My impulse was to write the last black play ever for myself. I really believed if I put it all into one play, people would leave me alone.
Micki Pellerano creates his own cosmos in his drawings. Legacy Russell takes a walking tour through the Lower East Side’s envoy enterprises and the mythical regions of an artist’s mind, beyond revelation.
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This Sunday marks the closing of New York-based artist (and bassist for the gothic-folk group Cult of Youth) Micki Pellerano’s exhibition, Revelation. Pellerano’s work toes the line between dream and nightmare, a genesis sprung from an end-of-worlds. Want to witness the kiss of Hades and Elysium? The meeting of man and magic? Come see it for yourself at 131 Chrystie Street.
Legacy Russell Micki, I’ve said it before, and will say it again—it is, without a doubt, verydifficult to create graphite-based work on any kind of paper, and then take it and display it in a place that, like envoy [enterprises], has lighting that outshines the likes of Duane Reade or Walgreens. To show highly detailed work under the infamously unforgiving glare of florescent and have it maintain its composure … how does that happen? What kind of lighting do you use when creating these works?
Micki Pellerano The lighting I use at home is rather intense so perhaps that lends to it. Either way, I’m glad you feel the drawings hold up under such scrutiny.
LR Can you talk a bit more about your process? When we first met you noted that the paper you use has different tones, sometimes different teeth, different weights … which comes first? The concept for a piece, or the paper itself? Do you select one in the interest of serving the other?
MP I have my old standards of types of paper that I prefer to use, and experience has taught me which ones don’t work. I still enjoy experimenting with new textures and imagining how they will be conducive to the concept I have in mind.
LR Walking into this exhibition was like stumbling into a combine of C.S. Lewis and Lewis Carroll. The work is gothic in some respects, psychedelic in others, fairy-tale like, at times. Can you touch on how fantasy is utilized in your process?
MP When attempting to render the idea of something formless materializing into a state of palpability or perceptibility, textural qualities such as melting and morphing enter your visual vocabulary, and these are redolent of motifs in psychedelic art or cinema. This is why popular psychedelic art borrowed so heavily from Art Nouveau with its ethereal vapors and shifting plasmas.
Chiefly, though, both of these movements were driven by the passion for other-level experience, for psychic expansion and exploration of invisible planes of existence.
Symbolist artists also understood mythology as an infinitely unfolding language encompassing all things, from spiritual initiation to the laws of physics. They grasped theancient and the heathen and portrayed them in a European style infused with a mysticism that they found richly encoded in Eastern art.
Although I do not employ fairy tales per se in my artwork, they are, in essence, mythologies. From a fairy tale can be extracted psychological neuroses, rites of passage, alchemical allegories, all of these things. The stories that persist in our cultural reservoir do so because they resonate with the human experience on very profound and exalted levels. Often in inner territories we have not begun to explore.
LR You usually show these works with what you once described as “moodier” lighting. The works themselves are rather dark, moody, somewhat noir—a little sexy, a little cynical. When you show your works, do you prefer for the environment they’re in to reflect that same aesthetic? If so, why?
MP I was very turned-on once by an exhibition of Alfred Kubin’s work at the Neue Gallery where the walls were darkly painted and the drawings were sparsely highlighted in darkened galleries. But different atmospheres in different galleries can bring out different aspects of an artwork, so it is good to be versatile.
LR I can completely see Kubin’s influence in your work. Kubin, however, seems to fall within a direct line with [Edward] Gorey, and, within the realm of popular culture, Tim Burton, even—all influential illustrators, all major contributions to the aesthetics of graphic narratives, stories, and novels. Do you look to graphic novels as a point of influence or inspiration? Do you see yourself as a part of that dialog?
MP Kubin’s draftsmanship is always great but it’s his later work that interests [me] more, especially where he deviates from a Gorey-esque mode of illustration and begins to paint, exposing very mysterious ideas about beauty and psychology. There is a strong supernatural element to this work that I find very inspirational.
