes go up in smoke, leaving the fumes to envelop the creature, while its black markings are falling off the neck, creating an unwinding effect. The colour is draining from it. The grooves in the horns are slightly deformed to stand in contrast with the realism in the creature’s face.
Eighteen metallic studs float on the folds of the flapping skin. The 18th card in the Major Arcana of the tarot is the Moon. Which is a card of mystery, the unknown and deception? The Moon warns us to look closer because things are very often not what they seem. It shows us that we’re face-to-face with our inner shadows and anxieties.
In the Elder Futhark, combining the numbers gives you the number 9, which represents the rune Hagalaz. It governs the inevitably of fate and transformation. It warns us against disasters in our lives that are of control, which could be mentally or physically. So how does one overcome calamity? By shaking oneself out of complacency, and moving one foot forward at a time.
9 represents the days Odin hung on the great tree of life: Yggdrasil. The way we hang ourselves spiritually and beat ourselves up for every mistake we’ve made, or every loss we suffered.
From rock-bottom the only way is up, it cannot get worse.
“I wish I could throw off the thoughts which poison my happiness,
but I take a kind of pleasure in indulging them”
– Frederic Chopin