One of my regular stops in the Los Angeles area is always Hyaena Gallery located at 1928 W. Olive Ave. in Burbank. And on my last visit, I noticed a new series of “early dark art” and “witch” prints that are both beautifully illustrated and surprisingly shocking, especially considering that some of them date as far back as the 1400’s. That’s right, centuries ago, people were dreaming up the stuff of nightmares and putting them onto canvases. We spoke with gallery owner and curator Bill Shafer about the history of these amazing prints.
Blumhouse.com: The gallery has always specialized in “dark art,” and you’ve been advocating that and the artists for the last 9 years. But you’ve just started carrying prints of “dark art” that is centuries old. Hence proving that “dark art” has always been a part of the culture. Were you aware of a lot of these pieces?
Bill Shafer: A lot of them I’ve seen since I was a child. The whole purpose of doing these prints is that I wanted to show people that this stuff has a history. “Dark Art” seems like a newer movement in the art scene, after low brow and pop surrealism, but it’s been around for centuries. I had a piece in here from 1496 by Albrecht Durer called “The Monstrous Sow of Landser.” It was an original engraving from that era of this hideously deformed pig that he drew to portray the coming of the apocalypse; the devil’s minions rising on Earth. He was a very religious artist, and this piece was one of the most terrifying things I’d seen in art. There are records of people vomiting at the sight of his work, especially that piece! As humans, we’ve always played with the dark side. It’s why we like horror movies. We like to see what’s possible, even if we can’t do it ourselves, we want to see what pure evil can do so we have something to be afraid of and something to compare our morality to. That’s what I think a lot of these pieces were. Playing with the taboos of the time. I wanted to show people there is a very rich history of dark art. And whether you know it or not as an artist, these pieces have probably influenced you, because you’ve seen them growing up in art history books. And as a consumer, as a fan of this stuff, maybe you’re not aware that it has such a rich history.
In the series, we have 8 prints so far. We’ve done two from Odilon Redon. I chose his spider images, because I just think they’re really interesting & semi-abstract; really haunting.
(Aubrey) Beardsley is one of my favorite artists of all time. I probably found my first book of his art when I was 10 and it changed everything. First of all, you’re seeing boobs when you’re 10 in a drawing and thinking, “whoa! You can do that?” It wasn’t titillating, it was just the realization that it was OK to do. You can depict this stuff. His imagery, especially the Salome pieces he did for Oscar Wilde with the beheading and this whole Art Nouveau style, attracted me as a fan from the get go.
Francisco Goya is one of the most influential artists ever. I found 2 of his images involving witchcraft. Which was playing on the superstitions of the time. All these things were warnings, confronting our taboos. Confronting things that we’re afraid of and showing them. In context they were playing on the superstition of the populace and were a form of protest against the church, specifically the witch hunts of the Spanish Inquisition.
One of my favorite artists of all time is Luis Ricardo Falero. He has two famous images of witchcraft and witches flying. The first time I saw them, I thought they were modern paintings, because they’re so vivid and beautiful. And then you realize these are over 100 years old. And they look better than a lot of the stuff being produced now! I want to encourage people to delve into this, to be inspired by it, and to try and aspire to that goal in their own work…to look at how talented these artists were and what they’re were doing, even centuries ago, and reach for that.
You can find these “Early Dark Art” and “Witches” prints at: http://hyaenagallery.com/