Friday, October 11, 2013

DIVINITY: The Art of Divination

Every October, Krab Jab Studio has a Halloween show. Last year we had a Halloween show called OUIJA, devoted to the Ouija board, which was a great success (at least we thought so).  I wasn't sure how to top that - it was a pretty sweet show, complete with vintage Ouija boards - so in an effort to be fair to all the ways one would call the spirits of Beyond, I decided on the broad spectrum of DIVINITY.

Divination has been an art since the dawn of Man. Communities often had one specific member whose task it was to communicate to the spirits, to the gods and goddesses, to the earth and nature, to the ancestors. This person - shaman, prophet, witch, seer, priest or priestess, or divine ruler - was meant to heal the sick, placate the unseen forces of nature, seek the will of the gods/goddesses and otherwise keep their community safe, strong and healthy. Prayer, meditation, and offering was usually the simplest form of divination (and still is) but over thousands of years Man has employed many unique methods of divination, some beautiful, some ghastly and bizarre.

My curatorial challenge to the artists of this show was to create a piece of work based on a form of divination. I was a little worried that I would, in return, get an entire show full of tarot cards, not that there's anything wrong with those, but honestly, tarot reading is actually a newer form of divination and we're pretty saturated in tarot images in our current western culture. A couple cards is one thing, but a show of them is, well, a TAROT show. I like tarot cards, mind you - I even used to do readings for people long ago - but, eh, as a curator I'd be a little bored being surrounded by twenty versions of the Death card. There's a whole world out there!!!

I was not disappointed. My artists came through, from the unique to the hilarious. I'll touch on the various forms of divination you can see in this collection of work.

Laura Cameron

Erick Lingbloom

Echo Chernik

Javier S Ortega

Stephanie Law

Probably the most well known of the arcane divination tools is the tarot deck. Comprised of Major and Minor Arcana, a deck is made of four suits (Cups, Wands, Swords, Pentacles of the Minor Arcana) and 22 iconic trump cards (the Major Arcana). Played out in a variety of layouts, one can use the cards to query the future or decide on a directive in life. Not surprisingly, most of the illustrators in our show (Stephanie Law, Echo Chernik of Echo-X, and Erick Lingbloom) chose tarot as their subject.

In a way, the tarot deck is less of a divination tool and more of an allegorical pathfinder. But since it often allows the reader to key into their natural abilities to see beyond the here and now, it sits nicely within DIVINITY. Plus, the decks are often beautiful and thought provoking, touching the psyche on multiple levels.

On the Artists: Laura Cameron is a Seattle artist with a focus on the esoteric in her work. Her tarot card is based on a deck with an LGBT theme. Erick Lingbloom is an up and coming Seattle illustrator we discovered through Brian Snoddy (Erick was one of his students) who has a bright future ahead. Echo Chernik's piece in this show is unusual: known for her digital masterpieces in the Art Nouveau style, this tiny oil painting is an example of the handiwork she has accomplished. Stephanie Law is an illustrator well known in the faerie genre; this piece is from her Shadowscape Tarot deck and book. Javier S Ortega, Spanish-born Seattle artist, is known for his large-eyed, emotionally tense surreal paintings and portraits, so it's apropos he choose an optic reflection for a subject.

Kelly Lyles
Dowsing is a form of divination with nature, or more specifically, searching for ground water, gold, or other earth elements underground. It is also a relatively newer form of divination, first recorded in about the late medieval period in Europe. Using a Y-shaped stick or two metal rods, the dowser would locate the element when the stick would "magnetically" point to the ground, or the two metal rods would cross each other. Unlike other forms of divination, the dowser need not be especially "sensitive" to psychical or spiritual phenomena, though possibly magnetically sensitive to the earth.

On the Artist: Longtime old school Seattle artist Kelly Lyles is mostly known for her pet portraits and modified art cars, but she has no fear treading into the mystical.

Lazarus Chernik
Runes are a Scandinavian alphabet, and rune stones have been used for magical and divinatory readings for well over a thousand years. The likelihood of them used by the mundane level of society is slim; it is more reasonable to believe that they were read by an elite level of the Scandinavian community, such as an Elder trained in mysticism. The rune stones would reveal omens and signs. Runes could also charge objects with power (such as a sword). Much like the Hebrew alphabet, runes are a form of word and letter divination.

On the Artist: Lazarus Chernik has been researching runes and their meanings for many years. In this show he displays not only an alphabet (depicting the flow of the runes, as one would show the cyclical path of water) but his own personal collection of rune stones he created for casting and reading. Check out his Kickstarter here:



Heather Hudson
 Oneiromancy is the divination within dreams. This has been a realm commonly used by prophets and shamans for thousands of years. In fact, shamans often work within the world of dreams, whether interpreting the dreams of those who seek them, or themselves working within the landscape of the divine dream, most often treating those who have lost bits of their souls (in psychology this is known as disassociation) in an effort to return those lost parts to the Greater Self.

