Zdzisław Beksiński, Nightmarescape Photographer

The Polish artist Zdislaw Beksinski created masterful work of macabre fantasy. He stated that his artistic aim was to photograph dreams.

My interpretation of this is that he sought to capture the disjointed, disturbing, impressionistic, and fleeting emotional imagery that visits us all at night. Put another way, dreams are sort of meaning soup–upon waking we ladle the broth hoping to catch a noodle or a hunk of meat.

Zdislaw was born in 1929. He finished an architecture degree in Warsaw in 1952. The location and timing of his young manhood leads many to think that WWII would’ve had a profound affect on his psyche; logically it follows that the trauma Hitler inflicted on the world, and the decayed state of Poland in the aftermath of the Holocaust, influenced his dark fantastical realist style of art.

Glancing through Zdislaw’s work though, I think Christianity, and in many ways a positive internalization of it–or to the non-believer, man’s capacity for spirituality allowing him to transcend the evil of worldly flesh–is what made him tick.

Mexican film director Guillermo Del Toro says this about Beksinski:

In the medieval tradition, Beksinski seems to believe art to be a forewarning about the fragility of the flesh – whatever pleasures we know are doomed to perish – thus, his paintings manage to evoke at once the process of decay and the ongoing struggle for life. They hold within them a secret poetry, stained with blood and rust.

Personal accounts of Beksinski pegged him as a pleasant intellectual with quite the sense of humor despite his grim fascinations. He fancied himself an optimist, stating that his work often went misunderstood–morbid horror representing bleakness. However, Beksinski considered his works uplifting and even humorous.

Zdislaw had no interest in the meanings of his paintings, refusing even to title them. I think this is such a wonderful artistic trait because an artist should simply be a conduit. My art philosophy aside, it complements Beksinski’s work harmoniously because his vision was to paint as if photographing dreams.

The interpretation should be left to the viewer of his work because only the individual who has had the dream can truly understand their own subconscious sludge.

Enjoying Zdislaw Beksinski’s work for its macabre beauty is easy. I’m interested to see how people interpret some of his images knowing that he considered them optimistic and humorous.

Find some positive meanings in the images below and share your thoughts in the comments.


I’ll get things started with the first image of a crucified torso.

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In the background, the sun bakes the clouds to an orange-blue haze that reminds me of a hellscape on the planet Venus. The wrists are nailed into a cross missing the top portion of its column beam. Behind it leans a clean blue crucifix.

The ragged torso of an individual long-since crucified represents Jesus Christ. Jesus embodies the ultimate sacrifice, the absolution of humankind’s sin.

In the Judeo-Christian world this is the greatest gift ever given. The most merciful act of God, arguably of any god, in that its purpose was to forgive humanity for its sinful nature.

Jesus Christ’s sacrifice in the context of this painting states the following: no matter how fallen the world is–even if God’s chosen Jews are being rounded up and exterminated in concentration camps and Europe is being torn to shreds by Allied and Axis Powers because of it–God’s gift of Christ to redeem humanity persists.

The painting means that it doesn’t matter how incredulous one might be in a moment of staggering evil and carnage like WWII, depicted by the ragged appearance of the headless torso, the decayed bone, the sinew connecting right arm to shoulder about to give, that the redemption remains, right there in the pure blue crucifix behind.

In essence, this image symbolizes that humanity will persevere through any evil, and that deeply flawed as we are, we are good.

If that isn’t positive, I don’t know that is.

 


Now enjoy several more samples of Berksinski’s work.

 

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Thoughts?

 

Toonocalypse by Sci-Fi Short Filmmakers Dust Is a Glorious Foray Into New Weird

I’ve been parsing through definitions of the various sub-genres of weird and horror and fantasy fiction lately.

While I don’t think it necessarily matters what labels we put on creative work, I find that most definitions of Weird include supernatural, mythological, and scientific tropes. From personal taste and opinion, I’d also add that Weird involves surreal elements, as well as fear and humor that results from uncanniness–e.g., cute cartoon aliens instead of Alien aliens…

Toonocalypse captures Weird perfectly then.

We get cartoons, alien science fiction, the apocalypse, a creation story.

I would be interested to see what you think of this. Feel free to comment below. Enjoy this seventeen-minute film!

Summary:

Two students document the arrival of cute, cartoon aliens in Edinburgh, but after a year on Earth, the pair discover the true intention of the aliens visit. Watch “Toonocalypse” by Owen Rixon

Lovecraft At The Mountains of Madness, In The Flesh

at the mountains of madness
Your Daily Horror

Haters will say it’s photo-shopped.

I just re-read Lovecraft’s novella At The Mountains of Madness.

I think the story still resonates today.

