Making art is indeed an alchemical act. Whether you approach it as an occultist, a practising magician, an artist or someone who has an interest and appreciation for the visual arts, the gallery space at 32 Store Street has certainly something to offer. As the exhibition subtitle states, this is the first show of its kind, aiming to bring together the work of artists from different generations, who, in a variety of media and styles, have expressed their visions or created images of an inner ‘elsewhere’. In fact, this path of creation can be walked both ways – from the curiosity or practice of the occult towards a visual output, or, vice-versa, from a main route of making art towards a merging with those side channels of magic, symbolism and neighbouring impenetrable lands. Art itself as a tool of self-discovery and investigation is often concerned by default with aspects of our existence that are obscure and secretive – those less tangible threads in need of deciphering and interpretation.
In I:MAGE the occult factor is obviously brought to the foreground, with the intent to emphasize esoteric art as a category in its own right – in fact, as the key category from which the many and diverse visual outcomes can be appreciated. As Robert Ansell, curator of this exhibition and co-director of Abraxas journal for esoteric studies says: “Contemporary esoteric art has too often been subsumed into other categories. It has been considered post-symbolist art, art brut, surrealist art, outsider art, magic realism, neo-romanticism, or visionary art – to name a few. But while these categories are useful, they do not seem adequate to express the broad scope and inner complexities of this esoteric imagery.”
Indeed all the above-mentioned ‘styles’ and their cross-contamination can be observed in the exhibition showcasing works realised over a 90 years span – from the first decades of the 20th century to the most recent years – and which reveal the legacy, influence or vicinity of some of those artists to the many art and aesthetic currents of the last 130 years. Whether coming from the older generations, like Ithell Colquhoun, Michael Bertiaux, or Austin Osman Spare and Steffi Grant – cult figures for the occult circles – or from the younger ones, such as Agostino Arrivabene, Jesse Bransford, Cristina Francov and Francesco Parisi, to name a few – the results are often of interest and sometimes of high technical quality.
For those who are accustomed to this world of magic, the works probably speak in a clear and direct manner; but even for the esoterically-untrained mind, there is not only the visual appreciation, but surely also a recognition of traces, hints and familiar imagery that urge an impulse to enquire and relate in some ways to these arcane realms.
The fully illustrated catalogue, comprehensive of well -researched artists’ biographies, can be the next step to further exploration.
Words/Photo: Francesca Ricci, London © Artlyst 2013
I:MAGE: An inaugural exhibition of Esoteric Artists – Store Street Gallery 32 Store Street, London WC1E – Ends: 25th May 2013