The Best(a) of Bestrizal: Mother Nature (Review)

‘Almost Paradise’, 2018, Charcoal and acrylic on canvas (H250 cm x W200cm)

Bestrizal Besta was born in 1973, in Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia. He made Yogyakarta his home and can be found in this city where he lives and works. I was acquainted with Besta’s art in 2018 at Art Stage Singapore where he was represented by Art Porters Gallery. Hanging in this gallery’s booth, at the entrance, is a substantially large monochromatic canvas with a burst of colour that led my eye to a human face — a smiling female child framed by a bouquet of colourful flowers. She is perched on a suggested make-belief swing made of leafy tendrils, her feet crossed elegantly and both hands clutching a spray of orange flowers and she is beaming. She is accompanied by a parrot and surrounded by flora and fauna, thick and lucious. A mouse deer peers at us, a rabbit peers at the mouse deer and we peer into a busy canvas covered corner to corner by monochromatic prints of flowers, plants, leaves, petals… and then the eye spots a leopard. I stood staring at this gigantic canvas, ‘Almost Paradise’, 2018, (H250 cm x W200cm), for several minutes and drank in its wonder. I let it quench my imagination while I studied the patterns on the leaves, on the girl. Peering closer, I caught sight of a feathery down that covered the girl’s legs – follicles of hair so lovingly and intricately added to embellish the subject. This is beyond Realism. I was in Art Heaven because being up this close and seeing such intricate details made with charcoal sent electric shivers down my spine. An apt title for such a mesmerising artwork, I thought. I was not the only who thought this way. The piece was finally sold but art lovers would drop in for a chat about this eye-catching rendition of what Paradise could be. For a dazzling half day at Art Stage, I found my Paradise. 

Bestrizal Besta is known for his large canvases of hyper-realist compositions, intricate in detail and surrealist by presentation. His works are photographic by nature, hence the term hyper-realism used as a descriptor of his oeuvre. In reality, Besta is a Surrealist: his works are often realistic but dream-like, centring on this world and bordering on one that is other-worldly. 

However, I am not one who is fond of labels. To say Besta is a Surrealist would put emphasis on Surrealism and detract from the fact that he is really a Hyper-realist. But to say that he is a Hyper-realist would veer away from the oft challenging definition of Surrealism and the representation of Besta’s unconscious mind.

Surrealists were artistes who sought to find ways through art, literature and film to channel the unconscious in order to unlock its power to find an unfettered expression of thought. André Breton, René Magritte, Joan Miró and Salvatore Dali were Surrealists.  Surrealism took off in visual art due to artists like Magritte and Dali, who were categorically Surrealists. Surrealist motifs differed from artist to artist and exactly what constitutes Surrealism is difficult to define – like a dream, we can’t quite put our finger on what it is. Yet, we know as viewers that the bending clock in Dali’s work is not real, psychologically, we know that it is an image from a dream. Similarly, we know that Miró’s fantastical depiction of space with biomorphic shapes, representing human beings on canvas is also not real, it is surreal. Magritte’s work also tells us that his imageries are from the land of dreams or from the unconscious because there is something quite unusual, rather disturbing in his pieces. However, we know that these artists are definitely not Hyper-realists, though. 

Hyper-realists are artists whose keen eye for detail and realism mark them out from the rest. But be careful for they are not Realists because the eye sees a different style in Realism. Realism is an art movement that sought to depict real life with truth and accuracy; Realist art is detailed but not photographic, they are paintings and they are unmistakably so. There is nothing pretty about Realism, to tell the truth. Jean-Francois Millet and Gustave Courbet are Realists. What of Hyper-realism? Hyper-realism was developed since the 1970s and are artworks of images that resemble high-resolution photographs but rendered in mediums often associated with paintings. This is where Bestrizal Besta gets drumrolls.

‘Mother Nature #1’, 2018, Charcoal and acrylic on canvas, H80cm x W180cm

Besta, to my eye, is a Hyper-Realist. A quick glance at his canvases will train the eye to notice that his human figures are realistically detailed. They resemble photographic images of somebody we are familiar with. That his works are dream-like, it is true. That they are surreal, that is true too. So, yes, he can be called a Surrealist.

Labels are but categories for better understanding of concepts. In art, better understanding comes from looking. Let’s take a close look at ‘Mother Nature #1’, 2018 (charcoal and acrylic on canvas, H80cm x W180cm), for example. A girl, somebody from a lost world, gazes out, she is holding a doll in one hand, with the other, she clasps a branch. Nature engulfs her. In fact, nature takes up two-thirds of this canvas, with only a sliver of sky topping a mountain chain. The leaves are intricately sketched as we follow their meandering journeys; the animals playing hide and seek in the thick foliage beckons us to find them. These life-forms are so hyper-realistically depicted that I feel the leaves growing and winding their way through the thicket; I hear the sounds of animals as they move through the jungle; I smell the silage of the damp earth. This piece is similar to Besta’s many other pieces – a human figure engulfed by nature seems to be the theme in all his works. Through detailed patterns of flora and fauna, Besta tells the story of how wonderful life would be if we were all to live harmoniously with(in) Nature. Nature is good, he says. So, it is not about being engulfed by Nature but about co-existing as one with a naturally eternal Female force. This is where the artist as dreamer steps into the canvas. It is Besta’s dream that we all co-exist with Nature. He expresses his dream and observation of Nature, unfettered, through the medium of charcoal. Now, we can see why critics have called him a Surrealist. 

Besta expresses what his psyche really thinks about Nature and this is reflected in the exhibition’s title — Mother Nature — which underscores the power of the Feminine. Nature is the giver of Life — our Mother. But Besta goes one step further and tells us that “We are not born of Mother Nature”, “we are Mother Nature” he asserts. There is something so curative about this knowlege. Resistance is futile was the message that I took away from this exhibition. The best way to live is to be one with Nature. I succumbed to this adage as I immersed myself in these monochromatic canvases, meditating on Life and the human condition. I asked the Goddess to envelope me in her soothing balm which only Nature can provide. 

