Folklore Thursday: Winter is Coming. Al Ridenour and the Krampus

Ho Ho Horror …Krampusnacht approaches and Folk Horror Revival were fortunate enough to catch up with Al Ridenour, Xmas-monster hunter extraordinaire the author of

The Krampus

And The Old, Dark Christmas
Roots and Rebirth of the Folkloric Devil

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Folk Horror Revival:  When did you first become aware of Krampus and what in particular about the tradition appealed to you?

Al Ridenour: In the mid-1980s, after putting in my undergrad years studying Germanic languages and literature, I ended up going to school in Berlin for a year.  Berlin is not in a region with a native Krampus culture but there’s some awareness of the figure. I remember suddenly around Christmas, encountering rows of postcard reproductions of this really lovely Edwardian-era lithograph of a devil’s head with lolling tongue.  I bought one without really knowing what it was, and it was up on my wall or fridge for years before I really realized what it was. I’d been aware at the time of Knecht Ruprecht, the sort of northern German cousin of the Austro-Bavarian Krampus, but hadn’t really gotten the story on this horned fellow. 

Around that same time, I was reading The Golden Bough and found myself particularly fascinated by descriptions of Perchten, another (closer) cousin to the Krampus, but had assumed this was an extinct rather than living tradition.    I hadn’t seen the word “Krampus” in Frazier’s writing because around 1890, the word was still gaining currency.  The Krampus postcards were just beginning to circulate, and it was these that helped popularize the word, myth, and created a sort of homogenous visual representation.  Before that, it was more diverse, loosely related clusters of very regional figures and traditions (like the Perchten) customs

In any case, my really getting into the tradition happened via a second encounter with these postcards around 2004, when digital reproductions began circulating online.   At that time, it all clicked, and I realized this was more than a bit of antique art –- that it was a tradition still being enacted by contemporary Austrians and Germans in stunning costumes.  I began pining over YouTube videos showing the live events, and eventually began planning a trip to partake in the fun myself.  My casual trip research as to the most traditional locations to visit became the basis for my book.

The appeal?  Well, they’re monsters!  Need I saw more? And as an artist and fabricator myself, the craft of the costumes really appealed to me.  There was also such a scarcity at the time of English information on the creature, that it also sparked my more scholastic, puzzle-solving side.   And reading up on the topic finally put that relatively useless degree in German to good use!

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FHR:  On the Folk Horror Revival Facebook group, a video post depicting Krampus and some crying kids, kicked off a kerfuffle with some folk even talking about the children developing Post Traumatic Stress Order as adults. Personally as a kid I loved being scared … monsters, ghosts, UFOs, horror films and comics, dinosaurs – I loved all that, the scarier the better.

What are your thoughts about the issue? Do you think things like the Krampus are too scary or potentially damaging to kids or do you think the wrapping in cotton wool of children is an overreaction?

AR: Well, I couldn’t agree more about a childhood — err, lifelong – passion for frightful s stuff.  It’s likely that this proclivity may be a bit stronger in boys, and more still in males who identify as horror fans, but the Krampus is also a creature of fantasy and fairy tale, of the imaginative faculty in general.  If you look at our culture’s media output, it’s pretty clear that there’s a universal, thriving market for imaginative extra-mundane tales.

Yes, kids undeniably sometimes cry when they encounter the Krampus, but I feel like I often have to offer a corrective to the view that the whole tradition is primarily about punishing or scaring kids.   People outside of Bavaria and Austria tend to miss its playful aspect, not see that it’s really more about play than punishment.  While the core myth is that of a punishing figure accompanying St. Nicholas on his annual visits to children’s homes, the practice of enacting this particular story, the private Hausbesuch (“home visit”) is rather uncommon these days.  The bulk of the Krampus activity in Europe is a public one, the Krampuslauf or Krampus run, which hardly pretends to be about the figure’s role as punisher.  Performers in the Krampus runs typically leave kids alone and instead chase or engage in mock battles young adults of their own age.

I devoted the concluding chapter of my book to this “cotton wool” approach to children in regards to Krampus culture.  In the era of trivializing “participation awards” in schools, the house-visits particularly give the child an opportunity to really achieve mastery over his own fear but also mastery of some small task – a performance. In the old days, the child would be called upon to recite for St. Nicholas bible versus or the like, but in more secular times, this is often just the performances of some memorized piece of music or poetry.   The whole family, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and even great-grandparents are assembled for this moment of truth where the child can shine, where he becomes a star. That such a drama would be staged in the home, with elaborate, expensive costumes, secret preparations and care to ensure success in every detail—all the trouble, work and love devoted to this child-centered production seems very touching to me.  If the goal were merely to scare a kid straight, there would be much simpler, brutish ways to do it. 

