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Back to the Grimoire | Curatorial Essay by Lex Barrie and the Emerging Artists of the Occult

Feature Image for Lex Barrie's Back to the Grimoire Curatorial Essay

Annual Emerging Artists Exhibition – February 14th to March 3rd 2024

Magik is an art; using reality and the world as its canvas.”― Dacha Avelin, Old World Witchcraft: Pathway To Effective Magick

Inspirations, and the subsequent belief in our inspirations, usually begin with a thought. Though we are often alone in our thoughts, we can seldom hide our motivations to seek the truth behind these thoughts. But what if someone told you that your thoughts were wrong? Or that your entire way of life needed to be shielded, set aside for another more accepted perspective? 

This is the history of the occult. Coming from the Latin term “occultare”, meaning secret or hidden, occultism encompasses variations of spiritual and supernatural belief systems.  Practices in the occult were believed to be centered around an evil manipulation of natural laws for personal or otherworldly benefits. Because of these claims, religions often outcasted associated practices – Celtic shamanism, Wicca, Voodooism, Norse mythology, etc. Outside of monotheistic practices, occultism became associated with demonic imagery, deviousness, gruesome and horrific acts. And all those who followed their practices were forced to convert or were removed from society. 

Back to the Grimoire is an exhibition in the telling of age-old occultist history from around the globe, revealing the various cultural and artistic inspirations that help make up contemporary practices. Grimoires are traditionally old leather bound books, of which spells and spiritual teachings can be recorded. They are the records of inspirations and learnings, passed down from generations. Within these books, keys are held to remind us of the histories that society tried to hide. As artists, we pursue knowledge, fact, fiction and personal expressions in history, commonly defined as “other” – some rooted in the theology of feminism, individuality and deconstructing the so-called standards of conformity within societal borders. 

Joseph Willoughby, Lost Voices, Acrylic Paint, 24 x 48″

Joseph Willoughby’s Lost Voices is the visual representation of being given your narrative to follow. It is the consumption of the conventional and the hierarchies that we are forced each day to live by – even if we don’t associate these practices. Living in a world where voices are lost and left unheard symbolizes the occultist history. 

Mandala Inner Realms represents mysticism being present in that which we do not often realize. Kenneth St. Onge takes the mandala form and insights new dreamlike perspectives to the occult. 

Nancy Dickieson’s The Light from Within reflects the coming and transition of dark times into light. Revealing an inner strength via color and shadow, the piece opens to reveal a new journey dawning, like the rising sun. 

Ualthum, Zol Siv’kor Azoktha (The Azurite Sigil), Acrylic paint, copper cinder, plastic shards, walnut shells, and plastic beads on wooden panel, 48 x 36″

Ualthum’s Zol’Siv’kor Azoktha draws from their language of Sul’voth, using sigils and rune scripture, with visuals inspired by the formations of Azurite crystals. Their work brings to focus the granting of inspiration and a leveled mindset when faced with journeys. 

Santo’s three pieces are indicative of their Indonesian spiritualism. GUNUNG BROMO represents the KEJAWEN ritual at the ancient volcanic site of Mount Bromo, where the Java Islanders would pay respect to the spirits of the mountain and ask permission to commune with the divine forces. HUTAN pays homage to the “roh alam”, spirits that reside in nature. DAUN-DAUN is indicative of the KEJAWEN ritual that involves leaves with certain energetic properties like Teak leaves (spiritual resilience), Areca Palm leaves (cleansing), Kemuning leaves (fertility) or Kaffir Lime leaves (purifying). The leaves are infused with prayers and intentions, then gently brushed upon the body, or other things, like a bicycle or a house’s walls. 

The three Mosaics of Dijana Bogdanovic – Fire Serpent, The Sun & Hummingbird – represent ancient Mexican usages of the occult. Believing that occultism is within our roots, the three artworks symbolize the practices in traditional Mexican imagery. 

Anupa Khemadasa, Dual Realms, Pencil, pan pastel, collage and paper, 9 x 12″

Dual Realms by Anupa Khemadasa explores the unknown and its contemplation within multiple realms. That which is considered mystical and spiritual is all around us, some left unseen, but only to those who do not wish to see the whole picture. 

Valentina’s The Winter Witch takes us back to Norse mythology in a revisualization of ancient folklore. The Winter Witch is commonly associated as an evil sorceress raised by Finnish wizards and shamans – however Skadi (as she is also referred) is a goddess and the daughter of the giant Thiazi. Valentina revitalizes the story, one of many sides, to give us this colorful work. 

Sometimes we must draw inspiration beyond what we are taught and Ryleigh McGinley’s Desire is a perfect example. Having created her own God-like figures, she explores a personal spirituality beyond just one belief system. 

Kate Sutherland’s two works, The Chariot and For the Trees, were inspired by traditional tarot cards. As two of a series, Sutherland’s interest in occult allows her to recontextualize the traditional imagery associated with tarot in collage formats. 

(Left to Right) Stacy Athena May, She Who Lies Boundlessly (Into that Which Lies Beyond) (Graphite on paper, 14 x 11″) & Strange Aeons (Graphite on Paper, 11 x 8.5″)

Stacy Athena May’s She Who Sees Boundlessly (Into that Which Lies Beyond) acts as a symbolic representation of time and space interwoven. The figure acts as an ever seeing being within all directions and facets of life. Strange Aeons reflects the personal journey of May’s transitioning, which she describes as a “metamorphosis of the flesh” depicted within her piece. 

