Gimme Siren, Child and Do You Hear Me?

Over the weekend I finished what will probably be the last of the medium sized (this is a loose term, medium is pretty small for me) paintings for my show. It's a Sirin, or maybe an Alkonost, Russian half bird women, not unlike Greek Sirens. The image appears very often in embroidery and paintings and was later appropriated into Russian Orthodox iconography. The descriptions range a lot and I think that's probably because of the fact that the lore has changed as it moved from pagan to christian beliefs. Here are a few excerpts about them:

"These half-women half-birds are directly based on the Greek myths and later folklore about sirins.They were usually portrayed wearing a crown or with a nimbus. Sirins sang beautiful songs to the saints, foretelling future joys. For mortals, however, the birds were dangerous. Men who heard them would forget everything on earth, follow them, and ultimately die. People would attempt to save themselves from Sirins by shooting cannons, ringing bells and making other loud noises to scare the bird off."

"The Alkonost is described as having an upper half in the shape of a young woman and the lower half in the shape of a huge bird. She has a counterpart known as the Sirin and is said to be one of th hosts that lives in the land of the dead called Rai. Her task is to torment the souls of the damned by wailing her fearful songs and giving eternal punishment"

My painting is actually a fairly traditional representation:
The headpiece she's wearing in my painting is a kokoshnik , a traditional Russian headdress. There are hundreds of different kinds and they're all really cool. I recommend a google image search. A related note, the headdress usually included a cap on the back to hold the woman's hair, because as in many cultures, loose hair was a sign of loose morality and an invitation to evil. This is why female evil spirits are all described as having loose, or unbraided hair. The bells in the background are a reference to people using them and other loud noises to scare off Sirins.
As usual the real color lies somewhere between the scan and the photograph. I used metallic gold paint which really doesn't scan correctly. Whatever. I'm tired.

In other news, since I know a lot of people who read my blog listen to metal and weird shit I'm just going to suggest you check out Sal's records . Tons of good stuff he is very sadly selling after being denied student loans (after a bazillion years of hard work). He's an awesome guy with cool records so maybe you could bid on something? Pretty sure he'll be adding more too.

Also after a lot of pestering on my part my friend Ryann finally made a website for her work. She does amazing creepy stuff that's nearly impossible to capture in a photograph as it is screenprinted layers of glass over top of photographs. People standing in bleak apocalyptic landscapes. Super cool, and grim. Check out Ryann's website and see her awesome work!


Come, Come, Come to the Sabbat

First things first, here's the flyer for my show! It is the result of a frustrated few hours of photoshop on my part. I realized I'd been talking about this show and providing no details for anyone reading who's actually interested in going so there it is. It'll be my second solo show and I'm pretty excited and definitely learned a lot about how I'd like to do things since the first one. I'm still frustrated by the fact that some of my ambitions get so scaled back by a reasonable understanding of my time constraints but I think this one will be cool.

The image is obviously the one I posted a little teaser of last week:
"Behold! The tiny flower bud crimsons and moves as though alive. It is a marvel, in truth. It moves and grows larger and larger, and flashes like a burning coal. The tiny star flashes up; something bursts softly, and the flower opens before his eyes like a flame, lighting the others about it. "Now is the time," thought Petru, and extended his hand. He sees hundreds of shaggy hands reach from behind him, also for the flower."

The color is really off in this photograph (the flyer with its adjustments is probably closer) and as you can see it's an odd shape. I'm putting it in a really cool octagonal frame my aunt gave me. The image is from the story St. John's Eve by Nikolai Gogol which I mentioned previously. St. John's Eve was the inspiration for the tone poem Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky, about a witches sabbath. The story starts pretty slowly like a lot of Gogol's work with a lot of longwinded exposition in the tradition of oral storytelling, and then suddenly erupts into a really bizarre nightmare. It's essentially a story about the devil leading a poor peasant astray and presenting him with a way to gain treasure (and the hand of a rich girl he is courting) through supernatural means. Predictably this does not work to his benefit. There's a central scene where he is led up the mountain at night and told to wait for the blossoming of one special flower which he has to pick in order to summon a witch who will tell him how to find the treasure, and as he reaches for it he can hear other supernatural creatures scurrying to grab it first. As usual Gogol takes reference from folklore without referring to specific creatures and tales which I like a lot. There are countless stories about contact with the devil traveling in human form and the repercussions of accepting gifts from him (a necklace that burns your neck, a ribbon that makes your hair fall out), and the story contains a lot of imagery from stories about witches (shapeshifting, the house on chicken legs usually seen in Baba Yaga stories, communion with the devil, sabbaths on treeless mountains). I also stumbled across a reference to the raskovnik, a magical plant that could supposedly be used to find treasure, which I imagine was the inspiration for the flower in the story. You can read the story in full here and I definitely recommend it. The reason I keep doing images from Gogol's stories is because each one has several moments that are so graphically interesting because of his description that I immediately want to draw them.

