Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Murder on my mind & saved by the book

The Murder - Paul Cezanne, 1868
I mentioned previously that my recent involvement with the Bizarre Bazaar Shoppe seems to be encouraging me to notice and explore--perhaps attract?--some darker aspects of life. In mid-August I was called upon for jury duty, and learned during the selection process that the case was a homicide. 

The Dark Side was creeping closer again, this time with no fantasy element whatsoever to buffer the chill.

Although I am a mystery fan from way back, the idea of determining someone’s guilt or innocence as a murderer, in real life, was daunting. As it turned out, our task was to determine the degree of guilt (first or third degree murder, or manslaughter) because it was already established that the defendant was the killer. Oh, good. That would make it easier, right?

Well, it did make the process simpler, in that incontrovertible, physical facts are just that and there was plenty of evidence (the details of which I will spare you.)  In spite of the considerable efforts of the Defense to convince us the defendant believed his life was in danger when he acted, you can’t fire a gun from across the street into an unarmed man’s back, and call it self-defense. Not only that, he killed the wrong man, a friend of his intended victim. (A person in the wrong place at the wrong time; which could happen to any of us, at any time. Random dark-sidedness. As my son would say, Welcome to planet-fucking-earth.)

The jury deliberated for only an hour before reaching a verdict on day three of the trial:  First degree murder. 

Nevertheless, putting a 36 year old man behind bars for the rest of his life, murderer though he is, is not without psychic consequences. We, the jury, had no other choice. But still.

As a friend said afterwards when we discussed my experience, “You’re watching peoples’ lives fall apart in front of your eyes” and you cannot help but be emotionally affected. At the end, I was left with a profound sadness that lasted for days. Sadness for the victim, the perpetrator, his children, their mothers, all their families; for communities where random murder has become almost normal; for our society as a whole where such things have become common and no one seems to have an answer.  I hope this is as close to murder as I ever get in real life.

Allegheny County Courthouse, Pittsburgh PA, c 1904.
Designed in 1883 by Henry Hobson Richardson. Build 1884-1888.

Well, something interesting happened during the days of the trial, which convinces me yet again that there are seldom coincidences, and our mental frequency, our state of attraction, determines what we draw into our lives. Yeah, it is definitely anti-climactic, after the above, to talk about a book I discovered, but I think it demonstrates not only the Law of Attraction in action, but also the power of words in the hands of a Master.

On the morning of the second day of the trial, I finished the book I’d been reading (a mystery by one of my favorite authors of the genre, Donna Leon). There's a lot of down-time while serving on a jury, so at lunch time I headed to the nearest discount bookstore in search of reading material.  I came across an author named Walter Mosley. There is an author named Mosley that I want to read, but I couldn't remember the first name. Was this him?  On a chance, I bought the book.  

As it turned out, Walter Mosley was not the author I had been looking for, but that didn't matter once I started reading.  In the book, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, Mosley writes eloquently about the human experience, through the often harsh lens of the contemporary African-American experience. Coincidence? 

Even though the book is not a mystery story, it was uncanny how settings and events in it related to my experience of being a juror on a black-on-black murder case. The book's protagonist, talking to a friend about a shooting victim, says:  “…so you think [the shooting] was just some mistake, somebody thought he was somebody else?”  Whoa! A person in the book has the same unusual surname as a person mentioned during the trial. The motive for the murder in the book is a love triangle. Also true of the real murder... 

I felt as if unseen forces had "sent" the book to help me cope emotionally with the surreal experience of the trial. The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey is  filled with Mosley's lively imagination and wit, and plenty of compassion. In spite of the often gritty settings and events, it was a joy to read. The contrasts and similarities between the fictional and the real shape-shifted in my mind as I read the book during recesses of the trial.

I finished the book, sitting on my sunny patio, the Saturday after the trial. I started to cry, and could not stop. Ptolemy Grey is a very old man, who dies at the end of the book. With a 91 year old protagonist, this is not a spoiler. But my tears went way beyond the death of an endearing fictional character, obviously, and the catharsis was intense. I couldn't start another book for days, because this one kept resonating in my mind and heart, softening the memory of the trial which also continued to haunt me. 

So, many thanks to Walter Mosley for giving me an escape valve for the head of emotional steam built up by jury duty and its consequences, and to whatever Power sent the book to me when I needed it most. To attract a book like The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey into my life, I would almost do it again.

"The great man say that life is pain," Coydog had said over eighty-five years before. "That mean if you love life, then you love the hurt come along wit' it. Now, if that ain't the blues, I don't know what is."

Walter Mosley, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey

Moonrise over the patio, 3 days before the trial started.

