Album Cover Art – Spring 2015 Edition

It’s time to post some girl-related album art again, and let’s start with a couple from Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish.  These are both single covers, and the first is a beautifully illustrated image for a fantastic but melancholy song called Eva (originally from the album Dark Passion Play) about a mistreated little girl who runs away from home.  In the image, we can see the girl is wearing a period costume from late 19th or early 20th century.  She stands on her front lawn at night, carrying only a few meager belongings and looking back at the home she is about to leave, perhaps forever.  It’s a lonely image for a sad song.  Poor Eva.

Artist Unknown - Nightwish - Eva (single cover) (2007)

Artist Unknown – Nightwish – Eva (single cover) (2007)

Oh, and if you’d like to hear the song itself, you can check it out here.  I find it quite moving myself.  And the lyrics are here.

The next image is for the song Ever Dream, which was released before the album it would appear on, Century Child.  In this case, however, the cover art for the single release has little to do with the content of the song.  It’s just a nice romanticized image of a little girl.

Artist Unknown - Nightwish - Ever Dream (single cover)

Artist Unknown – Nightwish – Ever Dream (single cover)

This next cover image is one of my favorites that I’ve encountered over the last several months.  It’s from the band Royal Bliss, and the album is called Waiting Out the Storm.  The cover image artfully references The Wizard of Oz, as well as featuring some really lovely border art that recalls Constructivist poster designs.

Artist Unknown - Royal Bliss - Waiting Out the Storm (cover)

Artist Unknown – Royal Bliss – Waiting Out the Storm (cover)

Artist Unknown - Royal Bliss - Waiting Out the Storm (cover) (detail)

Artist Unknown – Royal Bliss – Waiting Out the Storm (cover) (detail)

The next cover design I’m fairly certain comes from Jugend originally, but I do not know which issue or who the artist is.  I just thought it was a lovely composition.  The band is Tangemeenie and the album is The Gilded Age.  Beyond that I know nothing about it.

Artist Unknown - Tangemeenie - The Gilded Age (cover)

Artist Unknown – Tangemeenie – The Gilded Age (cover)

And here is another stunning album cover design, this time for Wild Child‘s album The Runaround.  A nice use of digital photocollage here.

Artist Unknown - Wild Child - The Runaround (cover) (2013)

Artist Unknown – Wild Child – The Runaround (cover) (2013)

Here are a couple from female singer Tei Shi.  The first cover image—for Tei Shi’s rendition of Beyoncé‘s No Angel—looks to be a simple family snapshot of Tei Shi herself as a child, possibly in a Halloween costume or some sort of ballet outfit.  I love her tutu!  I have never seen one with that color combination before.  The cover itself has no text.

Photographer Unknown - Tei Shi - No Angel (single cover)

Photographer Unknown – Tei Shi – No Angel (single cover)

This second image is for Tei Shi’s single M&Ms and also seems to be a childhood snapshot of the singer herself, this time in a swimsuit and painted face and holding a bunch of balloons.  A birthday party photo perhaps?

Photographer Unknown - Tei Shi - M&Ms (single cover)

Photographer Unknown – Tei Shi – M&Ms (single cover)

Now here’s a classic!  This is the cover of the Rolling Stones album It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll, which came out in 1974.  The design is a photocollage where the artist, after completing the collage,  then went and hand-painted over the photos.  I’m guessing the little girls came from photos taken at one of Isadora Duncan’s dance schools.  The costumes are right at any rate, and notice the poses of the girls in the bottom left-hand corner and compare it with this image.  There’s something oddly suggestive about this image, hinting that the Rollings Stones have sex appeal to females of all ages, including little girls.

Artist Unknown - The Rolling Stones - It's Only Rock 'n Roll (cover) (1974)

Artist Unknown – The Rolling Stones – It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (cover) (1974)

Here’s one I’ve been meaning to share for ages and just never quite got to it.  But here it is now.  This is the cover image for The Enchanter Persuaded album by Sinoia Caves (a.k.a. Jeremy Schmidt), an electronica musician.  I quite like this album, especially the songs Through the Valley and Evil Ball.

Artist Unknown - Sinoia Caves - The Enchanter Persuaded (cover)

Artist Unknown – Sinoia Caves – The Enchanter Persuaded (cover)

Last but not least, here we have the cover for Little Dragon‘s Nabuma Rubberband.  Little Dragon is an electronica band from Sweden.  This is a great cover, very dynamic.

Artist Unknown - Little Dragon - Nabuma Rubberband (cover)

Artist Unknown – Little Dragon – Nabuma Rubberband (cover)

Southern Blossoms: Pati Bannister

Pati Bannister (1929–2013) was born in London and knew at a young age that she wanted to be an artist. By age 13, she was already illustrating books.

“I started drawing as soon as I could hold a crayon. My mother saved some of my work done when I was two in a family album. My father was one of England’s most noted artists. I was surrounded by creativity, and drawing and painting were an integral part of my life…Yet I knew I didn’t want to do real portraits all my life, I wanted to do faces I imagined…”

She emigrated to the United States in 1952 and became an American citizen. In the late 50s, she moved to Florida where she met and married Glynn Bannister who recognized her talent. He not only encouraged her to pursue her art, but used his business acumen to help her become commercially successful. Her earliest efforts were in New Orleans then the couple settled in Gulfport, Mississippi where the artist painted and made bronze sculptures in a studio overlooking a bird sanctuary and beach. Due to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Bannister shut down her studio and retired from the print market in 2006. Her originals were once housed at the now defunct Teri Galleries in Metairie, Louisiana and it is not known if they will be made available again for public viewing.

Bannister painted girls and women exclusively using acrylics, oil and pastels, but her favorite medium was egg tempera. As an avid seamstress, she paid special attention to the detail of her subjects’ clothing. She did not use live models, claiming that when she got an idea, she could visualize it as a finished color painting. However she did make use of real backgrounds and props from her personal collection. Her fondness for flowers is unmistakable and specimens from her own garden also served as models. She said she always kept an eye out for some interesting item she could use in a future painting. She successfully captured the essence of the Southern sensibility and her girls and young women offer us an idyllic dream of beauty. However, one cannot help but feel that, under the surface, there is a seething desire to be liberated from the pretty constraints of the Southern Belle. Bannister’s work has been featured many times on the covers of magazines and gallery catalogs.

“The arts are our humanity. Without the arts we are just animals; that is what makes us different.”

Pati Bannister - Chapter One (1989)

Pati Bannister – Chapter One (1989)

Pati Bannister - The Dollhouse (1992)

Pati Bannister – The Dollhouse (1992)

Pati Bannister - Enchanted Evening (1998)

Pati Bannister – Enchanted Evening (1998)

Pati Bannister - The Swing (1999)

Pati Bannister – The Swing (1999)

Pati Bannister - Scent of Summer (2001)

Pati Bannister – Scent of Summer (2001)

Pati Bannister - Swan Lake (2002)

Pati Bannister – Swan Lake (2002)

Pati Bannister - Dogwood (2003)

Pati Bannister – Dogwood (2003)

Pati Bannister - Peony (2004)

Pati Bannister – Peony (2004)

Bannister was a prolific artist and her prints can be readily found advertised on the secondary market.

