She Comes From The Mountains In The Deep Of The Night

So for no real reason and despite the fact that I'm starting to panic about my upcoming show I did a little painting for a friend. I really wanted to do something about La Befana since it's that time of year so here she is:

La Befana (or La Strega, meaning "the witch")is a strange Italian Christmas witch, more popular there than Santa, but performing the same basic function; delivering presents to good children and coal to bad. It's pretty obvious that she's a pagan holdover given that there's absolutely no reason for a witch to be part of a Christian holiday though there are origin stories shoe-horning her into the nativity story. It's been theorized that she's a holdover of Hecate, and Roman winter festival goddesses like Strenia. In general there is a pretty interesting tradition of Italian witchcraft (Stregheria), with figures who seem more like traditional healing women. There's even a very popular and potent after dinner liquour called "Strega" which I choked down last time my dad offered it to me simply because the bottle was so cool:
ps- it is really truly nasty.

Like I said it's about time I panicked about my upcoming show in March. Despite the fact that it's a joint show with Mike the space is big enough that I actually have to complete a lot of work. The show is ocean themed and Mike is doing a lot of awesome sea bestiary stuff so I think I'm going to concentrate more on lore without being too literal. The first four pieces that I'm hoping to finish in the next month and a half are actually going to be done on whale bones.

I actually got these bones about 5 years ago when visiting my grandfather in Maine. He told me that a dead Minke whale had recently washed up in a cove right below someone's house. He and a few other guys had tried towing it out to the nearby island with their boats but it kept washing back to the same spot. Knowing what a gross-o I am he suggested I check it out though he very practically stated that "people already took all the good stuff". So my friend Jess, my brother and I hiked down the rocks for over an hour till we found the cove. The smell. Not only was there a rotting whale in that cove but by some freak chance there was also a dead deer! We picked around at what was left and I grabbed three ribs and a mystery item while Jess actually hacked a vertebre off the spinal cord. She and I lived together at the time and I can say that despite a full year of sun drying and bleaching that thing never stopped smelling disgusting (probably the marrow) and we had to throw it out. My grandfather suggested that my mystery item might be a "growth plate" but I can't really find any information about it. If there are any um...whale biologists or strange weekend hobbyists with a lot of knowledge about whale anatomy reading this let me know what this thing is?
Know what's interesting? The sudden realization after sanding a bunch of bones that you are covered in haunted bone dust.
I'm actually really excited to paint on them because it reminds me of sailor's scrimshaw and because the bones are attached to that little personal adventure. I'm still working out how exactly to frame and mount them.

I've also been doing a lot of reading to get some ideas if anyone has any suggestions. Anything ocean related, folklore, horror stories, true stories, ghost ships, cryptids. I have a few ideas right now for sunken cities, Melusine, islands that turn out to be gigantic submerged monsters and a Nordic sea serpent twisted around an island based on an image on a runic stone.

I was reading through "The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard" last night remembering that a lot of the stories and poems in there are set in an ocean town and found a little quote that pretty perfectly summed up the relationship with the ocean I was considering:

"The sea-the great, grey, cold-eyed woman of the ages. Her tides spoke to me as they have spoken to me since birth- in the swish of the flat waves along the sand, in the wail of the ocean-bird, in her throbbing silence. I am very old and very wise (brooded the sea), I have no part of man; I slay men and even their bodies I fling back upon the cowering land. There is life in my bosom but it is not human life (whispered the sea), my children hate the sons of men"

PS. I uploaded a mix to my friend's 2010 song exchange blog. If anyone is interested...


Jeff P said...

Looks like an intervertebral disc.


Also, killer whales have the coolest skulls I've ever seen:


wandering genie said...

Jeff, I didn't take you for a whale biology hobbyist. That's the sort of thing I was picturing it being but the lack of hole for a spinal cord really confused me. I think that basically looks like it though!

also I think I might do a painting of this japanese ghost whale that's like..a ghostly skeleton, so I might be painting a whale skull soon...