FANTASY & SCI-FI ART
These fantasy and sci-fi art pieces explore the mythological worlds created by Seth Styles. Space, robots, monsters and cowboys, each have their own story.
IN THIS SERIES…
The Hobby Horse Cowboy
The White Magician
The Mondrian Robot
Jonquil on the Outskirts of October Country
Portrait of Carisa Bianca Mellado
2014 - watercolor, acrylic, and pen on paper
"For Christmas this year, I wanted to create a new portrait of Carisa based on some concepts she'd told me about much earlier in the year. I had been playing guitar for her solo work and we'd been focused on songs for her nearly completed record Kore when she described to me some ideas she had for cover art.
She mentioned orcas, the color pink, and space, all of which I distinctly felt in the music she'd written. Instead of trying to do a portrait from the torso up, I instead focused on Carisa's face. I knew early on that I would be incorporating pink Amazon river dolphins due to my fascination with their wild, almost primitive appearance when compared to their seafaring cousins.
I should mention that Carisa has a deep psychological terror of cetaceans. It's not a fear that they will harm her as far as I can tell. It's a much more abstract fear. When she sees a cetacean unexpectedly, it's as if she's looking into a void and watching everything unravel.
It may seem cruel that I'd choose to include Amazon river dolphins, an orca, and even the humpback whale in the lower left border corner, but cetaceans figure strongly into Carisa's mythology. She often considers orcas her favorite animal, even though they terrify her immensely.
Orcas feature in her latest music videos and one is prominently displayed on the cover of her latest album. So, while this portrait did strike a momentary fear in her, even though I'd prepared her somewhat for what she was about to see, she wasn't offended by the presence of cetaceans as she seems to consider them holy, otherworldly beings.
Carisa has no more affinity for Amazon river dolphins than the more common variety, but my attraction to their strange appearance and light pink skin color made them perfect choices for the primary guardians of the portrait.
The orca rising from a pool superimposed over a checkerboard marble floor references a beautiful dream that I had prior to meeting Carisa in which I was wandering the crumbling ruins of a beautiful castle. I walked across a wet checkered floor to a hole in the castle's facade and found myself looking down a steep cliff edge overlooking the ocean, tousled violently by a storm. Waves crashed against the cliff face far below me and I saw the unmistakable fins of a pod of orcas swimming in the turbulence directly below me.
This portrait of Carisa was titled Kore due to its inclusions of the elements Carisa had discussed with me during the albums final stages (the color pink, orcas, space). I also incorporated four animals into the border with which Carisa has at some time or another expressed an affinity. In the lower left, we have the humpback whale (we actually went on a tour for Carisa's birthday in which we saw humpback whales.
The scorpion presides over the upper left corner, referencing Carisa's zodiac sign of Scorpio. In the upper right corner, we find the raven, the messenger of magic in Native American beliefs.
Finally, the snake, a symbol of transcendence, guards the lower right corner. There's so much that goes into this portrait that can't be explained in words. Rather it is a visual reverence and pride I feel for the woman I love and a gesture of gratitude to the universe that created such an indescribably beautiful creature. The portrait may only capture the hint of a reflection of light shining from one of her myriad facets but I am thankful to have the talent to capture even that." Seth Styles.
2014 - watercolor, acrylic, and pen on paper
"The Hobby Horse Cowboy was originally conceived as a Halloween costume. Unlike another example of my art that began as a Halloween costume, Prototype 0, the Hobby Horse Cowboy became too daunting and expensive to do properly so he only exists at this point in scribbled notes, conversations with friends, the deserts of my dreams, and the illustration you see here. The polka dot pants were extremely important to me but I can't quite put into words why.
The closest I can get is saying they somehow unnerve through their mixed insinuations of mania and something that may pass as confidence. This isn't a deep security, rather it's an expectation that the winds blow in his favor. It was also important to me that the cowboy have the lower half of his face red and the upper half white with the exception of red bordering his eyes. At times, I wondered if this was indicative of the cowboy actually being an android but I no longer feel that's the case.
I'd say that his face is simply painted, but I don't know why. However, the red around his eyes may be a natural discoloration from sleep deprivation or some sort of physical reaction to being dead. This may sound mysterious at this point but if you're curious and find yourself reading my graphic novel in the future, this assessment will probably make more sense.
Even if I were not holding some cards regarding the Hobby Horse Cowboy close to my chest, I wouldn't be able to divulge much that wasn't vague for two reasons: 1.) a lot of the truth of the Hobby Horse Cowboy that will need to be revealed to me prior to completing the graphic novel has yet to be revealed to me and 2.) the Hobby Horse Cowboy is clearly insane. The hobby horse itself may be the clearest sign of this. If there's any doubt, I assure you that he truly believes that the hobby horse is a living, breathing creature that makes his trek across the wastes easier.
However, that is a very real gun in the cowboy's hand and an equally real Sheriff's star badge, purposely pinned upside down in reverence to Satan. This is one of those areas I don't know much background on but the Hobby Horse Cowboy worships Satan for whatever that's worth. You may also notice the inverted pentagram adorning his pistol's holster. The white effeminate hair of the Hobby Horse Cowboy was somewhat informed by my imagining of Stephen King's description of his Eldred Jonas character and may be the closest thing to a similarity in appearance the two characters actually have.
The landscape of this illustration is admittedly simple though perfectly in line with my vision of the cowboy's jurisdiction. This was somewhat influenced by Moebius' art on the Western comic, Blueberry, which I've never actually read. I only became aware of it in the documentary Jodorowsky's Dune and the brief mention and images from Blueberry in the film were enough to leave inspiration.
Unlike a lot of my other works, I actually questioned this illustration, attempting to find meaning in this character that presented himself to me with so much mystery. I took my own impressions of the classic cowboy, seeing them as a symbol that can be at once respected in its adherence to a code of honor, and simultaneously derided for being archaic in its immutable masculinity. In the Hobby Horse Cowboy the pressures of that rigid masculinity give way to insanity.
Here I saw the societal pressure to "be a man", the suppressions of emotions, the symbolic gritting of teeth as the whiskey burns its healing burn over a figurative bullet wound. Those stone faces crack and the Hobby Horse Cowboy is underneath. Those pressures drive him to an infantile state, a Peter Pan of the frontier land. He's the self-appointed sheriff of his own Western fantasy, enforcing laws with no basis; a mirror to some of the out-of-balance officers of the law who stand as both villain and victim in the pages of our newspapers, smashing the world around them while caught in the thick-walled prisons of their own skins. The world demands manhood so violently but instead receives echoes of children in tantrums.
But beyond that obvious exploration of the Hobby Horse Cowboy, there is a less violent, almost bittersweet quality in the themes of masculinity explored and perhaps this is more on a personal level. While I may not have been drawn to Westerns through most of my life, my father loved the movie The Outlaw Josey Wales. I never made the initiative to watch this movie with my father nor was I ever invited to join him but I still remember him watching it on rare occasions and seeing the VHS among our rather erratic family collection, the title handwritten on the paper label adorning the plastic spine.
This was an artifact of my father's world and I was almost blind to it in my disinterest. But on occasions when I'd find myself trying to connect with my father in some way, my mind would at times drift to this film (which I still haven't seen though plan to someday). I feel that, on some deep level that can't be fully explained, the Hobby Horse Cowboy also speaks to me of the relationship between sons and fathers, the artifacts the youth tries to comprehend before passing over in boredom, but remembers like a Holy Grail in the painful light of passing time.
In Django Unchained, there is a montage where Django is somewhat haunted by longing for his wife to the sounds of Jim Croce's brilliant and beautifully depressing "I Got a Name". This single, released just after Croce's death in an airplane crash, speaks of a father's unrealized dreams for his son and optimistically addresses those dreams while expressing a warm gratitude and respect for the father. In this, we find hope that the son can take a different path than the father and still earn the father's pride and respect ultimately.
On a societal level, it may even express hope that the gender expectations shackled to our fathers may be loosened by the actions of the sons. But there is a twin theme here and perhaps this is only insinuated in "I Got a Name" but illustrated much more blatantly in the life events surrounding the song: the passing of time and the inevitability of death. There's something intensely beautiful and sad in Croce's lyrics in the chorus: "Movin' me down the highway/Rollin' me down the highway/Movin' ahead so life won't pass me by." This is magnified by Croce's unexpected death.
While the Hobby Horse Cowboy exists in a sort of afterlife, on a much less literal level he is the father and son, the pressures of expectation, manhood, responsibility, the ultimate death, and the promise of a frontier beyond death." Seth Styles
2017 - watercolor and ink
2013 Acrylic on Canvas
"The image of the White Magician came to me in November 2013 while I was immersed in work on other paintings and though the image kept returning to me, I somehow doubted I would actually find enough focus to paint it. It was almost like a dream, just a faded gossamer wisp on the edge of my mind that cut through my consciousness for fleeting moments only to be forgotten again. The idea of a primarily white painting seemed strange to me as painting pure white on white canvas seems like work for little result. But as I began work on this painting in earnest, the period of doubt soon gave way to results that matched the images and symbols in my head accurately. I never questioned or even thought much about what I was doing. I don't even recall if I was really conscientiously creating symbols of the elements.
A few months later, I found myself taking a course on the tarot and when the Magician card was described to have the elements at his feet, I immediately thought of this painting. I was pretty ignorant to the tarot and its symbolism so this was a strange parallel to stumble upon. I noticed that the White Magician's hands were also similar to the Hierophant's which was also unintentional.
Naming this painting "The White Magician" is a formality - I still feel like maybe this painting can't be tied down to a name by a person who, despite having the honor to create it, does not fully understand it. It's had several titles but they all seemed to anchor it into a reality that supposes I had more control over its creation than I did." Seth Styles
2013 Acrylic on Canvas
"I think the Mondrian Robot first came to me as a vision early in the morning when I was walking to the Metro station (on August 20, 2013 according to my diary). Mondrian color schemes started to appeal to me about 7 - 8 years ago when I was watching a lot of Godard films. I found something both nostalgic and highly clean and forward-thinking about Mondrian color schemes; sort of like the '60s concepts of the future but maybe less innocent. That's not really the right word but it's about as close as I can get.
The Mondrian robot is to appear in a novel I'm writing, possibly as part of a trilogy. Without giving too much away, I'll simply include an excerpt from the novel in hopes of better describing what he means to me.
"The effervescing buzz of insects intensifies losing its shape and combining with the brightness and heat of the sun into an inundating, maddening, enveloping wave that would overwhelm human ears, but the Mondrian Robot stands amidst the long grass of the plains of the Forever Veldt, impervious, unmoving, unphased. Two yellow bulbous sensors like eyes stare at a light blue sky smeared with the remnants of clouds, fixed expectantly on the great beyond. With back arched slightly, the forgotten soldier remains like a white statue, contours defined in black lines, deflecting heat from its frame infused with a metal alloy carved with the symbols of the Arkadian mystics. Stories told of the Mondrian Robot that haunts the vast grasslands, but it would always know itself as #3-90-09455. While robots on phantom patrols are a common hazard of the veldt, #3-90-09455 stands out because of its striking colors, earning its nickname from its resemblance to a Mondrian painting."
The Marabou stork also makes an appearance in this painting simply because I've found them to be fascinating birds ever since one made a brief cameo in Fellini'sSatyricon. When I was living in Tampa, Florida, a small group of Marabou storks that had presumably escaped from the local zoo (Busch Gardens) used to stalk through my apartment complex, looking rather prehistoric in their bizarre hunched prowl." Seth Styles
2013 Acrylic on Canvas
"This was a sort of unofficial portrait of my dear friend Stephi Duckula, one of the first people I met upon moving to Los Angeles and the gateway through who I met so many friends.
The Echo Park Ornithology Club over which she presides was instrumental in my meeting my wife. I could go on and on about how much Stephi means to me but it's a bit inappropriate since this isn't exactly a portrait of Stephi. Rather aspects of Stephi's physical image were highly influential on my imagining of the character of Jonquil, a ranger scout android in service to the Galactic Academy Flight School for Girls. This all ties heavily into a novel/graphic novel that I'm writing and, since I don't want to give too much away, I'm going to be erring in favor of disclosing too little as opposed to too much.
Being an android in service to the Galactic Academy, Jonquil needed some indicators of the occult secret societies behind the scenes of the academy. The one-eyed golden Christmas trees and merit badges and patches featuring rabbits popping out of top hats, Easter eggs, and synthesizers are simply allusions to these secret societies as well as Jonquil's talents. The synthesizer is actually a reference to my friend, Stephi, since she's a synth enthusiast and even repairs them for a living.
The robotic owl was also somewhat of a hint at Stephi since her other true passion is ornithology. But the mechanical owl also delves a bit into the mythology of the rangers in an alternate future I've imagined which may or may not factor into the novel I'm writing. In this mythology, rangers are androids that safely patrol the outskirts of cities. Pets have been outlawed and there are roving packs of vicious dogs, cats and other animals that were domesticated but have reverted to feral behavior.
If Jonquil were one of these rangers, she would more than likely be using the mechanical owl as a sort of surveillance device. The ranger concept was originally developed for the story behind the second album I was working on for my glam rock group Peppermint Pumpkin but I have since decided that the second album won't adhere so strongly to a story as originally planned.
Though I'm pleased with how this painting turned out, I must admit that I feel the colors of Jonquil's uniform aren't quite right. In my head things looked much more frosted or pastel - not quite Easter colors but something closer to those lines than the strong forest green, yellow, and somewhat rustic gold. I also don't think that Jonquil would wear a red neckerchief in retrospect but thankfully this painting was more of a demo for the proper Jonquil appearance.
Her skin tone is pretty much exactly as I imagined it as is her orange hair. I wonder if this color combination is somehow influenced by a Masters of the Universe toy I had as a child. I loved Masters of the Universe enough to be blinded to the cost-cutting factory-style production of the toys. So, when the Masters of the Universe toy line re-painted the figure of the lead protagonist He-Man in a sky blue with orange hair and told children that this was Fakor, an evil android created in He-Man's image, I scrounged together $5.00 and bought it. It was a fucking bizarre idea. But could this be why I always imagine androids to have a light blue skin tone?
The October Country referenced in the title is a territory central to the novel I'm writing. A couple of years ago, my friend Justin Foulkes recommended that I read Ray Bradbury's short story collection The October Country. I was somewhat surprised when the stories didn't quite match the seasonal tone I had expected. But there was so much magic in that title and I instantly assigned it to the golden late afternoons at Griffith Park as the heat of the summer stretched onward despite a strange tint to the sunshine that betrayed the oncoming autumn.
I feel power in the fall, in memories of reconnecting with crushes upon returning to school in September, on the awkward faces of jack-o'-lanterns and the taste of name brand nougat or cheap pumpkin-shaped bubblegum. As I felt the excitement of the imminent return of my favorite season, I looked out upon the scorched foliage of Griffith Park and saw in it my October Country - a sprawling countryside alternating between golden late afternoons, passionate twilights, and eerie darkness - a district in perpetual autumn in all of its romance, celebration, and horror.