I have never been a fan of graphic novels. Although they are probably, since the early 2000’s, the one genre in today’s popular culture to very brazenly emphasize the esoteric.
This role was assumed by music in the 1970’s through the 1990’s; chiefly by bands likeThrobbing Gristle, Current 93 and Coil. Before that you had the psychedelic era, its method of promulgating these ideas is punctuated in the work of Kenneth Anger, I would have to say.
LR The title of this particular show—Revelation—seems to work well with the fact that these works are being unveiled in some respect … not only are they standing the test of having the curtain of a more moody environment being pulled back (with the stark whiteness and, let’s face it, brightness of the gallery space), but that there is so much to see in each of these pieces, so much to discover. In looking at them you can’t see everything at once, there is a process of undergoing a journey with you as an artist and with a viewer, almost entering into a contract of close-looking, of agreeing to observe with patience, of agreeing to see and then, just as quickly, to un-see. Can you speak to this?
MP I chose the name Revelation primarily because my work over the past year has been heavily influenced by apocalyptic literature, mostly Gnostic or Judaic. But as with anything, names can be very penetrating things with many effects and significances. I can only hope that the works themselves behave as a sort of mandala wherein meditation on the primal energies expressed there can be processed and experienced on the inner planes. Art that does not enlighten or heal is not worth making.
LR Amen! Let’s talk ritual. What modes of ritual are activated in this body of work? What types of histories—pagan, biblical, mythological—are given voice here?
MP I am very grateful for your [previous] indication of a “journey” … where the observer can surrender to the observed and the two can experience a sort of union. That in itself is a very powerful and advanced form of ritual.
Joseph Campbell defines a ritual as a “[re-]enactment of a myth”. A ritual is an act where the modes of the subconscious can be employed and manipulated. Sometimes these modes take on the forms of sentient beings.
Historical or mythological representations of these formless entities are merely devices by which they can be harnessed, explored and communicated with.
Whether a mythological theme is Biblical, or Hermetic, or Babylonian, it serves as a cloak for a cosmic truth that is originally formless and nameless.
LR Some might say these works are rather philosophical, in that they evoke the oft warring natures that surface in philosophy and the creative manifestation of such plights in the formal employment or visual metaphor of chiaroscuro: light battling dark, good battling evil, heaven pitted against hell. Tell me about your artistic philosophies: what muses, nymphs, heroes, villains beckoned to you in building these pieces?
MP I am not certain if light and darkness are in perpetual strife or perpetual harmony. And most individuals and cultures have very disparate ideas of what would be defined as either.
I have sensed, however, that humanity is at a very dangerous and critical point in its evolution. And if I could define anything as darkness it would have to be ignorance. Revelationis the antidote to ignorance, the call to initiation and enlightenment.
The Revelation exhibition deals heavily with concepts of the primordial and the terminating, the Alpha and the Omega—how entwined these concepts are with each other, and, ultimately, how indistinguishable they are from each other.
LR Does a history of the Grotesque enter this landscape?
MP The word grotesque to me invokes the concept of some kind of aberration. As spiritual individuals it is our birthright to confront our own existence on the deepest levels possible. The qualities and aspects of ourselves we encounter in those depths can be in a sense, abominations. Giving form to these can be a method of drawing them forth and experiencing them. The words subjugation (bringing someone or something under your control) andsublimation (exalting something of a lower order by glorifying it into a higher order) are so closely related, and often interchanged. But I often wonder if it is a disservice to eschew these abominations by beautifying them.
LR Do these works, now framed, incarcerate the characters and scenes depicted within them? Or protect them?
MP (laughter) In the sense that a mandala encloses something macrocosmic, I can only hope that the work approaches that scope and lays the ground for such a service.
Has preparing a face and a name for Leviathan and enshrining him in a glass box made me a master over the atrocities lurking in my depths? Not yet, I don’t think.
LR What is your relationship to the foreground in these works? The background?
MP The ideas of foreground and background are very nebulous to me. I’m not certain I approach my compositions in a way that is so academically correct.
