The paintings of contemporary Italian artist Agostino Arrivabene are grounded in the techniques of the Old Masters and inhabit the timeless realm of dreams and mythological, religious archetypes. Against a backdrop of either luminous darkness or apocalyptic landscape, figures that have haunted the collective unconscious for centuries or longer, Orpheus, Lucifer, Elizabeth Bathory, Persephone, enact sacred ritual dramas. Among the memento mori lie the possibility of transformation and metamorphosis; an actualisation of becoming.
Arrivabene cites as influences the Symbolist Gustave Moreau, the master of the Northern Renaissance Albrecht Dürer and the Neo-Baroque/Kitsch artist Odd Nerdrum. Also discernible are traces of Max Ernst’s eroding mineral frottage derived inscapes, Giger‘s spectacular visceral transfigurations and Blake‘s sheer burning visionary intensity. In keeping with the Symbolist tendency towards drawing inspiration from literature elements of Ovid, Dante and Giordano Bruno are included within the occult and occasionally infernal worlds of Arrivabene.
Below is a selection of images showcasing Arrivabene’s unique art. For a more comprehensive view please visit the artist’s website agostinoarrivabene.it. For details on the artist’s fascinating process visit the interview at the excellent Fulgur Press.
Born into a wealthy colonial family with roots in the French aristocracy and which included several Rosicrucians and Swedenborgians, the writer, painter and visionary Malcolm De Chazal (1902-1981) spent his whole life on the island of Mauritius, with the exception of six years in Baton Rouge, where he completed his secondary education before attending Louisiana State University as an engineering student. Upon his return to the island he worked as an agronomist in the sugar plantations before quitting the field after he published a scathing critique on the methods and economy of the industry. He then worked as a civil servant before retiring at the age of 55. From 1940 however he increasingly dedicated himself to writing and later painting.
His most famous work is Sens-Plastique, a collection of thousands of aphorisms. The work was suggested after a visionary encounter with an azalea. While out for a walk, de Chazal observed the flower and then realised that the azalea was looking at him. He was then struck with the revelation that: “I became a flower while being myself all the time“, and that everything in the universe, be it animal, vegetable, mineral or human, was analogous. The aphorisms is Sens-Plastique are a riot of poetic analogy and concrete, visual metaphor. It was hailed by the Surrealists; Andre Breton, Jean Paulhan, Georges Bataille and the originator of the term Art Brut, Jean Dubuffet all lauded de Chazal as a genius. Outside of French artistic circles the poet W.H Auden also championed Sens-Plastique.
In the 1950’s De Chazal took up painting at the suggestion of Georges Braque. His paintings are charmingly emblematic images of the landscape, flora and fauna of his beloved island home, the bold colours blazing with a visionary intensity.
An early supporter of Mauritian independence and the dismantling of a racial caste system that allowed vast inequalities to exist, de Chazal also wrote a ‘spiritual history’ of the rocks and mountains of the island. He became increasingly reclusive in his later years
Below are a selection of aphorisms from Sens-Plastique and a slideshow of his fauvist flavoured paintings.
A fish in fear of its life turns into water. In the mutual pursuit of sexual pleasure—the fear of joy and the joy of fear—our bodies liquefy each other in the waters of the soul, becoming so spiritual that hardly any corporal self is left. When we wake up after love, we look around desperately for our lost body.
If our five senses didn’t serve as brakes to slow us down and filter our sensations, sexual pleasure would strike us like lightning and electrocute our souls.
We see a friend’s eye as one and indivisible. A stranger’s eye we take in part by part: the white, the iris, and the pupil.
Silence is a lawyer who pleads with his eyes.
A flowing river is an infinity of superimposed production belts.
The sunflower keeps its eye on the sun with its back turned to the shade. We die facing life with our backs to death, as if we were walking out of a room backwards.
Petals are a plant’s eardrum. Distant sounds make them quiver like the needle of a seismograph.
The kiss ends at the point of a needle. Sex ends fanning out. The kiss is an arrow. Sex is a fountain.
All the colours ‘rot’ in maroon, the rust of all rusts, the putrefying corpse of all dead colours, the sun’s humus, earth-color, resurrection’s winding-sheet, the shroud of life itself, the mound of eternity, the tomb of Light, Eternity’s burial vault.
