Archive for Symbolism

You wanted ’em? We got ’em! Come see the amazing FREAKS!

Posted in Century Guild Contemporary, Gail Potocki, San Diego Comic Con, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on 8 April, 2013 by SeanChase

The days of circuses, carnivals, vaudeville, cabarets, and early cinema have always held a hypnotic sway over me and I’ve been obsessed with them since my childhood.  Of particular interest are the sideshow attractions and freak shows.  The wondrously bizarre, beautiful, and grotesque world of sideshow freaks has been a source of fascination and controversy from the time of their inception in the 19th Century, though circuses themselves date back to ancient Graeco-Roman traditions.  While today we may not have direct access to the theatrical spectacle of circus sideshows, at least not the ones that proliferated in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries and which focused on physical abnormalities, we do have certain portals into that world of entertainment that existed in the dark shadows of The Big Top.  Aside from modern sideshow attractions, which focus more on physical performance than physical deformity, there have been numerous films and works of art that have attempted to pay homage or preserve the atmospheric ambiance, the eccentric characters, and unbelievable world of circuses and their inhabitants.  Perhaps the strange allure of the sideshow can be reduced to the simple dynamics of exhibition and exploitation, but then again, most forms of art and expression can.  What is it that makes carnivals and circuses so tantalizingly mysterious to the outside world?

Perhaps the circus is the exaggerated reality that lies just beyond the periphery of our accepted social sphere.  It at once allows us a glimpse into an environment where everything is heightened, pushed to the limit (and sometimes far surpasses it), and while things may be familiar, nothing is really the same as in the lives that we know.  Though it isn’t feasible to escape our frustratingly mundane personal realities and simply “run away to join the circus”, it is possible to seek inspiration and escapism within the world of freaks and carnies.  Taking inspiration from this spectacular world is exactly what Gail Potocki has done.  Begun in 2009, the Freaks portraits series is an ongoing project for Gail, and only a few of her amazing portraits have been revealed and even more have yet to be created.  The brilliant portraits are like a peephole into the circus tents of the past.  Not only do they shine the spotlight on some truly unusual characters, but they also expose their humanity in a way that is both profound and endearing.  Each portrait embraces its subject as an individual, both celebrating their differences and acknowledging their humanity, and all the while doing so in a playfully creative manner that is fitting of Gail’s symbolist style.

The first five "Freaks" paintings by Gail Potocki!

The first five “Freaks” paintings by Gail Potocki!

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Clinging to Life: An Examination of Gail Potocki’s “The Raft of the Medusa”

Posted in Century Guild Contemporary, Gail Potocki, Uncategorized with tags , , on 18 October, 2012 by SeanChase

Amongst humans there is an inherent fascination with the sea and with the water from which we once sprang.  Over the years we have come to understand not only the life-giving and life-sustaining necessity of our oceans, but also the primal beauty of them.  Because of water’s inconstancy and ability to adapt to its environment, it has been used as a representation of the human emotional condition, but also as a symbol for the vast cosmos with its many changes and unknowns.  We have imbued water with symbolic importance, as we have observed the connection between the tides and the cycle of the moon, and how those cycles reflect the very changes of human and animal life on Earth.  We have created myths and fables: of seductive water nymphs and sirens who lure sailors to their dooms; of indomitable gods and goddesses who were borne of and ruled over the seas; of heroes whose mightiest weapons were plucked from mystic waters; and of babies sent in rafts either to meet their demise or to seek sanctuary by divine providence in new lands.

The image of the shipwreck has permeated all cultures as a cautionary metaphor for what happens when we drive ourselves too far, ignorant of the many consequences, or when we allow ourselves to be seduced by convenience and comfort rather than rationality.  Where once the shipwreck was a symbol of human failure or death, today, with the advances of technology allowing for mass transportation of passengers and cargo, the shipwreck is frequently a disaster not only for those immediately affected.  It is also a disaster for the environment and for the thousands of different forms of aquatic life that must survive, or do not survive as so often is the case, through the aftermath.  So, it should come as no surprise that there must be a cautious equilibrium between ourselves and the oceans lest we wish to face catastrophe.

“The Raft of the Medusa” by Gail Potocki (2012, Oil on linen, custom frame).   Taking her title from Théodore Géricault’s 19th Century painting of the same name, Gail Potocki has created another masterpiece of environmental symbolism.  This particular painting is both a lament for the destruction of nature in the past and warning of the inevitable effects should such destruction continue unchecked.