Alien Girls, Animal Spirits & Raisons d’Être: The Art of Lily C

I’ve received my fair share of fan mail for my work here, but something about the first excited email I received from a young lady named Lily C (named changed for her protection and privacy), who I’ve been conversing back and forth with over the last few days, really captured me, in part because it perfectly encapsulated part of Pigtails in Paint‘s raison d’être.  I am going to quote her first two paragraphs in full, because I think she deserves that.  She wrote:

I came across your site while looking for answers or comfort or acceptance. I started with Nabokov so many years ago and went all the way to Caravaggio and Carroll and Ovenden, then to your site. Let me explain. When I was around four years old, I was repeatedly sexually abused by a male family friend, who was twelve or thirteen and had been abused himself (and the cycle probably continued all the way up the line to Adam). When I was nine, it was a neighbor who was around forty, and when I was twelve/thirteen it was a few strangers on a few trains. As you can imagine, these events soiled my sexuality a good deal for it took away my right to explore it of my own accord. Truly, I feel that innocence isn’t lost with virginity, but instead when sex becomes carnal, forced, and fake– an apple made entirely of sugar, rather than the ripe, red fruit it should be. The boy treated me as if he loved me, the older man explicitly told me so, and the strangers on the train touched me blindly, without love. It confused me. I’m not sure if you believe at all in the concept of the nymphet (popularized by Nabokov but surely recognized well before then) but even if you don’t, I do, and I believe I was one.

 

After all that happened to me, I became hyper-sexual, which isn’t uncommon for girls in this circumstance, but I corrupted my sexuality near to the point of extinction because I was endlessly searching for a way to reclaim and re-explore it without the notions that were forced upon me. Then, just a year ago, I met a boy who saw the child and the nymphet in me and he nurtured it and now I’m regaining that small portion that was lost; what I call innocent sexuality. Indeed, I feel like a child and a woman all at the same time and I’ve found a beautiful balance and it feels so good to be this way. However, I am still traumatized, and ever since those events began I have struggled with child love. One of my darkest secrets, but one that I can share because I’m no longer afraid of it (though I am ashamed), is that in my young teenage years I became obsessively fascinated with child pornography. This, of course, stems solely from the personality split that occurred within me from the abuse, and I sought after children because I wanted badly to reconnect with the part of the child within who was lost. I’m still coming to terms with this loss. I disconnected myself from the porn after I had met my love, and indeed everything that dealt with themes of child love were thrown away or pushed out of my head out of fear. I still get pangs of heart-wrenching adoration for certain little girls, and it really confuses me in the moment. This past month I have been searching around the Internet for something that would satiate this need to connect, that wouldn’t be a simple cover-up as the child porn was– and the point of all this, really, is to say that I’ve found it on your blog.

When I founded Pigtails, it was first and foremost a way for me to process my own complex feelings about young girls through the endless manifestations of them embodied in art, and to recognize the nobler ideas behind artistic expression in a way that honored girls holistically without demolishing or changing their girlish nature.  As I’ve said before, Pigtails is itself an art project, and, as good art should, it has since come to represent many things for many people.  So, it meant a great deal to me when Lily explained what Pigtails was for her and how it soothed a need she felt in herself to recapture the feelings of being both innocent and sexually alive at the same time—in other words, to be the girl she would’ve been had her burgeoning sexuality not been corrupted and directed by outside forces.  With a wisdom surpassing her nineteen years, she managed to express what it means succinctly and artfully:

Innocence to me is a wonder and a curiosity free from construct and self-inhibition. Innocence is exploring without boundaries or insecurities (apart from those boundaries that keep one safe).

Notice that nowhere in this definition does she include the concept of utter sexual ignorance, for the truth is, kids are sexual beings.  The issue isn’t that sexual abuse “sexualizes” children, but rather that it swaps their free-form, still developing sexuality out for something artificial, fixed and forced, and therefore (to the child) something much less fun and interesting.  It is not dissimilar from an adult taking a child’s free-flowing imagination and shaping it to by coercing, guilt-tripping or pressuring the child to create only what that particular adult finds beautiful.  When this happens (as it frequently does), children tend to become disillusioned with their own creativity, and consequently, to lose interest in being creative.  For kids, the end product of creative expression is not generally the driving force behind it; it is, rather, the joy of creation itself.

Lily C - Empress (2012)

Lily C – Empress (2012)

Well, all of that applies to child sexuality as well, and therein lies the key to understanding it.  Society as a rule tends to either ignore, devalue or deny the existence of child sexuality altogether.  This is why we have consistently been so wrongheaded about how to deal with children and sex, and consequently, why I believe sexual abuse is still going fairly strong today even with the severe taboos and laws in place.  Society itself has effectively fetishized children’s innocence to the point where they now fail to understand what it really means, or the harm that this impossible standard often causes to children themselves.  With our prevailing concept of the perfectly asexual child, we have erected an image of the child which most real children could never meet, and that failure can bring shame and guilt on them, the very things child abusers often use to control kids and keep them quiet, and which can cause them to be victimized again and again.  On the flip side of that same coin, the innocence fetish has become attractive in itself to some people, and by extension, so does the prospect of violating that innocence, warping or corrupting it.

But I’m not here to talk about that.  I am here to discuss Lily’s art, which she sent me samples of in her second email, and which I immediately fell in love with.  This is real outsider art, folks—like the work of Henry Darger.  It is pure expression, motivated by a true creative instinct that isn’t necessarily aimed at an end goal, much like that of a child.  Lily says of her work,

It is rare for me to take pencil to paper with an idea in mind. Usually I will be fixated on some aesthetic form (e.g. the shape of the fingers, an eye, a nose, a word) at the time of drawing and I start with these things, but rarely does the attention awarded to that specific aesthetic point manifest as the focal point of the work. It’s very spontaneous; it just comes out of my fingers, really, and therefore it comes almost directly from my subconscious. In a way all my pieces are connected to the dream world. When I’m done drawing I look at the page in surprise, usually, at the ideas that have presented themselves to me through such an arbitrary method, much like waking from a dream.

Of particular interest to Ron were the animal/human hybrid pieces.  One is a type of centaur, an equine body topped by a human head. The ornate decorations she has given the centaur, including the hood, are all quite lovely.  The long distortions of the equine form call to mind Salvador Dali’s elephants and the horse from The Temptation of Saint Anthony.  The other hybrid is a lemur’s posterior topped by a human girl’s torso and head.  A strange choice for such a hybrid, and yet it works.  The addition of the wind gives the image a nice buzz of energy.  The lemur girl is busy, maybe storing fruit away for the winter, while the wind blows.  The image suggest autumn, which is, appropriately enough, a season of transition, great activity and preparation for the future, things that most teen girls are well acquainted with.

The meanings behind them are also quite personal for Lily and tie in to the childhood theme that recurs through her work:

The animal/human hybrids are directly sourced from who I am as an individual. I have a very strong connection to the child within myself, and indeed some parts of me are fully a child (if that makes sense). As I’m sure you and many of your readers know, children have the remarkable ability to attune themselves to animal spirits; they are simply closer to the Earth, closer to the essence of existence which can be found in its most complete form in nature. I embody this spirit in my paintings because my creative abilities are intrinsically linked to my childishness.

Lily C - Wounded Mouth (2010)

Lily C – Wounded Mouth (2010)

Lily C - Past Lives (2012)

Lily C – Past Lives (2012)

My favorite, piece, meanwhile, is a blue-skinned alien girl.  There exists a striking contrast between the exoticness of the alien and the prosaic nature of her expression, which embodies a common struggle of girls everywhere to forge their own identity and is spoken very much in the urban patois of a modern teen: “Can’t live like I wanna.”  Of course, since it is Lily expressing this sentiment through her art, it means much more than that.  Some might be tempted to ascribe a Postmodern irony here, but to do so I think would be to gravely misunderstand the artist.  Indeed, Lily herself has confessed that she doesn’t fully understand what is going on in this work and finds it troubling at times.

