Interview with Samuel Araya, illustrator and designer, July 2012
Greetings Samuel! How are you and what have you been up to?
Hello Xonia, I’m doing good! I was just about to start working on a couple of CD covers that I have pending for the first week of August. Also, the morning was freezing cold, a rare thing in these parts, but an auspicious beginning nonetheless.
As an introduction to our readers, please give us a brief description of your work…
I have been working as a professional illustrator for about 10 years now, mostly for gaming companies. I have been doing art for role-playing & board games, as well as some occasional work for video game companies. From time to time I have the luck of collaborating with some bands within the Metal genre. These bands include: Cradle of Filth, Elvenking, Darkmoor, Imbalance, Eye of Judgment and Sabaoth. I have been featured in a couple of annuals, including “Spectrum 13: The Best in Contemporary Fantasy and Sci-fi Art“, “Gothic Art Now“, “Vampire Art Now” and a couple more.
About three years ago, my work took a dramatic turn. Thanks to re-discovering Austin Osman Spare, I decided to focus more on my ‘fine art’. I believe that the distinction between fine art and illustration is almost non-existent, but nobody pays attention to me.
So, anyway, I started getting more involved in the research of symbolism in painting… The Baptism of Fire was a solo exhibition at the most important Museum of Fine Art in Paraguay (also, the only one that we have, but lets forget that for a minute). Since that day I have been possessed by an urge to create, instigate, research and explore more diverse, and darker sides of art.
Also, the exhibit went so well that some of the pieces landed me a scholarship at Theartdepartment.org where I’m currently majoring in Drawing and Painting. The journey has been incredible so far, and I’m very grateful at the good folks at The Art Department, as well as the people of Talenthouse.com, which gave the me opportunity to apply for the scholarship in the first place.
How long have you been doing art, what is your main genre and who is interested in your work?
Well, we all start doing art from the day we are capable of holding a pencil, don’t we? I am no exception, the only period where I gave up art was during High school, where I toyed with the idea of being a writer, which was just silly.
My main illustrative genre has been horror, but if I have to choose a genre, I would like to stick with the word ‘Decadence’, as that is my main point of interest in life. I’m interested in the beauty of decay.
As for interest, there has been an amazing diversity. I never thought a band like Elvenking, for example, would be interested in my work, but thankfully they did, and our work together has been extremely satisfying!
"Cassiopeia", cover artwork for Elvenking’s "Red Silent Tides" album
The imagery you chose comes across as dark and creepy and often seems to draw from the dark side of real life. On the other hand there is also something dreamy and otherworldly about your paintings. What or who inspires you and would you mind sharing a bit about your way of working?
I’m inspired by decay in all forms, but for the sake of simplicity, lets say that I’m most interested in the decay of our own symbols. I remember reading “Two Tracts on Cartomancy” by Austin Osman Spare and being deeply moved. There is something lost and something gained when we accept and process an imposed symbol and its meaning. Spare and his writings and art literally changed my world-view. It challenged me to find my own system of meanings to images. This also resulted in a re-discovery of the Pre-Raphaelites. All this strange archaeology was of course filtered by my interest in horror and decay. Where is that interest born… I’m afraid I got no answer, some of us just want to be damned, I guess.
My way of working is very organic. From time to time I will start with a loose pencil or watercolor sketch, bring it to the computer and overlay various photography transparencies over it. I prefer to work with my own photography, but from time to time I resort to Wikimedia Commons and its vast library of historical pictures. Then I would usually ‘dig in’ with digital paint, pulling in and out elements of the image, and most of the time, discovering something new within it. No plan or composition is sacred to me and I always like to take the risk to move the art to a new direction.
And above all books and experience are always my main inspiration. Lets not go into details of experiences, for the sake of safety, but let us dwell in the glory of books by Austin Osman Spare, Lovecraft, Thomas Ligotti, Borges, Alan Moore, Robert Chambers and Arthur Machen.
