Death, Ritual, and Persona

October has always been my favourite month, since it contains both my birthday and Halloween. I’ve loved the intense transformational explosion of the leaves changing colour when, where I grew up in upstate New York, it was always peaking right at the time when I was born. It gave me somewhat of an obsession with the colour red which can be seen in my work. This year, I’ve been studying to become an astrologer, as I’m now 42 and I can’t do porn forever, and I don’t want to pursue other aspects of the industry like being a director and so on. With this crazy economy and my stubbornness about painting whatever suits me, I can’t count on being able to establish a feasible art career either.

To make a long story shorter, this year I decided to try my hand at a Solar Return chart, which is done for the time when the Sun is returning to the same degree of the zodiac it was in when you were born. This is supposed to forecast something about the year to come. I’ve had an incredibly rough couple of years (or decades, let’s face it) and it disturbed me to see a year predicted that was more of the same. Astrologers see the planets as energies or even entities that tie in with mythological figures, such as Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, and so on. Mars, Uranus, Saturn, and Pluto were all lining up to bring me more loss and pain over this year to come, so I also tried something new to me, astrological remediation. This is a magical, ritualistic process that can take almost any form. It is designed to help mitigate the negative influences of the relevant energies, sort of like making a sacrifice to a God.

Something in me said, and maybe this is the former goth in me, that it isn’t going to be my birthday, it should be my funeral. The funeral for my old self. The planetary forces are wanting me to let go of everything that I was, and everyone I have loved, it seems, even to the point where I have, under their watch, lost more than one person to sudden death. So be it. Let it all die. In the spirit of Halloween, I dressed a plastic skeleton in my clothes, and pinned intentions related to the relevant planets to the outfit, and had a little fun with it. I placed items relating to my toxic coping mechanisms all around dead me. I got flowers. I lit candles and incense. One of my best and oldest friends and her partner came to visit me and we made it a party, and had a very special weekend.

Under the influence of a certain rather magical, healing, perception-altering substance, we finished the ritual together. The way everything worked out was really quite unexpected. They witnessed while I stripped dead me and burned the clothing and intentions on my patio. The selfie above is me dressed in some of my dead husband’s clothes, an impulsive decision but also I was thinking about, for the Mars remediation, how I could use more masculine energy in my being, instead of looking for it in a partner. I lost my husband to last year to a brain hemorrhage, and then my boyfriend this summer to betrayal, I wanted to try internalizing the masculine energy I seemed to be seeking elsewhere. To be my own fucking father figure for a change.

Ritual has long been a part of my life, not really in a formal way, more in a playful and intuitive manner. A method to work with matter and spirit to intentionally mark the passages of life. For me, ritual is much like art. You take various components and materials that have significance, everything included in a ritual is important, similarly to how everything in a painting must be there for a reason. Each part signifies something. Ritual and figurative painting for me are strongly work with symbols and meaning, and are magical in the way they use matter to work with energy and will to create something. Ritual and art also work with an invisible, unseen something. Intuition. Spirit. Vision. Inspiration. The subconscious.

I was going to stay home and commune with spirits and the dead as one does, and do ritual alone this Samhain, since it is a pandemic. However, a sweet local friend who is also a witch like me and an artist, asked what I was doing and said she wanted to dress up. So we whipped a little something together and joined forces to dress up, have a nice meal and be together with a fire and under the Full Moon.

My costume this year was pretty rushed and spontaneous, but in keeping with the theme fo death and pulling in masculine energy, I decided to be a dead white male artist, aka What it Takes to Make it in the Art World. Or maybe I’m a zombie artist come back to life after the pandemic, you decide. I wore some of my husband’s old clothes. This is tongue-in-cheek but also playing a bit with how difficult I’ve found it to make some kind of art career for myself. I realize I’m partly to blame for this, I don’t think anymore it is from any insufficiency in my work, just that my paintings are hard to sell for many reasons and I don’t know where the market is for it or if there is one. I just want to paint what I want to paint, and that happens to be large nudes which are often creepy and overwhelming for people. Not many people have the wall space either. I am working on trying to do more small stuff, however.