The words come from a song called ‘I Ate Your Soul’ by Grieves. This painting is from one of the hardest points in my life. I drew it when I was fifteen and kept it for a little while without color or words. At that point she was just the girl, and she was in a much more vulnerable position with her legs spread open and a pained expression on her face. I redrew it multiple times over the next two years, but it never seemed right to me. Usually I feel a sense of relief when a sketch or a drawing is finished, but not with her. When I was eighteen and in university I listened to a lot of hip-hop and I was fixated on the aforementioned track, listening to only this song over and over. I was in my dorm room one night listening to the song and very distressed because I hadn’t drawn anything for a long, long time. I had her in front of me and I looked at her and felt extremely disgusted by her, so I traced her yet again and scribbled those lyrics which had been stuck in my head, and she seemed more complete. She ignited my creativity in that sense again so I’m grateful for her, but she still scares me.

Lily C - Untitled (2011)

Lily C – Untitled (2011)

Her girls can also take on the semblance of clowns, with odd splotches of color over eyes, chin and cheeks.  Or bearing a jester’s cap and a protruding tongue.  But in short order one realizes that these are not cheerful characters.  They’re naked, for one thing, and it isn’t the carefree nakedness we usually see with children.  It is awkward, uncertain, defensive.  One girl, her body contorted impossibly and furtively away from the viewer, looks to be masturbating, a coil of poisonous green smoke wafting from the cigarette in her other hand.  The girl in the jester’s cap feels rather more devilish than comedic here, with her protruding tongue, her sharp claws and a piece of intestine snaking out of a slit in her belly.

The darker aspects of Lily’s art can of course be interpreted as a manifestation of her sexual abuse.  Lily herself frames it this way:

I use my art to explore all components of my existence, including my sexuality. My intense focus on sexuality in art started when I was around six years old and would draw crude genitalia on figures then quickly scribble them out for modesty. I don’t know if this interest stemmed from abuse or innate curiosity. My abuse started when I was as young as two (however, I only remember specific instances from when I was five), but I don’t remember everything because that is past the point where my memory can recall such trauma. A lot of what happened to me is not accessible, it lingers in my subconscious, so naturally it would eventually come out through my art; the only access point. The abuse affected me in a most confusing way so that I didn’t know what sexuality was or how it fit into my life or myself, and I began to explore it with nude figures of my own age and older engaging in sexual acts, and this began when I was twelve. As my work progressed the figures became younger and younger, and less sexually involved, until I was drawing fetuses in the womb! Through this, I was able to explore sexuality in the context of age. I found that the young girls I drew had a profound sexual energy that could not be expressed, that was actually on the very verge of being expressed but they did not know exactly how to do it because of their age or some other block. The babies had a sexual energy, but did not express it except through simply being (as all things do– even rocks have a minuscule amount of sexual energy which they exude only by existing in the world). The fetuses were fetuses and I could not really identify them. I remember one drawing in particular, made when I was fifteen. There was a fetus in a disembodied amniotic sac, about 50 days old, and a female off to the left side of the drawing who looked to be about eleven years old by her body proportions, screaming. At the top of the page was a cluster of female heads with hollow eyes, connected by their hair. On the next page was a female with a goat head, fourteen years old, bound in barbed wire and some poetry about serpents off to the right. Strange stuff. The connection between my childhood and my art is formed in many locations within me. It is formed through the subconscious by trauma, it’s formed by the inherently strong link to my imagination forged in childhood, and it’s formed by my innate tendency to express myself creatively on paper which I have been doing since before I can remember. But there’s a lot of weird stuff going on that I haven’t quite figured out yet, so I don’t doubt that some connections haven’t yet been discovered.

Lily C - Shelby (2010)

Lily C – Shelby (2010)

Lily C - Hunter (2010)

Lily C – Hunter (2010)

Lily’s images often swirl with text, some of it inexplicable but clearly channeled from her subconscious.  In Alien Boss, the text is as much the focus of the work as the imagery is.  In fact, text and imagery are so intertwined that they are nearly inseparable.  The words slither and writhe on the page, getting jumbled up so that one might read them in a variety of ways.  Before I was provided with the title of this work, I interpreted one line in the piece to read, “Boss, the alien is coming”—Lily rather intended it to read, “The alien boss is coming.”  Either one might be appropriate in the context, to say nothing of the possible double entendre in the word “coming,” given what is occurring on the page.

Lily C - Alien Boss (2010)

Lily C – Alien Boss (2010)

In another, green-hued girls and mechanical birds prance around while a disembodied infantile mouth commands the viewer to “Fuck ME.”  Confrontational?  Perhaps.  Necessary?  Quite.

Lily C - Untitled (2010)

Lily C – Untitled (2010)

But it’s not been all doom and gloom for Lily.  I will leave you with a hopeful note from Lily herself:

Apart from the abuse my childhood was a happy one. I spent most of my time alone, climbing trees and catching insects, building worm piles and playing with cars. I was happiest among the trees and the grass and the dirt, thinking about things. I felt powerful when I fell from a tall branch and scraped my arms up badly and did not cry. Also when I ate with the wasps, and let spiders crawl across my hands, and when I got so dirty I turned the bathtub black. When I was a little girl I didn’t restrain myself from anything, I did whatever I wanted without fear and I had a very strong moral code; I didn’t hurt anything or anyone, I helped wherever I was needed. This is a point I would like to reach again, and I’m not far away. If I could embody the spirit of myself as a little girl, this would be the utmost point of my spirituality and creativity.

Lily C - Warrior (2012)

Lily C – Warrior (2012)

 

Akiane, Indigo Child Prodigy

Akiane Kramarik was born in 1994 in Mount Morris, Illinois.  Her American father and Lithuanian mother identified themselves as atheists; and then surprisingly, their daughter began to have intense spiritual visions in which she would meet God “face to face”.

Akiane Kramarik

Photographer Unknown – Akiane: Her Life, Her Art, Her Poetry (book cover) (2006)

This was not initially easy to accept as her mother Forelli remembered, “At first I thought it was a nightmare.” (Evening Magazine.) Her father Mark was also caught off-guard, “It sort of took me aback because we never read the Bible and didn’t have any kind of spiritual connection.” (CNN)

Photographer Unknown – Painting 'On My Knees' (2005)

Photographer Unknown – Painting ‘On My Knees’ (2005)

Akiane began having spiritual visions at age three; the following year she picked up art tools to express the things she was experiencing.  “I was just so surprised at the impeccable images I had in my head that I just had to express them in some sort of physical matter.”  (Sally Lee, Daily Mail, January 30, 2015.)  She quickly progressed from sketching to pastel by five, then to acrylic at six, and finally to oil.

Akiane Kramarik – On My Knees, 2005

Akiane Kramarik – On My Knees, (2005)

Her mother speaks of this process as follows,

It wasn’t just art that was happening. Simultaneous with art was a spiritual awakening…. It all began to happen when she started to share her dreams and visions. … We didn’t pray together, there was no discussion about God, and we didn’t go to church. Then all of a sudden, Akiane was starting to talk about God. … We were with the kids all the time, and so these words from Akiane about God didn’t come from the outside—we knew that. But there suddenly were intense conversations about God’s love, His place [in our lives], and she would describe everything in detail.” (Marry Berryhill, Today’s Christian, July/August 2004.)

Akiane’s parents soon joined the church, while she herself remains spiritual but does not consider herself a member of any denomination or religion despite frequent Christian references in her art.

Akiane’s family did not have an artistic character.  Akiane describes her painterly education thus, “I am self-taught. In other words, God is my teacher.” (In5d, Indigos, April 26, 2011).  Nonetheless, she was soon recognized as a prodigy.  In a few short years she appeared with Oprah, CNN’s Lou Dobbs, ABC’s Peter Jennings, Katie Couric and  Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America, Craig Ferguson of The Late Late Show, and Robert Schuller on the Hour of Power.  Her paintings sold for upwards of fifty-thousand dollars, and hung in locations such as the U.S. embassy in Singapore.