Awaken from a Spell by Edna Ruiz is a visual representation of two interwoven states of consciousness – one dreaming and one awakened. A light emerges from the darkness of the work in a variation of colors, giving life to new forms – a transitory state between perspectives. 

Jose Maria Mancia’s tenebris and umbra are two photographic additions to the show. Inspired by the breaking of dawn, Mancia’s works demonstrate the physical acts of the camera as it reflects a transition of space and time, with shadow and light morphing into a new experience. 

Sherry Tu’s Thangka The God of Fortune is a Chinese ink painting based in Tibetan culture. The figure of Thangka is a common one used in traditional Buddhist artworks – and is commonly associated with sharing and teaching the Buddha’s life. The use of Chinese ink in this work depicts the sacred, exotic and culturally plentiful world of Thangka. 

Robin Suiffet, Les Metaphores, Paper and wood, 11 x 8 x 2″

Robin Suiffet’s Les Metaphores is our only sculptural addition. It focuses on the intertwining relations of the history of man and nature as a Grimoire with a heart center made of bark. It is a representation of the history of France – a rib cage burnt, a heart carved into the center of the cover, open and uncovered for the world to see. 

Amiel Sandland’s The Night Battle is of Italian folklore where the Friulian benandanti, witches that travel out of their bodies at night, battle against the malandanti, in hopes to bring good crops. Sandland’s piece was created in a self-proclaimed defiance of the heteronormative relations of these stories, including queer and trans lenses to recontextualize how history was written.  

Nicola Jacobson’s two woven embroidery pieces Sainte-Horse and Priestess of the Ram explore paganism and contradictories to traditional patriarchal religions. Sainte-Horse is a pagan goddess that Jacobson created, representing both life and death, Crone and Mother, disguised as a Christian icon. Priestess of the Ram is the story of transformation – a priestess’ physical form changing to the call of her goddess. As Jacobson states, “[h]er goddess is a force of Nature, of Life & Death, and now so is she”. 

Heejung Shin, Going Home, Ink on Hanji with Canvas, 36 x 36″

Going Home is a Hanji collage which depicts the transcending of boundaries beyond the dark associations of the occult. Heejung Shin’s works unravel the threads of Norse, Celtic and Egyptian influences to create cohesive, contemporary works. 

Aefa Mulholland’s Parade of Toucan Mummies is one of many uniquely featured undead creatures returning to the land of the living. In a constant and ever changing practice, Mulholland’s art is dark, quirky and reveals the hidden images you didn’t know you needed to see. 

Jacqueline Gillies’ prints layer and evolve into new places beyond what we traditionally see from the camera lens. Her Purple star sky enhances and illuminates the ever present spirituality of the physical realm using abstract scenes, light and color. 

What else is left in the world is Danielle Vincent’s expression of the unknown and the presence of internalized power you didn’t know you had. Her work displays two eyes in turmoil within a green space, almost lost to the void. But in the corner rises a pegasus, strong and true, revealing that no matter what difficulties you face, you alway have the option to look at things from a new perspective. 

Andrew LaRocque’s Invokation is another that asks you to consider a new perspective. Using motifs from Kabbalah and Witchcraft, LaRocque introduces visual poetry to birch bark in a collaboration of shared knowledge and alternative storytelling. 

Mad Putnam, He Who Wants to be an Icon Painter When He Grows Up, Acrylic on ceramic, 9 x 8.5 x 2″

He Who Wants to be an Icon Painter When He Grows Up is Mad Putnam’s version of revealing that which is hidden. In this ceramic based work, he reveals an icon of the sea god, encapsulating him in a hidden form – that which is both human and animal in his natural realm. 

Carin Katagiri Mahon gives us The Namahage – a type of Japanese spirit known as the Kami, which exists within the folklore of the Akita prefecture of Japan. These tales relate to the men of the region who would dress in Namahage masks and visit the children of the villages, bringing good luck and health. It gives light to the spirits who were not traditionally cute and/or pretty but that still exist within and across histories. 

Azzara Nincevic’s cleanse was inspired by Isaiah’s unworthy beliefs being burned away by Seraphim in the Old Testament. It is a transformational piece from background to foreground as the shadows are depicted facing their pains, weaving through their consciousness and finally making space for new growth to occur. 

Erika Stark, I’m Done Listening to Dead Men, Digital Illustration, 16 x 20″

I’m Done Listening to Dead Men is Erika Stark’s addition to our show – telling the story of the Valkyries of Norse mythology. The Valkyries ensured souls of the dead made it to the halls of Valhalla. Though understood as Odin’s warriors, the sheer strength of the Valkyries defines a defiance to patriarchal societies and conventional religious practices. Giving you both hardened steel armor and soft wings, the Valkyries emulate the grace and conviction of women across all societies. 

Back to the Grimoire encourages the telling of the unconventional and the perspectives of the emerging artists of today. We’ve heard the old stories – now it’s time to make our own and start anew. These are our inspirations, our stories – these are our Grimoires. 

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