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Julie Heffernan’s Surreal Historical Portraits: Worlds/Selves On Fire

Julie Heffernan creates delightful, gorgeously rich portraiture which is a sly twist on historical art. Evocative of Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo paintings, her works feature a bursting profusion of flowers, trees, vines, fruits, animals, cities, gemstones, and fires in varying scales. Landscapes like visions, so shimmeringly lovely and ethereal, alternate with classical nudes surrounded by prodigious masses of flora and fauna, as well as portraits of high society dripping with luxurious ostentation. The colors are sometimes amazingly vibrant, the reds almost painfully beautiful. Heffernan combines a masterly technique with irony and surrealism in a super-encrusted, elaborated, and enameled style that synthesizes many genres and periods of painting. These metaphorical self-portraits and portrayals of an opulent and decaying world represent the trail of disaster, the constant crises, small fires catching on the exquisite hems of ladies’ gowns…in short, the picturesque carnage of a society in decline.

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Erik Bergrin

Erik Bergrin is an artist and costume maker whose collection of fiber sculptures called Shadowwork, incorporating techniques such as sewing, weaving, and coiling, are visual expressions of a ritualistic ceremony that created a mental hell. Resembling massive cocoons or sarcophagi for human forms, outlandish, abstract, and powerful, these sculptures are savagely original and dreamlike. They are terrifying, enigmatic, eerie, and wonderful. He is currently working on a stunning series based on his interpretation of the eight dissolutions of the Buddhist death process.

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An Excerpt from Bonedog by Eva H.D.

And the home-style silences and clouds
contribute to nothing
but the general malaise.
Clouds, such as they are,
are in fact suspect,
and made from a different material
than those you left behind.
You yourself were cut
from a different cloudy cloth,
returned,
remaindered,
ill-met by moonlight,
unhappy to be back,
slack in all the wrong spots,
seamy suit of clothes
dishrag-ratty, worn.

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Puparia

Puparia is a wonderful and enigmatic animated short film directed by Shingo Tamagawa. With a delicate, vibrant, and fluid art style, Puparia depicts a series of human “witnesses” to mysterious creatures or beings whose beautifully fantastical nature is truly dreamlike. At under three minutes long, it gives a compelling glimpse into a world and mythology which would be incredible to see fleshed out in a feature-length production. It is highly opaque and non-disclosive, but the term puparium means the “hardened last larval skin which encloses the pupa in some insects,” perhaps hinting at the transformation of human beings into different life forms. The white-haired girl who is gazed at by the crowd seems to suggest this coming metamorphosis as the hallucinatory colored patterns on her skin evoke the patterns seen in the creatures and strange world around her.

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The Transmundane Jewelry of Arcana Obscura

Kate Hockstein of Arcana Obscura creates jewelry designs inspired by historical and occult themes, ranging from Georgian and Victorian mourning jewelry, alchemy, Egyptian symbolism, to vanitas art, medieval weaponry, and splendors of the animal world. Using the lost-wax casting method, she represents flowers, serpents, flails, sinister left hands, life-sized sculptures of tiny fishes, mortuary designs such as the winged skull that was favored by 17th-century Puritan gravestone carvers, and the inverted torch which is found in 19th-century cemeteries. I love her penchant for Latin mottoes, and her pieces, which have a fascinating story behind each inspiration, bring to life fragments of the annals of arcane history.

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Eiko Ishioka

Eiko Ishioka was a visionary and absolutely unique art director and costume designer who died nine years ago, on January 21, 2012. Her work on Tarsem Singh’s films, including The Cell and The Fall, is a large part of why they are so visually memorable. Her operatic, magisterial costumes have an otherworldly quality, fusing Eastern and Western influences, and at the same time seeming to have no referents to existing sartorial styles – sui generis creations that are utterly fantastical. Lush, innovative, and outlandishly dramatic, her surreal designs linger in the memory with all the force of the truly original.

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New England Nightmares by Bill Crisafi

Bill Crisafi creates delicately eerie pen-and-ink drawings which are “heavily influenced by the dark nostalgia of his home state of Massachusetts.” A macabre quasi-Victorian aesthetic, both spooky and ethereal, depicts themes of paganism, occultism, and folklore. Towering black-haired female figures, spindle-boned witches, stalk across a grim landscape of colonial architecture, decaying ancient farmhouses such as Lovecraft would have dreamt of, and New England forests.

Baba Yaga, Gryla, triumvirates of Fate-like women, bats, satanic goats, mythical chimerical creatures, and demonic bacchanals form the subject matter of Crisafi’s spidery illustrations. The wispy long masses of dark hair of some of these beings are beautiful and reminiscent of the terrifyingly tragic women of Poe’s stories. Cloisonn√© pins and lovely tapestries are available in his online shop. I also love the plates which he has designed in collaboration with Miss Havisham’s Curiosities.

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