LR (laughter) Alright, alright—_basta, academia! Let’s crawl inside these pieces … when looking at a work like “Space Ritual”, I think of Dali. When looking at “The Ghost of Intolerence” or “The Popes of Avignon”, I think of [the painter] Bosch. When looking at “Love Will Save You”, I think of Goya’s Pinturas Negras (Black Paintings). When I see “The Serpent’s Egg”, I hear [Jimi] Hendrix, and I think of the Vivian Girls, trapped within one of [Henry] Darger’s pictoral planes. What do you see?
MP It is difficult to look objectively at my work and say what I see. I suppose I see the limits of my work more than I can see its strengths.
LR That blindness spurs one towards growth, I’d imagine … what were some of the primary things you studied in school that geared you toward an interest in icon? Early memories? Studies?
MP My training in experimental theater offered monumental changes. It helped me to understand psycho-spiritual centers of the body akin to yogic philosophy. It also taught the importance of sound, gesture, and energetic channeling so pivotal in ritual magic.
As I began to study systems like Qabalah and the Tarot, it seemed to me that iconography is essentially a doorway into what is infinite and eternal.
Joseph Campbell’s methods of articulating the significance of myth, ritual, and symbol have also been a huge inspiration, as well as the works of all poets and occultists who have sought transcendence in this way.
LR Can you pull out a few of the signs and symbols that may repeat within your work and touch on their significance? For example, in “Heliogabalus: The Daughters of Bassanius”—what are the two figures sitting on? What other examples of iconography do you exercise?
MP “The Daughters of Bassanius” was based on a passage from Antonin Artaud’s prose-history Heliogabalus. It tells of the high priest of a sperm-cult and how his two daughters manifested from the chaotic effluvia of his rituals. When I read this, it inspired such a beautiful image in my mind that I felt I needed to concretize it in a composition of some kind. The girls are seated within a magic circle, a boundary wherein a magician can perform evocations and invocations. The circle is inscribed with a pentagram and other symbols and divine names.
As a student of the Western Esoteric tradition and an aficionado of the Eastern, the vast iconography of these traditions posses an impossible beauty for me. It is something I have always been drawn to for no other reason than the sheer magnetism of this beauty. Within this iconography, I was able to construct something of a vocabulary that, I hope, is so ancient and eternal that it can communicate with every observer, surpassing any intellectual understanding of the iconography, or lack of understanding, and resonating deeply enough to affect an inspiration of some kind.
LR What’s up next for you?
MP Aside from my drawings having taken a very interesting turn, I am currently preparing for a multimedia performance piece that will be taking place at the Perth International Arts Festival in Australia in February. I am honored to be working alongside my friends Peter Mavrogeorgis and Jim Scalvunos (of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds and Teenage Jesus & the Jerks).
The foundation of the piece is a sort of Burroughsian cut-up of F.W. Murnau’s 1926 film Faust, whereby the philosophy of the Faust legend is re-interpreted through sound, symbol and ritual to espouse an enlightened reconstruction of its psychological resonance.
LR And the party this Sunday?
MP envoy enterprises has published a limited edition book cataloging the work in theRevelation exhibition. My friend Scott Treleaven wrote a very thoughtful and intelligent foreword to the book, which was very kind of him.
There will be a Book Launch at the gallery this Sunday, January 8th from 4 to 8pm with Pernod Absinthe.
LR Ah, the true lethe of the intelligentsia. Incredible that there’s a book! Now I can take home these haunting worlds you’ve worked so tirelessly to construct. Those worlds—are they dreamscapes? Or apocalyptic arenas? Are we as viewers intended to stand outside of them—or within them?
MP Mythologies and dreams are sprung from the same source: the collective unconscious or the astral plane.
The word apocalypse is derived from the Greek revelation.
So your question begs a qualified yes.
Legacy Russell is BOMBlog’s Art Editor. She is an independent curator, artist, writer and cultural producer.
My impulse was to write the last black play ever for myself. I really believed if I put it all into one play, people would leave me alone.