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FHR:  Are there any other aspects of folklore or indeed society and culture that also intrigue you?

AR: The word “liminal” seems to be a popular word to throw around in folklore studies, and also seems a pretty good catchall for answering this.  When I was a kid that concept would have been embodied by the monsters I adored transgressing the borders of the natural and supernatural.  Tten growing up in the punk rock era, the transgression of societal norms became attractive in another way.  In the 1990s, I was part of a national (American) group dedicated to this.  It was called the Cacophony Society and was a national network of art-provocateurs and urban explorers responsible for founding the Burning Man festival and serving as prototype for “Project Mayhem” in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club.  It was started in San Francisco in the late 1980s, and I ran the Los Angeles lodge of the Society throughout the 1990s.   We engaged in a lot of pranks and hoaxes, things that would later go on to be called “flash mobs.” 

That interest in rather aggressively engaging the public in guerilla street theater ended up spawning an event called “Santacon,” namely, a drunken mob of costumed Santa Clauses that would take to the streets once a year.  I met Chuck Palahniuk, who was a member of the Portland Cacophony lodge at one of these when San Francisco, and Los Angeles members gathered with our comrades for a Santacon in that city. Sadly, I don’t remember much of the meeting as I was more than adequately soused for the occasion, though I do have vague recollections of police in tactical gear showing up to prevent out entrance to a local shopping center.   Santacon, like the Burning Man festival, went on to establish itself as an annual event outside of the Cacophony Society, and those of us who’d found it thrilling and challenging in the mid-1990s outgrew it.   Missing that chaotic annual revel (though not the heavy drinking),led me to start a Krampus run in Los Angeles. 

The funny thing is that impulse to occupy liminal spaces has caused me to double back to a more traditionalist mindset. Initially getting behind Santacon’s impulse to mock tradition I ended returning to the traditional via Krampus.  (Americans tend to think of the Krampus as a sort of “enemy” of St. Nick, Christmas, and all that is holy, but at home in Europe it’s associated with very traditionalist, religious culture, albeit more of a folk Catholicism than the top-down Vatican business.)

My embracing the traditionalism of the a figure like Krampus is not really that surprising though, given that even in the midst of my subversive Cacophony Society years, I still connected with very traditionalist thinkers like Carl Jung. Early on, I recognized my disposition as more romantic than classical.  I’ve always thrived on narratives where rational progressive thought collapses, and only the mythic offers hope.  That sort of unexplained, unexplainable liminal experience is something that’s always attracted me. Something like the Krampus tradition or Carnival are traditionalist ways to embrace the subversive, terrifying and absurd.

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FHR: You travelled quite extensively researching your book; are there any particular place or places, or experiences from these visits that have really stuck in your mind. If so, where and why?

AR: I wish I could have done more traveling for the book, but it’s not like I had a travel budget from the publisher.   I was able to make it to a handful of Krampus runs in Austria and Bavaria, but the bulk of my research was really done after the fact, following up on contacts I had made and through those visits, engaging others in the Krampus network via email and social networking.  Over the years there were a couple visits by my Austrian friends, where I got in more first-person interviews, and our Los Angeles Krampus group was also able to host the first costumed Europeans to run along with us in an American Krampus Run in 2014.

As far as memories, one that really struck me, and came to mind answering your question about children’s fears, was an incident I witnessed at a Krampuslauf in Munich.  I remember seeing this young, visibly trembling boy near the front of the crowd where the Krampuses were passing.  His parents were gently, but insistently nudging him forward toward an encounter.   Soon, I noticed, that it wasn’t just me, but others were all sort of breathlessly watching the boy deal with his fears.  Eventually he made it to the front of the crowd, and a costumed performer immediately took in the situation, crouched low and extended a claw.  By the time the boy stuck out his own hand to meet the monster’s, his parents were patting his back, and all the spectators were beaming — but none more than the kid himself!  We could all feel his pride, and it was really touching. And he went on to enjoy the other monsters, getting braver and braver with each encounter.  I felt kind of honored, like I’d secretly shared in an important milestone in this kid’s life.

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FHR: In your work as an artist on projects such as The Art of Bleeding, The Cacophony Society and The Museum of Mental Decay, there is a clear appreciation of the weird and grotesque. Could you tell us a little more about your art?

