As I mentioned earlier this month, from May 19th through the 25th London will host an international collection of esoteric artists in a special exhibition, “I:MAGE,” sponsored by Fulgur Esoterica (publisher of the Abraxas journal). Boasting an impressive lineup of artists, both classic and contemporary, I:MAGE promises to bring more attention to esoteric art and show how these creative individuals collectively work towards the “externalization of the mythical.”
“Ranging from the work of women pioneers such as Ithell Colquhoun and Steffi Grant, to the dark symbolist themes of Agostino Arrivabene and Denis Forkas Kostromitin, to the contemporary audio-visual practices of NOKO, I:MAGE promises to be a landmark exhibition.”
In speaking with Fulgur Esoterica about the show, they offered to send me some thoughts on the exhibition from two of the participating artists, Jesse Bransford and Francesco Parisi, in addition to insights from Christina Oakley Harrington, co-Editor of Abraxas, and Director of Treadwells esoteric book store in London (which will be hosting a range of talks, presentations, and discussions during the exhibition). I have long felt that esoteric fine art deserves more attention, so it is was my pleasure to accept their kind offer and now share the resulting communications with you here.
Christina Oakley Harrington: “The art world is waking up to the inner realities of its artists, and to the fact that for many centuries, right through modernism, many artists have been profoundly influenced by esoteric ideas and have worked intimately through (and with) occult symbolism. Medieval art history includes the study of iconography and symbolic programmes, but artists of more recent centuries have received no such attention, until the past ten years. Even the surrealists, some of whose work is profoundly occult, have had their imagery largely overlooked or treated in solely personal terms.
The trends of 20th century art-history and art criticism meant there have been 80 years of writing on art which concentrates not on the inner experience of the artist, or of their symbolic language, but rather on form and materials. This is now changing, and it is very exciting indeed.
Recent art exhibitions have highlighted this change: in Paris at the Centre Pompidou in 2009, and at the Tate in Cornwall the following year, to name but two. We can also see it in the revived interest by the art world in Austin Osman Spare, whose work defies comprehension without an appreciation of his inner, esoteric philosophy and his ideas about magic.
When my dear friend Robert Ansell and I launched Abraxas Journal, it was not only to showcase contemporary occult artists to a wider artistic market, and also to bring esoteric fine art to the attention of the pagan community. This exhibition, which Robert is putting on with his company Fulgur Fine Art, is part of this shared vision. He’s putting on the show at a gallery next door to Treadwells, and we hope people will wander between the two spaces. Fugur have the paintings, and Treadwells are holding talks, lectures and a couple filmings. Of course we’re a bookshop, so we’re open all day for book-buying too.
Robert and I both feel that making art is a magical act, a talismanic act, as much as preparing a spell. In fact, it IS the creation of a spell. A spell enchants, it brings closer non-tangible realities to the textured body of our senses. So too does a painting. It makes real here something that is real elsewhere, invisibly.
One of the aims of I:MAGE exhibition, and of our journal Abraxas, is to make pagans realise how gifted magical people are, even in terms of high culture. Pagans are often associated with pop culture and with charming illustration of the sort one finds on fantasy paperbacks. This is great of course, but what we are keen to show is that we, creative pagans, are everywhere – Pagans for a long time have been making paintings hang in the world’s leading art galleries, that are found framed walls of stately homes, that are in the collections of fine art collectors, are autioned at Sothebys. We just haven’t realised it.
Today there are younger working artists who are pagan in sensibility, and inflused with a magical world view. Some are well-known: Mark Titchner, for example, was on the prestigious British Turner Prize shortlist for his paintings which were in fact actually charged magical sigils. Some are less well-known but are fantastic. I:MAGE will be showcasing some of the brightest of these, and displaying their art next to some very well-known magical artists’ pieces, including Spare.
Jesse Bransford: “I came to the magical traditions as a young artist. I had been working with images from the traditions and had exposure to some of the visual aspects (you can’t get an art degree without at least hearing about the golden section). I was also studying the history of science and technology. This field led me to magic as the birthplace of science. As I became more interested in the history of magic (through scholars like Frances Yates, Michael Taussig etc.) I also began reading ‘primary sources.’ This led quickly to places like Fulgur, which I knew of from afar for many years. As time went on I became more involved, and my work became more explicit in it’s reference to and use of the magical traditions I was studying. Magic as a practice and metaphor binds all of my interests in art and life together and has enabled my work to expand into previously unimagined territories.”
Francesco Parisi: “My art tries to focus on the corporeal, the material and the more grounding aspects of experience. I have grown up in a city where transcendental religions looked down on all of that – the pleasure of engraving, the smell of wood, the focus on the image represented. We all know how it goes, the flesh is sinful and the aim is to rise high up above it. That’s why I have explored a Dionysian theme for over ten years of my life. I guess I used it as a way to break free from that moral constriction. Day after day, for ten years, this was my ritual: sweat, hands on artisan work, focusing on the moment of creation rather than hoping for the moment of salvation. My art really isn’t about going up but about staying down and enjoying every moment of it.
I:MAGE marks a very important moment for me as an artist: it represents the possibility to display my work in front of a public who will be able to competently engage with the message I want to put across, who know what it means to pick up a bowl and offer its content to the gods.”
The opening of I:MAGE is this Sunday, the 19th, from 12-8.30pm at Store Street Gallery in London. If you are anywhere in the vicinity, you owe it to yourself to see this show. You can find out more details at the I:MAGE exhibition site. In addition, Abraxas will be publishing a special edition of its celebrated journal for the show, which is a nice added incentive considering the quality of that publication.
The act of artistic creation is a sacred thing, one that has endured and journeyed into the secular temples we now call galleries and museums. Throughout history art and ritual praxis have melded to create lasting impressions and seismic shifts in our collective culture. We understand our experience through the results of creative process, and we deny this truth at our peril. Many artists already walk a liminal path, veering between the seen and unseen, making them essential guides to the otherworld, to what we call the “esoteric.” They remind us that the mythic is happening right here, right now, not in some distant past. The striving for excellence in the fine arts is a sign of health within any culture, religious or secular, and the nurturing of art should be a key ideal for modern Pagans. This show, I:MAGE, seems to be an important step in that journey.