I’ve also learned that Mosley is the creator of the celebrated Easy Rawlins mystery stories, which I've not read, but will now. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Invasion of the Flesh-Eating Slugs!

My cat Shadow is an avid hunter (note the flexed paw at the ready.) Being mostly solid black, he is, literally, a shadow and hunts in perfect nighttime camouflage. It is not unusual to awake and find a small, furry trophy on the back porch. Occasionally, it might be a feathered trophy, which is worrisome because I love birds. But, what can I say? He is a CAT!

Recently, he brought home a kill that I did not find until after others did. Specifically, ants, and one gluttonous slug. Rhymes with ugh! I can’t think of any garden creatures more hateful than slugs!

RE the above photo, I get the feeling that the appearance of Bizarre Bazaar Shoppe in my life is bringing certain tendencies of mine to the forefront. I find myself looking at skull jewelry a lot lately. Find myself practicing gothic blackletter at my calligraphy desk. Even thinking about getting a tattoo.  And I don’t think I would have, pre-BBS, bothered to photograph a flesh-eating slug.

Be that as it may, the advent of BBS has been totally a positive event, no doubt about it! Tectonic plates move faster than my art career, so every bit of exposure helps. All exposure is often a springboard to more opportunities.

At Bizarre Bazaar Shoppe, you are intrigued but never feel like you’ve wandered into some pervert’s private realm. I overheard this comment while putting up title labels for my works: “Look at this! It looks just like the thing in—what was it?  Oh--The Addams Family!”  (The movie, of course. I wonder how many younger people who saw the movie, know about the TV series? Let alone know about Charles Addams himself??)

Like Addams’ classic cartoons, the offerings at Bizarre Bazaar are an immersion in what I would call Classic Creepy. Often sincere, sometimes tongue-in-cheek. A strong ambience of Edgar Allen Poe and Victorian gloom pervades the space. There are lamps made from animal spines, taxidermy, dolorous poppets, dusty relics of dubious origin, vials of secret potions and other references to arcana and dark magic. There are also enough references to white magic to keep it just this side of Knockturn Alley. However, if one night a year to celebrate the dark side does not suffice, here is a place to get your Halloween fix year-round! (See my previous post for a peek at the shop, as well as links.)

And, as everyone knows, Pittsburgh is Classic Creepy’s hometown, thanks to George Romero and Chilly Billy Cardille, with whom my teen-aged self and  friends spent many a horror-filled Saturday night with the TV on and all the lights off!   MMWA-HA-HA-HA-A-A-A!!!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Collagitation now at the Bizarre Bazaar Shoppe!!

Recently I had the opportunity to consign 17 collages for sale in the Bizarre! Bazaar! Shoppe, located in the Most Wanted Fine Art Gallery satellite location at the Waterfront, in Homestead, PA. I first discovered BBS while delivering a painting for an Associated Artists of Pittsburgh group show at MWFA in June. I was so taken with the intriguing shop, I put together a little album of my own macabre art, showed it to the lovely Proprietress, who then  invited me to bring in some pieces to offer for sale there!

You can see some of my collages in the center image.
It was great to pull all that art out of plastic sleeves in binders, where most of it's been stored since 2010, and put it into frames (a process which is worthy of a blog post all its own. Why did I think I could mat and frame 12 pieces in one afternoon? Daft!)  Here are photos of some of the pieces in the shop:

Never Looked Better
Mixed Anatomies (top), Masks (bottom)

My Dark Heart

Remorse (on easel)

Spiral Staircase (top) and Party Hat (below)

Grouping of the above, along with Death on the Wing (top left) and Aunt Letitia's Parlor (Tribute to Edward Gorey) (lower left)

If you're in Pittsburgh, please stop by the Waterfront in Homestead and take a look!  Most Wanted Fine Art (#9 on the directory map in the link) is located on Amity Square behind Leow's Theater, across from Starbuck's, next to the Gap. (Ironic, no?)

Bizarre! Bazaar! Shoppe is the brainchild of Dr. Morose and Miss Macabre, aka Nick Noir and Macabre "Mac" Noir. Artists, performers, entrepreneurs, magician, seer, they encompass a variety of talents, sensibilities, and knowledge both arcane and mundane, in their amazing personages. And they are really nice people!
Nick and Macabre Noir
Here are some other links to their worlds of mystery and decadent beauty:  Nick’s dark and delightful instagrams;  Mac’s instragrams.

Here are links to the original posts for some of the artworks at BBS (I've changed some of the titles):

As you can gather from the name of the shop, Bizarre! Bazaar! caters to those with a darker sensibility. Capitalism with a twist! I’ve been interested since childhood in the macabre. Like my Mom, I loved ghost stories and scary movies. Still do. I’m also interested in the sinister aspects of history, art and literature and I thoroughly enjoy producing collages in that vein. Although my work isn’t all “dark,” a lot of it tilts in the direction of irreverence and irony. It’s a short slide down a slippery slope from that to outright tilted. So…why make “dark art”?