I felt that the true human spirit, at least as I understood it, was most tangible in the October Country. Perhaps this is somehow represented in the kites flying in the golden void behind Jonquil. This painting only offers a minimal representation of the October Country as I imagined it but I can still feel its energy in the details of the leaves or in that jaundiced sky." Seth Styles
2014 Acrylic on Canvas
"Painted in January 2014 but conceived sometime in the fall of 2006, Prototype 0 is sort of a product of circumstance. My ex-girlfriend/roommate was throwing a Halloween party full of people I didn't know. While the rational reaction would be to talk to these people and get to know them, I was going through a pretty intense bout of social awkwardness, so instead I started working on a costume that would effectively prevent me from speaking to anyone at all.
The result was an effeminate android version of myself called Prototype 0. Prototype 0 was to be an android in progress and his mouth would still be under construction This was meant to allow me to spend the night walking around with a white piece of tape over my mouth with pink lips drawn on it, incapable of communicating except with a notepad. Not awkward at all.
The painting turned out to be a fairly accurate representation of how I looked that Halloween night, with the exception of the pale blue skin. All of the androids I've painted or drawn recently have had this pale blue skin but I can't really explain why. It could have been a seed planted when I was a kid. I was pretty hard into theMasters of the Universe toy line and there was a character named Fakor who was supposed to be an evil android replica of He-Man. He had blue skin, yet the people of Eternia still somehow mistook him for He-Man.
I think my original Prototype 0 costume had silver cheeks and the blue strip across the eyes (almost definitely influenced by Pris from Bladerunner although I feel like this style has gotten bigger than the origin) but otherwise kept my skin tone.
Prototype 0 wears a polka dot dress for reasons I can't explain and he's wrapped in red caution tape that reads "DANGER". I suppose this could be an indicator of his unfinished state. Versions of the costume have incorporated tin foil safety-pinned to the dress and wrapped around the exposed arm (in the painting, Prototype 0's right arm is supposed to be partially wrapped in tin foil).
But the underlying theme explored by the character of Prototype 0 is a longing for romance. The dress actually featured a jagged heart on the chest made from red caution tape and black masking tape. The costume was supposed to include stiff wires extending from my hair ending in plastic hearts cut from the red caution tape. While this design is incorporated into the painting, I didn't have the time (or more likely will) to execute it as part of the costume. The painting depicts Prototype 0 longingly stroking the lips of a porcelain mask, lips that he longs to kiss with lips that he longs to have.
The Prototype 0 costume also made use of children's hair barrettes that featured smiling cartoonish cat faces. This just illustrates the colorful innocence (and disconnect) of Prototype 0. The painting also portrays the android in a gloomy factory streaked with pink paint. I imagined this as a toy factory but can't really say why.
There have actually been radically different versions of this android (including a ballerina version with a light pink bow around the mouth area) and possibly other versions will make it into my work at some point. " Seth Styles
2013 Acrylic on Canvas
"The painting, also titled "Dorian Gray" was actually put together for a Halloween costume. I went as the glittering, eternally youthful version of Dorian while holding the corroded painting under my arm the whole night. In the book, Dorian Gray's portrait is hideous. As much as that makes sense on a symbolic level, I felt it was much more painful to have a beauty still obvious in the portrait but to have that beauty tarnished by the growing darkness in his actions. His icy, narrowed eyes are framed with a deep red, his lips stained and soaked with black poison, and traces of blood linger on his hands as he stands in proud reverence of his base crimes against the soul. Crying feminine masks vomit forth purple drapes from swollen red lips.
By contrast, the physical Dorian is casually poised, refusing to let his veneer of arrogance down enough for the symbols of his downward spiral and weakness to penetrate him. His thorns artfully tucked behind the ruffles of his ever-alluring rose, he stares out with eyes equal to the iciness in his portrait, yet somehow made safe with eyeshadow and mascara. He wears benign pink and lavender colors with playful polka dots, hiding the wounded and crazed demon just beneath the surface." Seth Styles
2013 Acrylic on Canvas
"Some artists can paint portraits of their paramours on an endless loop, devoting their lives to the beauty of those that captured their hearts. But painting a portrait of the one I love has always been a surprisingly daunting task. This is because the beauty I see in the features and details of the object of my affection far exceed my talent.
It may be cliche, but just as words often fail even poets when trying to capture that constantly fleeting focus of their desires, colors and shapes often elude me or end up in a slightly skewed order when I attempt to capture my wife, Carisa, in my art. I always feel I fall short of the enchantment of what I see daily. That being said, my portraits of Carisa are still very precious to me and though they seem primitive in the light of a human being over whom I'd embark on fairy tale epics, I feel they still, in their best moments, point to the essence I struggle to capture.
The first portrait of Carisa was completed in 2013 shortly before her birthday in mid-November. This was the second painting I'd attempted following a long hiatus I mentioned in previous blogs. Unlike a lot of my work, I didn't have a clear concept of an end result in mind when I started painting. Instead, I just went with the flow and hoped for the best.
The image was somewhat inspired by a band that Carisa created for her solo compositions, Velvet Stars Collide, in which I played keyboards. This short-lived band still means a lot to me as it gave me my first opportunity to perform music in front of an audience. The name "Velvet Stars Collide" came to Carisa spontaneously and when I thought about it, I felt this purple expanse of space raining black velvet stars bordered in light baby pink glow.
The look of Carisa in this portrait was unintentionally inspired by the Great Tyrant from Barbarella although this also incorporates a lot of Carisa's style which is coincidentally similar. In the early days of my glam rock group Peppermint Pumpkin, I had contemplated how the band member's individual styles might evolve as we progressed into spacier territory and I always imagined Carisa as this sort of galactic mystic wearing a gown that looked like the blackest reaches of space and all of the stars that punctuated it had been wrapped around her.
I tried to incorporate this loosely into the design of Carisa's dress in this particular portrait. Her hand is extended, presenting a light pink hedgehog, but there's really no deep meaning in this. She just likes hedgehogs and the color pink. Over Carisa's left shoulder, there is a bright burst of white and pink light meant to symbolize Sirius (one of Carisa's obsessions).
On the other side is a spaceship; an allusion to a character loosely based on Carisa who appears in the novel I'm writing. I recall struggling with the spaceship design a lot. Creating the spaceship was reminiscent of an assignment in my 5th grade class in which we had to design our own space colonies including spacecraft.
I ended up piecing together approximately 30 pieces of loose-leaf paper, creating an enormous space craft that needed volunteers from the class to help hold it up for proper presentation. However, the next presenter, a friend of mine, held up one piece of paper with a sleek, simple design that filled me with envy. My whale of a spaceship could easily be destroyed by his miniature piranha-like space fighters.
Ever since then, designing vehicles has been a bit of a daunting experience for me, despite lots of great influence (like Chris Foss's designs for Jodorowsky's Dune). In the end, the spaceship in this portrait didn't quite exude the vibe I was looking for, but it at least hints at the intentions." Seth Styles
TAROT SERIES - OCCULT ART
This occult art series, explores the traditional tarot mythology and meanings through all new, original, fantasy and sci-fi stories created by Seth Styles.
IN THIS SERIES SO FAR…
Knight of Pentacles
Knight of Cups
Knight of Swords
Ace of Pentacles
2014 - watercolor, acrylic, and pen on paper
"In my rendition of the Fool, he is seen, as usual, prancing toward the edge of a cliff. His eyes are hopelessly focused on a blue moon that beckons him with a grin. Originally, the clownish mask that my Fool wears (somehow inspired by Punchinello and Pinocchio) was to be his true face, but as I worked on other cards in the series, this didn't seem to make sense. Something beyond me told me the Fool is wearing a mask.
Likewise, instead of a knap sack, he's carrying a scarecrow. The scarecrow is taken directly from a dream I had as a teenager in which I was trying to impress a girl I thought I was in love with; when I was rejected, I smashed myself up against a boulder repeatedly until my spine was snapped. At this point, I became the scarecrow.
Of course, art is always up for interpretation, but when I see the mask, I see a false smile, a nose that indicates lies, possibly even forced confidence. But that confidence, as porcelain and frail as it maybe, as fake as a mask, still gives my Fool the courage to soldier onward. After all, this is his unique mask and it fits him well.
The scarecrow ties into this somewhat, providing my Fool the same comfort as a cherished stuffed animal might, despite it being a man-made effigy. The scarecrow may also represent his past foolish behaviors and possibly displaced fear over the journey (as evidenced by the scarecrow's expression). You could also see him as half of a man or a burden of some sort that my Fool has carried, like a cross, through his travels.
The dog in my Fool card was originally supposed to be a hyena but I felt the hyena expressed too much cowardice and pack mentality when my Fool's journey is primarily his own. Instead, my dog represents a combination of intelligence, faith, and loyalty to a cause, so I created a sort of hybrid fox/wolf that is pointing the way forward.
Some may see this card as a confirmed tragedy because of the shark marauding the waters directly below the cliff, but what risk could be worth taking that wasn't the slightest bit scary? I chose a light pink color for the shark to indicate that this is actually a benign event that can look scary from afar. I have full faith that my Fool will survive his fall and make it to the island in the distance.
And what about that island? The palm trees indicate the typical paradise island setting but they surround a pink Space Mountain-like structure. This is purely a personal reference; every time I go to Disneyland, I have a huge debate on whether I will ride Space Mountain. Typically I do and it terrifies me to the point of regret.
But there's also a lot of romance assigned to this ride for me, probably owing a lot of it to that same fear. How better to describe the journey of the Fool after his initial plunge? Honestly, do we have many occurrences in our lives where we take a leap of faith and that's all that is asked of us? That's often just the introduction to the adventure.
Instead of a rose, my Fool has picked a poppy. The Wizard of Oz reference wasn't intentional, but with the poppies and the scarecrow, it's not hard to see a subconscious influence from another great fool's journey. The poppies bring sleep and dreams and the Fool is a dreamer. He offers the poppy to the moon as a romantic tribute while losing himself in his dreams." Seth Styles
2015 - watercolor, acrylic, and pen on paper
"Strength is possibly my favorite illustration I've completed for the tarot series thus far, coming very close to the vision of my initial concept and delving heavily into my own mythology to convey both the cards meaning and its feeling for me personally.
Though the card was orchestrated only somewhat directly in the concept stages, I later noticed a song I'd written several years earlier for my glam rock group Peppermint Pumpkin seemed to reference the events of my Strength illustration specifically.
The card focuses on the mythological entity of the Cosmic Colossus wrestling a black lion, another creature with previous appearances within my mythology. The Strength card seemed to fill in the blanks between these two myths to something coherent and linear. The black lions may have been referenced as early as the early 2000s when I was practicing weekly in my apartment in Florida with my girlfriend and friend in a band called Designer Genes. Some Designer Genes songs would drastically mutate into ideas that made it onto Peppermint Pumpkin's record including two twin songs called "Black Lions in the Court of King Nero" and "Black Lions on the Serengeti."
While the music of these tracks served as a loose basis for the Peppermint Pumpkin track "Mannequin Museum", lyrics in the song "A Safari Without Death" pointed much closer to the story presented in the "Black Lions…" tracks. The lyrics to "A Safari Without Death" seem to not only refer strongly to the black lion at the center of this illustration's conflict but also the hyenas in the borders as evidenced in the following excerpts:
"My hyenas laugh at their fears and comfort with leers"
"I see their silhouettes infecting the red light of the corridor and through laughter
The black lions have left their dens to rid the world of constellations
The titans have risen from the sea and hyena laughter brings you no elation"
"And we'll sleep in the ruins of the temple of stars"
From these lines, it may be deduced that the space hyenas in the border are a symbol of laughing off fears. The star at the center of their foreheads may indicate an overcoming of instinctual cowardice to a third eye path to the light of the astral plane.
As the Strength card progressed and I started noticing the similarities between my lyrics and the images in the illustration, I determined that black lions are incarnations of nightmares at war with the light of the astral plane. As the lyrics to "A Safari Without Death" indicate (and the lyrics to another song "The Degenerate" echo) they kill the stars which they see as related to dreams. The black lions can be viewed as representative of ego-based fears, using ego resistance to actually strengthen the ego and further their reflexively dark designs.
The Cosmic Colossus in the illustration is one of a race of guardians of the astral plane (a realm of dreams and higher light frequencies) created from the energy of constellations. The stars connecting the joints of the Cosmic Colossus aren't just an allusion to the constellation but also represent the Cosmic Colossus' attunement with the astral plane. As a guardian of the astral plane, the Cosmic Colossus exists at a higher frequency than those who dwell in the egoic 3rd dimension.
The black lions are able to access the 4th dimension (the astral plane) but their actions (or more specifically the reactions to them) can viciously drag beings back into the 3rd dimension. The message as portrayed by the image of the Cosmic Colossus successfully wrestling the furious black lion is one of overcoming fear as well and likewise stunting the strengthening of ego through fear. The Cosmic Colossus gazes past the struggling lion, focusing on something we can't see, symbolic of putting faith in something beyond the physical illusions of ego.
The Cosmic Colossus wrestles the black lion at the edge of a black hole which could easily be interpreted as a tragic end to the Cosmic Colossus but this wasn't my intention. Rather I wanted the black hole to represent a potent form of ego death as well as the Cosmic Colossus' conscious acceptance of ego death.
The reasoning behind the pink lipstick on the Cosmic Colossus wasn't immediately clear to me but I came to the conclusion that it represents the brute strength of the primitive ego being pulled into the feminine through the higher mind." Seth Styles
2014 - watercolor, acrylic, and pen on paper
"Choice is the main theme of the Lovers card and while that's often seen in a purely romantic context, the choices represented by this card actually stretch out much further. I tried to keep the spirit of romance in my rendition of the Lovers while at the same time hinting at the manifold choices that fall outside of relationships or, at the very least, exist as peripheral factors influencing our choices in those relationships.
Often, the story of Adam and Eve is used to convey the choices insinuated by the Lovers and though I didn't feel that particular story captured the feeling of this card for me, I did pay homage by using apples in the border to display the card number.
I wanted to present several choices to the space cadet in the middle so she's walking between male and female, city and country, music and sport, night and day. The girl with the tennis racket represents this sort of '60s/'70s sweet (candy necklace) yet sexual in a not-so-obvious way nostalgic teen fantasy.
She's a camp counselor in a sort of teen horror fantasy as indicated by the hockey mask on her uniform. Though she pretty much exhales the hot breath of a '70s Indian summer, I wanted her to look like she was in the same future as the space cadet, hence the futuristic tennis racket. She's meant to represent the crossroads of the seasons between summer and autumn as evidenced by the leaves.
Some people may mistake the white orbs of fluff floating around as snowflakes but they were actually inspired by the wisps of pollen in the air in the movie Legend. They're basically like whole dandelion tufts coasting on the torrid breeze.
To the cadet's right we have a different side of the nostalgic coin - a '70s glam rocker in a bubbly pink and violet disco with full on Farrah Fawcett mall hair and shark's tooth necklace. This is an archetype I can connect with for reasons beyond words. His shirt, his make-up, all of it has appeared to me in visions for several years. But I really can't explain him beyond this.