Photographer Unknown – Painting 'My Sight Cannot Wait for Me' (2002)

Photographer Unknown – Painting ‘My Sight Cannot Wait for Me’ (2002)

Akiane is highly dedicated.  She paints six days a week, rising at three or four a.m. and paints for as many as fourteen hours a day; some works take months and hundreds of hours to complete.

Akiane Kramarik – My Sight Cannot Wait for Me (2002)

Akiane Kramarik – My Sight Cannot Wait for Me (2002)

Akiane’s art can mostly be described as either realist or surrealist.  Often times, she herself does not know the meaning of the images she has seen in visions and feels compelled to paint.  She said, “God gave me more ideas I don’t even know what the meaning is, like pyramids, I really don’t even know that meaning….” (CNN)  Her mother said of these fantastic dream images,

“When she was talking about these galaxies and intergalactic experiences and God, I knew whatever she was seeing, something was really there for her.”  (CNN)

Akiane Kramarik – Faithfulness (2010)

Akiane Kramarik – Faithfulness (2010)

As a girl artist who often made a girl the subject of her work, she might be doubly interesting to Pigtails readers.  In fact, many times that girl subject was a self-portrait.  Described as an indigo child and dedicated to God and love, it’s probably appropriate to find girls and particularly one so angelic as herself in her paintings.

Photographer Unknown – Painting 'Turquoise Eyes' (2005)

Photographer Unknown – Painting ‘Turquoise Eyes’ (2005)

Akiane has traveled to thirty different countries and is currently residing on the Gold Coast in Australia.  She is fond of animals and since the age of twelve, her compassion for other living souls has motivated her to practice veganism.  She is home-schooled and studies largely only what is interesting to her personally.  Akiane speaks five languages including American Sign Language and has contributed significant funds to children’s charities.

Akiane Kramarik – Turquoise Eyes (2005)

Akiane Kramarik – Turquoise Eyes (2005)

Akiane’s painting and the publication of two books have earned her millions of dollars.  Rich, beautiful and genius, she has quite a lot going for her.  Despite all that, she remains humble and committed to sharing what she’s been given.  “I really love sharing my gift with others. At the same time, I’m just a normal kid having fun and that’s what life is all about—having fun at the same time as helping people.”  (rememberwhoweare, October 20, 2011.)

Photographer Unknown – Painting 'Innocence' (2006)

Photographer Unknown – Painting ‘Innocence’ (2006)

Akiane has occasionally faced criticism.  Some people accused her of being a fraud; others called her technical proficiency lacking, and some were offended by the religious content.  She recalls, “People wanted to burn all my works when we tried to display them in public.” (Sally Lee, Daily Mail, January 30, 2015.)

Akiane Kramarik – Innocence (2006)

Akiane Kramarik – Innocence (2006)

Akiane had some profound insights on art and children,

“Portals of divinity are everywhere. I believe that children may enter these divine portals easier, because they are seeking for answers in the purest way.” (In5d, Indigos, April 26, 2011)

“Infinity imagines curiosity from the wild abyss—Only the child makes a swing-set view of the worlds upside down. Unwatched truth is the enchantment of childhood.  And we never grow out of it…” (rememberwhoweare, October 20, 2011)

Akiane Kramarik – Co-Creation (2005)

Akiane Kramarik – Co-Creation (2005)

Akiane has a personal site online which can be found here.

Lucas Cranach: Charity

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553) was a German Renaissance artist. He was the court painter to the Electors of Saxony for most of his career and is known for his portraits and nude subjects drawn from mythology and religion. I find it interesting that Cranach was close friend of Martin Luther (the leading figure of the Protestant Reformation). Because he is also regarded as an innovator for his nudes, Kenneth Clark commented that “Cranach is one of those rare artists who have added to our imaginative repertoire of physical beauty.”

Lucas Cranach - Rest on the Flight into Egypt (1504)

Lucas Cranach – Rest on the Flight into Egypt (1504)

The playful almost comic mood of Cranach’s paintings gives his work an appeal not found in the work of most of his contemporaries: Albrecht Durer, Mathis Grünewald and Hans Holbein with the exception of Hans Baldung. The earliest large work by Cranach is The Rest on the Flight into Egypt of 1504. Behind Mary and Joseph stands an old fir tree and birch tree that would more likely be found in Germany than in Egypt. Busy angels who make music, bring water and offer the Christ Child birds take the form of cherubs and child nymphs. To the left of Mary’s feet sits an angel in gold that plays the flute; the style of the gown appears to be that of a girl’s because of the style of the sleeve.

Lucas Cranach - Venus Standing in a Landscape (1529)

Lucas Cranach – Venus Standing in a Landscape (1529)

Cranach seldom painted the nude beauties he is known for until the late 1520s—well into the Reformation. Of the standing Venus paintings, this seems to be the most famous; her slender form, tiny breasts an narrow hips, the rounded forehead, are the physical characteristics of an adolescent girl or young woman. We tend to think of the ideal as a busty beauty but that was not the case until the mid-twentieth century. Nudes in the German tradition drew their inspiration from Gothic art which had a juvenile air. Cranach’s innovation was that he took the stiff figures of Gothic art and gave them the grace of Botticelli.

Lucas Cranach - Portrait of Martin Luther as Junker Jörg

Lucas Cranach – Portrait of Martin Luther as Junker Jörg (c1522)

Cranach was a close friend of Martin Luther from the beginning of the Reformation.  Luther was godfather to Cranach’s daughter Anna and Cranach in turn became godfather to Luther’s first-born son, Johannes. This special relationship with its founder enabled Cranach to chronicle the Reformation. At the time of the above portrait, Luther was regarded as an outlaw by the Roman Catholic Church. Luther is shown with the beard he had grown to disguise himself as the nobleman “Junker Jörg”. He was in hiding at the Wartburg, a strong fortress at the top of a mountain, under the protection of the local prince. In a small study in the castle, he translated the New Testament from Greek into German. To providence, Cranach owned the only publishing house in the area. Cranach illustrated and published Luther’s first translation of the Bible into German, which was the first time that the scriptures were translated from the Latin to be made available to the public.

Lucas Cranach-Charity Standing

Lucas Cranach – Charity Standing (1530s)

Cranach is known for conveying Lutheran religious concerns in his paintings, but I believe the influence of the Reformation on his series of Charity paintings has not yet been recognized. Charity is the foremost of the three theological virtues “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity” (I Corinthians 13:13) The word “love”, is a closer definition to the modern ear because the word “charity” has the implication of giving to the needy. The fourteenth century Italian sculptor Tino da Camaino was the first to represent Charity as a loving mother with three or more children. Italian Renaissance artists followed the Graeco-Roman convention of depicting children as only boys.  The Italian masters appear to have been caught in a “patricentric box of language”. In Cranach’s interpretations of Charity, one of the children is represented as a little girl which is likely the first nude of this kind in western art. I believe Cranach broke with convention for a reason.

Cultures have been structured according to two principles: patriarchal and matriarchal. The priority of matriarchal principles is unconditional love: a mother loves her children regardless of whether they are good or bad; they are loved because they are her (or another woman’s) children. The essence of this love is mercy and compassion. In contrast, the priority of patriarchy is conditional love: a child needs to work to be respected by the father. The essence of this love is justice.

Lucas Cranach - Charity Landscape (1830s)

Lucas Cranach – Charity Landscape (1830s)

In the course of the Reformation, Luther ended the devotion to the Virgin Mary, which resulted in the elimination of the matricentric principle that existed in western culture. Erich Fromm recognized the profound influence the removal of the matricentric principle had on the development of society.

“Luther established a purely patriarchal form of Christianity in Northern Europe that was based on the urban middle class and the secular princes. The essence of this new social character is submission under patriarchal authority, with work as the only way to obtain love and approval. Behind the Christian facade arose a new secret religion, ‘industrial religion,’ that is rooted in the character structure of modern society, but is not recognized as ‘religion.’

