The National Gallery

All the art I saw in The National Gallery.


The National Gallery — Level 2, 1600-1700: Salvator Rosa: Witches at their Incantations

Between the great religious and classical Italian Baroque works of Mattia Preti, Carlo Dolci, and Luca Giordano is Salvator Rosa. It is dark, blasted, full of nightmarish, skeletal creatures. It centres on the swollen, stretched and broken neck of a hanged man drooping from the bones of a destroyed tree. Women in pairs and trios, many naked and ravaged by age pull corpses from coffins, grind bones into brew, one pulls a baby from the carapace of a monster; a knight in silver armour and a bearded man with his unsheathed sword prepare the blade. For what? Who else will die after this rite is finished? The light gutters in a scrap of blue on the horizon, burning red the torn darkness. For a painter primarily of typical Baroque themes, Witches at their Incantations is a disturbing canvas, more so because he returned to the subject more than once.

I thought it deserves its own post, because it’s so horrific, because it’s so singular. It is a work of villainy and wickedness, not of the witches, rather of the artist and the European world of the 17th century. It debases women, age, unchristian lives, judges, yet cannot see itself as the the one who in fact is walking in darkness, who brings nightmares into the world. Part of me, the young me who was all about cool Satanic imagery loves this painting for all its Metal-ness. It’s a Black Sabbath album cover, or Slayer, proper Heavy Metal territory, screaming vocals and trashing noise to get kicked out of home by. I still love it for that, and any of the detailed photos would make most excellent album art. A more recent version of me sees this as when women were being pushed from European public life, when colonialism and the philosophy of white, European supremacy was greedily consuming the world: it’s a seductive painting of hate. Some may see traces of Goya in this, but there is no comparison. I don’t think Rosa’s rebellious or satirical streak extends so far as to make the kind of social commentary Goya did, or we might today pull from such a painting. Look at Los caprichos or Los desastres de la guerra or Goya’s late Pinturas negras series. He was painting from the other side, judging the history and morality of Europe.


Friday teaching improvisation at ADT, and I decide the appropriate soundtrack is sunn0))), Gabrielle is there, and normally I have a slight aversion to music I’ve used in previous works, but Hell-O)))-Ween is such a beautiful meditation on doom and heaviness, and Gabby says, “Oh hell was so much fun, we should do it again”, which puts a base thought in my head considering besides $50 on costumes the budget paid mostly for fees. Anyway, I’ll leave you ripe with the desire to see hell in Adelaide.

Some good news and … nominally bad news today, I’ll leave the former ’til I can elaborate, but the latter … Arts Victoria didn’t fund my next work, pestilence (I need a category for this soon). I’m quite relieved, the thought of going back to Melbourne is distasteful, and I feel the support of my work there – I mean explicitly financially – was really quite shit. This frees me of ever having to think about making work there again, so I’m quite happy, and possibly will want to get drunk again later to celebrate.

I’ve been thinking about the cycle of works hell is a part of, my love of blackness and trying to coalesce the final two works into something, still depending on Jean Baudrillard as the foundation for all the works. Perhaps by the time I get to the fourth work, religion will be dead, but when I discovered Häxan today, or perhaps rediscovered because it seems so familiar, I know at least where the next two works are going.

Dennis Cooper I found through Kindertotenlieder, so as usual a sunn0))) connection. He blogs far too much for me to read, but I stopped dead (haha) when he filled my screen with Häxan Witchcraft Through The Ages.

Is it true that it displays witches cavorting naked with lusty devils? Is a baby really drained of blood before it’s tossed into a stew pot? What’s this about women lining up to kiss Satan’s bulbous ass? Inquisitional torture? Flying on broomsticks? Hysterical nuns? Sacrilege and perversion? Demonic orgies? Otherworldly monstrosities emerging from between an old crone’s legs? And it’s a documentary? And is there really a version narrated by William S. “The Naked Lunch” Burroughs, complete with acid jazz soundtrack? It’s all true.’

— DC’s – Häxan