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Ruffs, Pearls, & Rotten First-Fruits: The Art of Nicole Duennebier

The marvelously vibrant works of Nicole Duennebier remind me of a heavenly amalgamation of 17th- and 18th-century aristocratic portraits, vanitas still lifes, and biological illustrations of mysterious deep-sea creatures or perhaps microscopic entities. These complex arrangements are both glisteningly corporeal and abstract, evoking the opaline, viscous translucency of internal organs, at the same time as they cluster in formations seemingly impossible to this earth. They appear to represent a combination of vegetable, organic, and mystical matter. With intriguing titles like Floral Hex and Out of the Strong Came Forth Sweetness, her series of remarkable paintings present “hybrid images that resemble Baroque still lifes, coral, fur, crystals and close-ups of microscopic fauna,” as well as “chandeliers of polyps, spores, and puss, glowing, growing, oozing, dripping…with hundreds of strands of delectable tiny spheres, tangling and cascading…”

Grapes and pearls are visible in beautiful shimmering dimensions of color, reminding me of the tempting bloom on the exquisitely painted fruit in antique still lifes. Ruffled formations abound, resembling the stiff ruffs and elaborate vestiture of a bygone era. With her classical, masterly style, Duennebier creates a world of fascinating, alluring, corrupt, repulsive, alien, and divine organisms and systems. They are invested with the otherworldly light of the Old Masters, while depicting ungodly combinations, things that ought not to be contemplated too closely. The fantastic forms emerging from the dark void of the background are sui generis, bursting forth in a profusion of incandescent textures and transparent layers.

As the artist statement on her Website elaborates:
Natural phenomenon—dermoid cysts, fungus, invasive flora/fauna—and my love of candied, old-master opulence have a constant presence in my work….I’ve become accustomed to the fact that nature itself, or anything living really, never totally allows you to have a perfectly idealized experience. Everything is always spewing, dripping, rotting a little. Similar to 17th century still-life paintings with those vibrant lusty fruits that show the light fuzz of beginning decay, I don’t see these works as allegorical depictions. To me it is more the realization that both the rot and the fruit are a textural attraction in their delicacy…
The classic chiaroscuro darkness in still-life is a primordial soup, a pool of black that springs forth a decadent, and sometimes horrible, growth. I’ve always been attracted to the obsolete idea of spontaneous generation, all that awful stuff popping into existence for no reason. The paintings reflect this; they are more spontaneous generations than firmly rooted in actual living organisms.

The luscious strangeness of the objects/beings Duennebier depicts, along with her historical influence, composes an incredibly dynamic and scintillating aesthetic universe. Tumorous, malignant, lavish, sumptuous, delicate all at once, vegetable, animal, mineral, undersea, microbial, alien, viscera, carcass, the proliferations of renegade life in Nicole Duennebier’s art are iterations of an invasive, entropic, and unsettling, ever-evolving beauty. The gorgeousness of the cancerous growths of her imagination is limitless. Vaguely sinister, with their alarming encroachment of color, these organic forms are sublime, intricate, and arrestingly unique.

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Dancing with Ecstasy: The Art of Hydeon

Ian Ferguson/Hydeon creates fascinating, lurid, elaborately vivid artworks depicting group scenes and vignettes from decadent, fantastic civilizations. Striking black and red predominate among bold and vibrant colors, like slashes in the face. The rather flat perspectives and characterizations of the individual faces are reminiscent of medieval and Renaissance paintings. The strange composition and techniques serve to give his work its utterly unique feeling, also its sinister yet alluring air.

Naive and sumptuous at the same time, his mixed-media drawings parade a multitude of masked perverse figures in a claustrophobic world of morbid and lavish imagery. The color is so intense that it draws the viewer irresistibly into these complex tableaux, as if one could become lost in them, in this place and time of a past that never quite existed, a princely realm that never was, but is rather an inventive amalgamation of many, as well as a starkly new imagining.

Hydeon states that his arrestingly imaginative work is inspired by “ancient civilizations, Baroque, Gothic, and Victorian-era architectural movements, medieval, folk, and outsider art, ancient myths, fairy tales, and ideas of consciousness.” Many of Hydeon’s works are available at the Mortal Machine Gallery in New Orleans, including the second one shown below, Losing at Backgammon.

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Marina Mika

Marina Mika is a Croatian artist currently based in Berlin, whose stylish drawings are both minimalistic and highly detailed. Her graceful, attenuated figures are reminiscent of Art Deco illustrations. Influences from Japanese art are also visible in the sinuous contours and depictions of natural forms. Languorously long-bodied, berobed, bedizened with streams of flowers, stars, and feathers dripping like luminous pearls, these precisely drawn, poisonously elegant creatures with their mysterious smiles hover on the obscure brink between witch and fashion plate. One imagines their thin, spiderlike movements, their romances and intrigues beneath strange heavens, as their endless hair spills forth beautifully into the dark air. Black and white, meticulously rendered in pen and ink, Mika’s illustrations also contain hints of delicate color, splashes of dull gold – antique gilding fading off from a decadent world.

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The Carnivorous Rose: Art by Kristin Kwan

Kristin Kwan’s realistic, sweet, and melancholy paintings explore themes of life, death, and rebirth through the prism of mythology and lore. Her work, characterized by gorgeous flowers, alien landscapes, animals pierced by flora, and maidens surrounded by serpentine swirls of hair, has elements of surrealism and fantasy, allegory and whimsy, and is sometimes reminiscent of historical portraiture and Madonna paintings. She has a solo exhibition currently showing at the Nucleus Gallery in Portland through October 4th.