The same goes for the space cadet. Perhaps it ties into some personal mythology for me; the sexually ambiguous girl from outer space with the world at her feet, the sunshine and warmth of the Indian summer girl, the nocturnal allure and plasticity of the disco glam guitarist. There is so much that this rendition of the Lovers says to me but so few words that I can think to convey the meaning." Seth Styles
2014 - watercolor, acrylic, and pen on paper
"Money and wealth have been both glamorized and demonized in Western society so much that it is often hard to get a clear concept of abundance and how one relates to it. This was a huge struggle for me even before I began work on the Knight of Pentacles.
I'd been meditating on money for years, trying to deprogram myself so that I could accept without guilt. I've loved money but not as much as I've feared a lack of money and even in moments of financial security (and outright excess when compared to the majority of the world), I'd feared poverty to a point that could easily be considered an addiction to fear.
My efforts to overcome my flaws found me thinking about wealth often, sometimes with faith, other times with terror. And so the Knight of Pentacles has become a very important figure in my mythology, often appearing to me in meditations.
As with any knight card, the Knight of Pentacles deals with movement but specifically in matters of work and money. It's common to find descriptions of the Knight of Pentacles as a simple. humble, yet patient character, bonded to nature and content with plodding through the menial tasks and tedious hard work to get his rewards. Admittedly, my Knight of Pentacles is quite different than his predecessors, but this has a lot to do with my own metaphysical beliefs.
I can translate a facet of these beliefs most simply into the concept that working hard is not necessarily better than working smart. My Knight of Pentacles can be seen as humble as much as glamorous, he is tied to nature quite strongly, and his ingenuity and gift for strategy gain him prosperity and abundance.
I've always assumed my Knight of Pentacles would wear red primarily. When doing chakra meditations, I often concentrated on images of red money and red tribal warriors brandishing sharpened red blades when working on my base (red) chakra. These tribal warriors evolved into masked beings that could only be described as red ninjas, protecting their clan. Anyone who has done chakra work will know that the base chakra incorporates matters of stability (which often translates to financial stability in my mind) and tribal/familial/societal/cultural beliefs.
Therefore, the color red was heavily incorporated into my concept of the Knight of Pentacles. Likewise, green is often the color of abundance, prosperity, and in American culture, money. Therefore, the color green was used liberally throughout my illustration. Even the green candles are simply an allusion to a popular component of spells for money. Gold was also incorporated for its obvious correlation with wealth.
I depicted the Knight of Pentacles as a samurai and this was one of those lovely intuitive flourishes that came from somewhere beyond my conscious mind. If I were to try to make sense of divine inspiration, I'd assume that my Knight of Pentacles uses a lot more tactic and strategy than the other knights in my tarot as economic matters often require thought and, at times, stealth. When I say stealth, I am referring to pure skill and thinking on one's feet as opposed to any sort of dishonorable activity.
Like the mythic samurai, my Knight of Pentacles serves with honor, fully aware that there is enough abundance in the world for all. He simply loves money and uses his mind to acquire it. A samurai often served as a warrior for the noble class, again linking my Knight of Pentacles to wealth.
What may be less obvious about my Knight of Pentacles is that he is actually a scarecrow. If you look beyond the golden mask, you can see the blank burlap sack that covers his gourd head, falling down into a moth-eaten cape. Scarecrows are tasked with watching over the land and protecting the abundance. Within this context, it makes perfect sense that my Knight of Pentacles would be a samurai scarecrow.
But the Pentacles Suite is also tied to the element of earth just as the scarecrow is born of the land, like an earth golem made of gourd, straw, and dust. The farmer finds value in waste, using manure to fertilize the land. So too is this scarecrow a protector made from waste, a golem conjured from the earth to protect the earth. The waste becomes assimilated into the prosperity.
As a scarecrow, the Knight of Pentacles can be seen still mounted upon his wooden cross. This is simply further reinforcement of the concept of stability that can come through the work of the Knight of Pentacles and therefore a balancing of the base chakra. Though the Knight of Pentacles wears some traditional samurai armor, he is not as ensconced in armor as the other knights in my tarot deck.
This again goes back to his tact and strategy. His body is made of enchanted straw so traditional attacks pass through him. In this natural simplicity, he finds an advantage. Strategy over brute force often brings this knight his rewards. Most incarnations of the Knight of Pentacles depict him with a pentacle coin in his hand. It may not be obvious due to the amount of detail, but the knight is rolling his coin across the twig fingers of his left hand. This again reinforces his tendency for strategy, walking the coin as a distraction while he blocks using the golden kitana in his right hand.
The harvest moon rises above an orchard of pomegranate trees in the background. The golden harvest moon references abundance in that it signals the opportune time for collection of the crops; the point when the work, ideas, and strategies come to fruition. I really wanted to use pomegranates as the crop that the knight stood over.
I later read that the Ancient Egyptians regarded the pomegranate as a symbol of prosperity and ambition. The knight is skewering a pomegranate with his golden kitana, spilling the seeds in a symbolic gesture for further abundance to come. The hilt of the kitana offers another blade showing the abundance of resources at the knight's disposal. Golden diamonds accentuate the hilt as an obvious nod to riches and wealth.
The scarecrow that is the Knight of Pentacles wears a golden youth face mask with decadent baroque curls. It represents the beauty and youth that prosperity offers. The samurai helmet extends into a set of horns vaguely alluding to the bull (Taurus, an earth sign) and a golden leaf crowning the helmet as a reminder of the knight's bond with the natural world.
The Knight of Pentacles' steed is a horse of pure gold with golden pentacle coins entwined in its fancy curls. Vines, representative of the abundance of nature (and, again, the knight's ties to this), cling to the proud golden horse. It bares a coin slot indicating a willingness to receive abundance." Seth Styles
2014 - watercolor, acrylic, and pen on paper
"The image of the Knight of Cups came to me several months ago albeit he looked pretty different. Originally, the colors for the piece would have been predominately gold and blue with the knight himself being a cyborg composed of golden machinery, tubes of water, and tanks of sea life.
The main shift in colors was one of the few times when I've allowed thought to trump feeling and it surprisingly worked in my favor. I doubt I'd be nearly as happy with the outcome of the Knight of Cups had I gone with my first idea. Of course, the first idea was almost a reflex to a concept that was yet to be fully formed.
The Knight of Cups is about movement forward in romance, art, and higher goals of the heart in general. In order to properly express these themes, I needed colors that set the mood. Since the Cups are representative of the element of water, I designed the Knight of Cups standing before the sea (or more likely rising from it).
Around the time that it came to color the illustration, I had been listening to a lot of new romantic groups like Duran Duran, Kajagoogoo, and Fashion. The song I was most listening to by Fashion, "You Only Left Your Picture", was used in a season 1 episode of Miami Vice and I somehow found myself looking at promo shots from the show. One shot featured a moody and gorgeous twilight sky reflected in a Miami bay and I thought the look of it was perfect for the mood I wanted to achieve.
The watercolor offered a bit of a challenge in mimicking what I saw in the Miami Vice promo photo, but I was still ecstatic over the results. At its heart, the image in the Knight of Cups of the twilit sea beneath the melodramatic sky perfectly represented the emotion I wanted in this card. I don't need to spell out that making an octopus-headed entity seem romantic has its hurdles.
While almost all of my illustrations have built-in allusions, references, and symbols, my tarot illustrations obviously demand a lot more symbolism. Luckily, ideas for symbolism typically come to me a lot more quickly when doing tarot illustrations probably because of the tarot's built-in universal symbols. Often the Cups refer to the Holy Grail which itself is often considered a symbol of the vagina.
The vagina seemed like an apt symbol to incorporate as much as possible into the Knight of Cups for obvious reasons: as a heterosexual male, successful romantic conquests for me are ultimately determined through my obtainment of "the Holy Grail." But remember that the Knight of Cups isn't just about love and all that comes with it but also movement forward in art, often expressed as the birth of an idea. And birth comes through a vagina. So, it's not just my libido talking here.
The vaginal imagery has been worked into several points of the Knight of Cups portrait. The knight's skirt of armor is fashioned to look like a metallic tapestry of roses and vaginas giving way to eyes. Again, the knight's left shoulder is protected by armor fashioned into the shape of a vagina giving away to a sparkling eye.
The Holy Grail itself, entangled in the knight's hand with metal rose stems, features jewelled eyes above vaginas and the stem of the Holy Grail itself emerges from a metal vagina. The pairing of vaginas and eyes is an intentional theme of the Knight of Cups, stemming from the saying "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and "eyes are the window to the soul."
Taking the eyes as a symbol of romance, I additionally worked them into the binding of the armor on the knight's right arm (bordered by puckered lips), protecting the knight's right shoulder, and staring from the center of a rose in the handle of the knight's trident sword. Even in the border, the chalices depict an eye crying a heart, a motif that is repeated in the detail of his belt.
There's an entire spider web effect of symbols happening here. Eyelids look like vaginas which look like puckered lips which look like eyelids. Romance exudes from eyes, it exudes from puckered lips, and it exudes from vaginas. Also, the Holy Grail is said to have collected the blood of Jesus Christ. In the Knight of Cups illustration, a subtle red glow in the centre of the cups may allude to blood just as the hearts (full of blood) drip from crying eyes. Likewise, vaginas (Holy Grail) menstruate. Perhaps I'm lost in the incestuousness of my own symbolism but the connections seemed too strong to ignore.
This may be considered a rather primal perspective of love and romance but there are plenty of allusions to less biologically-based symbols of passion. The pink candles standing proudly from their cup bases are a reference to the color of candles traditionally used in love spells. Roses, the flower most popularly use to express feelings of love, are engraved in the knight's chest plate armor, the knight's armored skirt, the center of his trident sword's handle, and even in the candle smoke.
Of course, there is something obviously vaginal about a rose, but that association has been dulled with time. The rune of "wunjo", often used to express joy or love, is used liberally throughout the portrait. Wunjo appears on the sides and center (solar plexus) of the knight's armored torso, on the knight's upper left arm plate, on the larger candle holder cups, on the rim of the Holy Grail, on the steed, and in the center of the eyes of the cups in the borders.
The knight is even colored using primarily the colors associated with St. Valentine's Day: red, pink, lavender, and white. But the most obvious and popular symbol of romance in this illustration is the cartoonish heart. These hearts punctuate the knight's flowing romantic scarf, the rim of the Holy Grail, the left lower arm plate, stand proudly from the armband on his left arm, accentuate the hilt of his sword, cry forth from the eyes of the border cups, and decorate the center of the serpentine starfish in the sky.
A heart plate stands out on his chest with a tube of the knight's blood protruding from it. Hearts are caught in the sticky arms of the octopus. A heart even stands as the head of love's swift arrow, piercing the knight's right forearm.
On a more personal level, I felt that the knight's championing of love could be lost if there was too much emphasis put on the fighter over the lover. The knight-in-shining-armor is therefore accentuated with dandyish accentuations of his romantic nature; his white gloves with passionate red trim and his flowing scarf. His glass eye cries an emotionally charged tear of condensation. Even the qualities of war are filtered through innocent feelings of love, as seen in Cupid's piercing arrow.
As mentioned before, the Cups are representative of the water element and therefore also emotion, intuition, sensitivity, and relationships. I also see water as the fluid world of dreams. A lot of basic water symbols were incorporated into this illustration, mostly just to reinforce the knight's connection to the water element. Perhaps most prominent of these symbols is that the knight's steed is a seahorse with the rune of wunjo emblazoned on it.
The seahorse theme carries over into the knight's stomach, an aquarium where two seahorses are kissing in romantic red lighting. The knight's head is comprised of a metallic cup and a glass dome housing an octopus. The octopus was chosen as the brain of the Knight of Cups mostly for reasons beyond me but there's the obvious suckered grip of the octopus (love's sticky grip).
You could even reference Veruca Salt's Eight Arms to Hold You album which may not make it into my Top 10 Make-Out Albums but it is noteworthy as the only other piece of art I know to romanticize an octopus. Associating water with dreams, I wanted to incorporate a starry sky prior to deciding on a twilight scene. During that point, I came up with the idea of using starfish instead of actual celestial stars.
Starfish were worked into the borders but I also used serpentine starfish as representatives of the stars in the dreamy sky. Serpentine starfish may have a less obvious star shape than the majority of their cousins but it allowed me to show them linking arms in a gesture of longing.
A trident is the weapon of choice of the god of the sea in Greek mythology (Poseidon) and Roman mythology (Neptune) so I thought it fitting that the Knight of Cups's sword be fashioned in a similar style. In addition, his weapon features fish tails as handles.
Finally, I wanted to express the movement associated with knight cards through a concept that came to me with the initial images that came to my mind. Tubes of water protrude and surround the knight, facilitating the movement of water and, in the case of the heart plate section, blood. These water tubes stand as the initial strands of a spider web of symbolism both universal and personal that creates a picture of a charged moment of love, passion, and dreams." Seth Styles
2014 - watercolor, acrylic, and pen on paper
"The Knight of Swords came to me spontaneously amidst a lecture on the meaning of the Minor Arcana. The concept for some sort of “video tarot” appeared to me in which cards are somehow selected at random but presented as 10-second bursts of video imagery and music.
For the Knight of Swords, I saw a slowly panning shot of dead trees losing their few remaining dried leaves to violent gusts of wind in the night, lightning illuminating a twisted sculpture of metal, an indiscernible mass of razor-studded limbs, bladed helmets, and thrusting swords in a stalemate of confusion.
For the illustration of the Knight of Swords, I took the basic concept but late in the illustration, I opted out of using the dead trees and lightning because I feared they would render the illustration even more confusing than I’d intended.
Yet, when I look at it in its watercoloured conclusion, I can’t help but feel the dead trees and lightning are still there – just out of frame. I used a tornado to unite the Knight of Swords into one being because this isn’t an army of knights fighting each other; rather it’s one knight in various stages of being just as one mind has several conflicting ideas. The uses of reds and purples were to perpetuate a sense of violence that accompanies states of confusion for me personally.
All knight cards have their horses and the Knight of Swords’ horse is split, facing opposite directions, actually being pulled together and apart at the same time by barbed chains. Blades are pointed outward and inward, destructive and self-destructive, the blind desperation of confusion. I can’t say whether the metal eyes of the horse can see but the knights have no vision in their dagger-like helmets." Seth Styles
2014 - watercolor, acrylic, and pen on paper
My rendition of the Moon card grows from a happy coincidence, if you believe in coincidences. I had been wanting to do an illustration based on a dream that I had when I was in my early teens about a girl I simply referred to as the Lunar Witch.
The Lunar Witch was a strangely powerful figure in my dreamscapes, especially considering she was not part of a recurring dream but only visited me once. I awoke from the dream with an intense, burning passion for her which was confusing at that age as her actions in the dreams undoubtedly painted her as a villainous girl.
But despite her sinister actions, she showed a love for me that commanded my passions and I found myself blinded to her crimes, instead swooning at her mysterious beauty. Somewhere in Florida, I have a dream journal that tells the full detailed story of the Lunar Witch and all the ways she made my heart hurt so gloriously but for today I only have faded memories of the dream to draw connections to the Moon card.