The industrial religion is incompatible with genuine Christianity. It reduces people to servants of the economy and the machinery that their own hands build. The industrial religion had its basis in a new social character. Its center was fear of and submission to powerful male authorities, cultivation of the sense of guilt for disobedience, dissolution of the bond of human solidarity by the supremacy of self-interest and mutual antagonism. The ‘sacred’ in industrial religion was work, property, profit, power, even though it furthered individualism and freedom within the limits of its general principles.”

The Virgin Mary was a predominant figure in Renaissance art—about 1 in 4 paintings of the period represent her. I suspect that Cranach sensed the dangers of the elimination of the image of the Holy Mother and I believe his Charity paintings were intended to compensate because the image of the mother ultimately represents the principle of what ought to be. Traditionally,the father would support the family by going out into the imperfect world; he would deal with objective reality with a focus on prosperity. The mother would remain with the children in the bonds of human solidarity which better reflects genuine Christian principles because they can be compromised in an antagonistic environment.

Lucas Cranach - Charity (1830s)

Lucas Cranach – Charity (1830s) (1)

In all of Cranach’s Charity paintings, one of the children is a little girl. In some works, it is difficult to tell because only a tiny pigtail indicates the child’s gender. In two of the paintings, the girl holds a doll as her role model; the mother holds an infant. Cranach’s paintings are the only Charity paintings I know of that include this iconography. Feminine nature was to be valued and respected. Matriarchy has found expression in humanism and natural law: the idea of the sacredness of life and human equality.

Lucas Cranach - Charity (1830s)

Lucas Cranach – Charity (1830s) (2)

Art that follows the tradition of the Charity paintings has fallen out favor due to a patriarchal view that regards such work as regressive. While the Reformation had some positive points to the Protestant work ethic, it had the effect in atomizing society. Our perception of human interactions has changed due to loss of the matriarchal perspective. Nudity is interpreted from a subtext of self-interest and mutual antagonism which often leads to misinterpretation. It makes a great difference whether the body is viewed as a commodity or from the perspective of a loving mother who appreciates the sanctity of life. In the past, the matriarchal perspective colored the perception of even sensual subjects, as in Cranch’s Venus paintings; the figures reflect a gentle eroticism. I believe much of contemporary feminism is at fault in being compromised by the values of industrialization. It is actually patriarchal in it’s values; it takes part in what Fromm called the, “industrial religion.” Many artists from the beginning of the 20th century sensed the tendency of alienation and created work that embraced the bonds of human solidarity to counterbalance (eg. Lotte Herrlich, Ida Teichmann and Sally Mann), but the current barely exists today.

Construction of Girl Identity

Diyan Achjadi spent her girlhood in Soeharto-era Indonesia before settling on the trendy Canadian West Coast as associate professor of visual arts at Emily Carr University.  Sometime in the early 2000s the idea for her Girl character came to her as an understated and ironic way of commenting on heavy issues.  Her first show set Girl in various hot-topic settings usually in play or where people were naive to the danger or seriousness of the subject.  Achjadi commented,

“I have been particularly interested in the potential of illustrated narratives, and in the ways the fictionalized environments have the potential to unpack real-world situations, and question and critique the world that we physically inhabit. I use a visual vocabulary borrowed from children’s media – toys, books, objects, and other forms of productions aimed at children – which often depicts the adult world in a miniaturized, simplified, and sanitized form, representing it under a guise of play, innocence, and harmlessness.”

Diyan Achjadi – See Girl, 2004

Diyan Achjadi – See Girl, 2004

Shortly thereafter, in the wake of the tsunami that wiped out coastal Aceh in northern Sumatra, Girl became a way for Achjadi to explore impressions of the way reports of disasters were covered far from her new locale.  Distanced from her homeland, Achjadi’s only connection with the enormous things happening in Indonesia was through the internet, television and telephone.  Her Girl works from 2007 through ’09 featured her signature character in the midst of invasions, bombings, tidal waves and volcanic eruptions.  Girl largely maintained her indifferent composure—maybe an allusion to the tidak apa apa resignation of Indonesians or the passive nature of the stereotypical little girl?

Diyan Achjadi – We Expected Hysteria (Hark! Listen), 2009

Diyan Achjadi – We Expected Hysteria (Hark! Listen), 2009

At the end of the decade, Achjadi’s use of Girl shifted again.  Now she began to play with the machinery informing identity.  Achjadi had grown up in a new nation, with shifting boundaries, and threatening to rip apart in violence.  The dictatorial government bombarded the people through every medium with nation-building propaganda.  Achjadi herself was made to participate in considerable flag raising, marching, “group calisthenics” and singing to the glory of her recently manufactured country during her school-girl years.  In retrospect she had a kind of fascination with the process.

Diyan Achjadi – Onward, fearlessly, 2007

Diyan Achjadi – Onward, fearlessly, 2007

As the series progressed, it became deeper, and took on a kind of eerie metaphysical character.  Achjadi writes,

“Girl is both singular and plural: she is a figure that exists in a world populated only by other Girls, seemingly identical in features and dress. Sometimes she is alone and isolated; other times she is multiplied into a perfectly uniform army, marching, saluting, and exercising in formation.”

Diyan Achjadi – Ceremony, 2007

Diyan Achjadi – Ceremony, 2007

Far from cute and innocent, the girl becomes something surreal as endless uniformed girls salute in allegiance to the image of themselves.  The following piece might remind one of the North Korean Mass Games.

Diyan Achjadi – Stadium, 2008

Diyan Achjadi – Stadium, 2008

This all culminates in her “The Further Adventures of Girl” show.  Critic, Malakoteron, wrote quite insightfully on this compilation of works,

“From wall to wall one encounters the face of the iconic ‘girl’ who is multiplied in each medium. She’s a flat and simplified medley of many of the cliches of girlhood rendered into an easy to swallow and mass produced form. Cartoons, posters, flags and little sculptures reminiscent of lawn ornaments all cross reference her figure in a series of reds and lush colours. Sometimes it feels like looking at Dora The Explorer filtered through a post-Superflat version of Maoist propaganda.

It starts out seemingly innocuous, like a little bit of children’s TV and, through its repetition and its re-articulation, gradually becomes obvious as a technique of aggression.

They’re attractive and decorative and this is self-consciously reflected in the work, with the girl waving flags of herself, perfectly enclosed in her own narcissistic paradise. As Momus once said in respect to certain trends in Japanese youth culture, it’s a celebration of ‘cute fascism’.”

Diyan Achjadi – Oboro gallery, 2010

Diyan Achjadi – Oboro gallery, 2010

By her later showings of Girl, it would be difficult for most to intuit a commentary on Indonesian national identity.  At face value, the show had evolved into an analysis of the coding of girl identity itself: the girlification of girls.  But Achjadi does not regard girls as made of “sugar and spice and all things nice”; instead, we are shown a process of violence, mass indoctrination, intimidation, superficial molds and robotic conformity.

And then like almost anything artificially impressed into the living body, it is rejected.  Girl finally screams, gesticulates, riots and rebels against herself; she fights herself, tears herself down and attempts to escape the Girl space.

Diyan Achjadi – Protest, 2011

Diyan Achjadi – Protest, 2011

Diyan Achjadi’s personal site is here,  while she delivers a thorough lecture on Girl at this link.  An animated assemblage of her Girl work is also available.

Alienation: Scott Affleck

One of our readers, Kris, who lives in the Philadelphia area recently informed me of an interesting artist who just opened a gallery in Lambertville, a small town in central New Jersey. She sent me a sample of his work which I felt was well done, but I did not give it too much thought. As I learned more about his work, I felt I had better take a more serious look. Scott Affleck (born 1972) specializes in figural painting and convincingly integrates the female figure into his scenes. His pieces are not mere pretty cliches but are strong expressions of social commentary.