 

The idea that a man-made tragedy can now take a great toll on non-human life as well and wreak havoc upon the environment and ecosystems is the predominant theme in Gail Potocki‘s 2012 painting, “The Raft of the Medusa“.  The painting is a stark work of environmental symbolism that summons up an unforgettable image of a catastrophic shipwreck, which leaves in its wake a fire and plumes of smoke, a slick of oil on the ocean, and various birds and animals desperately clinging onto a woman, who represents all of humankind, for survival.  While the proverbial rats leave the sinking ship and turn the woman’s collar into a makeshift raft, birds doused in thick oil panic and struggle to survive as they flail their wings trying to free themselves from the crude.  The woman, who is garbed in an opulent dress and seemingly oblivious to the destruction and turmoil around her, discards a partially eaten apple with insouciance.  Upon that apple is a sticker with a bar code, a further reminder of humanity’s attempt to control and capitalize upon nature at nature’s expense.  In Gail’s own words, “I’ve often used the apple as a symbol of the Earth.”

Detail from “The Raft of the Medusa” by Gail Potocki (2012, Oil on linen).  The woman’s hand lets go of the apple from which she has bitten into, letting it fall into the sea.  The apple, which represents the Earth or the environment, has been used as a resource, a mere commodity, harnessed by humankind to suit their purposes and then unlovingly discarded.  Meanwhile, the oil-soaked birds flail in distress around the woman.

Detail from Gail Potocki’s “The Raft of the Medusa” (2012, Oil on linen). Here, we can see the rats as they become dependent upon the woman, clinging to her collar for survival from the wreck which her species was responsible for.  Standing on the back of her collar is a Vacanti mouse.  The Vacanti mouse or “earmouse” as it has commonly been referred, was a SCID mouse (severe combined immunodeficiency), which are frequently used for research in biology.  The Vacanti mouse had bovine cartilage grown under its skin, which then developed into the shape of an ear.  Experimentation on rats and other rodents is yet another example of how humans have benefited from nature and from creatures for our own gain.

 

The title of Gail’s painting is an appropriation of and homage to Théodore Géricault‘s 1819 painting Le Radeau de la Méduse, which was one of his best known works and is a cornerstone of 19th Century French Romantic movement in art.  Géricault’s painting was an ambitious work by which the French artist hoped to secure his place among the great Romantic painters of his day.  Inspired by the 1816 wreck of the naval frigate, the Méduse, off the coast of what is now modern-day Mauritania.  This wreck was attributed primarily to the inexperience and incompetence of its captain, the Viscount Hugues Duroy de Chaumereys.  The ship was poorly navigated and had drifted a hundred miles off of its charted course, which lead to it running aground on a sandbank in West Africa.  The ship carried over 400 people, of which 160 were crew members, but the capacity of the life boats was only 250 people.  Those who could not be afforded room in the lifeboats built a makeshift raft, which was intended to be towed by the lifeboats, but the 147 people upon the raft was too great a number and almost immediately the raft began to take on water, so the raft was cut loose and the people on it left to their own devices.  Within the first day, they had eaten the only food they had and their drinking water was lost amidst an on-board scuffle.  The survivors were driven mad by exposure to the elements and starvation.  Weak, malnourished, and mutinous, they began to turn on each other, eventually resorting to murder and cannibalism.  By the time a rescue crew attempted to save those on the raft, only fifteen of the 147 people were still alive.  The rest had perished by starvation, by sickness, by being consumed as food, or by being thrown into the sea and some of those did so of their own volition.  The resulting press surrounding the tragedy became a scandal and an embarrassment for the French monarchy.

“Le Radeau de la Méduse” by Théodore Géricault (Oil on canvas, 1819).  In selecting the subject matter for what he hoped would be the painting that brought him acclaim, Géricault chose to depict the harrowing moment in which the fifteen survivors of 147 upon the raft see in the distance an approaching vessel sent to rescue them.  Géricault had thought that he could rise to prominence by featuring the wreck of the Méduse and its survivors as his theme, however, the painting became controversial during its 1819 unveiling at the Paris Salon in part due to its aesthetic departure from the serenity of the Neo-Classical, but also due to the sensitive subject matter and the heightened emotional response it elicited.

Gail Potocki‘s painting echoes some of the same themes as Géricault’s, such as the struggle to survive in the wake of disaster and the incompetence and arrogance of mankind.  While Géricault’s painting was inspired by the wreck of the Méduse, Gail took her inspiration from more recent disasters such as the Exxon Valdez in 1989.  The analogy is there and basically the same, but the great difference is that over the years we have better developed our ability to save human lives through safety precautions and rescue efforts, however, so often lessening the devastation wrought upon nature and wildlife isn’t made a priority until it’s too late.

An oil-soaked bird from the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989.

A detail from “The Raft of the Medusa” by Gail Potocki (2012, Oil on linen).  All too true to life, Gail’s meticulously detailed and emotionally wrought depiction of the birds covered in oil is representative of the thousands of birds who have been affected by oil spills and similar man-made calamities.  Through her art, we are allowed to experience their anguish, to empathize with them, and to accept that there must be change.