From what little I can recall of the dream, I was waiting for a bus in the backyard of the home in which I grew up in Southwest Florida, in the darkness of the early morning. A glowing white fog was rolling in over the darkness soon illuminated by the hazy glow of the headlights of an ivory bus. The bus seemed to have been built from the bones of ancient creatures and was punctuated by futuristic round black windows that hid the passengers from sight.
I believe there may have been some controversy as to who was actually allowed to board the bus and a lot of this was orchestrated by a controlling force on the bus, a seductive girl from outer space who practiced black magic. I didn't approve of her actions that, at the very least, treated people unfairly but at the worst may have endangered their lives.
There was the sense in the dream that I knew the Lunar Witch well and that we were well known to be romantically involved despite our moral differences. When I'd voice disapproval of her villainous plans, she'd laugh me off as naive but regard it as cute. While she saw my attempts to dissuade her from evil as ridiculous, she also found it charming.
And though I recognized the deep darkness in her actions, her elitist acceptance of me seduced me. I felt special that someone as dark and lovely as the Lunar Witch found value in me and her rejection of the rest of humanity made her love so much more intoxicating. As I sat in the interior of the bus soon to depart for the moon, I kissed the Lunar Witch and felt the darkness in her cold lips that made my heart flutter.
So how does the dream of the Lunar Witch parallel the messages of the Moon card? The Lunar Witch was as mysterious as she was powerful. The mechanics she'd set in motion in the dream always remained hidden from me but at face value exhibited supervillainous levels of ambition.
Though she seemed to be only a teenager herself, she already exhibited an advanced knowledge of magical arts but again her history with magic was unclear as was her strong connection to the moon. Her propensity for dark deeds also alludes, in fragment, to the moon's symbol as the unconscious manifested in an erratic, uncontrollable manner.
Though she was, for lack of a better term, my girlfriend in this dream, the Lunar Witch was wild and unrestrained and her love for me never tempered her teenage tyranny. The lunar bus itself stood as a artifact of the unknown in motion.
The driver was never revealed, the windows were opaque, and it appeared with the spectral smoothness of a ghost on clouds of fog that obscured visibility. Also, the Moon card often signifies a connection between the conscious and unconscious world and who better to usher in such a concept than a girl from my dreams who instilled in me a terrible pain of longing upon waking.
There are further connections to the tarot's symbolism of the Moon and the Lunar Witch that, again, were not preconceived. Her body suit of pearl silk is reminiscent of a cocoon which obviously points to the change that so often accompanies stepping forward into the unknown. When I was trying to put together a Batcave goth band in Florida in the early 2000s, I'd contemplated dressing up as my rendition of the somnambulist Cesar in the classic silent German Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
My rendition of Cesar was to wear a white bandage body stocking similar in appearance to that of the otherworldly clothing the Lunar Witch wore when she appeared to me in my dream many years before. Again, this draws parallels to dreams as Cesar committed all of his crimes in a state of sleepwalking. Also, the Lunar Witch is depicted looking back over her shoulder, leading us into the unknown with the finger-to-mouth gesture of secrecy. Like the moon, half of her face is illuminated while the other half is in shadow.
Typically, the Moon card features some sort of crustacean rising from the waters to indicate an ignored or repressed fear but I chose an animal I relate to more on a personal level in the gharial. Gharials are large, intimidating crocodiles with narrow snouts and needle-like teeth. But unlike most species of crocodiles, gharials are rarely dangerous to humans as their mouths are equipped for dealing with fish.
Since the gharial doesn't devour humans, it represents a baseless fear in the context of this card. The gharial's head is emerging from the black, murky waters of the river Styx where memories are lost. In this case, the gharial is a memory of unfounded fear that is re-emerging for potential confrontation although we can rest assured that its appearance is far more fearsome than its actions.
The lunar bus is entering between two towers constructed from the fossilized remains of a variety of creatures. These towers represent illusions of security as they are built from bones, nature's biological structural supports. Yet, these are the bones of ancient animals who died due to unhealthy attachments to perishing worlds.
The towers stand as reminders of the casualties of an old world and cautions those of us who refuse to change. These creatures that relied on the security of old ways now decorate the gates to the land of the dead with their fossilized remains. The unobscured totem presents three dire wolf skulls in tribute to Cerberus, the three-headed canine guardian of the underworld. The dire wolves also reference pure natural lunacy in the wolf's attachment to the moon.
This too echoes a connection to the primal energy that permeates the shadows of the Moon card. Again, the movement of the bus between these markers symbolizes movement between the conscious and unconscious worlds.
Finally, the borders of the card depict the cycles of the moon as well as keyholes that remind us of the locked doors of mystery. The locked door may seem cruel but this is another message to the Moon card; a sense of waiting as the mysteries beyond us work their magic.
In my dream, the lunar bus never departed. Though I boarded it, we continued waiting and there was never an explanation for this. But rather than try to figure it out, I lost myself in the moment with the Lunar Witch, kissing her icy lips while I patiently waited for the mystery to unfold.
2015 watercolor and pen
I conceived the basic concepts of what would become my Hermit illustration long before I began the tarot project. I assume the Hermit is an immediately identifiable aspect of each person, not so much mired in symbolism and cryptic mythology as so many of the other cards. We've all felt the pull of self-reflection, the loneliness of quarantine, the self-preservation in exile. I felt it quite a bit in my youth but I attached a melodramatic importance to it.
Often when I'd feel a teenage romance was unrequited, I'd reach a point of acceptance and then a strange sort of sexless arrogance, like I was some earthbound angel or spaceman meant to only appreciate the beauties of the human race from afar but never to actually touch it.
I feel like a lot of teenagers rationalize rejection in similar ways to keep from looking in the mirror and feeling the naked accusation that they just aren't good enough in someone else's standards. But as I'd imagine myself walking isolated shores on distant planets, a lone cold figure in a sprawling glittering universe of wonders, I felt special for not being chosen.
As I got older I would experience a similar feeling, though far less valiant, in times of deep overwhelm. When daily life avalanched around me, I wanted to pull leaves, bushes, grass and twigs over myself like a blanket, hiding from boogie man banks and the looming haunted house of adult responsibilities. In my adult life, when faced with romantic rejections or responsibilities I didn't want to accept, I found myself identifying with bog men.
Bog men, darling National Geographic centerfolds, are people whose corpses were mummified by the peaty swamps, preserved in a mixture of water and earth matter. I no longer saw myself as the charming angel or sexless alien but as the insulated bog man, a decaying wonder preserved by the natural world against the rotting laws of men. I would close my eyes and imagine sinking into hundreds of years of hibernation in that cool, all-encompassing mud.
I explored themes of isolation in a more romantic aspect of my life as I began to write lyrics for music. In the early 2000s, I flirted with the idea of calling my band (which had more names than songs) Mannequin On Moon, the symbol for isolation in its purest form. Imagining a mute, plastic motionless effigy on the moon's surface encapsulated the romantic feelings of isolation I harbored.
I'd even fantasize about myself on a space station, visible to the voyeuristic eyes of planet earth through a one way camera. I'd leave video messages to earth updating the world on my life on the moon but I'd never hear a word back. Eventually, the moon seemed too populated in my head and the concept of the mannequin on the moon became Mannequin On Mars, a much colder atmosphere.
My illustration of the Hermit depicts this beacon of pure isolation, the plastic Mannequin on Mars. She is positioned with one hand pointing down to the concealed, potentially prehistoric bog man astronaut beneath the Martian soil. Her other hand points skyward to the stars somewhere beyond the cocoon of red sky. This speaks of the optimistic focus of the Hermit, almost a blind faith in the greatness beyond the world seen with our eyes.
This is paralleled in the hermit's catatonic eyes - his right eye lights up with the clearly visible star that the mannequin points to beyond the red skies. The mannequin serves to further divorce the prehistoric astronaut from human connection, instead offering painted-on eyes, cold plastic skin, synthetic hair, and a half-hearted gesture of anatomy.
The traditional Hermit depicts a gray old man while my hermit is actually a prehistoric time travelling astronaut, literally frozen in a catatonic trance. Of course my hermit needed to be an astronaut to continue my romance with feelings of isolation and my honoring of the heroic qualities offered in those times in our life when we are lucky enough to get to know ourselves.
I believe that this astronaut is beneath the Martian soil voluntarily. The space is less his tomb and more his womb, evidenced by his fetal position. Eventually, my hermit will reach the understanding that he needs and his story will continue beyond the confines of the red soil. But it is through silence and self-imposed isolation that the hermit learns the valuable lessons he needs to continue on his path.
To further indicate this, I depicted the hermit with bare feet, easing his connection to the source. He is plugged directly into the matter around him though he remains disconnected from the world that we know. Such achievements are similarly possibly through quiet meditation and self-reflection.
The clocks in the borders simply reinforce a common theme of the Hermit card: the passage of time. Likewise, the astronaut helmets in the borders are supportive of the theme of isolation.
Buy Poster of Ace of Pentacles Here
2015 - watercolor and pen
2016 - watercolor and pen
2017 - ink & watercolor
2017 - watercolor and ink illustration
2017 - watercolor and ink illustration
2017 - watercolor and ink illustration
2017 - watercolor and ink illustration
2017 - watercolor and ink illustration
CLASSIC MONSTER ART SERIES
This monster art series, explores the traditional classic monsters and their individual mythology and the aspects of the human psyche that they represent.
IN THIS SERIES…
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
The Headless Horseman
The Invisible Man
2014 - watercolor, acrylic, and pen on paper
"Back in the mid-2000s when I was properly watching the classic Universal monster movies for the first time, I was initially most interested in watching The Creature from the Black Lagoon because, when placed alongside the likes of Dracula or the wolf man, the creature seemed really bizarre. I'd be so bold as to say it almost seemed too left field to fit in with the classic horror monsters…not gothic enough in its horror elements or maybe I should say too exotic.
The creature wasn't a refined monster with a predatory plan or even a decent human being consumed by vices and suppressed longings. Rather it was a primal, unrestrained child of mother nature; the nightmare for anyone with ambitions of taming the wild. Unlike the majority of its Universal horror brethren, the creature had no basis in literature and its ties to folklore weren't as popularized as the wolf man or history as the mummy.
But when you got past that vicious fish DNA, the creature had some sort of feelings of love or lust that overrode its instinct to maul and maim, a trait often underlying the Universal monsters.
It was easy to connect with the natural beauty in the black-and-white underwater world of The Creature from the Black Lagoon but I'm finding it difficult to put the exact feeling into words. The underwater scenes were filmed in Florida (though the film was meant to take place in the Amazon) so there was an instant familiarity and at the same time a sort of boredom in each beautiful shot of the creature in its natural element.
When I say "boredom" I mean the kind that comes with knowing what's behind the curtain. I admired the natural beauty of those shots immensely while simultaneously seeing the springs of Florida and all that those springs represented to me…a sort of isolation from anything exciting. I knew those springs were bordered by trailer parks and retirement communities.
At the same time, there was a slight (and I sincerely mean slight, almost non-existent but still worth mentioning) vibe of Florida's venomous flora and fauna; the mosquitos, mud puppies, lizards, snakes, and alligators. But whether they were boring, irritating, or creepy, these were the devils I knew and its through those filters that I watched gorgeous, shimmering black-and-white scenes of nature that may have been terrifying in 1954, but to my eyes just seemed leisurely.
I keep stressing "black-and-white" because I don't know that the same feeling would have come across if The Creature from the Black Lagoon had been shot in color. In fact, I can only imagine that I'd feel my skin crawl in repulsion if I saw the familiar greenish tint of the springs.
The black-and-white afforded me the mystery of a time before me, a small window for just enough fantasy to creep in so that I could actually still watch the creature mirroring the heroine and feel a sense of wonder. It may not be clear from this tirade but I actually greatly enjoyed knowing that The Creature from the Black Lagoon's aquatic scenes were filmed in Florida.
I didn't try to divorce my fascination with The Creature from the Black Lagoon when I began my illustration of the Gill Man, but a certain severing of past associations with the film came naturally. I should mention that, unlike the Invisible Man highlighted in my previous blog entry, the creature is not public domain.
This is just as well as I love the look of the creature but it doesn't leave a lot of creative freedom. In order to bring myself into the illustration properly, I had to make this my Gill Man and I immediately began to incorporate aspects of the underwater world that frightened and disturbed me but still carried hints to that majesty that I saw in the serene beauty of those aquatic scenes in The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
When I was in 1st grade, my parents bought me a Siamese fighting fish (I think the politically correct term is a beta but the other name just sounds too colorful to pass up). I wanted to incorporate the confrontational frills and almost Oriental style of the Siamese fighting fish's fins into my Gill Man. I even contemplated coloring him in blues, reds, and violets like my first pet, Syrus, the Siamese fighting fish, but it just felt like the Gill Man needed a more traditional green color.
His chest and stomach were designed to resemble that of a crocodile's, easily one of the most terrifying yet interesting animals to grace our planet. I gave the Gill Man rows and rows of disposable teeth like another terrifying but incredible creature of our planet, the shark.
The Gill Man's curved, razor sharp nails were inspired by a scene that I adored in The Creature from the Black Lagoon in which the scientists are examining a mauled corpse with the South American river boat captain Lucas. One of the scientists hypothesizes that the man died from a jaguar attack and Lucas quickly shuts him down, scratching at the air and slurring "A jaguar's claws…they rip like this."
I wanted to create a humanoid, though at the same time alien look to create the proper sense of fear I wanted from my Gill Man and I think this comes across the best in the eyes. In the eyes, you see nothing to hold onto. But I purposely made the eyes yellow while making the eyes of the surrounding fish a supernatural black to indicate that the Gill Man isn't really one of these fish. Its sort of on its own frequency.
In fact, the blackness of the fish's eyes indicates that they are following the Gill Man in a sort of frenzy that defies their usual nature…almost a sort of hypnosis or group mania. (Weird side note: I got massive deja vu while writing the last few sentences).
The fish assembled for this portrait quickly give away that this Gill Man isn't in the Black Lagoon. While the Black Lagoon is situated in the Amazon river (which is terrifying in its own right), the type of fish in this illustration indicate that the Gill Man is in the ocean. But that's really about where the scientific facts end because the fish aren't drawn even close to scale nor are they behaving in a manner that befits their species.
Many are also deep sea fish that wouldn't do well swimming near the surface. This was all contemplated before I even began to add fish into the illustration. While it would have made much more sense to throw some bull sharks or even a saltwater crocodile in the Gill Man's entourage, it wasn't what I was feeling and I opted for feeling over science and logic.
So, the Gill Man is flanked by oversized viper fish and angler fish, braving the surface. Frilled sharks swim side by side with the normally friendly wolf eels and territorial but reclusive moray eels. The barracudas make the most sense, I suppose. Gill Man aside, it may not seem that those kicking feet at the surface are in much trouble, but as the creator of this illustration, I can override science and confirm that each fish you see is very focused on devouring that swimmer.
