Heavy Metal Meets Heavy Art

Art and music.  Music and art.  Both mediums require not only inherent talent and dedicated practice, but also of an understanding of human emotions and ideas.  The two compliment one another well, and why shouldn’t they?  For centuries, artists have taken their inspiration from song and sought to endow their work with a visual lyricism just as composers and musicians have aspired to paint images in the minds of those that listen to their music.  But sometimes art and music come together unexpectedly.

Gail Potocki is an immensely talented contemporary Symbolist painter whose artwork is daringly original and yet evocative of the great painters of the 19th Century.  Metallica is arguably the most successful American heavy metal band ever and their long career has been rewarded with multiple awards, bestselling albums, and a worldwide fan base.  Who would have predicted that two seemingly different creative forces would come together?

Today, January 20th, 2012, one of Gail’s paintings will be prominently featured at the opening of an art exhibition held at Exhibit A Gallery.  The exhibition is called Obey Your Master:  Art Tribute to Metallica and will showcase a diverse group of artists with eclectic influences as they use the visual medium to pay homage to the popular metal band’s songs.  Each piece of artwork will be an interpretation or celebration of one of Metallica’s songs.  While Gail’s painting for this show has been revealed on the gallery’s website, the title of the painting has been kept a mystery to all until the showing.

Here is her painting,  “Through the Never,  inspired by the song of the same name of the self-titled fifth album by Metallica.

"Through the Never" by Gail Potocki (2011, Oil on linen, custom frame).

All that is, was and will be
Universe much too big to see
Time and space never ending
Disturbing thoughts, questions pending
Limitations of human understanding

Too quick to criticize
Obligation to survive
We hunger to be alive

Twisting, turning through the never
All that is, ever
Ever was, will be, ever
Twisting, turning through the never
– Metallica
in the song “Through the Never

When asked why she chose this particular song, Gail answered, “I chose this song because it had somewhat vague and abstract lyrics and fit well with how I like to approach my paintings.”  She went on to explain the symbolic motifs in her painting and how they correlate with the lyrics.  “The lyrics of this song seem to be meditations on the idea of eternity and mortality and that was the direction that I took this painting in.  For example, the octopus has been used in many cultures to represent the unconscious and the universe, so I placed the tentacles behind the woman to represent the never ending cosmos.”

A detail from Gail Potocki's "Through the Never" showing in close-up: the tentacle, the black bird, the woman with the poppies, and the needle passing through her hand.

Detail of "Through the Never" in which the lifeline thread can be seen tightly wound around the woman's thumb, cutting off her circulation, and foreshadowing her demise.

“The red poppies strung around her neck are a symbol of oblivion.  One end of the string is wrapped around her finger and it begins to turn blue.  This foreshadows the inescapable inevitability of death.  The needle, on which the poppies are thread, pierces through the lifeline on the woman’s right hand while her blood flows down and in to the mouth of the black bird below.  This to me represents the continuous cycle and flow of all life.”

Another detail of Potocki's "Through the Never". This one shows the precision with which she created the black bird that is both the ultimate manifestation of the beginning, the end, and a new beginning... life, death, and rebirth.

The broken egg on the tail of this bird represents renewal and birth.  I used a blue light radiating from a unidentified source on the left side of the painting to further represent the idea of the mysterious unknown.  I tried to have a reason for everything in this painting;  there is very little that was included for aesthetic purposes alone.

Looking over Symbolist and Art Nouveau works of the past can provide further insight into Gail’s masterful approach to her painting.

In Carlos Schwabe's "Spleen et Idéal" (1896), one can see similar visual motifs such as the violent waters, the menacing and inescapable tentacles, and the wings. This painting by Schwabe, was by no coincidence, also inspired by another medium. Its themes and title were appropriated from Charles Baudelaire's poem found in his book "Les Fleurs du Mal" (The Flowers of Evil), which deals with decadence, sensuality and the inevitability of death.

In this Jugendstil poster for "Frommes Kalender" by Koloman Moser, you can see a combination of Symbolist and Art Nouveau styles. The Ouroboros (the circular self-devouring serpent) is an ancient symbol that is often found in Hermetic iconography. It can represent numerous ideas such as the ongoing cycle of life in which the older generation is consumed by the younger generation, or spiritual renewal, but it has also been used by some to suggest the transcendental concept of the psyche overcoming the limitations of the body or the physical world. In this case, the ouroboros is accompanied by an hourglass, a symbol of time and mortality, while the beautiful woman dressed in dark could be interpreted as holding it as the key to her own longevity.

After acknowledging the long tradition of artists interpreting music, lyrics, and poetry into visual medium I became curious as to what Gail’s favorite example of this might be.  Here’s what she had to say: “All the 19th century Symbolist painters were heavily influenced by the literature and poetry of their times.  I love so much of it, but I am particularly fond of Fernand Khnopff‘s ‘I Lock the Door Upon Myself‘ which was inspired by Christina Rossetti‘s poem ‘Who Shall Deliver Me?  His painting pays homage to her work but is an incredible painting in its own right.

Fernand Khnopff's 1891 painting "I Lock the Door Upon Myself" inspired by poet Christina Rossetti's poem "Who Shall Deliver Me?" written in 1876. Khnopff was a Belgian Symbolist painter and he followed very much in the footsteps of the British Pre-Raphaelite movement, of which Christina Rossetti's brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was a founding member.

Gail’s painting “Through the Never” and other contemporary works of art inspired by Metallica can be viewed at Exhibit A Gallery during the public viewing from January 23rd – March 23rd.

Exhibit A Gallery
Address: 1086 South Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90019
Phone #: (323) 954-7295
Open Monday – Saturday: 11:00 am – 7:00 pm
For more info, please visit:  http://www.exhibitagallery.com/


– Sean

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2 Responses to “Heavy Metal Meets Heavy Art”

  1. […] House up in Topanga Canyon as a residence for our visit.  Our week in Los Angeles consisted of a Gail Potocki art opening, lots of wilderness beauty, and a record release party, all documented in part below, and more […]

  2. […] Metallica also commissioned a painting by Gail: Through the Never. […]

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