 

Eventually we must ask ourselves:  What happens when we overestimate our own abilities and underestimate nature?  Any conflict which arises from such a circumstance almost invariably sees a drastic loss in life, though not always human, and yet there are often consequences of horrendous proportions which some of us choose to see while others do not.  We have a responsibility to ensure that the planet we depend on, and that all systems of life depends on, is taken seriously and respected.  Nature is not to be trifled with.  This theme, this reverential treatment of nature has oft been expressed in poetry and the arts, as has the warning for humankind not to let their ambitions outreach their grasp.  Gail’s environmental paintings are a bold, always beautiful yet often unsettling, and essential reminder that we are a part of nature, that our actions do carry with them an effect (be it for good or bad), so there must be an attempt to protect the natural world around us or accept that its demise will also be our own.

– Sean

Gail Potocki Brings Beauty to Artifice

Posted in Century Guild Contemporary, Gail Potocki, Uncategorized with tags , , on 19 May, 2012 by SeanChase

I’ve grown up loving art of all different eras and aesthetic movements, however, with that said, I rarely find a piece of artwork that genuinely moves me so deeply that it becomes forever emblazoned in my mind and heart.  There are paintings from the Italian Renaissance, the Romanticists, the Pre-Raphaelites, the Symbolists, and then later from the Expressionists, which have managed to do this, yet most modern art seems to be so concerned with style and conceptualization, that it becomes emotionally devoid in its presentation.  So, it is a very special feeling when a contemporary artist creates a piece of work that speaks to the mind, as well as to the heart, can evoke emotion, and provoke thought.  Gail Potocki‘s painting, “The Repositioning of Artifice” is such a piece of work.

“The Repositioning of Artifice” by Gail Potocki (2012, oil on linen).

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Welcome to the Freakshow!

Posted in Century Guild Contemporary, Exploitation Films, Gail Potocki, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on 2 March, 2012 by SeanChase

Deep down, I think we all have an attraction to the strange and unusual.  Some people don’t want to admit it and others will just as soon look away in disgust or horror, but in actuality, for a number of reasons, those that we regard as different or as strange and unusual hold a fascination for us.  Despite our best efforts, it’s still difficult not to stare awkwardly at those who live beyond the “norm” of society, those that don’t match our cultural and social expectations, or those who merely look different from us.  Often we resort to insulting terms such as “weirdos”, “creeps”, or “freaks” to describe these people whom we fail to understand.  But perhaps the greatest reason that we have this love/hate relationship with them is because they remind us of ourselves.

Perhaps there is no greater example within contemporary culture of our dualistic reaction to the social outsider than the 1932 Tod Browning horror-melodrama Freaks.  The film, which has become beloved by some and reviled by others, is considered one of the first true cult classics and even today it still manages to pack a punch.  The story is a deceptively simple tale about the companionship of a small group of sideshow performers and what happens when their inner circle is threatened by “normal” folk – the other great outsider.  One of the aspects of the film that created such an outrage and controversy when it was initially released was the fact that unlike almost any other film of its day, director Browning chose to use real life human anomalies to portray the characters of the story.

Today, this makes the film an interesting contradiction in that it is at once both an exploitation film and an empathetic look at the lives of those who are rejected by the mainstream culture.  However, ironically the film which served as a cautionary tale about judging one based upon appearances was almost unanimously panned by critics who had no desire to see “living monstrosities projected on the screen“.  During later years as viewers re-examined this flawed masterpiece of vintage shock cinema, they were struck by the seeming contradiction of a film that exploits the subjects that it attempts to advocate.  In spite of this controversy and indeed partially because of it, the film has endured for 80 years now and is regarded as a classic of horror cinema.

Director Tod Browning and a few members of his beloved consortium of freaks.  This promotional photo was taken on the set of the 1932 film, which would gain notoriety among filmmakers and critics, as well as shine a light (a somewhat unflattering one) on what goes on behind the scenes at the circus sideshow.

Yet the real stories of the sideshow freaks and the characters that populated the world of the carnevale spectacular are perhaps just as unbelievable and shocking as those of their fictional counterparts in Browning’s Freaks.  These “freaks” and others have been resurrected via the skilled hand of modern symbolist painter Gail Potocki in a series of paintings that must be seen to be believed.  So, if you dare read on, and you must, I shall share with you a glimpse into a world of grotesqueries, oddities, and anomalies that once scandalized the general public and left the faces of outsiders forever emblazoned in the minds of the world.

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Heavy Metal Meets Heavy Art

Posted in Century Guild Contemporary, Gail Potocki, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on 20 January, 2012 by SeanChase

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