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Fine Art and Fashion Design by Hogan McLaughlin

Hogan McLaughlin is an excitingly fantastic, dark, romantic, architectural fashion designer as well as dancer and visual artist. His spidery and highly stylized illustrations, reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley, are full of elegance, melancholy, and bespeak a world of decadent, spindly, eerie beings with outlandish proportions of garment and roiling, torrential masses of hair. The historical influences in his art and design are gracefully eloquent, and he is wonderful at combining stark, structural silhouettes with the soft, romantic, and flowing.

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Collage by Jane Windsor

Jane Windsor creates lovely three-dimensional collages assembled from historical, natural, and occult imagery. Pastel and lush, elegant and precise, these collages display a delicate playfulness with aesthetic finesse. Arch ladies of yesteryear, their dimpled hands and upturned eyes, combine with symbolically sinister animals such as ravens, foxes, rams, and rabbits, as well as flowers, mushrooms, and other tokens of memento mori, objects of growth and decay, luxury and rot. An exhibition of her new works will be showing at the Ghost Gallery in Seattle from July 7th through August 8th.

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Infernal Physics: The Art of Daniel Martin Diaz

Arizona-based Daniel Martin Diaz depicts a strange, whimsical, and curious blend of scientific and philosophical concepts in his graphite drawings and paintings. His fascination with anatomy, biology, cosmology, quantum physics, and metaphysics comes across in his works, full of an obscure and awed humor. He draws inspiration from old scientific diagrams, which, notwithstanding their utilitarian intent, he finds very beautiful. These bastardizations and quaint amalgamations of disparate themes, esoterica and bygone sciences, the secular and the sacrosanct, give off a sense of wonder pertaining to the universe and all beyond the seen realm, conveying an intimation of layers upon layers of worlds and modes of knowledge.

Aliens, UFOs, Hermetics, viruses, Soviet spacecraft, cathedrals, medieval Christianity, Madonnas, death’s-head moths, sovereigns and memento mori, and the recondite elegance of physics diagrams, all combine in a panoply of visual information and expression. Diaz says of art that “It tries to dissect what is yet unimaginable, give value to the valueless, and meaning to what it is to be human.” The eccentricity and fusion of antique beauty and arcane knowledge in his work reminds me of the wondrous quasi-historical and -scientific imagery to be found at The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City. This form of imaginative alternative-history-making is exactly to my taste, an exercise as much intellectual as it is aesthetic.

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Sparrow and Anemone: Illustrations by Ash Miyagawa

Chicago-based artist/graphic designer Ash Miyagawa takes inspiration from botany, magic, and the natural world. Her delicate illustration style with its graceful dotwork and shading conveys a palpable sense of wonder for plant and animal life, for all the beauties of nature. Herbs, flowers, crystals, bird skulls, snake skeletons, beetles, mushrooms, celestial bodies, and themes of magical lore are threaded throughout her art. Ash seeks to “tread the liminal spaces between science and magic.” Her design and branding work is also phenomenal.

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Dylan Garrett Smith

Dylan Garrett Smith uses ashes, chalk-lead, and black cotton rag paper in his illustrations which depict occultism intertwined with the natural world and memento mori. There are haunting, lovely images of ram skulls writhing with a living mass of snakes, of small human hands protruding from the bones of a decaying goat, bearing branches. Ruminants, foxes, and birds are transmogrified by corruption, bloom, and the interlacing with other beings, along with the ever-present serpent. This surreal subject matter is rendered in a careful, vivid style, the white strokes intense against the dark paper.

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Anastasis: The Transcendent Art of Agostino Arrivabene

The surreal, mystical, and exquisite artwork of Agostino Arrivabene never ceases to amaze me. In his lambent dreamlike style, the otherworldly and the unearthly are depicted with the painstaking detail and techniques of classical art. I believe he is one of the best artists working today – his paintings have an unsurpassable beauty, showing a masterly quality that is nothing short of virtuosic and inspired. He has also really perfected his art and vision over the past several years.

Arrivabene’s work evokes the Old Masters and Renaissance painting, hybridized with a modern style which transforms venerable images into uncanny things, combining religious iconography with a strange surrealism. His pieces have a numinous, glowing spiritual quality, focusing on the human form imbued with a sense of divinity. There are also landscapes which are colossal in scope and sublimity. These forms often have parasitic or symbiotic growths upon their limbs and faces – they are in the process of being overrun and eventually overtaken by this inhuman accretion. The Madonnas and Christs of his creation appear to be merging with iridescent and nacreous, strange alien flora, becoming a new form of bodily and spiritual life – a concomitant death and resurrection. It does not seem necessarily sinister, but is certainly dark, profound, and unfathomable.

The decaying, rot-eaten textures of the paint also lend to the antique air of his works, as if these were artworks of a realm immeasurably distant in the future, being rescued from the obscurity of its ancient past. Arrivabene’s is an alien, primal religious world, which is constantly transformed by preternatural forces – organic matter with an ethereal dimension. The themes bring to mind the mythology and sense of indescribable mystery of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach novels (and the film adaptation of Annihilation). His visions are encrusted and endlessly elaborated with an organically baroque beauty, forms developed by a nature unknown to us, rather than by human artifice. I love the luminous colors, and the incredible detail – overall his oeuvre exudes a delicacy and subtlety which is truly otherworldly. It perhaps portrays the ecstatic agony of alien saints.

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