Do you listen to any music when you work on new art? Which?
I mostly listen to black metal, Dissection, Watain, Deathspell Omega, Darkthrone, Emperor, Samael, Cradle of Filth (hear the cries of the black metal purist here!)… well, the list goes on! I’m converted, and from past 7 years have been an avid King Diamond fan – the man is a genius, his music is all about atmosphere, and that’s something I love. Candlemass is one of my favorite bands ever! From time to time I will also have some Dead Can Dance, a bit of Nick Cave, and lots of Tom Waits, what else? Ulver of course… I should mention I usually like albums that everyone hates, like Endorama by German thrashers Kreator, but I don’t usually pay attention to others people opinion on music, or art…
Lately I have been really into Tiamat and Moonspell, I like bands who challenge themselves and do different things, I think these bands succeed elegantly within these parameters, whilst maintaining their characteristic dark and ominous atmosphere. Also, last but not least, love the music by Horseback, its just monumental! Never mind the incredible cover art they always have, mostly done by Denis Forkas Kostromitin.
"The Astronaut’s Wife", CD-cover for the band NOD
The first piece of art by you that drew my attention was “Leviathan”. In the center is a young face with green-blueish eyes. The skin of the face looks pale, only the lips and shades around the eyes are red. The face has a cold expression and is surrounded by a lot of religious symbolism with a bleeding Eye of Providence above. But there are also bullets… Could you explain a bit about this picture, how was it composed, what does it mean and in which context was it used?
I will explain about the face on the next question… Regarding the bullets, I don’t remember well, but I think I was reading an alchemical text at the time (can’t remember the name of the author) where was an interesting image: the philosophers stone as the stone that David throws at Goliath, a weapon. The bullet is also one of our ‘new’ symbols of death. At some point I was doing halos and spirals of bullets throughout the whole image… it just felt as Leviathan uncoiling in the deeps of darkness, being discovered by pure will. I covered most of it with ornamentation, even got some golden horns for Mithra, but the coil motif remained strong withing my mind, hence the name.
The coils also relate to the structure of the Tower of Babel, as depicted by Doré and Bruegel, that culminates in the blind Eye of Providence, to let us build a tower tall, a tower to reach and wound heaven, and rend creation blind.
I’m hoping I can use the image as cover for a very special collaboration, but more of it later.
Something that made me wonder about this picture is the mysterious female (?) face, which occurs also in your previous painting “Uppsala”. The demon Leviathan is often referred to as male or presented as a sea-monster, a serpent or dragon. Would you mind lifting the secret, is this a person you know and does it have any deeper significance?
The face overlay of “Uppsala” was done overlaying transparencies of the faces of all the models that have been helping me out during that particular time of my life. I had no idea of how the face will eventually turn out. For Leviathan I added some extra features and I wanted a specific set of eye brows, because I thought it was a particular lovely feature of a loved one and because it is always good to impose your will to chaos from time to time.
It has a deeper significance. It does relate more to love and beauty rather than destruction, I’m afraid. It was specially important to me to have both elements for that particular series, Thesis and Antithesis striving for an alchemical miracle, synthesis.
I remember also being profoundly impacted by the card Shugara – The Moon in the Sinister Tarot… I think a lot of it went into the making of these faces, albeit unconsciously.
You also give female forms to other gods and entities, that are usually referred to as male, e.g. Lucifer. How come?
This is one important question..
At the crossroads of life I came across this particular quote from Thomas Ligotti:
“De Plancy´s Dictionnaire Infernal respectively characterizes these demons, in the words of the unknown translator, as “the one who glistens horribly like a rainbow of insects; the one who quivers in a horrible manner, and the one who moves with a particular creeping notion” For the curious, engravings have been made of these kinetically and chromatically weird beings, unfortunately static and in black and white”
The next thing I knew, I was painting Amdusias as a stony, broken, burlesque doll laying illuminated by a rainbow of colors as if struck by thunder of the most alien and profane origins. To me and the vision, it is important to capture something new, it is about fear and wonder, and it is about doing my will. To me there is something inherently alien there that needs to be revived, explored and bought brought back, at least, into my work.
