Pan and the Maiden: Hand Embroidery by Adipocere

Melbourne-based embroidery artist Adipocere, whose exquisite fabric works I posted about previously, is a needlecrafter of a marvelous magnitude and takes this medium to a whole new level. These pieces are lovely, tender, humorous, macabre and subtly disturbing.

“Adipocere” refers to a wax-like organic substance which is formed by bacterial hydrolysis of body fat in corpses. A fitting pseudonym for this artist of the jauntily grotesque. Adipocere is a devotee of Surrealism and stop-motion animation (their favorite film being the stop-motion short The Street of Crocodiles by the Quay Brothers, based on the incandescent 1934 short story of the same title by Bruno Schulz), and experimented in other mediums before taking to needle and thread. Adipocere had their debut solo show, I do not exist, at the Beinart Gallery in Melbourne, Australia in December of 2017.

Danse macabre, Death and the Maiden, the occult, and similar themes inspire these stitched artworks on natural linen (and sometimes on the artist’s skin). The raven-haired maidens/witches of this delicate textile world go about partially eviscerated, cavort with giant black cats, are lovingly embraced or menaced by leering skeletons, or caught in webs in a complex, oft-ambiguous relationship between worshiper and idol, victim and destroyer. Spiders, moths, bats, skulls, Satanic goats, exposed anatomy, and deadly flora abound in Adipocere’s dark, minimal yet suggestive vision.

This artwork uses “motifs and symbolism to delineate concepts such as martyrdom, asceticism, existentialism, and the eventuality of death.” It also has touches of irony, an element of camp and retro charm. Adipocere breathes new life into a great-grandmotherly medium that has traditionally been very sedate and by no means overimaginative, turning it into something irreverent and intriguing.

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“I have to be rent and pulled apart and live according to the demons and the imagination in me. I’m restless. Things are calling me away. My hair is being pulled by the stars again.”

{Anais Nin}


Lana Crooks’ Soft Curiosities

Lana Crooks constructs perfect, delicate, macabre little “soft sculptures” out of hand-dyed wool, silk, seed beads, and vintage materials. They are like Victorian mourning relics in plush form. Bird skulls dripping blood like jewels, snake bones, death’s-head moths, human teeth, and lush, funereal flowers repose beneath antique bell jars. Whimsical, imaginative, resplendently colored and gorgeous, her “faux specimens” are artfully arranged, reminding one of some long-dead madcap’s oddities collection and also giving off a curious effect of two-dimensional drawings brought to three-dimensional life. These soft creations blending natural history and craft are exquisite and adorable.

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Baroque Biomech Ceramics by Laura Hewitt

Alaska-based artist Laura C. Hewitt creates ceramic housewares that are wildly imaginative, bold, and unique. They convey a sense both of the ancient and the futuristic, the organic and the mechanical, and put me in mind of the china service of an alien dynasty, regal relics of bygone opulence and sinister glory. Delicate and grotesque, they are impactful and lovingly crafted.

Her hybrids of the rustic and the decadently ornate, of the homely and the high-tech, are a delight to behold. I love the shadowy little clustered hollows or dents which are suggestive at once of old lace, of mushrooms, of rot and decay, and of insect hives. Hewitt plays with the juxtapositions among nature, art, and technology, between creation and destruction, and seeks to “animate the pragmatic with mischievousness.”

Gorgeous, savage, one-of-a-kind, Hewitt’s teacups, mugs, and plates are unlike any household ceramics I’ve ever seen. They embody the biomechanical aesthetic in a practical, intimate form, with a touch of playful irony. To use one of these pieces would transport you into otherworldly realms, directly off the Earth, and introduce the unnerving into the mundane, blending the familiar with the mysterious, the deeply unknown and the alien.

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Gris is a platform adventure game by Nomada Studio which was released in December 2018 and looks absolutely beautiful, taking the artistry possible in the medium of video games to a new pinnacle. It resembles a watercolor painting and, using its delicate, perfect visuals and bright and tender colors, weaves a story which represents themes of fear, trauma, grief, and how we deal with suffering. The imagery of the girl named Gris, as well as the airy palette of the art design in general, reminds me of the gorgeous 1973 anime film Belladonna of Sadness.