Oneiromancy was also a popular form of divination with the Greek and Roman cultures, although in Greece the most famous form of divination was the Oracle of Delphi, known as Pythia. Pythia would only speak her utterances on the 7th day of the month, chewing bits of the laurel leaf while inhaling noxious volcanic fumes through a crack in the floor of the inner sanctum of the Delphic temple. In a trance she would reveal the prophecies delivered to her through the powers of Apollo.

On the Artists: faceOdd is the artistic name of Tamara Clammer, a Seattle mask maker and leather sculptor who sculpted this piece directly off her own face purely by intuition. Heather Hudson is a publication illustrator we've been showing since day 1, and never ceases to come up with interesting takes on a host of subjects, often touching into the beautifully bizarre of a well researched subject matter.


Terese Nielsen and Sindy Todo

This is a concept developed by illustrator Terese Nielsen and Sindy Todo. Sindy is a sensitive who developed a passion for rail road ties (spikes) of which she collects and embellishes. Together, Terese and Sindy developed Spikeomancy. They write:

In the early 1800s steam engines criss-crossed their way across an infant nation. The newly built railroads rapidly expanded the country westward giving its citizens the freedom to grow their lives as they discovered endless plains, golden riches and, in the end, themselves.
Spikeomancy echoes these pioneer roots. Just as the railroads twisted, turned, and meandered, so do our lives. What direction will your future go? How do you change paths? Do you feel stuck or maybe just cautious? Are you starting something new or clearing away the past? Let your spirit point the way.

On the Artist: Normally Terese Nielsen works as an illustrator in the game industry, but this project intrigued her, and I think she faired well into this sculptural challenge. Ultimately Terese and Sindy hope to turn this prototype into a marketable divining tool.

Drew Tucker

Kree Arvanitas

Haruspicy is the divination art that is probably one of the more unusual and gruesome. After an animal is sacrificed, it's entrails or liver (or sometimes other bits) are examined by a haruspex (a person trained in reading the signs in the goop) for omens.

Etruscans used the entrails of an animal (usually a sheep) to read the omens.  Moroccans would throw a live iguana onto a fire, and would read into the popping and exploding trajectory of the corpse as they burst forth from the sizzling flames.

About the Artists: Drew Tucker is a game illustrator and furniture maker who enjoys the absurd and can see the humor in just about anything, we've found. Kree Arvanitas is a Seattle painter and henna artist whose work is often heavily influenced by Eastern lore and mysticism.

Tara Larsen Chang
Auspicy is the art of reading into the nature of birds, usually of crows and ravens. An auspice or augur will take note of the time of day, the number of the birds, and the behavior of the birds to indicate a good or bad omen. Tibetan Buddhism has used auspicy for hundreds of years.

Counting crows is the most well known type of auspicy, particularly in England. There are several versions of a children's chant based off of this divination, which goes like this:

One for sorrow, two for mirth,
Three for a wedding, four for a birth,
Five for silver, six for gold,
Seven for a secret not to be told.
Eight for heaven, nine for hell,
And ten for the devil's own sel'.

About the Artist: Tara Larsen Chang has illustrated children's books for years, and children are often incorporated into her work. This piece is part of a series she is working on in regards to the unfortunate pet choices of children.


We have several other pieces in this show that describe the artist's take on those who have abilities to divinate and even a fantasy of divination in motion (make sure to check out Yvette Endrijautzki's Bosch-like sculpture). Margaret Organ-Kean chose childlike whimsy in her Cooty Catcher, and Ellen Miffitt touches on the self-divine of meditation with her six tiny pieces of mixed media.
David Thierree

ShirrStone Shelter Dolls

Yvette Endrijautzki
Michael Kimble
One the Artists: David Thierree is a French painter with a focus on fantasy and faerie lore, which is not surprising considering his roots in Celtic Brittany. ShirrStone Shelter Dolls is the Russian duo of Olga and Nikolay, creators of delicate, porcelain dolls with a hint of low brow to them. They are a new addition to the Krab Jab showcase. Yvette Endrijautzki is a German-born Seattle assemblage artist who has a knack for constructing three dimensional fantasies of the bizarre (but optically pleasing). Michael Kimble, known for his game illustrations, often takes a gritty approach to his subject matter that tips its hat to his classical and graphical roots. Ellen Miffitt is a Pacific Northwest artist with a feel of deep meditation and self awareness to her work, being the calm within the show's storm. Margaret Organ-Kean is known in the book arts world as a watercolor illustrator, and her piece (an obvious bow to the Dream Catcher) brings whimsy and childlike humor to round out the mix.

As a group, the show is fun, thoughtful, morbidly silly and well executed. I couldn't have conjured up a better show myself!
-Julie Baroh, October 10th 2013

Ellen Miffitt
After receiving the art and working on the display, I was so uplifted and inspired that I came up with an idea for a piece of my own, based on the Ouija board but using a crow's skull as the planchette, guided by a magnetic rod that two people would maneuver under the board with their fingers. The crow's beak would point to letters to spell out messages from beyond. As I write this, I have been putting this board together and I sincerely hope I can display it for this show.