songofcopper: (Cosmériffick)
This afternoon I’ve been doing a little art experiment. (I have no formal skill in this area, so any success - define the latter as you will - is largely down to serendipity or Divine intervention!!)


Recently I acquired some kyogi - these are wafer-thin sheets of pine wood, traditionally used in Japan for serving food.

It’s kind of like environmentally-friendly disposable tableware. People also use it in flower-arranging and I daresay all manner of other arts and crafts. I wanted to lay my hands on some because a little while ago I read that Émile Gallé used to write letters to Robert de Montesquiou on ‘thin sheets of veneer’. I’m not sure why, but the notion took root in my mind as somehow precious, romantic and wondrous. Somehow I stumbled upon kyogi, which is sometimes called ‘Japanese wood paper’ - you can buy it in loose sheets, but it may also be obtained in notepad/noteblock form. Given that those two aesthetes were ardent Nipponophiles, I suspect the aforementioned correspondence may well have been inscribed upon kyogi.

I tried writing with a fountain-pen on a small piece of the stuff, and found that it does just about work. The ink spreads rather, and you can only write on one side as it does bleed through, but the writing is legible and sort of watery and gauzy, in a pleasing way. Perhaps it would work better with charcoal pencil.

Anyway, whimsical penmanship aside, seeing the wood grain pattern on the kyogi reminded me of those Edvard Munch woodblock prints called ‘Towards the Forest’ - obsessive iterations of the same image, produced and reproduced, the texture of the wood being called into service as part of the composition.

The phrase ‘brooding menace’ springs unstoppably to mind, seeing those two figures, stumbling towards their unknown fate, at once stubborn and vulnerable. Ever since I first saw this image, repeated over and over in different hues, stating and restating its ominous message, it’s remained with me.

The video below will show you several versions.

Recently, I’ve been enjoying discovering various artists who are new to me: they fall into several categories.

First, a few who might best be tagged as ‘contemporary symbolists’ - these artists paint using traditional techniques (some even go full-on Renaissance and grind their own pigments) and focus on what one may call ‘Archetypal themes’. Mythology, Alchemy and personal Gnosis figure prominently, along with influences of the Symbolist and Surrealist mien. There’s an air of melancholy muddled up with expectant hope: in accepting the inevitability of decay, the possibility of transcendence opens up. My very favourite would have to be Agostino Arrivabene (even his name seems mythical, symbolic and auspicious) - a fantastic character who, had he not deigned to be born, would have to have been invented. He lives in an old manor house Somewhere In Italy, which is decorated in the manner of a Wunderkammer. He’s obsessed with death and gold. There’s magick in them there paintings. I can’t really describe them: you must see them. And read about him.

’The Philosopher’s Stone’, 2014

If you want to know more, try these links:

[1] the artist's own website
[2] scan of interview in 'Juxtapoz' magazine
[3] see inside his house & studio
[4] read about his artistic experience and philosophy
[5] here's another interview
[6] yet another interview (memorable for the excellent phrase, ‘debauched monasticism’ - my ideal lifestyle!!)

In the same sort of territory you will also find Antonio Nunziante (his is a more detached, spacious, Surrealist style), Jake Baddeley (his work is grave, golden, warm and whimsical - a pinch of Wonderland, a smidgen of Remedios Varo) and Denis Forkas Kostromitin (maker of dark, Goetic imagery - dispatches from the land of dreaming).

Aside from meeting these extraordinary artworks, I’ve also been finding much enjoyment in many of the things that have inspired them. Some of these are long-standing loves, some newer.

The Renaissance, Surrealism, Romantic landscapes, Symbolism… The Romantic landscapes, incidentally, have to be those eerie and unsettling ones that depict the liminal hours when day and night elide, or treacherous weather (storms, floods) or Nature implacable (glaciers, volcanoes). Gleeful Gloom, Mischief and Melodrama!

Joseph Rebell (1787-1828), Tempest in the moonlight in the Gulf of Naples, 1823

It can’t be a coincidence that I’ve also suddenly been enjoying some of those old gothic horror movies that are not exactly scary, but certainly creepy, and brimming with corrupt passion. The nineteenth century will never more seem staid and strait to me (if ever it did). The stricter the ostensible morality, the more flagrant the inevitable rebellion, the more compulsive the private transgression.

I want also to mention this blog, which I found by accident. I very much appreciate the writer’s MO and preoccupations.

And just the other day, I was introduced to the photography of Ellen Rogers. Her subject matter includes spiritual/occult themes, historical atmospheres, and the unsettling power of the feminine. She works completely in analogue and her processes are partly self-discovered and secret. Yet another stubborn striver, determined to prioritise ancient/traditional craft/mastery over press-a-button app-happy digital fakery.

All around, so many proofs of possibility: at some point, looking at other people’s genius-born meisterwerks ceases to be off-putting, because you know full well you can’t emulate or equal them. There is no tension then - you can’t feel intimidated by the foregone conclusion of your own lack of skill. Somehow it becomes possible to just have a go, without worrying about the outcome.


I wanted to know what watered-down acrylic paint would look like on kyogi, so I dug out my neglected paint set and had a go. That tainted green familiar from the Munch prints - I love that colour. I put some on at the bottom of the sheet, then a line of diluted white above/overlapping it. Really, I was only testing the paint; I had no idea whether an actual picture might result, or what I was trying to do. But looking at the white, I knew all of a sudden that it was mist, and after that I layered on various moody colours of sky, before adding more mist and a couple of nebulous figures. I can’t draw, so they’re just suggestions, helped along with a bit of charcoal. And finally, a small quantity of gold: my thought is that these two spectral characters are meeting at evening, and that their interaction makes an electric charge of gold.






Now that I know this works, perhaps I’ll make other things - time will tell. Anyway - clearly I’m no kind of skilled artist, but it is inevitable that buoyed in the tidal wake of those blessed with great artistry there will always be happy accidental amateurs bobbing about. What can I say else but ‘come on in - the water’s lovely’.
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This journal is not a private diary, it is more like an occasional, imaginary column. Therefore, much of it is on public display. However, if you want to read my occasional attempts at creative writing, my Caution Elf tells me I should only show that stuff to my friends. You know what to do. :-)

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