The Double Image

{The Double Image
by Anne Sexton}


I am thirty this November.
You are still small, in your fourth year.
We stand watching the yellow leaves go queer,
flapping in the winter rain,
falling flat and washed. And I remember
mostly the three autumns you did not live here.
They said I’d never get you back again.
I tell you what you’ll never really know:
all the medical hypothesis
that explained my brain will never be as true as these
struck leaves letting go.

I, who chose two times
to kill myself, had said your nickname
the mewling months when you first came;
until a fever rattled
in your throat and I moved like a pantomime
above your head. Ugly angels spoke to me. The blame,
I heard them say, was mine. They tattled
like green witches in my head, letting doom
leak like a broken faucet;
as if doom had flooded my belly and filled your bassinet,
an old debt I must assume.

Death was simpler than I’d thought.
The day life made you well and whole
I let the witches take away my guilty soul.
I pretended I was dead
until the white men pumped the poison out,
putting me armless and washed through the rigmarole
of talking boxes and the electric bed.
I laughed to see the private iron in that hotel.
Today the yellow leaves
go queer. You ask me where they go. I say today believed
in itself, or else it fell.

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Dotwork Illustrations by Annita Maslov

Annita Maslov is an illustrator and a tattoo artist working at Heretic Studio in Melbourne, Australia. Her intricate artworks are delicate, enchanting, and macabre little vignettes. She takes inspiration from historical subjects and the occult, such as the Mercy Brown incident of 1892, in which a Rhode Island family was accused of vampirism and the bodies of its deceased members exhumed, with young Mercy showing little sign of decomposition and thus being deemed the undead culprit.

Her pieces remind me of old lithographs and combine cuteness with somberness in portraits of haunted, doll-eyed, flower-enshrouded girls haloed with the accoutrements of animals, feathers, and skulls; and modern Danse Macabres where the level of detail in the flowing drapery of a cadaver, or the waves of a restless sea, is amazingly precise and delicate.

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The Spiral Sacrifice

The Spiral Sacrifice is the thirteenth and probably the last album from Sopor Æternus & the Ensemble of Shadows, the musical brainchild of the ethereal and splendid Anna-Varney Cantodea. It is haunting, beautiful, and enthralling, full of both serenity and almost religious mystery. The distinctive darkwave/neo-medieval sound of Sopor Æternus is here subdued to a modulated theatricality, making it more effective and mature.

Its less blatantly melancholy tone mirrors the emotional development and dignity of the album’s lyrical themes. The richness, playfulness, and delightful atmosphere of its music opens up a vista, conjures an ethereal world – with its quality of medieval cloisters, crypts, cadaverous despairing souls, funereal draperies, obscure chambers, massive ruins, tenebrous fastnesses – with startling immediacy, a world of dark stone, veils, tears and lutes, drawing you into this realm so remote from modernity and present reality, so spectrally dramatic, delicately anguished – you can almost smell the odors of incense and dust, the dried roses…

The cooler and more abstract sound of the instrumentation provides background and juxtaposition for Anna-Varney’s vocals and lyrics, which as usual are highly personal, emotional, and deeply sad, yet also peaceful and not without a certain loving gladness. These songs speak of the agonies and beauties of failed, unfulfilled, or forfeited love and are achingly moving, with the full-hearted generous emotionality that is typical of Anna-Varney, who has said that “a good album should be…like a tombstone…a sepulcher, where a part of the artist lies buried.” They are filled with profound resignation, the final laying to rest of torment. Her lyrics are a pure incarnation of the roiling vicissitudes, the ecstasy and agony, joy and loss of love.

As always, Sopor Æternus is a breath of refreshing iconoclasm and unearthly atmosphere in a sea of musical sameness. It is one of the few projects that truly remind me of no other artist or band. It is the only one able to evoke the spirit and feeling of the Middle Ages in such an intimate way, a unique hybrid dream realm embodying this peculiar penumbral vision. Jubilant, mischievous, ominous, and sorrowful, this album brings together the best qualities of the chimerical Sopor Æternus & the Ensemble of Shadows and is animated throughout by Anna-Varney Cantodea’s lifeblood.