Costume has been a part of my art practise for almost the whole time I’ve been painting. Usually I pull on parts of myself, or aspects of a deity if I’m interested in their mythology. One of my early assignments in undergrad in intermediate painting class was to dress up as as aspect of ourselves and paint it. We took the photos in class with coloured lights. I think it made an impression on me on how a painting can be created, starting with the concept, then the creation of the source material, and how different aspects of ourselves can be honoured through art. I dressed up as the weekend goth part of myself. I felt tougher, more insulated, more badass, and it reminded me how what we wear and how we present ourselves can influence how we feel about ourselves and how others see us. This seems like a very basic concept but I was a very naive, sheltered 19 or 20 year-old.

Not the most flattering portrait of me, but Jen said I looked cool and strong, and wanted to take my picture. What you see me wearing here is Uday Hussein’s black velvet jacket, as you can see, it is quite large on me, he was 6’5″. My late husband was a writer and war journalist, and he was in Iraq for both wars. I had just met him in 2002 and we had fallen in love only months before he decided to go be one of the few unembedded journalists in this crazy war. I couldn’t stand the idea of him in such danger and had this bad feeling if I wasn’t nearby, he would do something stupid and get himself killed. He went alone at first, but then asked if I would like to come, and against all common sense, I flew into Amman, Jordan. I was an ignorant American, and Jordan was a country I didn’t even know existed before this point. He met me and I stayed in Amman, the first country besides Canada that I had ever been to. I was only 23. Once the war stopped I went to Baghdad with him. But that’s a story for another day. He, along with many other journalists, went to Saddam’s palace. They stole a bunch of things, including some of Saddam Hussein’s notoriously horrible son’s (he was a terrible sadist and an all around evil person by all accounts) designer clothing. This was his rather sinister-looking coat. My husband wrote a funny but controversial article for a newspaper featuring a portrait of himself dressed as an Arab and holding an AK47 I believe, it was called “I am the Thief of Baghdad” (a film reference).

I think I also learned quite a lot about costume and persona not just from my long, long career in pornography, but also from my late husband, who was a theatre star in his youth, helped fundraise for the theatre in Oxford when he was studying there and met Samuel Becket, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, and Francis Bacon ans others while fundraising. My late husband was also a talented writer of fiction. He was also very talented at making up tall tales, and he was a compulsive liar. Its been extremely difficult and a major mind fuck after his death to discern truth from lies, and I’ve rather given up on that attempt. Does it even matter anymore?

It’s my belief and it has been confirmed by someone who is an authority, that my partner of 17 years had malignant Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I only knew in the last few months of his life. A more benevolent aspect of that disorder is the ability to shapeshift into whatever self you think will get you the most benefit. He was amazing for his ability to travel anywhere and fit into the culture, learn bits of language, get through the most dangerous situations, and charm everyone. So my choice to wear some of his clothing that I kept (which wasn’t much, I donated most of it) may seem a bit morbid or odd, especially considering all the lies and abuse, but part of what I’ve been learning is keep what works, and throw out the rest. A year and a half after his death I’m starting to be able to forgive and release a lot of the trauma and realize that he will always be a part of me, and I accept that. I can wear his clothes. I can live in the house we shared together, even if terrible things happened here. Much of his influence was positive and transformational and contributed hugely to the development of my spiritual practise, my personality, my character, my art, and my understanding of the world. He also inadvertently taught me a lot about what not to put up with in future from people. And how to step away from him, which I did in the years before his death, I was actually trying to separate when he died, but he would make terrible threats and get abusive.

I feel like my birthday ritual at least (too soon to know about the other) has worked surprisingly well as I feel much lighter and happier as if a huge burden of misery and trauma has been lifted from my shoulders, but it could be temporary. For now, I’m enjoying it.

New Bio

I’ve written a new artist bio, in case you missed it in the menu.

Painter, mystic and sex worker, Kara Williams was born in upstate New York in 1978. She studied with painter Mark Greenwold at University at Albany, where she received her BFA in Painting and a BA in Creative Writing. She moved to Canada in 2002 to study Tantra and meditation. She has shown in galleries in Ontario and Quebec, and had solo shows in Toronto and Ottawa. Her paintings are in private collections in Canada, the USA and internationally, as well as the Colart Collection in Montreal.  She received the Roanne Kulakoff award for painting as an undergraduate at SUNY Albany and she was a semi-finalist for the Bombay Sapphire competition in 2019. She now lives and works in sylvan Val-des-Lacs, Quebec in the Laurentians, and has a studio in Montreal. 

