Today, with all the talk of 3d visual technology, it may be easy to forget that the fascination with bringing flat images to life, started well before our own century. Now, this sort of thing doesn’t usually interest me, but mention Hell, skeletons and death and you have my attention!
In the 1860’s a series of Stereoscopic images was published in France that, in their own satirical style, represented life in Hell. Created by at least three different artists, these images borrowed heavily from the political goings on of the day. Scenes, depicting all manner of debauchery, were meticulously crafted in clay and then and photographed for viewing through a stereoscope.
Stereoscopic images comprise a pair of identical pictures printed side by side which, when viewed through a special viewer or stereoscope, appear to fuse together into one three dimensional image. Honestly, it’s mind-blowing!
It appears, from the gestures of the many skeletons represented in Les Diableries, that these works of art were at least partly influenced by the 1538 ‘Danse Macabre’ woodcuts by artist Hans Holbein, as well as similar prints by other artists. Both the earlier prints and the later clay models sit comfortably within a long tradition of showing Death and skeletons as comedic characters.
For further information on these ghoulish creations, there is a fantastic book entitled ‘Diableries: Stereoscopic Adventures in Hell’ by authors Brian May, Denis Pellerin and Paula Richardson Fleming. It can be found on Amazon and I highly recommend it.
An excellent concept is perhaps the most important part of any design. If a drawing or painting is created using an unclear or incomplete idea, then no amount of technique or compositional changes can save it. As well as having very clear rules on our technical approach, we also pay very close attention to the way in which we come up with our ideas. We have spent many hours reading books to gain an understanding of structure and form, but the subject and vision of each of our designs usually comes to us in an instant after reading a particular phrase or seeing a strange image.
Distilling an initial concept into a successful, clear plan for a drawing can be very difficult. It involves many thumbnail sketches and mock-ups, and we even scrap ideas for months, returning to them when we know how to make them work. This process is certainly not for the impatient. Once we have settled on a theme, and made our initial small-scale sketches, we will find reference material to help us construct the final drawing. This can be hard if we are drawing a fantastical subject. A good example of this is our drawing Youngblood. We needed reference shots for a pair of cherubs flying and fighting. After much searching, we found underwater photographs of babies swimming, that were in the right ethereal poses.
Many of our ideas don’t even make it to final designs, but the ones that do then go through a process of refining before we start gridding up the final piece.
When we first started La Mort Clothing in the Autumn of 2011, not only did we sell t-shirts, but we had a great collection of paper prints available on our stall. When things started getting busier and we started running out of room, we had to make a tough decision to continue with clothing alone. Well, now the prints are back! You can grab yourself a piece of our artwork, for a wicked price, that can go straight up on the wall. We have dropped them all to £10 to allow everyone to collect the whole set. They look awesome on the wall. We should know, we have them stuck up too! Check out the poster section in the store tab. Here are three of the first six:
If you haven't already, get yourself over to our Instagram page here and enter our giveaway. All you have to do is follow us on Instagram, repost the picture below to your profile and tag it #lamortclothing. We'll pick two winners on Friday 15 July and each will receive two free t-shirts of their choice. You've got to be in it to win it, so get involved now!
In this ongoing series of articles, about the conception and realisation of our work, we hope to provide an insight into exactly how we function as a design team and where the ideas and techniques originate. In part one, we gave an overview of our design practice and the way in which we develop and use our own system of icons. In this part we hope to shed light on the importance of Romanticism and Symbolism and the part they have played in our progress.
Though the word gothic has become firmly attached to modern music and fashion scenes, its roots stretch back hundreds of years to a time when the themes of death and tragedy permeated literature and visual arts of the time. Romanticism, as an art movement, climaxed between the late eighteenth and the mid nineteenth century, and although very broad in the subjects that it confronted, there is a strong gothic element that Faye and I are particularly interested in. The creative work produced during this period is rich with haunting and hallucinatory images of fallen cathedrals, crowded cemeteries and bleak, spectral landscapes. Sorrow and despair had become the fashion of the day.“I tried in vain to find The middle and the end of space;
I know not under what fiery eye I feel my pinions breaking;
Burned by love of the beautiful I shan't have the sublime honour
Of giving my name to the abyss That will serve me as a tomb.”(Les Plaintes d'un Icare | Charles Baudelaire | 1857)
The notable poets and painters of this incredible era left behind an exciting collection of material for anyone interested in the theme of death in the arts. The visionary writing of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and later, Charles Baudelaire read, in places, like hideous nightmares while the hellish landscape of opium use, described by Thomas De Quincey, heavily influenced our early drawings. Poison, love, loss and grief became well-trodden ground for a group of artists whose crushing fear of failure and defeat would drive many to madness and some to take their own lives. One artist in particular whose work exemplifies the spirit of Romanticism was the German landscape painter Casper David Freidrich. His canvases perfectly capture the lingering, oppressive feeling of melancholy and impending death with almost frightening clarity.
Though the graphic style of our work seems, at first, to share little with the work of the Romantic period, it has formed the foundation of everything we produce. The recurring motifs of decay, beauty and the grotesque have become embedded in our drawings and we owe as much to the poets and painters of the 19th century as we do to any modern graphic artists.
Since La Mort Clothing started, back in 2011, we have met many of you in person and had the opportunity to discuss our designs and the meanings behind them all. With this is mind, we have decided to write a series of articles which cover the various stages of our working, the techniques involved and the background work that goes into creating one of our drawings. In part one, we will be taking a look at the secrets of our designs and what has influenced the way we draw.
Since meeting at art school, Faye and I have both shared a fascination with the iconography of death, as many of you will know. It is a very potent subject to approach in graphic terms, and our work often produces a profound reaction in people that happen upon it. It seems to divide opinion, causing both disgust and delight! For us, it is everything we do.
Skulls, scrolls, arrows, hearts, daggers and blood. What does it all mean and where does it come from? A visual library of iconography is like any other language, in that it is developed to communicate an idea. It can hide lust, be openly seductive or erotic, or even be used to intentionally provoke or offend. Our carefully curated collection of motifs is no different. Our drawings are produced to suggest tragedy and to restore Death to the position he held during the Renaissance. We are often asked if there are hidden messages or secret meanings within our work and, though it may appear that way, the opposite is actually true. For us, the importance of design is the power of communication within the instant. Rather than literal illustrations or allegories, we relish in creating art that explodes like a rock poster. We find the human skull the most hypnotic and important graphic symbol that is available to us. It is timeless, and, though it can be seen on any high street around the world, its true meaning is virtually beyond comprehension. It is the chilling face of absolute extinction of life. The various icons and visual tricks within each drawing hold no power of their own and must be seen as small pieces of an ongoing puzzle. Even we don't know where this is leading. All we know is that we can't stop.