Mother Nature, Art Porters Gallery from 24th April to 30th June, 2019. 


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Interloper by F. Z. Majidi

The Creating of Adam by Michelangelo

Someone’s been living beneath my bed for a while now. I don’t care why she’s there, never felt curious to bend down and look. I know her by the aroma of her perfume, the same perfume my ex-wife, Louisa, used to wear – Chanel no.5. Some nights amid inhaling her heady fragrance I take a hint of her wearing makeup too. The scent reminds me of my insipid life after Louisa left this apartment a year and three months and twenty days ago at nine twenty p.m.; left me grappling with the prolonged hours of viscous nights, her perfume lingering in the empty wardrobes. No, I never look down, what’s good in doing that? The white curtains and empty fridge interest me more than her. I hate women. 

Especially this woman; when her scent wakes me up in the middle of the night, her quiet struggle underneath sways the bed… a jinx elongating my chthonian night hours when I’m in need of unconsciousness most. But sometimes as she starts punching the bed from beneath and it’s 2 or 3 a.m. … I keep staring at the ceiling, drawing deep breaths one after another, wondering, not knowing what to do, what to say. Waking up in a double bed is vexatious enough. Her punches shaking the bed say she’s desperate, furious, forlorn and forsaken; like me. I agonize over the idea of remaining understanding.

Some nights, however, I wish she could punch stronger. Can’t ask her to cause we don’t talk. The idea tempts me more when I lie in Louisa’s side. She’s always beneath my side and doesn’t follow me to the other side; maybe she’s not aware of my existence up here. If I could call it existence in Louisa’s provoking, insatiable absence, sucking at my disquiets and obsessions. Couldn’t she realize how solidly I had rooted in her? 

Louisa could stay in a separate room and never hear anything from me, never see me. I would’ve imprisoned myself in another room if she asked me to, on condition that she would stay close. She could share her room with another man. My eyelids get heavy while brainstorming over these eccentric ideas, until she starts punching the bed from below as if trying to make her way up to me. The Triazolams I’d taken before sleeping make it more tolerable.

“Is it you, Louisa?” I whisper, barely conscious, my head buried in the pillows. 

She doesn’t answer; her silent struggle makes me sway gently. I fall asleep amid her long-running, probably never-ending battle. In the morning her perfume’s still in the air accompanied by the scent of her makeup. Time to dress and go to work. I throw the briefcase in the car and sit in the driver seat, looking into the rearview mirror. The idea flashes across my mind again. Go to her, tell her… but I’ve already told her whatever there was to say. Words never work when you need them to. I’d better keep driving and shut my mouth.

I blink. My body’s hospitalized, dressed in white between white sheets among white walls, seemingly unconscious. I view myself from above, floating mid-air. I want to wake myself up but fail. She’s punching the bed from underneath; still, I can’t see her. I blink. I’m standing in the nave of a grandiose, Catholic church. I blink. I’m the Adam painted on Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. I blink to turn into Eva. All colors around me start dripping, painting the nave in an abhorrent dark hue. As I open my eyes, I’m back in my bed, smelling like Chanel no. 5, wearing makeup. The stranger underneath my bed is gone. I blink, I’m staring at the white ceiling, still lying in my bed. The scent is gone, I’m alone. Better say left alone. The difference is only one word but enough to break my heart in two. She’s back beneath my bed. Yes, someone’s been living beneath my bed for a while now.

About the Author:

F. Z. Majidi is – currently – a Ph.D. student at Sapienza University of Rome, living in Rome, studying Astrophysics and Space Sciences. She writes in her free time and recently has started publishing her short stories. She won 2010 Kharazmi prize for writing the novelette “Eternity” and one of her short stories has appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine.

Eva’s Comments:

‘The Creation of Adam’ by Michelangelo is an icon of humanity. Kept preserved in the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, this image of Man reaching out to God and God reaching out to Man and yet never touching, was painted circa, 1508 and 1512.

I had the chance to see this fresco in the Vatican, where it is located. The awesomeness of it is striking. The feeling of being immersed in High Renaissance art in the person is undescribable. Looking up at the ceiling is to stand in the presence of God and be struck dumb. I am an agnostic and so were many artists painting during the Renaissance, yet the awe of being in the presence of such powerful majesty and spirituality makes me wonder about the Divine. I have to say that even as I waver between believing and disbelief, God is so much part of my life that there is no avoiding this theological subject. Similarly, God is so much part of the Italian Renaissance that there is no escape from this subject pictorially.

‘The Creation of Adam’ depicts the Biblical story in Genesis when God created Man in His own image (Gen 1:27) In Genesis, we are told that God created Man, represented by Adam, from dust and breathed life into him through his nostrils. Hence, it is common to hear the phrase ‘from dust you were created, to dust you shall return.’

There are many interpretations of this fresco as there are many copied versions of it. What I find symbolic is in how Michealangelo presented God and Adam. God is seen floating in a convex nebula towards Man who is depicted concavely. Movement is suggested by the drapery that seems to form a receptacle containing God, who is dressed like a bearded older man, ordinary and avuncular yet still corporeally powerful. [Michelangelo is a sculptor, after all, and his style of depicting men is always to represent them as mascular creatures of nature.] This way of portraying God is refreshing and makes the Divine more accessible and approachable, compared to other depictions of God, where He is often placed on a pedastal and unreachable. Static is suggested by Adam’s lackadaisical form, waiting for the touch of God that will spark life into him, that will ignite Mankind with life. The concave-convex binary mirrors the Biblical story of the creation of Man: Man was created in God’s image.