But one of the most terrifying aspects of the Gill Man illustration for me personally is the vast blue expanse behind everything. I can recognize the beauty in the open water and the ocean depths but more than that I recognize my own terror. I can further illustrate his through an excerpt from a recent entry in my personal diary:
"A few days ago, I found a youtube video that actually showed a crocodile 'trainer' being killed by his crocodiles. I felt bad about watching it. Everything was so pixelated, I couldn't really tell what I was looking at. A man (I'm assuming) in a long black robe was walking with a long stick among several crocodiles on a bank along a large lake while people in manmade stands watched from an elevated point.
The trainer was prodding the large pixelated shadows. As he's stepping over one of the crocodiles, it turns its head casually and seems to catch him by the robe, causing him to fall. At this point, the spectators jump from their seats, screaming in outrage.
When we finally see down onto the bank again, I assumed the crocodile was laying upon the trainer though I started to see commotion in the lake. It seemed like the crocodiles had overpowered the trainer and then dragged him out into the water where they tore him apart. This seems so much more terrifying than killing him on the bank."
I was really concerned with leaving so much blank space in this illustration, second-guessing myself, feeling that I could fill it in with seaweed or more fish or something. But honestly, the Gill Man wouldn't be nearly as terrifying on land. What's really scary is that he's about ready to drag that person away from what s/he knows, into that ever-darkening blue." Seth Styles
2014 - watercolor, acrylic, and pen on paper
"The vampire is arguably the most explored and societally-saturated monster of the Classic Monster series and that posed a huge problem when trying to connect to my personal translation of the essence of Count Dracula.
I've read so many books and seen so many movies about vampires that I can't begin to recount them all and yet, in most cases, I absorbed this material without specifically seeking it out. This is a monster who's casually strolled the spectrum from demonification to romanticization. Vampires have been depicted as primitive and maniacal and, just as often, angelic supermen.
Sometimes their hideous atrocities, other times seductive Adonises (or would that be Adoni?). A pick-and-choose mythology is presented and it all rolls up in our collective consciousness. So, when deciding what Dracula (and vampires in general) meant to me, I had to do a lot of listening through the static to pick out the voices that meant the most to what I considered the true vampiric essence.
I'd ignored vampires for most of my childhood and been somewhat amused by the surge in vampire-related media that happened around the time of shows like True Blood and movies like Twilight. Sure, there were a few pioneers in the dark that caught my attention before the flood like Interview With the Vampire and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the latter of which I didn't truly realise the brilliance of until some years later.
But it wasn't until the mania over vampires was already getting stagnant that I actually began to question why it still felt the perfect nerve had yet to be struck. Though I really enjoy the film The Lost Boys, I felt it was missing a vital emotional component and perhaps here I'm speaking more from the standpoint of my ego as opposed to a universal demand.
The Lost Boys presented us with vampires who were very comfortable in their own skins as creatures of the night alongside vampires who still had one foot in their humanity. However, this internal struggle in some played against the celebratory narcissist wasn't illustrated nearly as artfully in The Lost Boys as in Interview With the Vampire.
I wanted to take the adolescent contemporary (potential) angst of The Lost Boys and combine that with the contemplative drama of Interview With the Vampire and write a screenplay for a movie that I was calling This Low.
It started to come together around the idea of a teenage vampire, bummed out, sitting on a beach at night smoking a cigarette and watching the waves as well as a soundtrack of Iggy Pop, Suede, and the Velvet Underground. I eventually lost interest in it but not before developing some definition to my personal associations to the vampire mythology.
Bram Stoker's novel originally explained a deformed, animalistic demonic creature almost visible beneath the surface of the vampire; a putrid stench underlying the perfume. While certain films and television shows portrayed this dichotomy swimmingly, I had never absorbed such a strong disgust in the vampire as in Bram Stoker's writing.
I wanted to capture the superhuman beauty prevalent in some interpretations as well as the subhuman viciousness in other portrayals. So came about my Dracula, a youthful dandy (not too unlike Dorian Gray) who, I feel, also exudes a disgusting quality that's difficult to immediately place.
He's effeminate with animal grace, wearing black vinyl pants like a rock star, holding up a wineglass of blood elegantly, and even mocking preconceived notions with a silver crucifix necklace. Yet, his chest and chin are stained with blood, an indicator of his debilitating lust. The ears, fingernails, and even a hint of the fangs reveal a bit of the demon within.
Dracula is ancient, allowing him to come to terms with his vices and see them as part of his nature. The human and the demon are perfectly blended in Dracula, allowing him clinical control, yet he understands the importance of losing himself in the lust of the moment and allows this.
Sometime in the '80s, I was watching a rerun of a Halloween episode of The Monkees in which Davy Jones (who, despite the fact that I was probably about 5-years-old, I identified with) is seduced by Dracula's daughter. I recognized that vampires sucked the blood from humans, yet someone I idolized was not only kissing one, he was becoming obsessed with one.
The strangeness of Davy Jones's behavior merged with my own strange attraction to Dracula's daughter and, possibly for the first time, the concept of sexual attraction dawned on me.
It was either that or Prince's video for "Kiss" and a trading card I'd found by a drainage ditch of a woman in spandex. But with Davy Jones's allegiance to Dracula's daughter, I also felt a deep sense of betrayal. This wasn't just one of the good guys, this was the best guy, and this girl was giving him something tempting enough for him to sell that all out. And this was also possibly the first time I linked a feeling of betrayal to vampires; a feeling integral to vampire mythology.
In almost all vampire stories, the vampire was seduced into a life of addiction or obsession, giving up his/her values and virtues in a desperate attempt to satisfy his/her newfound lust. Vampires are fundamentally corrupted beings but in a way that is disturbingly conscious. They aren't zombies; they remember who they were with guilt or disdain but it rarely changes their course. At the end of the day, they still find themselves fang-deep in their next conquest.
I wanted this blend of seduction and betrayal to emanate from the two most recent brides of Dracula, gyrating and writhing to his left and right. I wanted their faces to show a giving in to orgasmic pleasure and desperate horror simultaneously. Their eyes are hidden, perhaps as a way to strip them of their identities or even their souls if you're to believe eyes are the window to the soul.
Each is bound to Dracula in one of his animal forms: bat or wolf. The binding around the neck is an allusion to guilt in the hiding of the bite wounds as well as a means to tie the brides to an animalistic nature. This bondage can also be used to express a slavery to an addiction or a vice as well as, on a more surface level, sexual asphyxiation.
Finally, this particular chamber of Dracula's castle features a disco ball and walls crawling with dry ice or mist. While on the obvious level, this shows Dracula's party spirit and ties him to a time at least somewhat modern, it works on another level that I unfortunately fall short of explaining.
The disco ball was one of the last aspects added to this illustration but I immediately knew it was vital. It still somehow provides the adhesive for my concepts of Dracula and vampires in general and attempting to explain it would only drag us further from the truth." Seth Styles
2014 - watercolor, acrylic, and pen on paper
"I've never been much of a fan of the look of the Wolf Man so it came as a bit of a relief when I discovered somewhat early on in the Classic Monsters project that the Wolf Man is not public domain. It's important that I clarify that I define the Wolf Man as distinctly different than a werewolf in that I see the Wolf Man, in appearance, as more man than wolf whereas I consider a werewolf to be a somewhat evenly distributed hybrid.
It's my own definition that's left me dissatisfied with movies and shows in which the werewolf quickly shifts from man to common wolf. Where's the supernatural alarm in a common wolf stalking you through the forest? Sure, it's terrifying in its own way, but that way isn't other-worldly. My definition of werewolf demands bipedalism.
While I initially considered the legal barring to the Wolf Man a wrench in the gears of this project, I quickly felt relief that I could instead focus my attentions on a related monster for which I felt much more affinity. Still, the Wolf Man's influence was definitely felt and pondered during the course of this illustration.
There was a distinct period of childhood when I felt more of a connection to werewolves than any of the other common monsters like vampires or mummies. It's difficult to trace where this started but I vividly remember a werewolf clad in jeans and a plaid shirt (lumberjack attire) making a brief appearance in a short story I had to write for my 3rd grade class entitled The Monster-Lurking Woods.
Granted, the protagonist is plagued by all manner of monster including a ghost, a phantom, a skeleton, and a zombie, but I specifically remember the werewolf, rendered in crayon, ravenously tearing through the woods in search of our hero. Luckily, the werewolf is effortlessly dispatched with a hand grenade.
Around this time, I was tuning in every Saturday morning to a cartoon called Ghostbustersthat had no relation to the Ghostbusters movie that had come out a few years earlier. One of the recurring villains of this cartoon was a futuristic werewolf with an insane underbite bearing the unfortunate name of Fangster. While I don't remember much about Fangster, I do recall feeling he was a sort of kindred spirit.
While I was drawing the random werewolf in the margins of my notes at school, I started to believe that one day, I would actually become a werewolf. In fact, I recall pacing around my backyard, trying to figure out how to transform. It felt as though all of my problems would be solved if I could only make the shift.
I would look at my lower canines in the mirror with excitement, certain that their sharpness indicated that I'd soon have a vicious jutting underbite as I transformed into a primal creature of the night. Had I known then that I was just a human, I would have been crushed.
Just as I had years earlier dreamed of becoming best friends with Count Duckula, I now knew that everything in my life was building up to that glorious moment when I'd be neither man nor wolf but something in between. But again, this expectation was short-lived and soon my interests had drifted away from werewolves.
Every once in a while, I would touch upon my lycanthropy fixation, but it wasn't limited to werewolves. Despite damning evidence that indicated my parents were the Easter Bunny, I harbored a suspicion that a wererabbit stalked the dew-kissed yards in springtime. Years later, as I burned through almost all of Stephen King's books, I found myself perplexed by Silver Bullet in ways that I can't quite put into words.
Maybe it felt too straightforward but anything less would be anti-climactic. Perhaps this was my first indicator that I didn't really know what I wanted from the werewolf mythology: an issue that even lingered through the beginning stages of this illustration.
I'm not blaming Silver Bullet (and let me clarify that I actually enjoyed the book) but as I became a teenager, I only thought of werewolves as an interesting exploration of the Big Bad Wolf that stalked through so many fairy tales (fairy tales were often the subject of my high school art projects).
It wasn't until sometime in the mid-2000s when I revisited a lot of the classic monsters (as anyone who follows this blog already knows by now) that I gave any more attention to werewolves. The Wolf Man remains one of the most popular of the classic Universal horror films and it's well-deserved. In many ways, it's the funniest of the early horror films in my opinion but admittedly I have a strange sense of humor.
Combining the laughs with the fact that the story is actually decent makes it an easy film to fall into. While I'm partial to say that werewolf films are disappointing more often than not, I have enjoyed the creativity that went into many lycanthropy-based films.
An American Werewolf in London was far too enjoyable for me to really care about the quadruped wolf and the recent television series Hemlock Grove features a werwolf character that fits into the mythology perfectly as well as one of the best transformation scenes on celluloid. I also enjoyed The Howling but this is also where one of my greatest annoyances with the modern werewolf comes into play: the werewolf as rustic hillbilly which hits peak levels of annoyance on the once-great TV series True Blood.
Not to say that True Blood really did so much for vampires or witches, but werewolves were consistently shown to be redneck biker subservients to annoying vampires. True Blood is allowed to have its own mythology but it definitely fell short of my expectations of werewolves. And again there's that whole annoying quick shift from man to common wolf.
But where some artists degrade the werewolf mythology into something so simple, other artists take werewolves further than the confines of popularised mythology. Bret Easton Ellis briefly mentions a werewolf rampaging through Bel Air in Less Than Zero, a particularly creepy idea for those of us who have driven through the bizarrely empty-feeling Bel Air night.
I had the pleasure of attending a talk by author Trini Dalton in which she took a moment to show a photo of a severed werewolf head growing clusters of crystals; an image I found inexplicably inspiring. I've even found the phrase "electric werewolves" creeping into my own mythology; neon, hyperactive, charged and crackling teenage beasts. But this particular illustration explores my idea of the werewolf in a classic sense.
I wanted my werewolf to be a hulking, top-heavy behemoth, dragged into a hunched form by its own bulk and muscle. I initially began by drawing the central figure but I felt it didn't quite express the chaos of the werewolf.
Therefore, I added the image of the howling wolf and the other profile. While I feel the central figure expresses the stalking werewolf, watching its prey with confidence and poised before the final burst of mania, the howling profile of the werewolf is used to convey literal "lunacy" - a loss of control through a sort of hypnosis brought on by the pregnant full moon.
The human aspects of the werewolf are gone from its eyes in each illustration, but it is this howling wolf that shows just how in thrall the werewolf is to its supernatural calling. I say "supernatural" despite my belief that the werewolf myth often delves into man's repressed sexuality and animal rage; aspects of man as an animal that are actually quite natural.
But in referring to this as "supernatural" in the werewolf mythology reinforces the strength of the pull, the maddening need that actually transforms the man into another physical form. Finally, the open-mouthed profile of the werewolf was drafted spontaneously and is possibly my favorite depiction of the werewolf; betrayed by maddening senses, crazed and consuming.
The moon is vital in the werewolf mythology and is one of the defining factors in pretty much every decent werewolf story or film. That importance is highlighted in the fact that the moon nearly overtakes the entirety of the world around the werewolf in this illustration. To this day, when I gaze up at the full moon from anywhere even remotely forested, my mind goes to the werewolf and I feel the magic in its mythology. When the full moon peers behind the clouds in The Wolf Moon, the horror is secondary to the beauty.
The flowers in the foreground are wolf's bane which is simply a reference to the poem recited in The Wolf Man: "Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night/May become a wolf when the wolf's bane blooms and the autumn moon is bright." The glowing pentagram on the werewolf's hand is also a reference to a telltale sign in The Wolf Man of the survivor of a werewolf bite (and thus a carrier of the curse).
The collapsed wooden fence posts bordering the foreground were a less specific but still somehow important part of the mythology. They're indicative of faulty barriers or boundaries and indicate a rustic, maybe ill-maintained or even abandoned farm. It's in this isolation that the man loses himself and the werewolf comes to the surface. The swollen allure of the autumn moon, the sexual bloom of the venomous wolf's bane, the deteriorated boundaries all give way to the silence and remoteness that demands the most primal of howling.
The world around the werewolf makes no sense with red bullet streaks passing behind the werewolf but before the ground he stands upon. These bullets are the werewolf's death/rebirth, the conclusion and salvation only deliverable through someone who loves him, hence the hearts emblazoned on the silver. Here, love delivers the beast away from savage confusion, sexual shame, and the guilt of animalistic urges." Seth Styles
2014 - watercolor, acrylic, and pen on paper
"Even before I took on the Classic Monsters project, I understood that all of the paintings would be self-portraits. Still, I feel that the flourishes and flaws of Dorian Gray draw some of the most obvious parallels to my own experiences.
Perhaps I'm deceiving myself when I imagine that everyone goes through a point in his/her life when s/he can relate to Dorian Gray and his glamorous Faustian tale.
If you subscribe to the belief that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, public opinion falls away and whether you're loved or loathed, you can still see the face of a god in the mirror. On one level, this is actually healthy. But with Dorian Gray it's a veneer and the true self-loathing, guilt, and shame are sneering just beneath the reflective surface, betrayed by ugly actions.
