Dark art is appropriately gliding under the surface of the fine art world, but considering that dark themes and motifs have always been present since the origins of Western art, which reflected the phenomena of the universe through personified elements and symbolism, it would be in the interest of all to understand that dark art is not simply gratifying the tastes of a niche market but is defining a generation. The styles of dark artists are numerous but what distinctly defines them as dark is the concept of redefining the way we perceive darkness, death, monsters, the occult, and in essence all of that which we fear. In essence dark art is a deconstruction of social and moral structures that have conditioned people to divide light and dark rather than maintaining the two qualities of a singular system. The result of this division is opposition. When we perceive light and dark as being separate from each other we tend to favor the one that we feel most inclined to, which can result in neglect or negation of the other. By not understanding both light and dark as one system there will be an element of ignorance. And from ignorance comes fear. And historically and presently we have seen how fear produces violence and persecution.
Artists Damien Echols, David Stoupakis, and Menton3 collaborated for the show Salem at Copro Gallery, Santa Monica, California, which reflects upon the tragic event that took place in Salem, Massachusetts between 1692 and 1693 when twenty people were persecuted and executed for witchcraft. Interestingly, Damien Echols was subject to severe persecution by the State of Arkansas for a crime he did not commit but was suspect due to suspicion that the crime was related to a Satanic ritual. This misunderstanding of the occult or individuals who do not reflect social norms are in this day and age still demonized, even to the extent of being sentenced to death. This is why dark art is significant for mainstream media, society, and academia to start giving serious attention to as it is a social commentary on archaic mentalities that are existing in our advanced modern civilization. Witch trials have not ended, in fact, outside of the United States witch trials are literally still being conducted in places such as South America and the Middle East. One of the greatest historical warnings our founding fathers gave the future generations of this country was the mistake of the Salem witch trials, but alas history continues to repeat itself.
A cycle cannot break until a new pattern is injected into the old routine to provide a pathway in which to transcend. As a society we will not overcome this burn-the-witches mentality until we unify light and dark, which requires removing the ignorance or misunderstanding of what we think is darkness or evil. That requires learning about darkness so that we can integrate darkness into our lives. This process is personal as we have varying perceptions of light and dark, good and evil, right and wrong. These forms of darkness are unlimited, and how can one possibly begin to analyze darkness? Where does one begin? Must one study occult practices and philosophy in order to see the truth behind witchcraft and ceremonial magic? Not necessarily. These qualities of light and dark are internal features within us intellectually, psychologically, and physically. We simply need to observe our self, our nature. Then we can see these internal processes reflected in nature, and furthermore in others and society as a whole.
David Stoupakis’ “Mercy” shows a demon laid across the lap of an angelic woman in red. She firmly holds his body with one arm and holds her other hand up with her fingers extended in a blessing mudra. Her red robes and the roses at her feet are symbolic of love, a word most people would not associate with a depiction of a demon. In a number of religious traditions there is a common principle of showing mercy to the weak, to the outcastes, to the dejected, to the sick. Religion is crowned with humility but so many people are afraid to get dirt on that crown and so they hold their heads high above the less fortunate. Religion is a social system that has a social and political impact and without mercy there inevitably will be violence. Mercy unifies the upper and lower, the light and the dark. But you can’t give what you don’t have, and so to have mercy for others, one must know what is weak, dark, sick, and vulnerable within their self and have mercy toward their self.
This process of self reflection to gain knowledge of one’s self in all its light and dark aspects, in other words, one’s angels and demons, is the process of magic. Not magic in the sense of doing tricks or displaying supernatural powers, or even doing ceremonial rituals. The ritual is transformation. It does necessarily not require talismans or an initiate school to attain a knowing of one’s highest (fullest) self. However, whatever path one does endeavor, the principles of growth, transformation, and knowledge are universal and one can see such qualities in other paths. Hindu mystics understand quite well the teachings of Christianity.
Salem serves not only as a social statement, it also reveals the quality and intelligence of the artists’ technique that places dark art in the circle of fine art. And what school of art can claim these works? Perhaps neosymbolism? Stoupakis’ realism depicts otherworldly beings that do not reference classical figures. Menton3’s women depict concepts, serving as figurative symbolism. Artaud warned in his Theater and its Double about the mundane depiction of everyday people and their lifestyles. The past few hundred years in response to the possessive grip and social hierarchy of religion, artists have since the Renaissance explored the mystery within the humble lives of the common, the ordinary. But by the time of Modernism the spiritual mysteries were abandoned and art truly has focused on the mundane, albeit often quite beautiful, but the spirit has nonetheless been concealed. The dark art movement is not evoking past masters but the spirituality that was once prevalent in art. Salem serves not only as a social statement, it also initiates the true beginning of a Dark Renaissance.
Consider the current global social and political shifts. The old world is receding and a new world is on the horizon. Worldwide society is in the throes of social transformation. How we eat, how we receive information, how we communicate, how we conduct business, how we worship, how we marry, how we identify as a gender- social and political structures are falling as quickly as they are rising. In this transitional state we are in suspension of the unknown. Some of us are afraid, some of us are resisting change, and some of us are embracing it. We are being forced to view the world differently, to question our identity, to question what came before us. This confusion, violence, transformation, destruction, decadence, and shifting naturally will be reflected in art because art is a reflection of the atmosphere in which the artist lives. Why dark art now? Because the world is experiencing darkness on a grand scale and in order to grow from it and move on and enter into the light the world needs to understand the greater “spiritual” definition of darkness. That definition is profoundly explored through dark artists as exhibited in Salem.