To me, there seems to be an urgency in this fresco that I’ve not read or heard others refer to yet. The two forefingers outstretched but not touching indicate this urgency: that God is elusive and difficult to connect to. Perhaps, it is only my interpretation as I do know many people who’ve told me that they’ve found God, and are connected to Him. As viewers of artworks, we often bring our personal experiences and lens into the musuem, art space and gallery with us. Hence, what I read as urgency, others may see as God’s desire to connect with Man and Man’s lack of interest. The latter could be interpreted from the way Adam has been depicted.

The story of God and Adam/Man is a story of love, above all. “For God so loveth the world …” is a phrase that continues to be repeated. Putting theology aside, we can say that ‘The Creation of Adam’, could be a reflection of Man’s search for an unending, unlimited and unconditional love that humankind is not able to offer. The search carries on as long as we do not accept that Man’s love is often limited. I love my husband and I know he loves me but yet, I also know that he has disappointed me many times, like I have disappointed him too. But we persevere in our relationship, always attempting to love each other more daily, despite our limitations. I’ve been told many times, in my search for the Divine, that it is not God’s fault but ours when we cannot connect with Love. God is the ultimate love, as a friend once said to me. I don’t know about this belief but I do know that love is an unending emotional and psychological quest .

Majidi submitted her story with the image of Michelangelo’s ‘The Creation of Adam’ and has this to say about her work, “Here in Interloper, I have tried to depict a man continually seeking his love in his mind; so that when she’s not around, he has to replace her with an image of her.”

Majidi also tells me that “[f]or the image, I found […] Michelangelo’s masterpiece, [T]he [C]reation of Adam […]. I believe what defines every individual is their passion and heartfelt interests, what and who they are capable of loving. I found it extremely romantic the way Adam is seeking God in his mind, his brain, and there, he finds Eva.”

I leave you with Majidi’s thoughts, readers, as I too cogitate on it.

The image is courtesy of Getty Image.

Cat on a Window Sill by Sebnem Sanders

Window ©bayram salamov

My name is Bianca. That’s how my human Mummy calls me. I’m a purebred Angora cat, female, they say. I don’t know what that means because I live in a tall block of flats, on the 10th floor to be exact. How do I know? Well, I’ve been up and down the elevator many times, on the way to and from the Vet’s. In a box. 

I’ve never been with another cat. I don’t know my biological Mummy, but I feel there are siblings of mine out there. The outside world, a forbidden place for me.

This is the only home I know. I was tiny when I came here and can’t remember much. Mummy loves me, feeds me, and lets me be naughty. I’m grown up, they say.  Two-years-old, no longer a kitten. Now that I’ve learned venturing beyond the windows might be dangerous,  she leaves them open on hot summer nights. Yes, there was an accident. I tried to leap to the next door balcony and landed head on, two floors down, on the tiles of a neighbour’s terrace. Lucky, they said, just a mild concussion. The Vet kept me in a cage and let me go home a few days later. Windows frighten me, yet fascinate me ever since. I just sit on the sill and watch the world go by.

The great ball in the sky looks red tonight. Mummy calls it the blood moon and stares at it mesmerized. No idea why. She’s just gone to sleep and I want to watch some more to understand. As the lights go off in the buildings across the road, silence envelops the town, but I can hear my kind in the alleys. They call out to me. Something from a distant past tells me to join them. Under the light of the lamp post, the silhouette of a sibling creeps along the wall. His shadow is bigger than his body. 

There is no way I can go out tonight, but perhaps tomorrow I can make an escape. The cleaning lady sometimes leaves the door open to put the garbage bags in the hall. I’ve sneaked out before. Patrolled the floor and saw the stairs, but I was too scared to explore further. 

I remember a dream. In a place called Angora, I roam the gardens with my friends. Still a human’s pet, but free to wander around the village to discover the unknown. The smells, the crawling and flying creatures, the thrill of the hunt.

Tomorrow is the day. I want to see the world below. I can always make my way back …  I think I can. Maybe, maybe not. Yet, adventure beckons. 

About the Author:

Sebnem E. Sanders is a native of Istanbul, Turkey. Currently she lives on the eastern shores of the Southern Aegean where she dreams and writes Flash Fiction and Flash Poesy, as well as longer works of fiction. Her flash stories have been published on the Harper Collins Authonomy Blog, The Drabble, Sick Lit Magazine, Twisted Sister Lit Mag, Spelk Fiction, The Bosphorus Review of Books, Three Drops from the Cauldron, The Rye Whiskey Review, and CarpeArte Journal. She has a completed manuscript, The Child of Heaven and two works in progress, The Child of Passion and The Lost Child.  Her collection of short and flash fiction stories, Ripples on the Pond, was published in December 2017. Her stories have also been published in two Anthologies: Paws and Claws and One Million Project, Thriller Anthology. More information can be found at her website where she publishes some of her work here

About the Artist:

Bairam Salamov was born in 1965 in Gohmug suburb of Sheki (Azerbaijan). In 1986 he graduated from Azerbaijan State Art School named after Azim Azim-Zade in Baku.

Since 1990 he was lived and worked in Togliatti.

In 2001  he has received Grand Prix from Togliatti  Picture Gallery for work Musician’s Family in the Picture of the Year Contest.

Bairam Salamov has been a member of Russian Creative Union of Artists and International Federation of Artists since 2002.

In 2009 he graduated from Togliatti State University (Department of Applied and Decorative Arts)

In 2010 he was included in encyclopedia “Who is Who” in Russia.

In 2010 he opened his own  Bairam’s Art Gallery. His works and works of young unknown artists are displayed there. This is a unique place in Togliatti where you can see all stages of picture creation, meet famous writers, musicians, and artists from Russia and other countries.

In 2012 he was awarded by Silver Medal of Russian Creative Union of Artists for contribution to national culture.