Plague Times

Because of the nature of this pandemic, many are drawing allusions to the plague, meaning the Black Death of the Middle Ages. I dug out my plague doctor mask and took some photos and may use it later for a painting. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect during quarantine and finally enough time to fix this broken site and consider what I want to do with it.

There’s a part of me that has a lot to say, and more than a few people have urged me to write a book about my life when they hear of its events, but I’m not ready for that yet. Some have suggested that it would help inform my art to hear my words about it, and that is probably true. Some feedback has told me that my work is far too opaque, and that they can’t figure out the meaning, while others have said that the symbolism is far too obvious. I’ve come to the conclusion that the symbolism just is, much like dream symbolism, it can be hard to understand at times or baffling and other times it is clear as day.

The reference to this pandemic as the plague and my returning to an old habit of dream journaling made me recall one unforgettable dream I had when I was a teenager, the one that started me dream journaling in the first place. I was in a village long ago, one with huts and simple dwellings. I remember the intense rush of emotion as those close to me died one by one. My brother, with whom I had carried on an incestuous relationship (in the dream, I am an only child in this life), had just died of the plague and my nurse had too (I think this was the housekeeper or nanny) and in rage and grief, I spit on her dead face and ran into the forest to a space that was dear to my brother and I.

It was a small stone circle, much smaller than Stonehenge, and it was where my brother and I we went to be alone. As soon as I arrived, however, a vortex-like portal sucked me in and transported me to the present day (my teenage bedroom) where I lay in the bed with all those who had passed away around me, all living, and concerned over my well-being standing at my bedside and so pleased that I had woken up. I was so alarmed to see them alive again, that in a panic I ran from the room and into the street. A car approached me at speed and I remember being stunned–in the dream I did not recognize what a car was–but I recognized the face inside as my brother, then he ran me over and I woke up.

Animosity, 2001

The resonance of this dream was so strong that I remember telling it to friends in bars in college years later. It planted the seed for my belief in reincarnation, as that is exactly what the dream seemed to convey to me, the complete believability that souls carry on through various lifetimes. I experienced it as reality in the dream. Over the years I have had many dreams of a dark-haired man, who I believe to be that brother, from what I recall, he is often an aloof figure but at other times, a pursuer, murderer, villain. I don’t remember ever seeing his face, I’m just being chased, held hostage, threatened with death, or escaping, but I sort of knew it was the same person.

The way I’ve come to understand reincarnation and soulmates is that we don’t just have one soulmate. We have whole soul families, those who have spent many lifetimes with us. They are often our friends, lovers, co-workers, enemies, family. As soul families they are kindred, essence of our essence, and thus feel deeply familiar and resonant. It is said that soulmates are aspects of our higher selves–contained within the same Oversoul, which is also an emanation from Source. They are part of us.

After this teenage dream, I started to read about dream analysis because the number of nightmares I was having was disconcerting. I picked up a book on my mother’s shelf, Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections. I read about the anima and animus, and the shadow. I realized this dream figure was my animus, the masculine energy force that was everything that I was not, the yang to my yin. I came to understand the constant nightmares I had of this murderer over decades was my animus coming for me, looking for integration.

In time, I would come to paint about this subject.

Because of You

 

Because of you, I see the tender exposure

of a stranger’s long black toes

in cheap rubber sandals and I weep.

I cry at the vulnerability of an orange smoke fox

crossing the road at night.

At the death throes of a squirrel struck by a car

epileptic, then still.

Your beauty is a complication I did not desire,

yet your existence is a wish whispered softly within.

I bleed at random, then profusely, without cease,

soaking pants and sheets, in the streets

like a wounded thing that won’t die.

And somehow, I blame you.

Autumn leaves dance like lapping flames in the road behind

a car’s speed, tail lights burning red. It reminds me of

your strokes of energy glowing green

and yellow with power and love,

delicate, controlled, and full.

 

2016

Sébastian Maltais & Sebastien Worsnip

I’m writing for The Belgo Report, reviews and updates about what is going on in the biggest art centre in Montreal. My first two pieces were about painting, an encaustic series inspired by  the writings of Camus by Sébastian Maltais and abstract pieces of explosions by Sebastien Worsnip.