Another thing of slight interest about that painting is that that is the second background I did. My aunt recently asked me if serendipity ever came into play when I was painting something and I answered no as I was working on the original background for this, and ended up being very wrong. Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I am the LEAST personally meticulous person they know. I live and have always lived in a perpetual whirlwind of clutter. My socks never match, my hair isn't brushed, and nearly everything I own is MacGyvered in some way because it doesn't really work. But god fucking forbid I see streaks in my paintings! I had done a blue to black faded background and no matter what I did I could not get it to stop looking streaky. I'm guessing it had something to do with the opacity of the particular blue paint I was using. I had one final spazz about it after seeing it under fluorescent light and painted a black sky over everything and left the original blue for mountains so it wouldn't be too boring. The end result is actually way better than what I originally planned.

Also the flower I used as reference was a zinnia, which is pretty regionally inaccurate and not too mystical considering everyone's grandma has them in the garden. Not being a gardening person I will admit to doing a google search for "red flower" and picking that one because of the way the petals were unfurling, and assumed no one would think about what it was. However my two aunts and mother saw it and immediately asked "why a zinnia"? Soooo trust that that is not just a zinnia, but rather a magical Slavic witch flower.

In other news I'm as always prematurely excited about Halloween. Allen lent me "Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween" and I've been reading it whenever I get a chance. It's great! This year I will be attempting to carve the pre-pumpkin traditional turnip lantern. I have no idea where a girl goes about getting a sizable turnip in Philadelphia.


Just Leave Your Flowers By the Door

Working as always. While away I got the skeleton above to a nearly finished point (lots of outlining to do but that's it), and got started on a painting I'll be making into the flyer for my show. I actually ran into a few problems with it, but I think the end result is better than what I had planned. I'll get into that more when I post it finished, but here's a part of it for now:
Maine was great of course. While there I found some flowers i first noticed two years ago after a really rainy summer on a nature trail down the street from my grandfathers house. It is Monotropa uniflora (aka Ghost Plant, Corpse Plant and Indian Pipe) a colorless bizarre looking parasitic flower. Double parasitic actually, because it gets nutrients from root fungus which get nutrients from tree roots. I desperately tried to find some evidence of it growing in Eastern Europe somewhere so I could work it into a painting for my show but no luck (I will discuss the total regional inaccuracy of the flower above at a later time). It actually seems to be pretty hard to find so it's kind of amazing that I've found such an abundance of it in Chamberlain, ME. I'm definitely going to work these into a painting soon.
"Colorless in every part, waxy, cold, and clammy, Indian pipes rise like a company of wraiths in the dim forest that suits them well. Ghoulish parasites, uncanny saprophytes, for their matted roots prey either on the juices of living plants or on the decaying matter of dead ones, how weirdly beautiful and decorative they are!...Yet to one who can read the faces of flowers, as it were, it stands a branded sinner. Doubtless its ancestors were industrious, honest creatures, seeking their food in the soil, and digesting it with the help of leaves filled with good green matter (chlorophyll) on which virtuous vegetable life depends; but some ancestral knave elected to live by piracy, to drain the already digested food of its neighbors; so the Indian pipe gradually lost the use of parts for which it had need no longer, until we find it to-day without color and its leaves degenerated into mere scaly bracts...No wonder this degenerate hangs its head; no wonder it grows black with shame on being picked, as if its wickedness were only just then discovered! To think that a plant related on one side to many of the loveliest flowers in Nature's garden - the azaleas, laurels, rhododendrons, and the bonny heather - and on the other side to the modest but no less charming wintergreen tribe, should have fallen from grace to such a depth! Its scientific name, meaning a flower once turned, describes it during only a part of its career. When the minute, innumerable seeds begin to form, it proudly raises its head erect, as if conscious that it had performed the one righteous act of its life."


I See a Rainbow, All in Black

Working on the last of those three dudes. I'm way past the point I was at when I took this photo, but I thought I'd post it as it shows one of my least favorite steps, filling in the background around all the little bits. Because I don't want the paint to build a bunch of texture I do everything in sections and try to avoid overlap. Bleh. What's wrong with me?

Along the same lines I ummm appear to have been hoarding frames. Initially these were all for this show but I ended up using those crosses and having Josh make a couple so now I just have a lifetime's worth of gold frames. All found at flea markets, on the curb, or donated from my aunt. Most of them for $1-$3!
Tomorrow I leave for Maine for a week of living my ideal life: days running around in the woods and messing around by the ocean and nights painting monsters and creeping around in the fog like the Wolfman with Mike. No cell phone, no internet. Just this:
See ya, chumps!


Nothing Like an August Night

Just a quick update. I finished this guy last week. I made this little image so you can see it in each stage. (click if you're interest in seeing it bigger-blog reformats everything so small!).
I had to take a little weekend trip so I'm basically in a constant state of anxiety about getting everything done for my show. For some strange reason my paintings have been shrinking and shrinking because I've been getting into doing smaller and smaller detail so it's going to be a real challenge to fill the space. I think the first step would be buying some average size brushes and just trying to scale what I'm doing up to knock out a few medium size pieces. I can't really think where to get more time from at this point unless I stop sleeping? Whatever, there are worse things. Bleh.