Eva’s Comments:

If only animals could talk. What would they say? The craft of writing requires that writers be able to put themselves in another’s shoes and sometimes, this could wearing the furry mittens of a cat.

Sanders has been able to capture how Bianca feels as a kitten looking out into the world. There’s a touch of the whimsical in her writing as she pictures what it would be like to fling open the window to escape into the world beyond. And why not? The world is your oyster, as they say.

I love this painting for its use of blues and purples. The impasto brushstrokes tell me that I’m looking at an oil painting on canvas. It’s dusk, almost night time, the picture tells me. How does one know the time of day in a painting? There must be a magical unconscious eye in the mind that helps us associate colours with certain times of the day: I know it’s approaching night time because there are lamps and windows lit. The reddish-orangey dot (“the blood moon”) in the blue background tells me that this could be a new moon, peeking out in the distance. The air is still, as there are no clouds to indicate movement.

The windowsill opens up a cat’s eye view of the city below, where we see Sander’s Bianca looking out, mesmerised by the lights and the wonder of the outside world. We feel her sense of entrapment, her desire to roam free once more.

This story reminds me of a children’s story I once read of a refugee in war-torn Syria who cannot go out to play with his friends because of the devastation of the civil war. In this story, the boy tells us that he is trapped in the building and only knows of its white walls and the lift that takes him up and down the building shaft. This lift has become a playmate of sorts and keeps him company until he has to return home again for the evening. The feeling of claustrophobia crept in as I read this children’s story slowly, allowing it to work its way in my reading cells. I longed to escape like this little refugee boy, a good sign that the author had managed to capture a sense of urgency through her words.

It is important to be able to put yourself in another person’s shoes. In this way, we open windows to other worlds. Lived experiences can be had vicariously too.


Review: Domestication II by Eva Wong Nava

DH-5 Dolly and Friends – 2009 Coloured pencil & acrylic on panel H173 x W305 cm (2 panels)

“The person you think of as yourself exists only for you and even you don’t know who that is. Everyone else creates a version of ‘you’ in their head. You’re not the same person to anyone. There are thousands of versions of you out there.”

One, No One and One Hundred Thousand by Luigi Pirandello 

I marvel constantly at how many artists seek to find the self in their work. The self is an important constant for those of us who seek self awareness, who seek to be seen for who we are, and for those of us who seek to question the boundaries of self. Where does the self begin? Where does it end, if it ends? And who is the self? 

Su-en Wong (b. 1973) is a New York-based Singaporean artist who is fascinated with the concept of self, especially in the concept of self as other. I am fascinated by her quest. I am intrigued by her canvasses depicting nude Asian females that replicate themselves. There is power in this repetition; a desire to be seen again and again. My eye was drawn to a particular canvas ‘The Forest I (Playtime)’, painted in 2015 in oil on linen [Oil on linen H138 x W199 cm]. A gigantic tree with pink flowers – frangipanis – take centre stage before we notice a rock garden, familiar to those who understand Chinese landscape art. Then, nude girls fire our imaginations. A pair is sat on the ground, playing a clapping game; a familiar children’s game. I can almost hear them chant the rhyming tune that accompanies this game. Ping Pong, Ping Pong, Ping Ping Pong! Or was Pat-a-cake, Pat-a-cake, Baker’s man? The former a familiar jingle, if you grew up in Singapore, where Su-en was born and raised before she left for the United States at sixteen. The latter, an English rhyming song that children in America and England would recognise. Su-en is able to traverse both East and West in her position as an artist. She does not take her identity nor her heritage for granted. She infuses herself in many of the pieces in Domestication II by playing with the idea of the self as exposed — nude — and recurring. Asian female nudes are rare. The tradition of Chinese paintings does not allow for female nudes. Su-en’s nudes shy away from the pornographic; instead, the repetition is mesmerising, it is rather dizzy-making, forcing the viewer to question the intention of having so many of the same nude female in one canvas. At one point, I wondered if her work could be categorised as queer art: a category of art marked by LGBT themes. In probing further, I came to understand that the female nude is a representation of Su-en herself and Su-en does not identify gay. Yet, there is a touch of the homeo-erotic in the pieces on display: I see the self hugging another self, I see the self crouching next to another self, I see the self in commune with another self. This is encouraging in a time when young girls are self-harming and the pressure to be popular is on the increase as social media takes over our lives. It’s important to advocate self-love. Su-en’s many recurring selves playing, laughing, hugging, being and communing is such a breath of fresh air. These selves remind us of staying in touch with ourselves, with our identities, with our beings. These selves remind us that in everything we do, we need to return to ourselves. 

The Forest I (Playtime) – 2015 Oil on linen H138 x W199 cm

Her figurative drawings are a result of a keen eye, a solid art training and an innate talent. She trained under Liu Kang, a renowned Nanyang artist and one of Singapore’s pioneer modern artist. Under his tutelage, Su-en was able to hold her first solo exhibition at the age of fourteen. This is a huge achievement for any artist and one so young at that.

It is a waste to let talent go! But go she had to. Su-en Wong set sail for the shores of America to pursue her studies in art. She graduated with a B.A., Magna cum Laude, from the University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Washington in 1993 and then went on to complete a MFA, at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1997. There was a MA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in between the two, which she completed in 1994. She has since held several important positions as visiting artist at renowned academic institutions and museums. 

Domestication II (January 17 – March 17, 2019), an exhibition held at Art Porters in Spottiswoode Park, Singapore, is the second iteration of a previous group exhibition — Domestication — which Su-en took part in during the Singapore Art Fair in 2014. 