One of the central themes is the deterioration of civilizations over time. How from neglect and indifference its citizens lose their ways. I.e., skills, technologies, beliefs, and astuteness at surviving their surroundings.

No, I’m not dog whistling to Lovecraft’s infamous and harped-on racism.

I wish he hadn’t been bigoted; everyone does, right? Like everyone, I also wish racism hadn’t ever been part of the human experience.

I hope that’s obvious.

Regardless, I think we can all agree–apolitically or bipartisanly (take your pick)–that America’s having a bit of an identity crisis at the moment. A bottle-neck crossroads that will determine our future playing out before our eyes.

Whether you feel good or bad, or, wait for it…cosmically indifferent…about that, you can agree that all progress forward leads to a dissipation of the past we leave behind.

That’s an interesting theme to chew on.

And naturally, I had a nerd fit when I saw this image.

Enjoy.

Writing Craft Lessons from Bird Box by Josh Malerman Pt. 1

I can’t recommend Bird Box by Josh Malerman enough. Maybe I’ll link to my Goodreads review of this masterpiece. But seeing as most of us are writers, I thought I’d take things from “read this” to “read this to learn how to write” territory.

josh malermanJosh Malerman made a number of technical writing craft decisions in this novel that we can learn from.

Here’s a list.

  1. Present Tense
  2. Limited Third POV
  3. Alternating Story Line Structure
  4. Simple language / “Minimalism”
  5. Delayed (or Late Entry) Planting & Paying Off

Last thing. Bird Box was published in 2014, so I’m not concerned with spoilers. Having said that, I’ll do my best not to ruin the book for you.

Let’s do this.

1. Present Tense

Sustaining a narrative in present tense is difficult. This is because the main desired affect of present tense is to give the story immediacy.

This is happening now.

Done well, the reader feels as if they’re living the action.

The pitfall is that the longer any gimmick is used, the less effective it becomes. Maybe it even becomes tiresome. The trick is to not do it in such a way that anyone in their right mind would call it a gimmick.

My take on present tense is that it’s most successful when the book couldn’t possibly be written in past tense. In workshop speak, “Justify its existence.”

I take it a step farther. I’d advise a writer to justify present tense in the first place, but then, in addition, provide mechanisms in the book that allow it for it to work at sustained length.

Josh Malerman does this masterfully.

Reasons why Josh Malerman Teaches Us A Present Tense Masterclass

The setting of Bird Box is a post-apocalyptic suburb in Michigan. There are two alternating storylines. One takes place in a house. The other on twenty miles of a river, located behind that house, as Malorie and Boy and Girl seek Rick’s promised shelter.

To begin with, in a post-apocalyptic world, the past does not matter. As a matter of survival. Modern conveniences go right out the back door with the filthy bath water, and in order to literally survive, people must live moment by moment. Where’s your next meal? A simple injury could mean infection and death, et al.

In the world of Bird Box, society was destroyed because when people see creatures from another plain of existence, their minds cannot comprehend it. As a result, they become violently mad, killing others and/or themselves. Thus, Malorie, our POV character, and every other character in the novel spends the majority of their “screen” time blindfolded.

When one’s senses are deprived in anyway, we rely more heavily on the others. Common knowledge. But think of this. Losing the (arguably) more important senses of sight or hearing, would cause you to have to focus much more carefully on the minutiae of making it through a moment-by-moment existence.

Thus, the employment of “survival mode”-justified present tense, operates on the deeper level of sensory-deprivation-justified present tense.

What We Can Learn

Simply put: how to do present tense well, and how to sustain it over the length of a book.

Put another way: the thought that should go into the big craft decisions of our stories.

Sure, part of what makes Bird Box a masterclass in using present tense is Malerman’s amazing premise/plot. But I think if we, as writers, apply this multifaceted approach to justifying the more conspicuous craft choices we make, our readers will thank us.

Farewell

I decided to turn this into a five part series. Each of the five craft lessons we can learn from Bird Box deserves its own post.

But honestly, I also knew that you wouldn’t read a post that looked like it would end up around 3,000 words long.

Hope you enjoyed part 1 of 5.

Parker Steven Jackson, Nightmare Fuel Artist

Parker Steven Jackson is one hell of a horror artist.

I love this drawing because the creature in it is so archetypal–the unconscious thing that stalks our nightmares. A mish-mash of demon, ghoul, and general nightmare shtuff that the collective unconscious regurgitates while we sleep.

Parker Steven Jackson also gives the creature character. Doesn’t he? Looks as if a friend’s snapped an unexpected photo of it, rendering him unphotogenically. He looks chummy.

Notice the frilly hair, the triple ear piercing in the right ear, the handlebar mustache. Looks like when it isn’t causing night terrors it plays tom-toms in an indie band.

Seriously cool stuff.

Take a look at PSJ’s Instagram.