Look too intensely at blue and your eye sees indigo. Look too intensely at red and you see garnet. If you look too intensely at yellow it turns green. A hypnotic stare injects blue into everything.
Water meanders on a completely smooth surface and toboggans down the glossiness of leaves.
The idealist walks on tiptoe, the materialist on his heels.
Ah is the shortest of human cries, Oh the longest. Man is born in an Ah and dies in an Oh, for birth is immediate and death is like an airplane taking off.
I am the owner of my shoulders, the tenant of my hips.
No matter how much leaves are fixed face to face they always look at each other aslant, whereas all fruits end up head-on however carelessly jumbled. A bunch of flowers is a house of coloured cards. A heap of fruit is a hive of coloured bees.
The flower has no weekday self, dressed as it always is in Sunday clothes.
The light would reach us more quickly in the morning and fade more slowly at night if the whole earth were divided into vast flower beds that called forth the light at dawn and clutched it longer at nightfall. Nature instituted summer for flowers long before man took summer over for his own uses.
To ‘hang on every word’ means to suck the eyes of the speaker.
The diamond scintillates less brilliantly when the fingers move rapidly than when they undulate and pivot. Glossy leaves throw off less light in a high wind than under the calm wavering of a breeze. Brusque movements of the eye cast a single gleam, and slow movements add a thousand others.
One of my more popular posts, and a piece that I have a special fondness for is Art Brut, which highlighted the work of visionary/outsider artists without formal training, many of whom were institutionalised for mental illness. This was followed shortly after by tangentially related posts on The Postman Cheval’s Ideal Palace and the Acid Cats of Louis Wain, again pieces I am quite tender about, if only because I got to indulge my penchant for purple prose (anyone for a spot of hallucinated decorative splendour?), while showcasing truly exceptional art and architecture.
So after a delayed interval, (a butterfly for a mind), here are more artists driven by an urgent inner necessity to create intensely luminous works of art.
Born in East Prussia (now Russia) Friedrich Schroder was sent to a juvenile delinquent facility at the age of 14 and was committed to an asylum at 17. During the 1920’s he founded a cult, though any money raised went to feeding the destitute ruined by the hyper-inflation of the time. In 1930 he was institutionalised again for debt and working as a conman, posing as Dr Eliot Gnass von Sonnenstern (Sun Star). It was during this period that he met an artist who encouraged him to draw. During WWII he spent further time in prison and labour camps. Friedrich’s allegorical drawings and paintings ladened with erotic symbolism was lauded by the artist and critic Jean Dubuffet, the man responsible for coining the phrase Art Brut.
Consuelo González Amezcua
Born in Mexico, Consuelo (Chelo) Amezcua moved to Del Rio, Texas at the age of five where she was remain for the rest of her life, working at the local department store selling candy. She won a scholarship to study art in Mexico City but her father died, leading her to forfeit the scholarship so that she could remain with her family. Known locally as an eccentric, her family paid little interest in her drawings and poetry (which is frequently incorporated in her art), though at the age of 65 she was the subject of her first exhibition. Chelo’s work is characterised by biblical imagery, Mexican folklore and stunning filigree decorative motifs.
Jospeh E.Yoakum was born in Missouri of African-American, Cherokee and French descent. He joined the circus at nine and worked for Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show which toured Europe between 1903 to 1906. He served in France during WWI. After the war he travelled throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Australia, working on railroads and as a seaman. Joseph settled in the Southside of Chicago in the late 1920’s, working at various occupations including carpenter, janitor and mechanic. At the age of 72 he was inspired by a dream to start making art, calling it ‘spiritual unfoldment’. During the last decade of his life he produced thousands of anthropomorphic landscapes inspired by his extensive travels.
Born of Jewish descent, Louis Freeman grew up in the tenements of Glasgow, Scotland, dropping out of school at the age of eight to help provide income for the struggling family. He later enlisted in the army, changing his name to Scottie Wilson. After serving in WWI he moved to Toronto, Canada, where he owned a second-hand store. At the age of 44 he was listening to Mendelssohn when, all of a sudden, he dipped a pen into the inkwell and started drawing. Pablo Picasso and Andre Breton were early collectors of his intricate and decorative drawings of birds, fish and fauna.