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Map of Flesh

*note: For archival and other purposes, I’m sharing here my old poetry, most of which was written between 1998 and 2003. Before I turned to painting, my creativity came out in words.*

Map of Flesh

~2003

Weaving the red thread through dreams,

wearing the map on my flesh.

One breath into emptiness.

My skin was caught by landmarks,

the points from which a figure

was made and pulled through.

An amphibian summoning

the will to pull itself out of the water

for the first time.

Is it better to wait until it is as easy

as rolling over and lazily opening

one’s eyes from near-sighted red

to the deathlike blinding white?

Points of discomfort tending to pain,

laying on his chest in the dark,

a chain around my neck

and a wig on my head.

I felt the body’s points like marks

on a map, these points were stitches, stones.

And as the flesh collapsed and withdrew,

then spun itself and reformed, these points

remained and became

the foundation of this strange and wonderful

ancient landscape. Our flesh

ceased to matter.

Now neither fish nor flesh,

siamese twins with newly forming legs,

we emerged and floated,

drawn by a light.

My mouth opened

like a void and the flesh swelled

to meet it not

the flesh but the light

and I became a hole.

Wanda Koop and Bonnie Baxter Vernissage at Galerie Division

Last weekend I attended the vernissage of Wanda Koop and Bonnie Baxter at Galerie Division. It was my first time visiting the Arsenal, and I much enjoyed the large, industrial appearance of the space. Galerie Division is long, with high ceilings  and while spacious, there are several spaces to explore, and hallways to walk through.

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I had read about Wanda Koop in Canadian Art, and I’ve long appreciated her use of colour and unusual palette. It was delightful to see her works in person.

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Bonnie Baxter was new to me, and I was intrigued to know that she resides only a few towns over from me. Perhaps I shall have the pleasure of meeting her someday. Her works are large, painterly and dark, telling a story that I heard reflects her own life. I adored the mysterious narrative.

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The Doppelgänger

The doppelgänger (German for “Double-Walker”) is a pervasive theme in my work, deeply rooted in early childhood associations, growing into a symbolic awareness with a strong sense of self-portraiture and autobiography. The sister, or twin figures, are early incarnations of the doppelgänger, the “other”, related, but separate.  This stage is a bridge between the early undifferentiated consciousness of childhood and the cognizance of other people as individuals, often unfathomable and obscure.
This twin often has a darker aspect, a trickster nature, and as the Jungian shadow she is at the same time a guide or teacher.  The works What Little Girls Are Made Of and Forest Sisters deal with this concept, as well as Dance of Salome.  The first painting of the series to show a true doppelgänger was Watching the Wake, in which a girl recognizes her sleeping double—is it a doppelgänger seeing the sleeping self or the self dreaming the doppelgänger?
After acknowledging the otherness of the double, the psyche, when ready for transformation, can internalize the qualities of the twin.   This is the mystical marriage, the merging of opposites initiated by erotic impulse, stirring the soul to absorb the qualities it lacked until then.  The painting Animosity is a double self-portrait, with myself in feminine form, leaning in longing towards the aloof animus figure, myself as a male.  Raising of the Female Waters, in the Mythos series, shows the connection between the male and female figures which elevate and merge in the waters above the female figure in the foreground

