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First day of November, the day of the dead and the saints. It is said to be the day when the barriers between the world of the living and that of the spirits are thinned; Plutonian sensitivity and energy intensify, as Scorpio has just begun its astral journey in the celestial vault. Since I am neither an art historian nor a critic, also because I have no desire to criticize those who dedicate themselves to making art, I try to use art to my advantage and look for in it the diversion I need today: it could be the therapist that for the moment I cannot afford, or the dream story in which I can take refuge, or even simply a game to pass the time. I imagine I have an infinite deck of cards, consisting of all the art images that exist in all of art history and from this deck, draw the ones I need. We can use Open Art Images as if it were our deck, and in fact in this amazing platform, you can do keyword searches so you can find all the content behind one theme.
Imagining all the people who last night transformed into something else, put on red and black makeup, and descended into the dark atmosphere of Halloween, I can think of a suitable game for this first day of November: looking for the perfect artwork for Halloween and for these subtle feelings of spirit energies I feel in the air. What artwork could be the perfect Halloween mask?
Let’s get started.
Francis Bacon, psychological ripper
I think that if there is an artist worthy of a Halloween mask this is Francis. In fact, his is a typical psychological horror movie scenario, where the killer has grown up traumatized and repressed by society and only through contact with flesh and blood can he express his discomfort. In Bacon’s film, there is a need to bring out the physical guts and material pain to deal with that acute mental pain, which is intangible but generates a huge black void within the half-mutilated bodies.
Bacon’s aesthetics allow the pain to take shape: after dwelling on his paintings, it is as if all the anguish in the world were accepted and evident. His triptychs and studies, made of monsters and carcasses, of red and black, are the darkest story of the soul, a story that society represses and that perhaps only on Halloween night, we can find the courage to show. The body and the viscera are indefinite stains on the canvas, they are moving scribbles, gestures of madness on the bed of the psychiatric hospital inside our heads. The portrait of Innocent X is the perfect iconography for a character from horror or a Dantean circle, screaming, scratching and scratching, almost dissolving imprisoned in despair.
Eduard Munch in the panic room
From here to Munch the step is short and it is impossible not to mention one of the most anguished paintings in history: The Scream. Although in recent years, by dint of memes and parodies, The Scream reminds me a bit of the murderer with the mask of Scary Movie, there is no doubt that if anyone has ever experienced a panic attack in his life, he knows that this looks a lot like what Munch portrayed on the canvas. The distortion of time and space, the dizziness, the feeling of impending death. Also excellent mask to tell the discomfort of contemporary society.
Frida and the bloody bed
An artist whose atmospheres are reminiscent of a horror movie is Frida Khalo. Because of the indissoluble link between her life and illness, some aspects of her visual imagery are perfectly in theme for Halloween. Just last night I was at a party, and a friend of a friend had dressed up as Frida in a hair version pulled back by a flower headband. It occurs to me today that perhaps it would be a perfect mask instead, the image of Frida from the painting “Broken Column” from 1944, in which she appears with her long hair down on a white torso that uncovers her breasts, while a cracked stone column rips her in two all the way under her chin and many pegs are driven into her face and body. White tears stream down her cheeks. Even the painting “The two Frida’s”, twins bleeding and with open hearts, brings us back to the double, to the theme of shadow and duality that is very present in horror (the twins in The Shining for example). Those of Frida are images of pain and fatigue, and in its symbolism that speaks loud and clear, we find hospital beds, corrective busts, arrows stuck and cuts on the skin, blood and anatomical viscera that create an iconography really perfect for the night of the witches.
Francis Goya, black painter
Also moved by the link between life and disease, another horror artist is Francis Goya, whose style began to darken from1793, when a serious illness never diagnosed left him deaf. The pessimism of this period culminates in the Black Paintings series of 1819-1823, fourteen wall paintings characterized by dark, witchy and mournful tones that recount violence, despair, evil and desire. Among these is the famous “Saturn devouring his children”, a crude and direct scene of cannibalism, blood and madness. Then “the witches’ Sabbath”, the black goat speaking, Satan on canvas.
Lucio Fontana and the cuts
If I were then to furnish a house to host a Halloween party or shoot a horror movie, I would certainly use one of the paintings from Lucio Fontana’s Tagli series. In their simple elegance, they conceal something macabre, perhaps because they remind us of the masochistic gestures of those who seek to atone for pain through physical suffering. And it doesn’t look much different in Fontana’s works, in which art is linked to the artist’s gestures of tearing, breaking, unraveling the mystery. From those silent, lonely images hanging on the wall, blood could easily drip or suddenly a spirit from the past could emerge, ready to terrorize us.
Jannis Kounellis, the embalmer
Another perfect backdrop for a bone collector film is the scenic art of Jannis Kounellis: his installations are a mix of poor art and industrial materials; heavy, repetitive, dark, animated even by the presence of animals (in 1969 the installation-performance with Horses tied to the walls of the gallery L’Attico), alive and embalmed, but also quartered, like the 1989 exhibition at Espai Poblenou in Barcelona , where he installed quarters of freshly slaughtered ox on hooks to metal plates lit by oil lanterns.
What leads us to the macabre, to the gloomy, is the philosophical choice of materials: iron, lead, coal, jute sacks, dark fabrics, metal sheets, arranged in space in such a way as to invade and suspend it. Floating above our heads, they are simple objects that seem to tell complex stories linked to noir, mystery, and pain: many jackets arranged as if their owners were soldiers in battle or people in extermination camps, stones and hanging sacks, whose contents immediately bring to mind pieces of a corpse; stains and splashes, metal, crumpling.
Here I have come up with many ideas for new masks and I wonder why there are not more disguises around inspired by art. After all, whether we are aware of it or not, much of our collective visual imagination, even contemporary, and our education in looking, comes from centuries and centuries of art history, of iconography transmitted from brush to brush. Therefore, along with skeletons and zombies, we could also be inspired by Goya, Kounellis, Frida, etc. Let’s remember that art has helped so many people to bring out pain and madness, sadness and fear, transforming and sublimating them. Art may have saved us from many potential serial killers and if we learn to use and empower this medium even more, there may be even more art and much less violence in the future.