Unlike a lot of the classic monsters, I have no childhood associations to Dorian Gray. In fact, I was ignorant to his existence until a rather dull late afternoon when I was 19 or 20, sitting in a small, stagnant university classroom before a memorably boring history professor who looked like a soul-sucked Oliver Hardy.
The fact that I can't even recall the focus of this class (other than the broad term "history") is a testament to how little I retained of the horribly presented course material but like a glimmering diamond crowning a pile of shit, the man with no soul inexplicably assigned us to read Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, possibly the best piece of literature I've ever had the honor to read.
If Dorian Gray hadn't been portrayed so effeminately, I'd maybe not have drawn the connection. Instead, he was like the evil twin to the archetype with which I most identified. But it rapidly became clear that this wasn't some twisted Gemini to my adored archetype but rather a different shade on the same spectrum.
I understood that not only was I capable of this narcissism but there was actually a side of me that longed for it and felt a wounded pride in it. In darker moments, I wanted to watch the world choke on my perfume. This wasn't a personality shift or anything of the sort; I had been exploring these fantasies and absurd love letters to myself for as long as I could remember.
The difference is that I was now conscious of how selfish many of my conceits could be and I actually enjoyed this awareness with an arrogance that overshadowed guilt. Again, I feel this must be something that everyone goes through when trying to find him/herself but perhaps I'm deluding myself for comfort. In most cases these were simply unhinged internal dramas amplified to create a self-importance that the world wasn't giving me.
Dorian Gray not only explores every vice under the sun but also every vice that the sun's never touched. With my illustration, I was most interested in exploring sexual vices. The juxtaposition of Dorian Gray's angelic beauty and internal perversions creates the perfect blend for heartbreak. It's terrifying and simultaneously exhilarating to imagine a face that's so easy to love masking a mind that delights in emotional torture.
The idea that you could be the sacrifice of the night on the satin sheet altar to a god that worships himself far more than you ever could. This is the true horror of Dorian Gray and it screams in the hot blood of anyone who's ever been poisoned by betrayal and felt the strange addiction to that disease.
In my illustration, Dorian Gray is in a state of vulnerability; the chamber that displays the insidious portrait that takes on his darkness as he remains forever young and beautiful. To reinforce this vulnerability, I wanted to frame the portrait in rejection. Amidst the metal roses and thorns, lesbian faces touch tongues in a symbol of rejection.
This is the coldness that Dorian Gray drives into everyone he meets but the same frigidness to which he is impervious. None of the women are actually kissing as I didn't want true love to be anywhere in the world of Dorian Gray. Instead, he is surrounded by animalistic lust, damaged souls licking each other's wounds with poison tongues.
The women seduce each other, corrupting innocence with the same perversion that Dorian Gray uses to corrode the people he preys upon. But as these metallic women get lost in one another, they are oblivious to Dorian, unable to see his supernatural beauty, blinded by sexual longing.
A false sense of warm radiates from their physical beauty, creating enough romantic longing for Dorian to feel the thorns of rejection. While I see lesbianism as something completely natural, the women portrayed in the frame of Dorian's portrait are simply the personification of rejection on a sexual and emotional level.
Their symbolic preference of lust for one another over the crippling emotional longing Dorian invokes in the world around him doesn't derail Dorian by any means but rather serves as an unnerving reminder that in some dimension, his weakness is conceivable.
To Dorian's left, we see a statue of nude lesbians touching tongues. One woman's hand transforms into a barbed, dead tree while the other woman's arm transforms into a barbed root system. A metal snake twists through the branches, poised before a single golden apple.
The allusion to Eve and the snake are further reinforcement of sexual corruption and shame as well as a reminder of Dorian's misogyny. Likewise, the forbidden fruit here is another indicator of rejection, but here it is the gold rejecting the cold, dark, twisted iron, the soul rejecting the flesh, the love that will always be out of reach for Dorian Gray, lost in a world of vice and deluded narcissism." Seth Styles
2014 - watercolor, acrylic, and pen on paper
"As a kid, I was never really impressed with Frankenstein's monster or as I knew him at that point and still often catch myself referring to him "Frankenstein". He sort of settled into Halloween fodder, a face welcome only in the symbol of a favorite holiday, a generic drone adrift in seas of sheet ghosts, pirates, black cats, and clowns.
But like a lot of things in my life (the color yellow, the Friday the 13thmovies, Baby Ruth candy bars) my initial rejection would lead to me taking Frankenstein's monster for granted…and then one day I'd wake up and realize he's really fucking bizarre.
One of my earliest memories of Frankenstein's monster goes back to an autumn in my childhood. After Saturday morning cartoons, one of the local stations would play low budget b-grade horror films hosted by Dr. Paul Bearer.
The show was called Creature Feature and though I would love it now as a kid it only signalled that cartoons were over. Still, something about that show, broadcast on WTOG out of St. Petersburg, FL (just a few hours from where I lived) stayed with me. I don't think I ever sat down and watched it, rather it would stay on the TV as I ran from my room, to the kitchen, outside, and back again.
But I remember a spot that would play on TV where a slowed down voice wished the audience a happy Halloween from the TV station. The voice played over cheap, wavering images of all the classic monsters, but my mind always put that deep, creepy, cheesy voice as Frankenstein's monster's. It wasn't a direct thought, just something at the back of my head.
The first time Frankenstein's monster caught me by surprise was sometime in late middle school or early high school when we were given free reign to choose any "classic" book from the library and write a report about it. I can't really recall what books I was into at the time, if any, but guessing something by Stephen King or Lewis Carroll would probably be close.
I don't remember distinctly, but I think I felt like I was settling when I eventually chose Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. To this day, I don't remember a lot of the book other than burning through it in record time. I suddenly felt that the green, flat-top, neck-bolt model of Frankenstein's monster wasn't just the oafish holiday background actor I'd written him off as but rather a mockery, a farce, a candy corn-saturated spit-in-the-face of the poetic creation that Mary Shelley had brought to life with her words.
I envisioned him distorted, strong but hunched over, hands always twisted in simian reflex, greasy black hair carelessly spilling over one side of his face and running down his back or sticking to his clammy chest in cascades of dead tendrils. His stare was glassy and dark, his lips black and mangled against his gray skin.
When I was in my 20s, my girlfriend at the time developed an obsession with Frankenstein's monster. It must have been around the time that the Universal Legacy Collection came out because I didn't even own the Frankenstein DVD for a long time since she had it.
I don't remember the full extent of her fixation on Frankenstein's monster but she did go to Target directly after Halloween and ask if she could keep the giant cardboard face of Frankenstein's monster that they'd had hanging above the Halloween decor and costumes and her plea must have been passionate enough because they gave it to her.
The pinnacle of her hysteria, for me anyway, came around her birthday in February when she special ordered the infamous Carvel cake Cookiepuss but had it decorated like Frankenstein's monster. I can't recall how long Frankenpuss sat in our freezer in various states of disrepair but it felt like a year.
All of these experiences bled into my rendition of Frankenstein's monster (and maybe a bit of the Paul Morrissey film Flesh for Frankenstein) but this version of Frankenstein's monster actually came to me shortly before I got to work on the painting. I felt like it was important for this monster to somehow be psychedelic in nature.
I wanted to keep the brute qualities of the classic monster intact but the book and film both stayed true to a sort of fragile gentleness to the monster that I felt would be expressed well in the psychedelic aspects of the painting. Immediately, I imagined him in rolling hills and fields of flowers with the cold, clinical Castle Frankenstein among jagged mountains and an omnipresent thunderstorm.
The flowers were modelled (with lots of liberty taken with color and size) on three types of poison flowers: the belladonna, the daphne, and the autumn crocus. I wanted Frankenstein's monster to wander into a beauty that was at the same time vicious. But seeing as he is already dead, the flowers would pose no threat to him and instead be a sanctuary for him.
In this illustration, I imagine the flowers to exude the poison as a vapor, a venomous fragrance that keeps humans at bay. Here, the monster is alone with nature in a personal garden, communing with butterflies and bees and basking in simplicity.
Doubtless a lot of these ideas were influenced by the poppy fields of The Wizard of Oz (as well as the visual parallel between Castle Frankenstein and the Wicked Witch of the West's fortress) as well as the Nathaniel Hawthore short story "Rapaccini's Daughter". Here we feel the monster's connection with nature, perhaps indicative of a soul, while reinforcing his disconnect from the human race.
The visual design of my version of Frankenstein's monster went through several phases and I feel like I can trace the final result to several influences. Though not much of a fan of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (I admit, this is probably due to over-saturation more than anything) the concept of creating an attractive Adonis instead of a hulking monstrosity appealed to my glam rock aesthetic when I was a teenager.
This concept would connect with me again during my 20s when I first saw The Phantom of the Paradise and the Frankenstein-monsteresque performance from Death Records artist Beef. But it hit its full impact when I got into Paul Morrissey's movies starring Joe Dallesandro. While Dallesandro did not play the monster in Morrissey's Flesh for Frankenstein, Dallesandro's role opposite the monster-as-Adonis mixed in a mental blender with his leading roles in the Flesh/Trash/Heat trilogy and suddenly I was envisioning a ripped Frankenstein's monster with long blonde hair.
Originally, the monster was to be more effeminate with slender features and a wistful look in his dead eyes. While this seemed interesting, it didn't really cover what I felt was true at the base of Frankenstein's monster. It's worth a laugh to mention that he was almost painted wearing a red shirt with white polka dots but again it felt off the mark.
I think this may have been some sort of influence from the movie Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare in which Canadian '80s metal frontman Thor appears in one scene wearing a similar blouse that for reasons beyond my explanation always reminded me of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.
So, I guess I was sifting through a lot of subconscious muck to get to the end result of this illustration. Perhaps between the beefcake monsters and the stitched-up grotesque monsters, the 80s macho metal and the lost little girl from Kansas, it all comes back to that juxtaposition of beauty and poison.
I used to fixate on a line from my favorite New York Dolls song "Frankenstein": "Do you think it's a crime to fall in love with Frankenstein?" I used to ask it to my friends as a two-part question: 1.) the question itself and 2.) "Do you think David Johansen was talking about Dr. Frankenstein or the monster he created?" I can't quite figure out how this directly fits into this illustration but it still felt worth mentioning." Seth Styles
2014 - watercolor, acrylic, and pen on paper
"Having been born a Gemini, I'm well-acquainted with the duality that permeates life, seeing 2-sides of the coin spinning before me as it somersaults through the air before landing with one side up while I violently take my place in defense of the other.
But both sides exist within me just as they exist within everyone. I'm guilty of painting situations in black-and-white but what's truly astounding is how easily I can fall into extremities on either side. Even the most balanced human suffers from a slight touch of this and it's in this weakness that the tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is universally sympathetic.
As I mentioned in my analysis of my Dorian Gray illustration, each of the nine portraits in my Classic Monsters series is a self-portrait, like it or not. Like Dorian Gray, Jekyll and Hyde also draws a strong parallel to my own life experiences and is somewhat similar to Dorian Gray or even the werewolf in the juxtaposition of his nature. Where Dorian Gray's vices tainted his hidden portrait, Jekyll's vices bleed through in the visage of his alter ego, Hyde.
However, I always saw Dorian Gray's sins as primarily sexual and romantically sadistic with physical violence as an undercurrent. While I think there is a sexual nature to Hyde, I feel it is all secondary to a sense of manic violence. It's very similar to the werewolf as a cautionary tale of suppression.
Here we have the good Dr. Jekyll, an upstanding citizen, good samaritan, intelligent, sophisticated, a pillar of society. His longings, urges, and natural instincts have long been sacrificed to honor this perfect shining veneer. In Robert Louis Stevenson's novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it is through a serum that our monster finds his window into our world. But it's easy to conclude that Jekyll's suppression is the active ingredient.
I opted out of massive amounts of symbolism in my portrait of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde because this concentrated creature of dual-personality is such a strong symbol in himself. The backdrop is a nightmare imagining of Victorian London with mucky tainted smog hanging heavy in the atmosphere cut only by twisted and warped beacons of red illumination; hellish lamp posts bearing razor crowns that cut through the murky night.
Mirrors framed in ornate flourishes of black metal depict five reflections of Dr. Jekyll, searching his own reflection for truths too horrid to acknowledge, yet on some hastily suppressed frequency he is fully aware. For the most part, these reflections amidst an alarming red backdrop show Jekyll in various stages of shock and horror. While the lower right image shows the doctor with determination, I feel it still indicates a shaky resolve - a slight hint of doubt in the eyes.
The upper central reflection is the final face of Jekyll: accepting the man on the other side and daring to look him in the eye, using the last vestiges of his control to suppress what he knows is true.
Mr. Hyde has often been portrayed as hulking, menacing, and brutish but the original novella clearly states that he is smaller than Jekyll as a result of being stunted through suppression. In my portrait of Mr. Hyde, this quality manifests as a sad sort of vulnerability giving way to wild paranoia.
Make no mistake, I wanted my Hyde to be villainous to a homicidal degree, but I wanted him to be shaken by an insecurity that gives way to snarling viciousness and psychotic fits of rage. While Jekyll is clothed in benign light pink and lavender with a dull, plain gray coat, Hyde is swathed in garish hot pink and deep nocturnal black-and-blue. Here we find him lost in the hostile London night, snarling and recoiling like a wounded animal.
His hair is dishevelled and his tacky dandyish clothing is tattered and ripped from nocturnal episodes of sexual extremity eclipsed by erratic brutal violence. Hyde is mentally stunted by years of rejection and an imbalance that has left him critically severed from the source that could have, many years before, made him manageable.
In the end, it's hard to see the personalities of Jekyll and Hyde as black-and-white since the rampaging monster is actually a product of the respectable doctor. And as the story reveals (and as is the case with so many seeming dichotomies) Jekyll and Hyde are one and the same." Seth Styles
2014 - watercolor, acrylic, and pen on paper
"As an avid fan of '80s and '90s goth rock, I've found myself exposed to a lot of surface-level Egyptian images (I feel like every '90s goth group had a black-and-gold album cover emblazoned with an ankh) but, as you can imagine, I had no idea what any of it meant.
Likewise, I'd never seen a mummy until just a few years ago when I went to the California Science Center to see a mummies exhibit and most of those mummies seemed to be South American. Despite my ignorance, Egyptian history always appeared rich and exotic at face value and, whether naive or not, I wanted this essence in my version of the mummy.
The Mummy is actually the first illustration I began in my Classic Monsters series, initiated by a recent viewing of the 1932 Universal filmThe Mummy. To be honest, I hadn't watched the film since around 2004 when I first bought the DVD and I couldn't really recall anything beyond the most basic elements of the premise.
I was somewhat surprised to find that, like so many of his brethren in the classic Universal Monsters gallery, his actions are often motivated by romantic impulses. In fact, it is arguably the driving force of his resurrection.
As much as I love the generic bleached-bandaged, nameless, faceless mummies, I didn't feel that such a creature would be honoring the source of this monster's mythology so I tried to recreate my mummy from memories of the slowly decaying mummies I'd seen in National Geographic magazines and, in recent years, trips to museums.