AR: I’ve talked a bit already about the Cacophony Society, but the Museum of Mental Decay was one of our Halloween events repeated over a few years. It was a sort of haunt or haunted house experience subversively interpreted – no readymade horrors from films, but stuff from a more dangerously surreal or dangerously real perspective – the latter, for instance represented by an installation with barely human urban panhandlers stationed in a sort of simulated back alley setting complete with stinking dumpster, all aggressively trying to sell visitors handfuls of human hair.  Another year, I constructed an immense walk-in womb installation covered in slippery amniotic goo.  I was covered in goo myself and trying to engage visitors with a giant man-sized fetus I’d constructed, encouraging them to hold the slimy thing or even spank it.  When they tried to escape, my assistant and I would try to lasso them with the 15-foot umbilical cord attached to the fetus.

On and off from 2004-2012, I directed The Art of Bleeding, a rather hard-to-define performance troupe of sorts offering live multi-media shows parodying first-aid and safety education. It was an uncomfortable mix of short original videos and animation I did, repurposed vintage health-and-safety films, puppets, costumed kiddy show characters, and nurses in fetishistic uniform. At the time I owned an ambulance that would also often be featured in the events, including one show about traffic safety staged in a parking lot filled with “crashed” cars (old junked cars I’d bought) with bloodied actors in each telling their accident stories. 

Over the last years, I’ve been sculpting and selling Krampus masks as well as costumes. My house is always a sort of evolving series of installations too, much of it with an increasingly folk horror vibe, including now a life-size sculpture of a sort of forest witch sculpted entirely from found woodland materials.

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FHR: I am assuming that horror films and possibly comics may have played a part in your childhood? Could you name a few of your favourite movies, books and artists or art-works for us please?

AR: I grew up on horror films, especially the old Universal pictures, which are more nostalgia now, but a couple I still I consider great films, like The Bride of Frankenstein, with all its visionary design, horror, pathos, and wall-to-wall music score.  I especially love it for its arch humor. Films that combine the morbid or grotesque and humor will always be near and dear to me– Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant, The Loved One, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Evil Dead II and Drag me to Hell, for instance.

My infatuation with Universal films encouraged a passion for Lon Chaney’s films, and silent films in general.  I love how they seem to emanate another, less substantial world. Guy Maddin’s art films are both wryly funny and evoke this silent world nicely.  His recent Forbidden Room is a truly phantasmagoric wonder!

I’m undeniably something of a Germanophile, and it’s possible that the German influence on those Universal pictures was part of it. 

in part because of the influence of Germany’s horror films of the silent era

 that trickled into those Universal pictures. Of all the silent German horror classics, Nosferatu was most formative.  The original, but also Herzog’s remake, are lifelong favorites. If you’ve not seen it, Herzog’s Heart of Glass is also a hauntingly dreamlike period piece, in which the actors all performed under hypnosis. I also love Scandinavian work like  (Häxen, Caligari, The Virgin Spring, The Juniper Tree, The Kingdom) and Eastern European/Russian films like Valerie and her Week of Wonders, Sweet Movie, W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism, and Viy (1967).  I worked in the film industry for ten years as an animator partly inspired by Jan Svankmajer’s stop-motion, and that of the Brothers Quay who emulate his style.

Peter Greenaway’s films seem to have something of the same painterly emphasis on formal compositions as the Quay’s, and he has that dry wit balancing all that sumptuous imagery. My taste in art has become a bit more curmudgeonly thanks to Greenaway, and I now feel a strong affinity for the northern Baroque he celebrates, particularly Flemish vanitas paintings, allegorical scenes, and of course Bosch and Bruegel. In my early incarnation with the Cacophony Society, I was more influenced by modern, transgressive art, particularly performance art, but not so much today.

I am not a big reader of fiction, though I have a strange and vociferous appetite for nonfiction about literary movements and authors, naturally the Gothic and Weird Fiction in particular. Flannery O’Connor is one exception, and I’ve read and re-read everything she’s written multiple times.

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FHR: What is next on the agenda? Are there any other books in the pipeline?

AR: Yes, absolutely! And very much within the FH wheelhouse.  I have not yet signed a contract, so probably should not mention specifics now, but within the year, I should have an announcement about a sort of survey book that I hope will interest the FH community.

As a sort of promotional adjunct to the book, and because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, I’ve also embarked on a podcast in which I discuss topics somewhat related to the upcoming book as well as my The Krampus and the Old Dark Christmas.  It’s called “Bone and Sickle”.  The core of the show is me sharing my research on a topic — say, Walpurgis Night or cuckoos — in a very discursive talk mingled with a constant stream of sound clips and quoted passages from 19th and early 20th century texts read by my partner Rick Galiher, who plays my butler.  The whole is set in a very M.R. Jamesian study full of these old volumes, and there’s a certain uncomfortable tension between my “character” and the butler throughout. Thus far, I think it’s hitting all the marks FH fans would appreciate, though it’s been a lot of serious production work with original music and effects flowing throughout the entirety of the show.  I’m very excited about it and the book!

