If my art was a heavy metal subgenre, which one would it be? My admiration for heavy metal music led me to do some digging.
I remember my transition to heavy metal in the mid-’90s as not so heavy. Ashamedly, I listened to hair metal bands before descending into grunge and later on much darker music in the 00’s. Nu metal and progressive metal was my gateway to death metal. Oddly, my music taste has become less dark, depending on my mood. I enjoy the technical ingenuity of classical music, especially the darker classical music.
Creating art and problem solving have their soundtracks depending on my mood: The more stressed or irritable I am, the darker and louder my music becomes. I found that alternating Rammstein and Dawn of Demise have a remarkably calming effect on me and helps me focus my mind. They make great yoga playlists. During moments of calm, I crave Classic Rock, Progressive Metal, and Black Light Burns. When I’m sad, I prefer Bush or Bob Dylan.
So, where does my art style fit? Firstly I have to dissect my style to figure out what genre it can be categorized as follows:
- My subject matter is always organic: plants, animals, insects, or the human form (mostly body parts).
- I love soft blending.
- Definite lines fade away at some point.
- My work is not highly saturated with a vivid colour palette.
- I gravitate towards graphite pencils.
- I use oil paint as a soft, thin, and blended water colour-like medium.
- My themes are based on spirituality, melancholy, and macabre.
- I use different textured paper or canvas: smooth paper and sometimes a roughly textured canvas.
- My portraits always seem to end up with slightly larger eyes and a very somber expression.
If I had to sift through the heavy metal sub-genres, I could try to draw a comparison between the music and my artistic style. Let’s start where heavy metal was first named Heavy Metal: Black Sabbath, the frontrunner for extreme metal. Sure, they don’t sound anything like thrash metal, death metal, or grindcore, but they paved the way for these sub-genres to develop, and many of those bands agree that Sabbath were the ones who were named Heavy Metal for the first time.
From there on, bands wanted to go darker, scarier, more sinister, and shock rock came into being with Alice Cooper (and the infamous chicken incident on stage). Then came a different type of darkness: Iron Maiden, which paved the way for thrash metal bands like Metallica and Slayer. Metal started to split into so many subgenres: shock rock turned to glam rock, which in turn became pop-like with hair metal bands like Poison, Motley Crue, Guns’ n Roses, and even Def Leppard went that route. This type of music was lighter, commercial, and very radio-friendly, heavily laden with power ballads.
Tired of all the lighthearted music, punk rock bands started forming, with faster beats, angrier lyrics, and bold statements. In the meantime, heavy metal was not giving up on their signature sounds and went darker with bands such as Lamb Of God. Interest was slowly waning in this type of music, and thus grunge was born with Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Nirvana. The music was loud and punchy, but the lyrics slowed down and showcased angst and suffering.
Heavy metal seemed to become the outcast of society but soon gained momentum with Progressive metal. Prog metal, also known as technical metal, doesn’t seem too dark at first, but the compositions seem to evolve the longer you listen. It’s an amplified guitar-driven fusion of progressive rock and heavy metal, making the sound aggressive and more experimental or even pseudo-classical. It has a contained hostility to it, but also profound wretchedness. The technical dexterity of prog musicians is astounding, and it is quite noticeable that most of them come from classically trained backgrounds: Tool, Mastodon, Dream Theater, Gojira, etc. Soon after prog, nu-metal made its appearance and combined all that is heavy with other genres such as hip hop, funk, grunge, and alternative rock. I got into the metal scene with bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit, Deftones, Incubus, Slipknot, Chevelle, and many more.
On the other side, Extreme Metal was forging its way through the world with Black Metal, Doom Metal, Death Metal, Norwegian Death Metal (which deserves a sub-genre), the beast of heaviness: grindcore. In Black Metal, the music is faster, “thrashier,” the lyrics are demonic, and the makeup corpse-inspired. With bands like Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, and Cannibal Corpse, the music seems theatrical: operatic vocals are sometimes incorporated with animalistic growls that give you goosebumps.
Doom metal is darker with a sense of dread and funeral-inspired, especially with names like Pallbearer, Mournful Congregation, and My Dying Bride. Death metal’s characteristic is the deep, guttural growls that you can barely make out. It’s all about destruction, doom, and gloom: Arch Enemy, In Flames, Amon Amarth, and my latest crush: Dawn of Demise. Norwegian death metal bands such as Gorgoroth, Enslaved, Darkthrone, and Mayhem, take the darkness of death metal and turns it into Vantablack. Although I love the darkness of death metal, at times, it sounds the same: a sea of dark ink that consumes you.
Then there is grindcore: it’s unnerving, uncomfortable, and beyond violence and today’s answer to shock rock: Napalm Death, Pig Destroyer, Dying Fetus, and Chelsea Grin (cautionary note: this music is not for the faint-hearted and should not be listened to if you have a weak constitution).
Back to art: My art is dark and creepy at times, but not too dark or too scary. It still has some light and whimsy to it. My art is not made to shock, disgust, or scare the bejesus out of you. It is made to make you think: how will life continue when we (humans) keep destroying, plundering, and abusing nature as well ourselves. What is suffering, and how does it physically look. Suppose I draw or paint something that’s decomposing. In that case, it has layers, complexity, and melancholy to it, like a heartbreaking violin playing a single middle C and blending into the resounding finality of a low E on a four-string double bass. It would seem that this makes my art alternative, with progressive overtures.
Light upon first glance, but the longer you look at them, the darker they become thematically. They seem to have contained aggression and profound wretchedness at the same time. The usage of lines start rhythmically; repeated patterns are used. But as the artwork progresses, the familiar lines and blending change give a completely different texture. I use various techniques on different artworks: some are softer and more fluid in texture, and others are harsh and highly contrasted. But it doesn’t evolve into something else. I stick to the idea, theme, and image I want to capture. I might decide to add a few embellishments as I create: such as extra eyes, smoke, branches, or even change the proportions a bit. So my art isn’t strictly prog metal. There are hints of black metal, but without the corpse paint and demonic eyes.
”If I stand around and watch then drown in a pool of gray
When we dive in I can surely say there’s feud with force
Am I in your way? Please knock me down. Can I help you in?
When I’m not around let us all be found in certain ways.”
Simple wildflowers and garden weeds are in my opinion just as breathtaking as any rose or designer boutonniere. You’ll find them growing happily among my succulents and geraniums and I treasure them equally. Outdated telephone books are crammed with dried flowers and leaves and envelopes burst at the seams with feathers and twigs. These are my tiny treasures. I love nature in all its uncomplicatedness. It doesn’t have to be flashy, it should just exist.
Flower Decay is a eulogy in paint of one of the flowers in my decaying posy. I couldn’t bring myself to throw them out, so I decided to paint one of them instead. Not all of them looked withered enough, except for one pink little Daisy. The texture seemed soft, but was brittle and easily crumbled upon touch. Preserving it seemed an impossible task, so I decided to paint it instead.
It is a simple speed-painting of the decayed flower and a tree branch floating on a blank canvas. I didn’t capture too much detail and focused instead on the colours. Because I usually work in greyscale, it felt important to me to capture the feeling of the colours of the flower in this state of decay, rather than focusing on form.
I’m not one for drawing or painting conventional beauty; I find beauty in decomposition moving and profound. Just as the seasons change, so do all living things transform throughout their fleeting existence.
”Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider, is chaos to the fly” – Morticia Addams
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