On entering this shophouse gallery, founded by Frenchman Guillaume Levy-Lambert and his artologist partner, Sean Soh, I was immediately introduced to Dolly. Dolly is a sheep. She reminds me very much of a Badger Face Welsh Mountain, the Torddu, to be precise, with her black face markings. These sheep are native to Wales, as its name suggests. I love what Dolly symbolises in Su-en’s ‘DH-5 Dolly and Friends’ (2009), rendered in coloured pencils and acrylics. She is the leader in this two part canvas (H73 x W305 cm), with her faithful set of followers. This piece is infused with Su-en’s quirky sense of humour. She’s having a laugh at sheep as much as she’s having a laugh at sheeple — people who follow blindly. A criticism is best ingested with a spoonful of sugar and this is what Su-en is good at. She is provocative in parodying the weakness in our human condition but does so with a trickle of honey. Note some sheep gazing back at you. These represent sheeple, the people who are aware that you’re looking at them. They know that they’re being watched and they’re watching you too. They may look innocent, sweet as a lamb, but they know and you know. Dolly knows. There is a touch of vulnerability in these sheep on canvas. Here, Su-en is making a commentary on the human condition of desire — the wish to lead and the desire to be led. Who do you want to be, the leader or the follower? But hang on a minute! Who is that pig staring out? 

Su-en achieves a depth on the canvas through a technique known as foreshortening. The angled lines of the table allow for a perspectival view and also adds to the depth she is trying to achieve on canvas. There is geometry in this piece, a type of geometry that only draughtsmen like certain Old Masters — da Vinci, Lippi, Raphael and Buonarroti — were able to achieve. 

DH-4 Dildos in Display Case – 2009 Coloured pencil & acrylic on panel H173 x W152 cm

This exhibition sees Su-en Wong taking on the theme of collection, indicated by a series of canvasses depicting objects on display. The parody is on a certain artist named Hirst who renowned as he is must be parodied for making a mockery of found objects and displays. A collection of canvasses are entitled with the prefix DH (Dh-5 and Dh-6), not as a homage to Damien Hirst but as a critique, I would think. There is that quirky sense of humour again. 

Domestication II is an odd display of Su-en’s work; it is a hodgepodge of a variety of canvasses and media: oil on linen, coloured pencils and acrylic, graphite on paper. Running through this varied 2-dimensional display is a constant negotiation with what constitutes our Asian-ness, our human faults, our sexuality, our vulnerability, and how that can be achieved through a western art-form of pop art. What sealed this exhibition for me is in the gallery’s keen desire to represent a female Asian artist whose yearning it is to interrogate the Asian female self and to find a space where serious interrogation can co-mingle with satire and parody. 

Domestication II is on display at Art Porters Gallery until March 17th, 2019. 

Your Hills Are on Fire by Jordan Trethewey

Your hills are on fire, why don’t you go downtown

 

see what all the fuss is about

you’ve been cutting firewood

living in a particle board tarpaper

bunkhouse hiding behind

an ancient white pine

when nature truly calls

 

worlds did collide where

you should have expected it

firewood     wood fire

and there you stand

in disbelief despite a cigarette

dangling from your lips

a pack of matches

in your callused hand

 

we worried when you wobbled

backwards on the progress ladder

feigning self-assuredness

while stumbling out the door

embracing fresh air simplicity

solitude in unrefined resourcefulness

 

take it as a sign given seekers

in old books there is nothing

to be found

you are your own mountain

to climb conquer or quit on

nature will provide until

we finish poisoning it

so let’s just go downtown

have an expensive drink

 

About the Poet: 

Jordan Trethewey is a writer and editor living in Fredericton, NB, Canada.

He is also a husband, father (to two kids, a black cat, and a Sheltie), beer-league softball player, art aficionado, and remote sensing analyst (by day).

About the Artist: 

Marcel Herms is a self-taught artist. His work is primarily about freedom with a strong link to music. Just like music his art is about autonomy, licentiousness, passion, colour and rhythm.

He paints with any material he can get a hold of — acrylic paint, oil paint, ink, pencils, crayons, spray paints, etc. He sometimes mixes the paint with sand, sawdust or pieces of paper, painting on canvas and paper and other materials like wood.

His work has been printed in many (inter-)national publications (like Inside Artzine, Proper Gander, Bananafish and many more) and he has designed many records and CD-covers. 

 

Eva’s Comments:

I was thrilled to receive this poetry submission together with this image – an abstract, child-like ghoulish painting by a Dutch artist Marcel Herms. The poem has been directly inspired by the image, entitled ‘Your Hills Are on Fire’ and fits in conceptually with the raison d’être of the Journal. 

Trethewey tells me that he met Herms online and was immediately drawn to the artist’s stark and abstract style. Herms’s haunting images of stunted and grotesque characters shambling around his canvasses spoke to Trethewey visually. 

“He seemed to be expressing, visually, what I try to express with words, the dark and repressed side of everyday existence,” Trethewey explains. 

There’s also a desire in both Trethewey and Herms to not pander to the commercial aspects of literary and visual arts. They write and paint what they like and what they are inspired by, is my impression. So their works are eclectic, eccentric and unique.

Trethewey pens what comes to mind emotionally and automatically. Yes, writing can be crafted as we all know, but, the most authentic form of writing comes automatically. Trethewey allowed this image to first embed in his unconscious before using the technique of free-association, allowing his brain and fingers to latch on to a theme or a story he can tell which makes sense with the image and does it justice. He doesn’t worry about the re-writes and always goes with his guts. How images inspire us takes many forms. How images speak to us is also personal. A viewer’s response to an image’s voice, narrative, ellipses and backstory vary from one person to another. 

Herms’s paintings are categorised as Art Brut, a French term meaning ‘raw art’. This way of painting was invented by the French artist, Jean Dubuffet. He used the term Art Brut to describe any artwork resembling graffiti or naïve/child-like art created beyond the strictures of traditional academic fine art. For Dubuffet, fine art which he called ‘art culturel’ was dominated by academic art. Artforms that stray away from academic art often go uncategorised and unseen. These could be works by prisoners, psychiatric patients, refugees and children who often paint untrammelled and instinctively from the soul raw and emotional depictions of their inner worlds. As an artist, Dubuffet started to incorporate these qualities into his own works. 

