Unleashing my Inner Grotesque

Unleashing My Inner Grotesque

I can only speak for one grotesque really, and he is me.
If you know me, you may see something of my visage in this:

If you don't know me, or you simply think it's a poor likeness, you'll just have to take my word for it, this is a self-portrait. I jumped the gun declaring it done. I haven't finished my patch on the back pocket of his pants, where I'm going to sign it. I was going to do it Monday, but backed away, since my darling Laura has forbidden me from using blowtorches on Mondays because that's the day when I'm drastically resetting my body clock after working two 12 hour weekend overnight shifts. Last time I tried waxing on a Monday I set fire to the wax brush and smeared blackened, melted plastic down the arm of my mini-me. That aspect of me is less grotesque than vaguely pathetic. The black gunk clings but it's easy to get off. 

But I have always been aware of my inner grotesquerie. It calls itself self-pity. Self-Pity is depression's pathetic cousin; a state of self-indulgent wanking in which you declare yourself a loser and then feel sorry for yourself rather than doing anything to make it better. 

When you're white, male, intelligent and reasonably attractive, growing up in peaceful times in a prosperous land, self-pity is intrinsically ridiculous. And yet, I still let it crawl into bed with me sometimes. I cannot hate it without hating myself for indulging it. It's self-propagating that way.

Ultimately it is me, the part of me I despise the most. The very source of my self-loathing. The narcissist The part of myself that wallows in despair and hopelessness. The part that is so eager to give up that it already has. 

The origin of the grotesquerie is a surprisingly long story that started twenty-five years ago with writer, Jeff Vandermeer. My ex and I were editing and publishing TransVersions, the sadly defunct journal of Canadian fantastic cross-genre and unclassifiable stories. Literature of the fantastic we called it. And I'm pleased to say that the subtitle wasn't pure hubris. We had the opportunity to publish some pretty amazing artists and writers, not the least of whom was young Mr. Vandermeer. 

In 1996, after we published his story, "David Pangborn Takes a Walk" in TransVersions #5, Jeff sent us a postcard (below) from Oxford England,  He thanked us for giving his story a good home and shared his joy that Thomas Ligotti really liked his book, Dradin in Love...as did the rest of the country. And The Best New Horror had just taken one of his stories. So full of good news  And yet, this was the postcard he sent:

Grief incarnate. I recognized him the instant I saw him. 

As Art Director of TransVersions, I had been working a lot with Photoshop. I liked playing around with the blending of images. I transposed my own face onto this image. Then I took it a step further and set the whole thing on an Inukshuk body. I'm Canadian - a child of the north! It worked for me. Somehow, turning him into an icon that shared my face made him into an entity distinct and separate from me. It gave me autonomy from him and control over him. 

From digital image, I decided to take him back to a more primitive state and I painted him in acrylics. The inukshuk legs became more human.  

Then I found the stone that told me what it wanted to become. 
I made it so, But the level of grief it displays surprises me. This version is no longer trying to hide its eyes from what he doesn't want to see.
He's making sure he can never again see the source of his grief. The face and belly of the grotesque are dark - shadowed. It's back is rosy red - possibly a reflection of intense light. Maybe a world going up in flames.

If it's Fairyland that's burning, then maybe all we'll lose in the fire is a dream whose time is up. Time to trade rosy ideals for grim reality and just get through whatever is coming. Whatever we have wrought that I can't bring myself to face. 

My stoneman images have always represented a way of manifesting my fears outside of my real self.

He is me - but he is the parts of me that I reject - the parts that give up in the face of challenges rather than dealing with them.

No matter how much the grotesque may have changed over the years, it stays emotionally and effectually the same. 

Of course, now, having plunged his fingers into his eyes,  

he's seen true darkness, 

from which he can never look away. 

A warning do everything I can to avoid his empty gaze. 

It's all speculation of course - wondering why this depiction of myself has always so captivated me.

Maybe I'm wrong, and all I've ever done is find excuses to indulge in my worst instincts, To celebrate them in some perverse way. That's what self-pity is all about. 

Maybe all that's really changed is the scale. 

There's something universal about his grief. But lets not forget that this exercise is essentially an exorcism. 

My exhortation to humankind to avoid our worst tendencies.
To open our eyes to what we're doing to the planet - to start fixing our mess and making a better future.


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