Scott Affleck - Gentle Voice (2014)

Scott Affleck – Gentle Voice (2014)

The first image I was shown was actually an unfinished work titled Babel. This is a reference to the Biblical story and a boy is shown focusing on his sand castle (the tower). Apart from offering a lesson about hubris–the tower also standing in as a phallic symbol—the girl is holding her arms out, signifying vastness and futility. The artist states that the girl’s pose is intentionally Christ-like, heightening the contrast between the material and spiritual endeavors of the two children. Joseph Campbell used to say that if a work of art really speaks to you, no explanation is necessary but if an artist wants to be insulting, he will tell you what it means. However, given this age of literary and symbolic ignorance, I think it pragmatic and prudent for Affleck to describe his intention whenever a visitor asks for it.

Scott Affleck - Babel (in progress) (2014)

Scott Affleck – Babel (in progress) (2014)

Affleck discovered his passion for art while attending Hunterdon Central High School, where he participated in an arts program for the gifted. He later studied under the guidance of Valeriy Belenikin and received an Associate’s Degree in Fine Arts from Bucks County Community College. His influences include Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Giorgione, Puvis de Chavannes, Ferdinand Hodler, George Tooker, Ken Kiff and Jock Sturges.

Even his choice of venue for the gallery was fortuitous as it is located in a small town just across from where an artist colony existed in the early 20th century. Participants included Edward Redfield, Daniel Garber and Roy Nuse—the last artist being well-known for his paintings of skinny dippers. The Grand Opening took place on November 8th and the artist sold two paintings that day—one of a cow and another of a tractor. He found that strange since he puts so much heart and soul into his figural paintings.

Many of his works are inspired by literature as in his interpretation of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Plato described a group of prisoners who lived chained in an underground cave all their lives. The prisoners spent their time watching a puppet show projected as shadows on the wall, which they mistook for reality. In Postmodern symbolism, dolls are used in place of puppets to reflect cynicism and the recognition of hypocrisy, as though objective values did not exist. In Affleck’s painting, an adolescent girl of about twelve enters the cave to free the prisoners—despite admonitions that she would be killed. Over time, the artist began to appreciate the significance of that age—when a girl reaches a level of consciousness that questions the hypocrisy of the world while still holding on to her idealism. Such sentiments tend to be mocked in contemporary art and Affleck believes it is an inevitable symptom of the greater level of alienation experienced during the transition from childhood to adulthood in the modern industrialized world. The girl stands in opposition to the values of this age and her nudity motivates self-honesty—casting off the empty honors of this world.

Scott Affleck - The Allegory of the Cave (2014)

Scott Affleck – The Allegory of the Cave (2014)

Affleck believes many of his figural paintings are a therapeutic response to today’s pervasive conditions of alienation. Postmodern theory denies this state, so the mood of his work stands apart from those of his peers. It was not his intent to be a contrarian, only to produce art that came naturally to him. Fascinated and influenced by the Symbolist movement of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, he goes beyond the theme of youth as a metaphor for innocence but uses it to represent integrity instead. Perhaps Affleck’s clearest example is Resignation Is Liberation, inspired by George Orwell’s 1984. As a kind of homage to Sandro Botticelli and George Tooker, he painted it on wood.

Scott Affleck - Resignation is Liberation (2014)

Scott Affleck – Resignation is Liberation (2014)

He wasn’t sure if his ideas had any kind of validity until he found this poem written by a 13 or 14-year-old girl. It seemed to confirm his view.

You will never have a home again
You’ll forget the bonds of family and family will become just family
Smiles will never bloom from your heart again, but be fake and you will speak fake words to fake people from your fake soul
What you do today you will do tomorrow and what you do tomorrow you will do for the rest of your life
From now on pressure, stress, pain and the past can never be forgotten
You have no heart or soul and there are no good memories
Your mind and thoughts rule your body that will hold all things inside it; bottled up, now impossible to be released
You are fake, you will be fake, you will be a supreme actor of happiness but never be happy
Time, joy and freedom will hardly come your way and never last as you well know
Others’ lives and the dreams of things that you can never have or be part of, will keep you alive
You will become like the rest of the world–a divine actor, trying to hide and suppress your fate, pretending it doesn’t exist
There is only one way to escape society and the world you help build, but that is impossible, for no one can ever become a baby again
Instead you spend the rest of life trying to find the meaning of life and confused in its maze.
-Fiona Miller, c1987

He recently completed and posted his latest work; he got the idea of painting a trenchcoat on a woman encased in steel. Steel is a particularly potent symbol as it was one of the first materials to be mass-produced in the Industrial Revolution and effectively communicates a visceral reaction to a cold and impersonal age.

Scott Affleck - Progression (2014)

Scott Affleck – Progression (2014)

Official Gallery website
More on Resignation Poetry

Affandi and Kartika

Rarely did Indonesia’s most well known painter, Affandi, stray from his usual subjects: himself and the difficult lives of the ordinary people.

Affand – Affandi & Kartika (1943)

Affand – Affandi & Kartika (1943)

Indonesian artists were radically cut off from the outside world; there were no shows of modern art until the late 1930s.  And conversely, when Affandi toured in India, Europe, America, and Brazil in the ’40s and ’50s he was one of the few artists from his young country to show abroad.

Affandi – Kartika (1941)

Affandi – Kartika (1941)

Affandi did not work in a studio, but outdoors in the open and he was sometimes attacked by the same common people he chose as his subjects; on one occasion sand was apparently thrown at him and the villagers taunted him—calling his painting incomprehensible.

Affandi – Kartika (1943)

Affandi – Kartika  (1943)

Affandi eventually gave up using a brush and applied paint directly from the tube onto the canvass; he painted with his hands and mixed paint on his wrist.

Affandi – Potret met dochter (1939)

Affandi – Potret met dochter (1939)

Affandi had a very close relationship with his daughter from his first wife.  He traveled together with Kartika and began teaching her to paint from age seven.  In fact, Kartika went on to a career as an impressionist artist herself—also painting many self-portraits and the ordinary Indonesian people.

Affandi – Kartika menggambar babaknya (1943)

Affandi – Kartika menggambar bapaknya, “Kartika drawing father” (1943)

Affandi remarked on the topic of girls and his painterly motivations,

“One day an art collector looked in my studio and said he couldn’t select any of my paintings because the paintings he saw hurt his feelings. He asked me why I didn’t make paintings of beautiful objects: landscapes, girls, and so forth. I too like beautiful things, but they do not necessary provide inspiration for my work. My subjects are expressive rather than beautiful. I paint suffering – an old woman, a beggar, a black mountain … I do know the danger of doing paintings with this in mind. I have no intention of becoming a social propagandist, and I must be careful. One day, in India, visiting a village with my Daughter Kartika, I saw a dead body covered by a mattress.  Kartika said, ‘That’s a good subject for you.’ I felt very touched by what we had seen, but I told her I would not paint it. My next painting was of a flower, in reality very fresh, but which on my canvas lacked all life.”

Affandi – Kartika tidur, "Kartika sleeping" (1936)

Affandi – Kartika tidur, “Kartika sleeping” (1936)

Affandi’s legacy, not withstanding his works and his painter daughter who survive him, is his museum in Jogjakarta, which he designed himself in the later years of his life, here is the link to the Affandi Museum site.

Marcel Marlier: Lifetime with Martine

Marcel Marlier started his artistic career with the Belgian Board of Education, illustrating a school reader called Michel et Nicole.  His work caught the eye of publishing director Pierre Servais, and in 1951 he joined Casterman.  He initially illustrated classic stories like Beauty and the Beast and the works of Alexandre Dumas.  Soon, he paired up with poet and author Gilbert Delahaye to create the first Martine story which came out in 1954.