In 1948, Dubuffet founded the Compagnie de l’Art Brut to promote the study of such art. He created an outstandingly large body of work which is now housed in a museum in the Swiss city of Lausanne – La Collection de l’Art Brut. The collection is worth a visit if you’re ever in Lausanne. Dubuffet’s works, disturbing and haunting, are also simultaneously calming and innocent. Cast your eye back to Herms’s untitled piece and let the innocence of its backstory speak to you. Look beyond the stunted grotesque depictions of the figures and their faces. Don’t all children’s paintings start this way? 

Art Brut is also sometimes categorised as Outsider Art. Outsider artists are usually untrained and are unconventional when working. They use whatever techniques, materials and genres that inspire them. Outsider Art can be folklorish, abstract, surreal and most often express the emotions and the inner world of the artist. They can range from 2-dimensional pieces such as paintings to 3-dimensional works like sculptures. A very well-known Outsider Artist is African-American William Edmondson (1874-1951). Edmondson became the first African-American artist to have a solo at MoMA and his pieces have been placed on auction at Christie’s. Today, they are worth in the tens of thousands. 

We write what we know is often something that writers would say. Writing comes from the depths of our souls, is what I often say. We write for many reasons and more often than not, we write to express what our inner-worlds have experienced or are experiencing. Writing is a form of catharsis and allowing images to inspire us is a doorway to finding release. 

 

 

Shadows by Sebnem E. Sanders

The elongated shadows of the houses on the opposite side of the road fell on the cobblestones, as the sun sank in the horizon. The street was empty, but she could hear children’s laughter mixed with the rhythmic sound of a rope slapping against the concrete and the gentle thud of feet on the pavement. A soothing melody. Little light beings, full of joy, skipping solo and in pairs. She imagined them, swapping places with the girls turning the double dutch, as they practised, improving their skills.

As the sun set and the shadows melted into the street, she moved from the window of her sewing room. Passing by the girls’ dresses displayed on the mannequins, the seamstress headed to the kitchen. Time for dinner. She opened the front door and whispered, “Daisy, come home.”

Twilight had enveloped the village. She hated this time of the day. Neither dark nor light. Gloom invaded her thoughts as she opened the garden gate and viewed the street. She could see Daisy’s shadow against the far wall. Her braided pigtails swinging up and down, she soared into the air like a fairy. A silhouette etched in her mind, Daisy frozen in mid-air, singing a song.

She blinked and returned inside. Sitting at the kitchen table, she stared at a small plate and a colourful tumbler set out for her child. The seamstress sighed, and though she had no appetite, forked her dinner while concentrating on the deliveries for the next day. After clearing the table and the dishes, she returned to the sewing room to scrutinize her work.

Pretty dresses for girls, between the ages of 5 and 12. Children no longer jumped rope in the streets, played hopscotch or hide-and-seek, but some families still valued handmade frocks, despite the changing fashion trends in the ready-to-wear industry. Her work was expensive but special, and people were willing to pay. Some insisted on ordering tailor-made outfits for teenagers, but she declined. She could not imagine Daisy as a young adult. Even the dresses for the ages between 10-12 were a challenge, though she took a pragmatic approach as she needed the money. Her only income since her husband had left her.

Twenty years earlier, on this very day, Daisy had not returned home after playing with her friends, around the corner.

In panic, she had looked for her everywhere, knocking on the doors of Daisy’s friends, and searched the entire area with the help of neighbours. Finally, at the police station, tears streaming down her face, she had reported her missing, and begged the authorities to find Daisy. No one had seen or heard anything. She had simply vanished.

She’d spent that night, sitting on the cold steps of her front porch, waiting, hoping, and praying for the phone to ring.

Days rolled into months, and the search continuing for years,  the file was eventually classified as a cold case. Grief, guilt, hope, despair, and accusations from her husband for being an irresponsible mother, obsessed with sewing, led her to depression. She became a shadow of herself until he finally left and divorced her.

One night Daisy visited her in her dream and asked for a pink dress with a fluffy skirt. “Just a ballerina’s,” she said.

That was how she’d returned to life, making dresses for Daisy, those she’d love to wear.

Daisy would have been twenty-five-years-old today.

 

About the Author:

Sebnem E. Sanders is a native of Istanbul, Turkey. Currently, she lives on the eastern shores of the Southern Aegean where she dreams and writes Flash Fiction and Flash Poesy, as well as longer works of fiction. Her flash stories have been published on the Harper Collins Authonomy Blog, The Drabble, Sick Lit Magazine, Twisted Sister Lit Mag, Spelk Fiction, The Bosphorus Review of Books, Three Drops from the Cauldron, and The Rye Whiskey Review. She has a completed manuscript, The Child of Heaven and two works in progress, The Child of Passion and The Lost Child.  Her collection of short and flash fiction stories, Ripples on the Pond, was published in December 2017. Her stories have also been published in two Anthologies: Paws and Claws and One Million Project, Thriller Anthology. More information can be found at her website where she displays some of her work.

Connect with Sebnem through the links below:

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17427985.Sebnem_E_Sanders

https://www.facebook.com/sebnem.sanders

https://Twitter.com/sebnemsanders

https://www.instagram.com/sebnemsanders/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/sebnem-sanders-b3593263/

Eva’s Comments:

In researching the image that Sanders submitted with her flash piece, I came across the fascinating story of the Hiroshima Shadows. There are images that can be found, if one cares to google, of photos taken in Hiroshima where shadows of incinerated people in the city are imprinted onto streets, walls and buildings. These are haunting images indicating the last minutes of life in this city devastated by an atomic bomb that killed up to 166,000 people, according to one news source I read.