Dark art is, first of all, fantasy. Fantasy without the pink-tailed unicorns and glittering fairy-godmothers come to save the day, but like all fantasy, it is an escape from reality. It can also be an attempt to explain an indecipherable existence, or to build a safe space against an intolerable one. Or simply a way to amuse yourself. Or, perhaps it is just us trying to get comfortable with our own mortality.

Death can be a great enigma to us body-bound souls, lumbering about in our meat machines. (Are we driving it, or is it driving us?)  I guess we usually envisage departure from the meat machine as a traumatic experience, even though, "we" are not destroyed, only sent on to the next leg of the journey, or perhaps reunited with the Source. Yet death evokes all kinds of worrisome questions: Will it hurt? (I doubt if it will be comfortable, if only because the m.m. struggles against its demise.)  Will I go to Heaven?  (Only if you truly believe you will—click your ruby heels together and repeat three times…)   Will I see my departed Loved Ones? (I certainly hope so!) Will I meet the Grand Overall Designer?  (Not if you believe that’s some grouchy, white-bearded patriarch, sitting on a cloud smiting and smoting and generally behaving like a prick.)

Albus Dumbledore, revered by many of us, said:  “To a well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”  So why do we Fear Death?  Probably its simple fear of the unknown:  we can't know for sure what is really, REALLY going to happen beyond that portal. Some of us are comfortable with Mystery, others not so much (they have Religion, the great comfort blanket, instead.)

My very perceptive son recently commented that there are people who get psyched out by the realization that there is whole, working skeleton, right inside them, all the time! “Ewww, creeeeepy!!!”  So let us get used to the fact that we all carry our own creepiness within us. Putting it into artwork is, I think, preferable to letting it turn us into monsters (which, as we see every day on the news, Religion can certainly do.)

NOTE:  if you are the easily offended type, please disregard the parenthetical statements above. HA!!

Another individual revered by many of us, the inimitable Edward St. John Gorey, was asked by his long-time friend, Paul Theroux, (quoted in Theroux's excellent book, The Strange Case of Edward Gorey) why "stark violence and horror and terror were the uncompromising focus of his work." Gorey replied, “I write about everyday life.” In other words, being alive is not for the timid. Witness the Gashleycrumb Tinies! So we use dark art to help us cope, help us laugh--or at least grimly smile-- at the bigger Darkness ahead and within.

Speaking of Albus Dumbledore, I once took a “Sorting Hat test” years ago, on one of the many Harry Potter sites. It put me in Slytherin House. That explains a lot! I was not pleased at the time, but now I say, Wear Your Darkness Proudly!

There is darkness inside all of us…
We are what we are because of it, or perhaps in spite of it. 
Some use it as a shield to hide behind, others as an excuse to do unconscionable things. But, truly, the darkness is simply a piece of the whole, neither good nor evil unless you 
make it so.    
Jenna Maclaine, Bound By Sin

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Collagitation’s new lease on life!

St. Theresa in Excelsis
Recently, a couple of things occurred to bring Collagitation back to life. The first was being contacted in June by Virginia artist Karen Whitehill, who wrote to tell me how much she enjoyed my collages after seeing them on the blog. What a treat that was to hear!  We started emailing and found we have a lot in common, as well as each being able to bring something or someone new and interesting to the other. Karen purchased my collage, St. Theresa in Excelsis, partially by bartering one of her own works. These “bible babes” are digitally altered classic religious paintings.  I love them! Here’s a link to see more of Karen’s fun and witty “Hymn to Her” series:

Being a fan of Shirley Temple since childhood, I chose the Madonna & Child print, with Myrna Loy as the Madonna.

Here also are links to some collage artists of whom I was unaware or had forgotten about, until she brought  them to my attention. Thanks, Karen!

Max Bucaille 
(1906-1996), one of the classic Surrealists:
Max Bucaille, Butterf
Dan Hillier
 A contemporary collagist whose elegant work continuously gives me a 
why-didn’t-I-think-of-that frisson of pleasure.
Dan Hillier, Falls
Claudia Drake
another contemporary surrealist:
Claudia Drake, Fire Walk With Me
Paula Braconnot  
A contemporary French collagist extraordinaire. 
Her site is in French, but you can see her work here: 
and link to her site if you are fortunate enough to know French!

Paula Branconnot, Coq

“Meeting” Karen was the first happy incident recently that resulted from my 2010 collage project.

 More to come!


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