Marcel Marlier – Martine est malade (1976)

Marcel Marlier – Martine est malade (1976)

Martine is the story of a sugar-sweet and proper girl and her many adventures together with her small dog Patapouf.  The stories are generally conservative and contain moral messages such as the value of honesty or environmental protection as in Martine se déguise or Martine protège la nature respectively.

Marcel Marlier – Debbie learns to dance (1972)

Marcel Marlier – Debbie learns to dance (1972)

The series eventually grew to include sixty titles; the first was Martine à la ferme and the final book was Martine et le prince mystérieux.  Martine was translated into sixty languages; she became known as Debbie in English, Anita in Galician, Ayşegül in Turkish, Tini in Malay and so on.  As time passed, Marlier created fresh illustrations for some of the books; Martine à la ferme was reissued with new art at least three times.

Marcel Marlier – Martine, drôles de fantômes! (2005)

Marcel Marlier – Martine drôles de fantômes! (2005)

Unfortunately, in 1997 Gilbert Delahaye passed away prematurely and Marlier’s son, Jean-Louis, took over as writer.  Marlier lived to an old age and continued to illustrate Martine until his passing in 2011.

Marcel Marlier – Martine à la fête des fleurs (1973)

Marcel Marlier – Martine à la fête des fleurs (1973)

All together there have been one-hundred-million Martine books sold—that’s a little more than Pippi Longstockings and somewhat less than Nancy Drew.  A great deal of Martine merchandise is produced today including special editions, comics, DVDs, websites and a video game in which she is called Emma.

Marcel Marlier – Jean-Lou et Sophie découvrent la mer (1969)

Marcel Marlier – Jean-Lou et Sophie découvrent la mer (1969)

Martine was not Marlier’s only project with Casterman.  Starting in 1969, he began both writing and illustrating his own series: Jean-Lou et Sophie.

Marcel Marlier – Martine petit rat de l'opéra (1972)

Marcel Marlier – Martine petit rat de l’opéra (1972)

Michael Jackson was apparently a great fan of Marcel Marlier and Martine.  Michael came across her image on a puzzle game while in Germany and then contacted the artist.  Marlier did not know who Michael was and bought some DVDs to familiarize himself with the pop-star.  Michael and Marlier met three times.  Michael was reported to have been extremely excited during his visit which initially surprised Marlier who nonetheless warmed to Michael’s personality.  Michael offered to purchase Marlier’s entire portfolio, but Marlier declined and instead supplied him with a sketch. (“Michael Jackson était comme un enfant”, Bernard Libert, SudPress.)

Marcel Marlier – Martine au zoo (1963)

Marcel Marlier – Martine au zoo (1963)

But not everyone loved Martine.  Her widespread influence on young impressionable readers together with her orthodox ladylike manner made her the subject of 1980s French feminist critique for whom she was labeled “docile”.  (“Marcel Marlier, l’illustrateur de Martine est mort”, Charlotte Pudlowski, 20 minutes.)

Marcel Marlier – J’adore mon frère (2007)

Marcel Marlier – J’adore mon frère (2007)

Most recently, Martine became a Web meme when a program went online to modify the title of the text, for example to “Martine – first space cake”, “Martine – desperate housewife” and so on.  Casterman did not feel the web site was in the spirit they envisioned for Martine and politely asked the site owners to take down their project and they obliged. (Alice Antheaume, “Martine s’offre une seconde jeunesse sur le Net”, 20 minutes.)

Marcel Marlier – Jean-Lou et Sophie en Bretagne (2002)

Marcel Marlier – Jean-Lou et Sophie en Bretagne (2002)

The Martine illustrations were created over a lifetime and by so talented an artist as Marcel Marlier that many of the works are really art, expressing social commentary about the time or seem to include deep and religious themes in the symbolism.  Even for those not so interested in children’s stories, Martine would be a joy to open.

Martine on Casterman

Martine has appeared once before on Pigtails in Paint here.

The Little Girl in Mark Ryden

The first thing someone might be interested to know about Mark Ryden is that in the 90s when he was still working as a commercial artist, years before he was to became “the grandfather of pop-surrealism”, he was acquainted with Michael Jackson and did the album cover for Dangerous. Mark is unfortunately mum about the time they spent together.

Mark Ryden - album cover Michael Jackson's "Dangerous" (1991)

Mark Ryden – album cover Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” (1991)

Ten years later, Mark was on a new career path. Having shifted from commercial to fine art, he rose to Art World superstar—selling his paintings for six figures and having his exploits followed by celebrities like Nicholas Cage, Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp.

“His work had become increasingly popular through mass exposure, particularly in the Low Brow Art publications HI-FRUCTOSE and Juxtapoz.” (Joseph R. Givens, LOWBROW ART)

Mark Ryden - Incarnation (2010); Magazine Cover "Juxtapoz" December '11

Mark Ryden – Incarnation (2010); Magazine Cover “Juxtapoz” December ’11

Lowbrow Art emerged in the 70s and its unofficial spokesman is Robert Williams, who coined the phrase. But by the late 90s the movement was splitting in two. In one camp were the loud, sarcastic, anti-establishment originators while in the other were a new breed of artist who painted with exacting technique, referenced the Old Masters and began to appear in major galleries, being accepted by the canon. The term “Pop Surrealism” was first used by the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum for their 1998 show. Mark, and others like him, who had been educated by the very artists the early Lowbrow artists rejected, brought figurative art back to the fine art scene for nearly the first time since Abstract Expressionism had wiped it out almost a century ago.

Mark Ryden - Instagram; Queen Bee (2013)

Mark Ryden – Instagram; Queen Bee (2013)

Mark Ryden names as his own classical artistic inspirations: David, Ingres, Bougereau, and Bronzino (BL!SSS Magazine). Girl art fans will realize that Bougereau painted Before the Bath, The Little Thief, The Nut Gatherers and so on, while Bronzino immortalized Bia de’ Medici. Contemporary artists who inspired Mark include Marion Peck, James Rosenquist, Loretta Lux, Ana Bagayan, Julie Heffernan, John Currin, Darren Waterston, Neo Rauch, and maybe not surprisingly, Balthus (Brian Sherwin, Fanny Giniès, HI-FRUCTOSE, The World Observer).

Marion Peck is none other than Mark’s ex-wife. They were powerfully inspired by one another.

Marion Peck - Peaceful Slumber (2007)

Marion Peck – Peaceful Slumber (2007)

The same clean, cutesy sentimentality often pervades both their paintings.

Mark Ryden - Awakening the Moon (2010)

Mark Ryden – Awakening the Moon (2010)

Mark attributes his deep realizations about philosophy to Marion: “he had been asleep; his spirituality was ‘isolated, and…progressed slowly’ before they met” (Amanda Erlanson, Juxtapoz, 2011).

Mark Ryden - The Apology (2007)

Mark Ryden – The Apology (2007)

Not a few of Mark’s little girls on wood panels are reminiscent of another artist who graced the covers of HI-FRUCTOSE and Juxtapoz: Audrey Kawasaki.

Mark Ryden - Oak Tree Nymph (2006)

Mark Ryden – Oak Tree Nymph (2006)

Or from this series painted on wood slabs:

Mark Ryden - Girl Color Study (2006)

Mark Ryden – Girl Color Study (2006)

Mark is trying to evoke wonder. His paintings are laden with metaphysical allusions and all sorts of things which are puzzling and ponderous: Cyrillic and Chinese script, numerology, religious iconography, meat and little girls and on and on. Of meat, Mark explains, “it’s dualistic: it’s just a packaged product, and at the same time it is a symbol of the other side, meat is our living avatar in the world.”