The shadows are formed by the heat of the explosion which imprinted the outlines cast by human beings, objects, animals and plants onto the surfaces where they were last standing or found when the bomb hit the city at 8:15 AM on 6 August 1945. Effectively, these shadows are burnt onto the surfaces, their owners melting with the heat emitted by the bomb. The Japanese have a term for these darkened shapes, ‘Hito Kage No Ishii’, which means ‘Human Shadow Etched in Stone’.

Every parent fears the loss of their child. As a parent, Sanders story haunted me for days. I live with an obsessive fear of losing my children, as many parents do. What would I do if this really happened to me? Would I sew dresses like the protagonist in Sanders story to keep a memory alive? I type these words with trepidation as I wonder about this, not wanting to jinx anything. I whisper a prayer to the god of the world to protect my babies. Please keep them safe and please protect them from the evils of this world. I live with this fear because I know what it is like to lose a child. The pain is beyond description; I can’t even begin to list the throng of emotions that hit me when my baby died of complications. Her memory is still very much alive in me and she would have been nearly twenty-five-years-old soon. The shadow that her death has cast remains etched in my psyche like those Hiroshima shadows on the stones in the city.

As the world grows increasingly complex, ambiguous, uncertain and volatile, my fear increases daily. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I know that I also cannot let the evils of this world overtake the joy that my other two daughters bring me daily. So I go on, against all the complexity, uncertainty, ambiguity and volatility that this world presents and keep my fingers and toes crossed and hope. Hope is the last thing we all have against the odds.

Image Credit: Slone, Mark, ‘Innocent Shadow’ [undated]. Click here to see how Mark created this image.

 

Depicted by Hieronymus Bosch by William Doreski

The forest creeps a little closer

to overhear my phone calls

and learn if I think the sky

will fall in pieces or as one

gigantic plastic membrane.

The trees have reason to worry.

 

Their plumes of foliage droop

in a toxic atmosphere no one

should breathe unless depicted

by Hieronymus Bosch. You agree

that we should fly to Holland

to enjoy the Bosch exhibit,

 

but your passport has expired

and you won’t be photographed

for a new one because you look 

too old and tired to travel.

The forest nods as we converse.

Crows spackle the windy glare.

 

Chickadees percolate at feeders.

I want to hang up on you

and recover the youth wasted

on being young. The city

you haunt looms taller than hills

in Kansas or Wisconsin.

 

Its lights bleed the night sky pallid.

Its bridges knit together worlds

that don’t really love each other.

Hearing your voice originate

two hundred miles southwest

of me generates sensations

 

trees would mistake for beavers

gnawing at their trunks. I wave

to the crows, the windy treetops,

the bobcat who daily prowls

for mice that gather seed-scraps

beneath the feeders. You note

 

how distracted I seem. The trees

agree that the sky will fall soon,

but I can’t speak loudly enough

to assure them that such collapse

will only slightly mar the cosmos

and leave most of the stars intact. 

 

About the Poet: 

William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He has published three critical studies and several collections of poetry. His work has appeared in various journals. He has taught writing and literature at Emerson, Goddard, Boston University, and Keene State College. His new poetry collection is A Black River, A Dark Fall.

Eva’s Comments

About the Painter:

Hieronymus Bosch was born Jheronimus van Aken (or Jeroen Anthonissen van Aken) to a family of painters going back six generations. He was born so long ago that there are gaps in his biography, for example, we still don’t know what year he was born although it is generally thought to be 1450. His pseudonym, Bosch (pronounced Boss is Dutch), is derived from ’s-Hertogenbosch, a city in Brabant, Holland, in which his ancestors settled, as recorded. 

How did we come to ascertain his age? 

In Art History, provenance is an important element as are data on the artists. In dating works of art, curators and art historians have to consult primary documents for accuracy. 

We have found that The Garden of Earthly Delight was owned by the House of Nassau before it came into the ownership of Phillip II of Spain. This was from researching documents of ownership, deeds and wills. 

We also know that in Bosch’s Netherlands, the legal age for independent signatures on documents, such as housing deeds, is twenty-four years. Art Historians worked backwards to identify the year of his birth (1450) through a deed, dated 5 April 1474, of a sale of a property that belonged to Katharina van Aken, Hieronymus’s sister. Hieronymus was a witness, as was his brothers Goessen and Jan, along with their father, during this sale. On the deed, Hieronymus’s signature was found next to his father’s, indicating that he was not yet twenty-four.

Through conjecture and some laborious corroboration of data surrounding Bosch’s life, it is thought that he was married to Aleid van de Meervenne between 31 July 1477 and 14 June 1481. It would look like his wife, Aleid, was very much older than him, although the difference in ages would be an exaggeration. [In other documents, her name appears as Aleyt Goyaerts van den Meerveen.] We know that they moved to the town of Oirschot, soon after, where she inherited a house and land from her family.

Bosch was a member of the Brotherhood of Our Lady, an ultra-conservative religious group, which his parents and grandparents had belonged to as well. Members would meet in the chapel of St John’s church in ’s-Hertogenbosch. Again, we know this from records which stated that Bosch was admitted as an ordinary member in 1486/87; his name “Jheronimus, son of Anthonis van Aken” is found along with the other 350 members from the Low Countries and Germany. This membership indicates that Bosch came from a society that is well networked and that he belonged to a significantly important family. It was also noted, only a year after joining as an ordinary member, that he became a sworn member, with his name “Jeroen the painter” appearing in the margin of a document listing the nine sworn brothers who attended an important banquet—Swan Banquet—during Christmas time. All this tells us that Bosch was by that time, identified as a painter and that he was regarded highly enough to be sworn in as a member of this prestigious club. 