I wanted something to allude to this timeless romantic as beautiful and effeminate in his fully restored form, so I gave him a full head of only slightly dishevelled hair, cut in the iconic Egyptian style I had seen in pop culture growing up. I wanted the bandages to be giving way, only loosely holding on to the resurrected corpse as he rises to murder his way back to his lithe grace and youthful beauty before searching for his reincarnated lover.
I believe less in coincidence with every passing day so it comes as no surprise that the evening after I had completed the sketch of my rendition of the mummy (including the background) I came across a National Geographic documentary on Nile crocodiles.
Perhaps I should have been less surprised when the documentary focused on an ancient Egyptian city known by the Greeks as Crocodilipolis inhabited by the cult of Sobek (the crocodile-headed god depicted in two golden statues behind the mummy). This cult worshipped crocodiles, mummifying them as sacrifices (as seen in the bound, mummified crocodiles creating the illustration's upper border).
The crocodile-headed deity, Sobek, was considered erratic and hypersexual in nature which, in my mind, made him a perfect patron for a creature who so longed for his lover as to defy death and the sacred bonds of life in a murderous path of rebirth.
Some scholars have hypothesised that Sobek's name derives from an ancient Egyptian word meaning "to impregnate." Again, we are met with the themes of birth (or in this case re-birth) through sexual desire. A golden scarab crowns the portrait linking the kiss of the mummified crocodiles. Scarabs are often cited as symbols of re-birth and eternity, adding additional emphasis on these obvious themes of the mummy.
The columns framing this portrait are engraved with glowing blue hieroglyphs repeating the words "love/desire", "life", "death", "crocodile", "Sobek" and "Set". Set (also referred to as Seth) is a chaotic ancient Egyptian god of many things, including violence. In merging Set's energy with Sobek's erratic hypersexuality, I felt the mummy's true romantic mania and murderous disdain for anything outside of his own lustful scope would be reinforced.
Finally, the piranhas are an integral aspect of my subconscious concepts of Egypt, defying science and logic. I understand that piranhas are Amazonian fish and that, even if it were to be argued that this was a South American mummy, the Egyptian imagery would be nonsensical. Sometimes it's these nonsensical elements that create the higher truth in an image because they go beyond our concepts into that same realm where aspects of dreams make sense to us despite being nonsense in the waking world.
Sometimes, these messages just aren't strong enough to warrant action. For example, I initially conceived of my mummy standing before an enormous blue glowing etching of the eye of Ra. The eye of Ra symbolises the sun which is a bit too distant from the symbolism I was going for with the mummy. In addition, it would have been difficult for the eye to be visible from its place behind the mummy.
However, the mummified piranhas on strings make perfect sense in my mythology based on a dream I had as a child. I was crawling through a pyramid, lit with the same earth tones you see in this illustration. There was am area of water below me and I was crawling across a narrow sort of sandbox lining the ceiling of the chamber that I was crawling through.
As my hands passed through the sand, I felt a pricking sensation. From the loose sand, I pulled the sharp, spiny carcass of a piranha and noticed the sand was littered with their jagged, barbed rib cages and mummified faces. Since then, these barbed-boned, mummified piranhas have often been a vital connection to my thoughts of ancient Egypt through a truth greater than I could ever communicate." Seth Styles
2014 - watercolor, acrylic, and pen on paper
"With immense credit going to Disney's animated The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the Headless Horseman was easily one of my favorite monsters as a child. This puts me in a bit of chicken-or-egg quandary though because I may have been drawn to the animated Headless Horseman through an obsession I've had with jack-o'-lanterns for as long as I can remember.
When I was a baby, my parents decorated my room with glowing jack-o'-lantern lamps including a scarecrow lamp with a grinning jack-o'-lantern face. Around the time I turned 2-years-old, my family moved to Florida and decided to give away these lamps prior to the move.
One of my earliest memories is watching (with bitter contempt) these lamps be given away to a family friend. Perhaps I was too young to have friends but I watched those grinning gourds leave like they were trusted and true comrades. Maybe I couldn't help but see the faces of those friends in the villainous grin of the Headless Horseman several years later.
It wasn't until recently that I realized I was remembering The Legend of Sleepy Hollow incorrectly and the pumpkin head was only used as a ruse by a local trying to scare Ichabod Crane. My disappointment was odd in its severity but I guess I felt somehow betrayed by my own memory. I didn't lose sleep over it or anything but to me, the Headless Horseman will always carry a jack-o-lantern head, despite how little that makes sense to the story.
I could say that my Headless Horseman smashes a seemingly endless supply of jagged-mawed gourds across his victims or holds the jack-o'-lantern head like a security blanket, traumatized by the loss of his own human head but I feel like the true answer defies explanation. It's an answer that only the ghosts can understand.
I was actually taken aback by how nefarious my rendition of the Headless Horseman turned out and, of the nine Classic Monsters illustrations, I consider this one to be the most disturbing. Perhaps it is colored by those bitter feelings I had as a 2-year-old, a dark emotional response clouding the innocent thoughts of a child.
The initial concept for my Headless Horseman illustration almost worried me with its lack of villainy. Upon looking up the traditional uniform of a Hessian artilleryman, I was actually excited by its lack of menace. I immediately thought of a cream-colored sky broken up by the limbs of dead trees. Against the blue jacket with red trim and that globular orange pumpkin, this would have no chance to be anything other than the most psychedelic and autumnal of my Classic Monsters series.
I think this shifted when, in a sort of trance, I sketched the Horseman's sword across the throat of his own horse. This not only alluded to the decapitation that made this spectre so notable but also showed his lack of allegiance. While I don't imagine that my Headless Horseman carries out the despicable deed of murdering his own horse, the insinuation disturbs me greatly, especially since the horse reacts with such complacence.
However, I feel that the horse itself is not a horse as you and I would know it. Rather, I think it is a droning entity from the phantom realms that resurrected the Headless Horseman, some sort of zombie steed with no soul in its abysmal eyes.
The Horseman's blade is rusted with a handle adorned with corroded metallic dead tree limbs and an equally corrupted metallic autumn leaf. Glimpses of the his dead skin visible between his black gloves and red cuffs exude a violet glow that also emanates from his neck and violently grinning jack-o'-lantern face. I interpret this glow as his essence or possibly whatever passes as his soul.
A pumpkin vine reaches into that essence creating some sort of brittle connection between head and body. While medals adorn his sash, they are unlike those of any army in our world. Instead, the cryptic symbols of crescent moon and dead leaf indicate some sort of merit in realms of the nocturnal and autumnal. But again, the sword crossing over the Horseman's own steed shatter any illusions of loyalty.
Anthropomorphic trees with hollow ghostly faces stretch from gray vapors to border the illustration. These loosely allude to McDonald's Happy Meal commercials from the '70s and '80s. I recall eating at McDonald's on Halloween sometime in the '80s in the Parkshore Shopping Center in Naples, Florida. This shopping center had a store that sold wicker furniture; it smelled like cinnamon and reminded me of witches. I imagine these trees smell like that store; cinnamon, wicker, and the smell of burning leaves.
The cannons flanking the horse are simply a reference to the cannons that took the Headless Horseman's head back when he was a Hessian artilleryman. The dynamic purposely recreates the Knight cards from tarot decks. A rainbow of autumn colors flanking the horse as well as the autumn colors worked into the canons aren't meant to indicate the Headless Horseman as a knight of the autumn.
Rather, they're meant to create the fall atmosphere that incubates the Horseman's energy. The peach skies and symbols create a tarot card-like collage invoking simpler times and the celebratory nature of the rustic harvest juxtaposed with the otherworldly horror of the Headless Horseman made clearer through the thinning boundary between our world and his." Seth Styles
2014 - watercolor, acrylic, and pen on paper
"I was surprised by how much I either related to or pitied the Invisible Man. All of the Universal monsters were highly identifiable as sides of humanity lost to romance or sexuality (even the Gill Man) but the Invisible Man wasn't very amorous or sexual…his drama paralleled Dr. Frankenstein's (not to be confused with Frankenstein's monster) in that he gets lost in his own ego, drunk on his own greatness, and ignorant of the pathos plaguing his tale.
Though it's not explicitly expressed, I immediately felt upon my first viewing of the Invisible Man that it's a tragedy about addiction; about losing connection with a higher source and being so seduced by delusions of grandeur as to feel one with God while being fundamentally separated in such a horrifying way that the brain can't even accept it. It was in this mania that I found my Invisible Man.
The Invisible Man I've chosen is a hybrid of the Dr. Griffin that appears in the 1987 H.G. Wells novella and the Dr. Griffin portrayed by Claude Rains in James Whale's 1933 film The Invisible Man for Universal. I was surprised by the humorous tone of the novella but liked that Dr. Griffin was more isolated and insane. In the film, his insanity comes on gradually, severing him from his loved ones.
My Dr. Griffin seems to fall somewhere between these two. Unlike the novella version, my Dr. Griffin was not insane prior to taking the invisibility serum. While I'd like to say he is driven mad by the drug itself (as stated in the film), I also feel that the power that comes with invisibility juxtaposed with the helplessness of being unable to find an antidote are factors in this particular Dr. Griffin coming unhinged.
In the film, the specific ingredient monocane is faulted for Griffin's mounting insanity. Unlike the film's Griffin, I wanted my Griffin to already be isolated from anyone and anything that he ever loved, save his own ego, science, and, of course, his drug. I wanted amorous romance far from his perspective, rather I preferred he be consumed by a lust for power and a severe chemical addiction that brings with it a psychotic euphoria.
While a lot of the themes I've explored in my portrait of Dr. Griffin run along the same vein, they come close to outright contradicting each other so that he is basically one character existing in several realities at once that present general feelings of desperation, obsession, delusion, frustration, and mania.
This Dr. Griffin is isolated and unloved but was also once a potentially great man faulted by a crippling arrogance. His insanity comes from power just as much as from an inability to regain what he's lost. At the same time, his insanity comes from a chemical shift brought on by a highly destructive and equally addictive drug.
He holds his serum up in mad triumph, but is this serum the antidote or just another batch of the invisibility potion? At times, I imagine an antidote is not even a factor as he regains visibility as the drug wheres off. At other times, I imagine that he's desperately searching for a way to become visible again, a way that's always out of reach.
But then I think that perhaps he is just struggling to recreate a drug for the high, a drug that keeps losing its potency despite the fact that Griffin is sentenced to his invisibility indefinitely.
One of the most obvious motifs that appears again and again in my portrait of Dr. Griffin is the poppy. The wallpaper consists of simplified renderings of poppy flowers, a poppy flower has been crafted into the lower corner of the stained glass window, and poppies are being examined in a Victorian terrarium beside Griffin's microscope.
In either the film or the novella (possibly in both) opium is said to be a key ingredient of the invisibility serum along with the monocane. In this portrayal, Dr. Griffin has created a gaseous form of the serum that he is constantly inhaling through a mask, but we can see dripping syringes on the counter as well as a shattered syringe on the ground.
While the serum as an inhalant keeps Griffin medicated while he works, the injections offer him a more severe high. But I used different shades of green to indicate failed batches as Griffin struggles to improve the purity and get the right balance to make the perfect serum (presumably the one he is holding in his hand so victoriously).
One more quick note on the poppy wallpaper: the centre of each poppy was drawn as a hypnotic swirl or spiral to reinforce the ideas of Griffin's downward spiral into mania and the hypnotic mesmerisation of deep addiction.
Along with the syringes, I've worked in the less obvious swords motif. You can see the golden swords crossed on the wall behind Dr. Griffin as well as swords for cabinet door handles. Originally, swords were also supposed to be worked into the wallpaper pattern but this didn't work very well on a visual level so they were removed in favour of the poppy pattern.
In the tarot, swords are representative of the air element and matters of the mind. All of Dr. Griffin's failures and ambitions are firmly set within the realm of the mind: his science, his madness, his addictions, his arrogance. A synopsis of the character of Dr. Griffin on Wikipedia explains that Griffin's work explores optics and that his serum was born from his finding a shift in his body's refractive index, changing it to that of air, rendering him invisible through a rejection of light.
So, again, we're brought back to the element of air, its relation to the mind, and the symbol of the swords. But keeping in mind with the theme of addiction, each sword's handle is crafted to look like that of a syringe.
Finally, I decided to give the Invisible Man a bit of a psychedelic dandy look because, despite the tragic themes of the portrait, I was listening to the '60s psych group The Herd's "She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not" during the coloring process and it just seemed to be a dimension of my Dr. Griffin that fit.
In some ways, it expresses his flamboyance while simultaneously communicating (at least for me) an inflated confidence in himself fanned by chemical euphoria." Seth Styles
DISNEY ORPHANS SERIES - DISNEY ART
This disney art series, explores a post-apocalyptic world, where the four mountains of disneyland have become the home of four clans of "Disney Orphans".
IN THIS SERIES SO FAR…
Disney Orphan - Space Mountain
Disney Orphan - Matterhorn
2014 - watercolor, acrylic, and pen on paper
"The idea of the Disney Orphans in my mythology grows from childhood contemplations blown into dark terrain through currents of fear that have probably existed in the universal consciousness for as long as history documents.
In the '80s, there was a recurring threat of apocalypse just as had existed in the decades before and followed the decades after. There's always been a Mayan Calendar or Y2K looming in our futures. Growing up in Southwest Florida with occasional rumours of Cuban missiles pointed at my living room, I found myself more than once contemplating my apocalypse survival plan. Naturally, this plan meant walking through the post-apocalyptic wastes to Disney World in Orlando.
The look of the typical Disney Orphan came to me in a last-minute attempt to throw together a Halloween costume. I was living with my ex-girlfriend at the time and one of us had made a joke about bootleg Disney merchandise.
At this point, the look wasn't meant to tie into the Disney Orphan mythos, largely because there really wasn't much of a mythos in existence. The whole thing was pretty much glued together by a dumb joke about using my ex-girlfriend's black bra as bootleg Mickey Mouse ears. While this was the joke that motivated the costume, it was the only part that I can remember didn't actually work.
I made my own creepily distorted Mickey Mouse t-shirt, my own Mickey Mouse tights, generic Mickey Mouse pins, etc. but in the end I had to use a genuine pair of Disney-issued Mickey Mouse ears because, despite my best efforts, my ex's bra just couldn't be moulded into a convincing hat.
However, I really loved the look of the costume in its final result and began affectionately calling it the Disney Orphan. It's as if the story behind the Disney Orphan mythology was slowly being remembered the more I looked at myself in that attire. It was such an easy and visually-appealing costume for me that I found myself returning to it for several consecutive Halloweens.
These were the seeds of the Disney Orphan mythology. So what is a Disney Orphan? Like much of my artistic work, the definition is fluid and hard to pin down, so it's easiest to site the Disney Orphans appearances in my work. At their most basic, the Disney Orphans form a tribe of feral children who live in an alternate reality post-apocalyptic Disneyland/Disney World.
While this Disneyland has many similarities to both of the American theme parks, there are very obvious differences, such as a recurring crocodile display where the Disney Orphans execute adults, other outsiders, or Disney Orphans that are found guilty of some crime against the tribe." Seth Styles
2015 - watercolor, acrylic, and pen on paper
"Until February of 2014, I had never been on Disneyland's Matterhorn Bobsleds, writing it off in the back of my mind as a gently roaring no-man's-land that was probably far too scary for someone like me.