Mark Ryden - The Meat Train (2000)

Mark Ryden – The Meat Train (2000)

But Mark’s signature inspiration, which gives his work it’s idiomatic style, is swap-meet junk: kitsch, sentimental, nostalgic, melodramatic camp such as figurines of Jesus and Abraham Lincoln, big eyed bobble-headed dolls, old toys, and taxidermied animals. Mark’s flea-market finds define his painting—a regular cast of which appear in nearly every one of his works.

Mark Ryden - The Piano Player (2010)

Mark Ryden – The Piano Player (2010)

Mark has also been influenced and inspired by his daughter Rosie.

Eric Minh Swenson - Marion, Mark, and daughter Rosie (2014)

Eric Minh Swenson – Marion, Mark, and Daughter Rosie (2014)

He included Rosie in many of his paintings, one of which later appeared on the cover of HI-FRUCTOSE.

HI-FRUCTOSE Vol.3 - Mark Ryden - Rosie's Tea Party (2006)

HI-FRUCTOSE Vol.3 – Mark Ryden – Rosie’s Tea Party (2005)

“I photographed my daughter Rosie for the Tea Party painting several years ago. It was the first time she ever modeled for me. She took to it with unbelievable skill even at the age of three. Now she is almost eight and she still loves to pose for me. I usually have a sketch that she imitates. She instinctively understands the expression and gesture needed for a pose. I use her as a model even when the figure is not going to be a likeness of her. The little girl in Rosie’s Tea Party is an actual portrait of her. It is fun to have her face in the painting but it is more difficult and very different creatively than the faces I invent. Rosie enjoys being in my art. She and Jasper (my son) seem to understand my art better than many adults. They respond to it instinctively and they don’t over-intellectualize it. Unlike adults they don’t get stuck, they just experience it. Children in general respond well to my art. I feel I have been successful when a child is captivated by one of my paintings” (Annie Owens, HI-FRUCTOSE, 2006).

Mark Ryden - Instagram; Meat Dancer (2011)

Mark Ryden – Instagram; Meat Dancer (2011)

Mark sees a special relationship between children and art and has often mused on the topic:

“One of my favorite quotes is by Picasso: ‘All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.’ I think this is very true. When making art, children can be so much more imaginative than adults. I think a quality that defines many successful artists is that they never lose a sense of wonder of the amazing world around us. I think it comes rather automatically when one is young” (Nate Pollard, Verbiside Magazine, 2013).

“It is only in childhood that contemporary society truly allows for imagination. Children can see a world ensouled, where bunnies weep and bees have secrets, where ‘inanimate’ objects are alive. Many people think that childhood’s world of imagination is silly, unworthy of serious consideration, something to be outgrown” (Artist Statement – “Wondertoonel”, 2004).

“Children have no inhibitions when making their art. I’ve never seen my 4 year old son have a creative block; and his art is much more interesting than most adult’s art. Children are miraculous” (Artist Statement – “The Meat Show”, 1998).

Mark Ryden - Instagram; The Creatix (2005)

Mark Ryden – Instagram; The Creatix (2005)

Children appear often in Mark Ryden’s artwork, but it is especially female children–little girls–who haunt his canvases and sketch pads.

Mark Ryden - Saint Barbie (1994)

Mark Ryden – Saint Barbie (1994)

Mark talks plainly and directly about the value he puts on the feminine and of the danger of ignoring it:

“As you look back into what has gone on in western civilization, you can see that patriarchy has been the cause of much strife and suffering in our world. It is the masculine dynamic that has caused our society to place money and corporate profit above human beings. It has allowed the earth to be viewed only as a commodity to be exploited. The feminine perspective sees things differently. She sees the earth and all its inhabitants as entities to be revered and cared for. She sees individual human beings as more important than the relentless advance of capitalism and competition. It is my hope, perhaps indirectly expressed in my work, that the divine feminine is reawakening”(Gachman, Interview Magazine).

One critic, Elliott David, has suggested likewise of the little girl in Mark Ryden, “Hidden in these girls’ oversized eyes is the imperialism and the blood of heritage aristocracy, a sort of false innocence that might imply evil but is really coy subversiveness lurking within.”

Mark Ryden - sketch for Pine Tree Nymph (2006)

Mark Ryden – Sketch for ‘Pine Tree Nymph’ (2006)

Mark is himself mostly elusive about the meaning of the little girl in his work:

“There are many symbolic meanings in my art that I myself am not necessarily conscious of.  The most powerful meanings in art come from another source outside an artist’s own literal consciousness. To me, tapping into this world is the key to making the most interesting art. Some people find my refusal to explain everything in my work deeply dissatisfying. They can’t stand mystery.”  (Joseph R. Givens, LOWBROW ART).

Or,

“I like for viewers of my paintings to feel presence of meaning and story but I like for them to come up with their own interpretations. I think if I explain too much of a painting away the painting loses a sense of mystery and curiosity” (Kitty Mead, Art Beat Street).

Mark Ryden - Sophia's Bubbles (2008)

Mark Ryden – Sophia’s Bubbles (2008)

While Amanda Erlanson observed that, “Languid girls who exude both a doll-like innocence and a knowing sensuality appear in nearly every painting.” None-the-less, when asked by Maxwell Williams: “[a]nother leitmotif of your paintings are young girls. Why do you feel your world is populated by these waifish little girls, and how did this evolve?” Mark replied, “A lot of people can’t get past the sexual part of a girl. For me, there’s truly nothing sexual at all” (Juxtapoz; Hollywood Reporter).
Mark Ryden - from "Pinxit" (2011); The Long Yak (2008)

Mark Ryden – From ‘Pinxit’ (2011); The Long Yak (2008)

Mark is so coy about the meaning of the little girl in his work because she is mysterious to him too.  He says, “I’ve had to think about that myself and work backwards.  My wife actually said something really funny, and I think she’s right, in that they’re sort of self-portraits. They’re anima figures; they’re soul figures… They’re sort of everybody. They’re you when you’re looking at the painting.”

Marion Peck expands on the little girl as self-portrait idea: “each of the girls Mark paints is in one sense a self-portrait. In his paintings, the anima manifests as Sophia—the muse, the fount of creativity, and the goddess of wisdom” (Amanda Erlanson, Juxtapoz, 2011).

Mark Ryden - Allegory of the Four Elements (2006)

Mark Ryden – Allegory of the Four Elements (2006)

But not everyone loves the little girls in Mark Ryden. Robert Williams satirized them in a drawing in which the cartoon girl’s head is so big she can’t hold it up; Joseph R. Givens explains, “Mocking Ryden’s sentimental themes, Williams drew a banner above the melancholy figure with the words ‘caring, nurturing, fawning.’ As a slight to Ryden’s childlike persona, Williams signed his drawing ‘Bobbie Wms.'”

Robert Williams - Pop Surrealism (2011)

Robert Williams – Pop Surrealism (2011)

Meanwhile, it’s hard to imagine what is actually anti-establishment as opposed to conformist about Robert Williams’ pornographic ultra-violence. Sexualization of women, callousness and blood are almost the most monotonous things someone could paint, perfectly in step with the patriarchy.  Elliott David’s perception that the girl in Mark Ryden “is really coy subversiveness [of] imperialism” is a keen one.  Mark’s work and his portrayal of the little girl is personally vulnerable, sensitive, and touching—precious qualities to be sure.

Mark Ryden - Yak Dream (2008)

Mark Ryden – Yak Dream (2008)

Pip Starr did a post on Mark Ryden a couple years back as well so visit here to see more. It includes a closeup of the girl in the Dangerous poster and a couple of interesting comments. -Ron

Mark Ryden’s personal site