Just for the record, I loved what I have seen of De Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal, the engravings are exquisite, and I have been hunting for a copy for a long time now…
"Amdusias", art for an upcoming book, inspired by "A Dream of Manikin" by Thomas Ligotti
I need to re-invent symbols, I need to try new things. It is all part of awe and horror, or fear and wonder on the spiritual, if you will. Take for example the Lord of Death, San la Muerte, and its rise on modern magic. I can relate that mostly to its visceral nature, also because its rituals will feel so alien to those rooted in European magic currents. Now, in Paraguay, the country where I live and where I was born, the lord of death is a well known figure, you can access books of paye (the name of our traditional magic system and also of the talismans) on school libraries. It is something very familiar, in an odd way, and no disrespect, but that familiarity… it is something I try to cast away. I think that Ixaxaar and the author of that book [edit: he refers to the Liber Falxifer series] did something very daring, very interesting, by bringing Qayin into that system, even if I don’t practice it. Another example is the Sinister Tarot by the Order of the Nine Angles, all inspiring work.
"All Hail Lucifer", personal work
How long do you spend on a piece like “Leviathan”?
I think it was around two days of intense work. I usually work very fast, as I have few distractions in my life and in the studio. Also I remember coming back to it, a few days later, to add and correct some things.
Could you pick two other artworks of yours and explain a bit about them?
Moloch by Samuel Araya
“Moloch” (the last piece I posted on Facebook, the dead woman sitting) was more of what I said earlier, about finding new things in a symbol. I also wanted to give it a quiet atmosphere, death sitting serene in contrast to what you would expect from the human sacrifice related deaths that were associated with Moloch. Breast are a common symbol of fertility, so the natural decision was to do something about them. In this case they are corrupted and damaged. The veil is a common symbol in my work, because it looks good and because it relates to the act of lifting the veil, awakening your consciousness to what is hidden, hell, even to the marital kiss, and such hideous thing. There is a statue of a baby near the character. I found it while I was looking for art supplies. The thing was so horrible and so damaged that I just had to buy it. It was also the first spark of inspiration for the Moloch theme.
The illustration for the Vampire RPG (the one with the woman with a Klimt-esque dress): I actually got this text about a vampire turning into a hideous shadow monster. Again I decided against having a visceral and horrible metamorphosis scene. Don’t get me wrong, I love those. I just wanted something different, as always. I was looking to replicate what Klimt did in terms of ornamentation but with a purposefully digital feel, just for the sake of experimentation. The Client was White Wolf, who publish some great role playing games. I always have fun working on these, because at the end of the day, work is more fun than fun, as someone said.
Interior Illustration for Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition © White Wolf Publishing
Where can we see more of your work?
Please add me at facebook at http://www.facebook.com/paintagram I only use it to promote my work or to post art related things, and its a wonderful tool when it comes to communicate with people.
Finally, you can buy high quality prints of my work at http://paintagram.inprnt.com
What are your plans for the future? E.g. who would you like to work with?
I plan to focus more on fine art. I’m slowly working in a transition towards traditional painting. I doubt I will ever abandon the digital medium or photography, but I have come to discover how much enjoyable it is to devote hours and hours of work with pencils, watercolors and oils.
I would love to work with more bands. Please get in touch with me if you have an interesting project. Everything is negotiable sans work for free, which is unacceptable.
I have a collaboration with Dani Filth, which I hope will see the light of day soon. And I have another special plan for a book, but that shall be revealed in time.
Your last words to our readers:
Sic luceat lux.
Thank you for your time!
Interview given to Teufelskunst, July 2012
Answers and pictures © Samuel Araya. All rights reserved.
July 20, 2012