When I'd visit Disneyland, my eyes would pass its peak without hesitation, a briefly illuminated thought of sleds dropping from it's craggy peak in the back of my mind. It didn't threaten me because there was no chance I'd ever face it.
But that fateful day in February, riding high on a free trip courtesy of a friend, I was finally goaded into taking my place in the bobsled. But as the little girls in the line promised my wife and me, the Matterhorn wasn't scary.
That evening, it was reborn in a gentler light, especially when compared to the mystifying freak-out of Space Mountain or the horrifying frigid free-falls of the nightmarish Matterhorn of my mind's creation. Followers of this blog know that last year, I embarked on my own personal Mountain Challenge in which I rode all four of Disneyland's mountain-themed roller coasters in one day.
While this feat may seem ridiculous to most of the world, it was actually a major point of facing fear for me. In this portrait of the Disney Orphan that reigns over the Matterhorn, I tried to capture a hint of that fear with the gentler, wintry beauty that the Matterhorn Bobsleds eventually revealed to me.
As mentioned in my previous Disney Orphan blog, the Disney Orphans are a Lord of the Flies-style tribe of feral children that inhabit an alternate reality post-apocalypse Disneyland. Disney Orphan - Space mountain was my definite first choice as Space Mountain is so unlike the other 3 mountains in its futuristic design.
After some deliberation, I chose to take on the Matterhorn as the second mountain for a few reasons: 1. the novelty of the Matterhorn Bobsleds since it was the last of the mountains for me to ride, 2. the history in the Matterhorn since it was the first of the Disneyland mountains to be built, and 3. the seasonal weather (I started the illustration right before Christmas 2014).
Also right before Christmas, I watched Disney's animated film Frozen, made curious by the hype of 10-year-olds and disdain of their parents. Despite most of my peers being either ignorant of the film or outright disliking it, my inner child was entertained and some of that energy poured into this illustration, probably contributing to the soft, gentle aspects.
In between sips of mint hot chocolate, I poured a lot of energy into capturing details of the Matterhorn, trying to recreate its natural rocky, snow-covered veneer. I experimented with negative space in attempts to sketch the waterfalls and the snowy peak. Unlike most of my illustrations, I chose not to ink the details of the Matterhorn, wanting a soft, natural look.
However, I had always imagined the Matterhorn as looking cold with lots of grays, blues, and whites (much like the color template of the tiles that the Disney Orphan is walking upon). So, as I tried to recreate the Matterhorn, I was surprised at how rustic and earthy the rock facade of the Matterhorn actually looked. Though grays and blues are subtly incorporated into the facade, that earthy brown is the base color.
At times, this bothered me during the painting process but in the end, I feel it is a reverent portrait of the Matterhorn and still captures its arctic majesty and ominous iciness. I also had trouble referencing the actual look of the area where patrons line up. Though this is an alternate reality Disneyland, I still wanted to capture some semblance of the traditional look of the Matterhorn Bobsleds including the split line experience.
I completely fabricated the colors of the line and its weird ticket house structure to reinforce the chilly vibe of the illustration. I also alluded to the Disney Orphan influence with some of the Matterhorn ticket house's plaques missing, the window blinds torn out revealing dark space, and a graffiti Mickey Mouse skull insignia.
The Mickey mouse skull insignia is one of two important differences in symbols between the Disney Orphan who presides over the Space Mountain district and this Disney Orphan who presides over the Matterhorn district. The Space Mountain Disney Orphan incorporates a stitch-mouthed Mickey Mouse design as his icon and makes use of a cryptic symbol of a red crescent moon punctuated mysteriously by a red star.
This symbol is often used to form the ears of his Mickey Mouse icon. However, the Matterhorn's Disney Orphan makes use of a simple Mickey Mouse skull icon and a symbol showing an eye with a hypnotic spiral iris that spins out into another spiral design outside of the eye. The meaning of these occult symbols are known only to the Disney Orphans themselves. It can be assumed that the orphans presiding over Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain make use of equally cryptic yet different symbols and Mickey Mouse icons.
Finally, the state of the vegetation surrounding the Matterhorn is simply a reminder that the Disney Orphans are survivors of the apocalypse. Even the evergreens have taken on a polluted yellow with the bushes around them succumbing to a diseased gray. They're not quite dead but possibly mutated, unable to continue as they were prior to the apocalypse." Seth Styles
ANGEL CASTLE - CHILDREN'S BOOK ART
This children's book art series are illustrations for a children's novella called Angel Castle. It is the story of fairies and their adventures on Earth.
AVAILABLE IN THIS SERIES
Papa Fairy & the Tiny Fairies
The Journey Suite
2014 - marker and pen on paper
"This depicts the character of Justina, a chauffeur butterfly who assists the fairies of Angel Castle during their time on Earth. Justina is often described for her beauty and I tried to capture that elegance in a way that children and adults could both understand while at the same time capturing in her an alien quality that would maybe distance her from the humans yet make her perfectly acceptable to the fairies.
The design of Justina came to me as a creature so cosmically beautiful and graceful that a human rooted in our world might have trouble comprehending her gorgeousness...or possibly even find her unnerving." Seth Styles
2014 - marker and pen on paper
This illustration, depicting the tiny fairies struggling to imagine the appearance of a human child, is the first illustration I did of the tiny fairies and their teacher, Papa Fairy.
Papa Fairy's design was the first and, in many ways, the easiest because Rita describes his appearance a bit more than the other fairies. I wanted to capture the slim pointy features, towering lankiness, and enormous eyes that she described, but used a robe heavily influenced by sci-fi and space opera fantasies.
I decided early on that the tiny fairies should wear flowers as hats and tried as much as I could to make some sort of sense or symbolism out of this, even if it was on a purely personal level. At one point, I had mistakenly read that begonias symbolise intelligence so Terrence, a fairy depicted as a bookish know-it-all, was depicted wearing a begonia.
Initially, he was going to wear a thistle but this didn't translate well. The maple leaf is believed to symbolise independent thinking and can also mean patience, so I used it as the tiara for the always inquisitive fairy Silky, who also wears a dress patterned in question marks and tights patterned in emphatic exclamation points. Shirley, a fairy who is always losing her temper and snapping at her peers, was drawn wearing a hat and shoulder pads of Venus flytraps.
I chose a dandelion for the soft and shy Britence more out of the feeling than any sort of symbolism. This was the same reason for using a lily to crown Starlet, a fairy who is sweet and sensitive but adores the spotlight. Crowning the mopey and constantly-depressed Grooch with an upside down rose, thorns out, was a much more obvious choice, further emphasised through the frowning storm cloud patterns on his shorts.
Finally, the courageous, but a bit too helpful Skipence was designed wearing a sunflower because of his cheery disposition.
In this illustration, the tiny fairies have just met one another and are following their new leader, Papa Fairy, with a bit of hesitance and uncertainty down unfamiliar corridors of Angel Castle. I tried to make each illustration of the interior of Angel Castle colourful in different ways with different patterns so that each illustration would have its own particular mood." Seth Styles
2014 - marker and pen on paper
SPIRIT GUIDE PORTRAITS - OCCULT ART
This occult art series explores the concept of Spirit Guides and is based around portraits and readings of guides that Seth Styles has channeled for people.
IN THIS SERIES SO FAR…
Spirit Guide of Divine Inspiration
Spirit Guide of Playfulness & Ritual
Jan 5, 2015 - watercolor and pen on paper
"I am first aware of the spirit's gaunt, towering figure, a silhouette against the light. Yet, even in this first impression I notice its elegance and relaxed grace. It moves slowly, yet confidently out of the light, seeming to almost float…
Every person receives special messages from source. These messages may relate directly to our life's work or reason for being. This creature can transcend dimensions and exists as a sort of translator. Messages coming from higher frequencies and dimensions may be indecipherable at our dimensional frequency, but this being brings clarity.
You can think of this sexless entity as a sort of wizard emerging from the void, a spirit of mirrors, prisms, and the dark potential of deep space. It uses crystals to take the secret messages that come to you, specific secret messages from divinity, and translate them through prisms that break the messages into simpler, digestible ideas and concepts that we can then use to do our work on this plane.
You can look into this majestic being's mirrored face and see the source reflected in your own image. This being uses its crystal prisms to project a face that we can comprehend, a face that can communicate with us, that can whisper those secret messages from the source in our own language. If you look at the lower half of this spirit, you'll notice that its border becomes less-defined, blurring into different colors and shapes.
That is because this creature can exist in several dimensions at once. It may have one ear in a higher dimension, "listening" to messages of complex light while its holograph mouth whispers the translation into your ear a few dimensions away.
In having this Spirit come forward at this time, it is crucial that you notices what signals, messages, ideas and inspirations you are receiving as they are coming from a higher dimensional space right now and directly relate to your higher purpose in this life.
There are ideas whispering to you now from on high and you must be silent, listen and take action based on the messages you are receiving. This is a time of great cosmic assistance, synchronicity and divine inspiration. Listen to your inspiration now as it is communicating great ideas that with your love, nurturance and loving action, can become great gifts for humanity too.
Don't be afraid to take risks for as you bring the new forward, it may not be familiar or comfortable to others but you must honor the ideas and revelations received and you will pioneer a new time for yourself as well as gifting new ideas, concepts, healing, liberation and progress to others.
Use this portrait to establish a personal connection with the higher realms so that you can live your divine inspiration with clarity of purpose. Stay in tune with this spirit being to receive ideas and revelations in your life's path and a deeper understanding of your significance.
With the aid of this regal guide, you can expect great ideas, divine inspiration as well as solutions to obstacles, and heightened focus in matters of your life's mission." Seth Styles
Jan 15, 2015 - watercolor and pen on paper
"This Spirit Guide may appear intimidating to say the least, especially when spirit guides and light beings are so often imagined as ethereal angels or soft-focus light beings (a preconception I've found to be inaccurate in the majority of cases).
However, this spirit guide actually comes from a place of intense innocence and her severity is actually just the exaggeration of that innocence.
When I first called upon this particular Spirit Guide, I felt a lot of resistance. Perhaps this could be contributed to her shyness or possibly I hadn't played along with her game long enough to earn her presence.
On my second attempt, after incorporating reiki symbols and going into a meditative state, I found myself walking beneath the arching, triangular entrance to a gray stone temple carved out of what I assume was granite. I could hear _____'s singing voice from far away. It was almost as if I was in ____'s head or that elements of her voice were somehow transcending into this dimension.
However, the Spirit Guide still refused to reveal herself. I calmly strolled into the stone structure and very quickly found myself standing at the edge of a steep cliff. I vaguely recall that I heard water or at least felt the essence of flowing water far below in the darkness. I contemplated jumping into the abyss, wondering if the Spirit Guide would show herself if I did.
I wondered if she were possibly at the bottom of the cliff. Several times I nearly came out of my meditative state, feeling I was possibly out of my depth.
Luckily, I didn't give up. Just as suddenly as the granite temple had appeared before me, I was in a nocturnal forest with the Spirit Guide leaning against a tree somewhat in the distance. She knew I was there yet she didn't look at me. Rather she slowly raised her head looking past me and to my left, ribbons whipping dramatically from her majestic antlers in the wind. There was a grace and strength that I instantly identified as feminine.
Somehow, I couldn't tell whether she was bald or draped in long, silky, straight dark hair. There was something almost elven about her. She solemnly surveyed the forest before her with calm, light green eyes that peered from a face painted like a skull. Perhaps this wasn't face paint but rather her natural skin pattern.
She had four arms; two that ended in six fingers that extended into tree branches connected by Japanese fans. The other two hands may have had six fingers but more than likely had five. These fingers were humanoid and bore no fans. Standing still, she still exuded pure elegance in her towering nobility.
The ribbons tied to this Spirit Guide's antlers were the first indicator as to her nature. Juxtaposed with the skull pattern on her face, I felt a sense of joy in decorating the somber. This Spirit Guide reminds us that everything in life, including the most menial tasks and mundane responsibilities, can be made entertaining.
She finds a parade in the DMV line or a carnival in the traffic jam. I sometimes got the impression that she had somehow tied the ribbons to her antlers herself but at other times I felt that other playful spirits had tied the ribbons to her. Perhaps they were laughing at her…but even if they were the joke was on them as she turned their tricks into regal ceremony.
Because on the other hand, this Spirit Guide also has a gift for finding matters of crucial importance in games and adds serious ritual to play, often presiding over the affairs. In this way, she elevates childish merrymaking to a beautiful and refined observance. This is mirrored in the decorative fans that span across her twig fingers in that the fans are at once sprightly and dignified.
The antlers may also reference the elk, often used as a symbol in Native American culture of the benefits and joy of seeking counsel or camaraderie with members of the same sex.
This Spirit Guide's gown seems to almost grow from the earth itself while her ribbons seem to be in a constant state of excited motion from the wind. This could be yet another dichotomy of this innocent creature, indicating that she is at once grounded yet equally prone to daydream (feet on the ground and head in the clouds).
I was taken by the sombreness of the Spirit Guide's skull pattern and felt it indicated that she knew great depths. I'm not sure if this was through a literal encounter with tragedy or more of a symbolic journey into the underworld. Regardless, whatever events familiarised this Spirit Guide with those subterranean reaches happened at an early enough age that they didn't cost the Spirit Guide her innocence.
Rather, she absorbed it into her youth and it became a part of her rites. Jewelry glimmers slightly from her forehead, an ornate decoration that further reminds us of the opulent ceremony that holds her games aloft.
This Spirit Guide may be helping you to find color in the mundane or take the initiative to decorate the drab. Likewise, she may also be a reminder of the importance of play and taking time to honor your own rituals." Seth Styles
SKETCHES & WORKS IN PROGRESS
These sketches & works in progress display the uncolored, pen work of many of the various fantasy and sci-fi art pieces before they are completed.
2014 - pencil/pen on paper
2014 - ballpoint pen on paper
SKETCHES OF THE TAROT ART
These are the sketches of an occult art series, that explores the traditional tarot mythology and meanings through all new, original, fantasy and sci-fi stories created by Seth Styles.
2015 Pen on Paper
2015 Pen on Paper
2015 Pen on Paper
2015 Pen on Paper
2015 Pen on Paper
2015 Pen on Paper
2015 Pen on Paper
2015 - ink on paper
2015 - Pen on Paper
2016/2017 - Ink on paper
2016/2017 ink on paper
2016/2017 - Ink on paper
ink on paper - 2016/2017
2016/2017 - ink on paper
2016/2017 - ink on paper
2016/2017 - ink on paper
SKETCHES OF THE CLASSIC MONSTER ART
These are sketches of the classic monster art series, which explores the traditional classic monsters and their individual mythology and the aspects of the human psyche that they represent.
2014 Pen on Paper
2014 Pen on Paper
2014 Pen on Paper
2014 Pen on Paper
2014 Pen on Paper
2014 Pen on Paper
2014 Pen on Paper
2014 Pen on Paper
2014 Pen on Paper