Disaster would strike in 1516. An epidemic struck ’s-Hertogenbosch in summer that year. Victims died of symptoms likened to cholera and Bosch would be one of the many struck dead. The exact date of his birth is not recorded but documents showing a requiem mass being held for “Jeronimus van Aken painter” on 9 August 1516 in the Brotherhood’s chapel at St John’s church was found. The requiem mass was held with dignity by Dean Willem Hamaker, assisted by several deacons with music provided by an organist and choir. As there were gravediggers present, this suggested that the requiem was a funeral mass, indicating that Bosch must have passed a few days earlier. There is no known marked grave for “Jeronimus van Aken painter, sworn brother”, but it would not be uncommon for him to be buried in the church courtyard. 

About the Artwork:

This remains my favourite piece by Bosch. The Garden of Earthly Delights, owned by Museo del Prado in Madrid since 1939, is a piece of surrealist art, painted at a time that Surrealism had yet to be invented. In this way, Bosch can be said to be a forerunner and he is often paralleled with Salvador Dali. Do note that this oil painting on wood is not classified as a Surrealist piece but as Christian art due mainly to two other panels flanking this piece. 

This triptych was painted when Bosch was between 40 – 60 years old and has been critiqued for its subject matter which still defies comprehension. Could the fleshy display be an admonishment of society’s loose mores? Could this piece be an expression of sexual jouissance or the desire for it? Was this a warning of what could happen when one gives in to the sins of the flesh? Was Bosch attempting to warn viewers of the impending end-of-days that await us? Like his birthday, there is a shroud of mystery surrounding the interpretation of The Garden of Earthly Delights which is the triptych’s modern title.

The Garden of Earthly Delights forms the central piece and the title of this triptych. It is flanked by a panel on each side and meant to be read or viewed from left to right, with the left panel showing the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve as central protagonists, and the right panel depicting carnage and darkness. When the triptych is closed, a scene of God creating the Earth is seen; this is depicted in grisaille (greyish colour-tones). The right panel depicts a scene from Hell, where the end-of-days has occurred, as indicated by the fires and the strange human capsule containing what looks like a tavern; this is the panel’s central focus as this surreal and strange man-tree is the first thing our eye is drawn to. What this represents is open to interpretation. Triptychs have been very popular in Europe since the Middle Ages, arising from early Christian art and was the popular standard form for altar paintings. It is not known if The Garden of Earthly Delights was meant for the altar of a church, given the composition. But many triptychs formed an important visual narrative for meditation and prayer, with the central panel being the biggest, all linked by a similar theme—usually Christian—in European art. Some triptychs are small enough to be portable and these would accompany the devout as travelling altars. Some art historians have said that The Garden of Earthly Delight was probably commissioned by a lay patron. 

Concentrating on the composition in the central panel (220 × 195 cm, 87 × 77 in) of Bosch’s piece, the beholder’s senses are assuaged with weird and wonderful creatures, nude human figures, some with strange objects attached to their nether regions. We are aware that Bosch has created a world in this oil painting, what would seem to be a futuristic sci-fi world. Walter Gibson, an art historian, has called it “a world of dreams [and] and nightmares in which forms flicker and change before our eyes.” The eye spies a giant mollusc that has swallowed a couple in coitus, it would seem; the mollusc is carried by someone bent double due to its weight. Then, there are the pink and blue hybrid monuments that represent buildings, maybe mountains with a life of their own that seem so out of place in 15th and 16th-century European landscapes. What intrigue me are the gigantic birds that are recognisably modern and real juxtaposed against fantastic animals fashioned purely from the imagination. It is for this reason that Bosch has been called “the inventor of monsters and chimeras”. My eye catches a couple in glass or perspex (which is highly unlikely, given its period, but the sphere does look somewhat made of plastic) globe which is attached to a stem, the globe representing the flower, if that’s the idea. The theme of entrapment becomes obvious as I spy more nude figures enclosed in transparent and organic vessels and/or cylinders. There’s a mouse in a transparent cylinder staring at someone who is inside a red fruit. There is also a lady with a pair of cherries above her head, cherries signifying sin, as some sources have said. It is not difficult to see the signs and symbols of debauchery, sin and temptation strewn all over this oil painting. 

It is a busy painting, to say the least. And there are just so many interpretations that one can make of it. The Garden of Earthly Delights needs several visitings before any sense can be made of its bizarre nature. Christian themes and symbolisms bookend this panel, they are also rife in the central piece, even though the composition may seem to detract from them. To do justice to this triptych, each panel has to be studied intensely and carefully as each is a separate narrative. Psychoanalytic readings of this triptych are popular but some art historians have rejected this 20th century perspective since the concept of the libido and subconscious were viewed differently in the Middle Ages. What this indicates is how art is viewed and perceived: art is read through a personal, social and cultural lens. More significantly, context is also everything when we perceive art. I find a psychoanalytic reading of the painting to be most interesting, myself, as my mind wanders through the dream-like landscape of the central piece, wondering if this a visual expression of Bosch’s unravelling unconscious. 

Hieronymus Bosch passed away in 1516 as records show. His personality remains veiled in mystery as are his life and training as an artist. We do not know the exact number of his surviving works and there have also been debates around certain attribution: we don’t really know if some of the works said to be his are his or copies. However, according to a Wikipedia entry, 25 pieces remain that are genuinely attributed to Hieronymus Bosch. The Garden of Earthly Delight is one. This triptych was purchased by Phillip II of Spain (1 May 1527 – 13 September 1598) in an auction in 1591, and the reason for it being in the ownership of the Museo del Prado. 

Doreski’s poem is as surreal as the painting, in my view, although the poem depicts an experience far more realistic than the triptych. Like Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, ‘Depicted by Hieronymus Bosch’ needs several readings for a relatable meaning to emerge. I’m on my fifth and the poem with its run-on lines is fast embedding itself in my mind. I sense loss and recovery.

Bosch, Hieronymus, The Garden of Earthly Delight (between 1490 and 1510), oil on oak panels, Museo del Prado.