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This union of opposites is recognized through many myths and religious philosophies—Shekinah as the Shabbat bride, for example. A particularly potent instance is the Shakti force of Tantra, the feminine energy symbolized by a coiled snake at the base of the spine.   She rises through the energy centres to reach her consort, Shiva, at the crown, in a wedding of the male and female principles, in essence, jiva (the individual soul) to Brahman (the ultimate reality).  The symbol of the cross and the Star of David both are said to signify the marriage of above to below, or spirit to matter.   This is where Narcissus was bewitched to fall in love with his own reflection rather than discover the other as Self.   Raising of the Female Waters shows the importance of both the male and female principle, the standing male figure gesturing as if tuning an invisible instrument, which is affecting the underwater female figure, and their psychic counterparts which float together above her.
Out of every spiritual union comes a birth, a joyous creation, but also a separation.  A psychological siamese twin is formed, which grows and separates into another double, potentially stronger and more complete.  Works such as Seven Days Drowned and Torso with Seven Breasts in the Multiplicity series allude to the fecundity of nature, and the multiplicity of creation.  Three Graces shows the figure at the far right as a pregnant version, full, ripe, and serene. The birth which comes out of a psychological synthesis is the foundation for the images of multiplicity in my work.  Multiplicity to me stands for the fruitfulness of life, the creativity of the female principle and the union of opposites, and the fate of souls born to earth.  The self-portrait face in Cat’s Cradle is doubled in one head, siamese twin style.  The girls in the bathtub in Dreams of Deprivation are joined at the hip, busy at their own obsessive compulsive tasks in their dry, fully-clothed bath.  The echo of figures in Dance of Salome creates, in effect, more than one dancer.  The relevance of multiple limbs, multiple heads and breasts comes to me in part from the association to the Hindu gods and goddesses, their omniscience and omnipotence, their existence outside of time shown through the multiplicity embodied in their figuration.  Bringing such themes into the personal, in portraiture, pays homage to the idea of self-realization.  The self exists as many in the world of flesh, and in every separation there is pain, but also growth.
The myths of dismemberment and creation of life out of body parts fascinate me—Osiris’s scattering, his res-erection, Dionysius being torn limb from limb by his worshipers and Eve created from Adam’s rib.
The word schizophrenia means literally, “broken soul,” and if we are all descended from one source, spirit enclosed in a body, would we not feel the pain of such a breach?  Taking a look at the world around us, it would seem so.  Self-Portrait in a Yellow Shirt, and Queen of Hearts betray a mood of fragmentation and over-identification with the body and the suffering and anxiety resulting. The separation of the one into many and the return of the many into the one is a psychological epic adventure described in many great works of philosophy, literature and religious texts, such as the Bhagavad-Gita, the Zohar, Buddhist texts, D.H.Lawrence, Rumi, Book of Enoch and so on.
In this series I seek to make a small tribute to the various stages in the migration and transformations of consciousness. Symbols or themes which  convey this for me have been the mirror, water or the ocean, the serpent, sisters/twins and eroticism.
The serpent has represented a vast many things for most cultures throughout history, but at this stage in my work I am dealing with the serpent as the unconscious, as potential energy, powerful yet dangerous.  The serpent appears in Eve in the Garden wrapped around the ankle of a contemplative Eve who casually displays her nakedness while holding an apple.    In Kings in the Bible the priests break up the snakes that are in the temple, and then they are among the people, causing them harm and death.  God tells Moses to set up a fiery serpent on a staff and this will cure them.  How can the same serpents be worthy of being chopped up and destroyed, but later raised up on a staff for good?  The serpent is the Kundalini, the powerful energy which lays dormant awaiting awakening.
Water carries similar associations, the primordial sea from whence all things come, but also the collective unconscious, the source of all ideas, pf thoughts and life.  The snake and the ocean contain a paradoxical meaning because they also represent the whole, unity.   Waterbearer, Dreams of Deprivation, Mirror Jar, The Source, Seven Days Drowned and Raising of the Female Waters all explore themes of this life-giving and sustaining resource.
The mirror is similar to the doppelgänger in scope—in that we must recognize one’s Self outside of oneself in order to move forward.  To first “see” one must look.  The mirror in Narcissa and Her Echo among other works conveys this idea.
In my paintings the symbols of water, the serpent and the mirror are not potent only as mythological tales but also on the archetypal and psychological levels.  They are specific images which resonated with meaning during the intensely visual and profound experiences on LSD in my youth, images which stuck with me much later in my work.
Like Narcissus, we may see our own reflection in the water, the image of our ego, and, bewitched, fall in love, or we may find we are mired deep underwater, and must emerge into a diluvial landscape in order to evolve our reptile consciousness.
Through eroticism and love, we learn to identify with the Other, and to yearn to experience the bliss of union.  Eroticism speaks through the language of desire, connection, creativity and sensation about the meaning of life.    I use eroticism to express the doppelgänger theme in works such as Women in a Brothel, Mirror Jar, Narcissa and Her Echo, Dream of the Beast, and What Little Girls are Made of.   Often touched by darkness, like life, never unshadowed by pain. Art lovers know that looking at a painting can be a sensual experience.   I seek to create a sense of heightened awareness and intensified attention, similar to the kind which is initiated with the arousal of desire or realizing in a dream that you are dreaming.  In this way I invite you in.