Check out the Saint, Devil, Sugar-Bread & Whip: Krampus and Nicholas edition of Bone and Sickle here – https://www.boneandsickle.com/2018/11/28/the-krampus-saint-devil-sugar-bread-and-whip/?fbclid=IwAR2NPB5OMZ69xz035pnzWmXlmxvKTiiaewB8z1CCbR2n2rqWf-FYUXZ5WWs

Al Ridenour:
A native of Pasadena, California, Al Ridenour holds BA’s in German and English literature, has worked as an author, journalist, animator, and artist, and has been a fixture in the West Coast underground art community since the mid-1990s. His Krampus research has taken him to the Austrian Alps and Munich, and brought him in contact with cultural anthropologists working in Salzburg and Vienna as well as dozens of members of contemporary European Krampus groups. In 2013, Ridenour co-founded Krampus Los Angeles, an organization that’s made the city ground zero for American Krampusmania. Ridenour has translated and produced the only English-language version of 19th-century Krampus play, written articles, and lectured on the topic at the international Goethe-Institut and elsewhere, and exhibited his Krampus suits at the University of Southern California’s Doheny Museum.

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If any  UK Revivalists are in the Whitby area on Saturday 5th December pop along to the Krampus Run – more details here – https://spark.adobe.com/page/SabqDn8I1AN4L/?fbclid=IwAR0x4QWgEg12aShz1seqaTmRZeBIvhQcIq7ygZ3F_QB7ArsC5g-xhx0_znY

And read Another great Krampus interview with Decadent Drawing here – https://folkhorrorrevival.com/2018/11/23/the-whitby-krampus-run-an-interview-with-elaine-edmunds-and-laurence-mitchell/ 
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Interview with Al Ridenour first published in the book  Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies
Available from ~ http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/andypaciorek

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“This Is Bardcore” – an interview with The Story Beast on his Prog Rock Folk Horror Comedy Show

Folk Horror Revival recently got wind of a new show being performed in London this Saturday the 15th in London. We spoke to the creator about the piece and his inspirations.

So, if you can first tell us a bit about yourself?
In my day to day life I am mere actor/writer John Henry Falle but onstage I am the mortal vessel for cosmic bullshit merchant, The Story Beast. He’s an immortal wizard whose seemingly self-appointed duty seems to be to tell the Old Tales a-new and the New Tales a-old. He’s basically a crap, slightly pissed up version of Doctor Who.

What’s This Is Bardcore about then?
It’s a Prog Rock Folk Horror Comedy Show or #ProRoFolkHoCoSho…I’m sure that’ll get trending soon. This is my second show as The Story Beast. The first got nominated for the Edinburgh Comedy Award for Best Newcomer (formerly the Perrier) and This Is Bardcore finds him arriving in our dimension accompanied by his best mate – a sentient Tree rooted to the Centre of your Reality. He’s entirely convinced that the world is coming to a very swift end. I take the audience on a folkloric trip through our collective unconscious via Blue Peter, an epic poetry rendering of Die Hard and the geological history of the Earth told through the medium of Rock & Roll. I’m hoping this is how I get on Live At The Apollo.

Where does your interest in folk horror stem from?
I grew up in the countryside on the island of Jersey surrounded by cows and a lot of those terrors felt quite close to the surface, I suppose. We lived in an old farmhouse where my Dad had grown up. The house was on a hill above a Mental Hospital where my Great-Grandad had spent the last third of his life. We found an actual stillborn child in the walls of the house once.

Sorry, what?
The plumbing in the house went to shit and flooded out my parent’s bedroom. Just this hideous black dripping as the water flowed through years of dust and horse-hair plaster. The whole room had to be ripped apart and on the inside of the walls we found this bricked up little alcove. A window where a window shouldn’t be. So we opened it up and on the inside we found some pages torn out of The Book Of Common Prayer, a shoe and the dusty, leathery protuberance of a stillborn child.

Isn’t that the plot to Nigel Kneale’s “Baby“?
Pretty much! And we never found out why, either! It must have been someone over a century ago who were giving their baby a decent burial. But Jersey is a full of that sort of folkloric strangeness. There’s an active coven of witches on the island! Down the road was the Barn where the people of the Parish would make the float for the island’s annual Battle Of Flowers. I remember when I first saw The Wicker Man when I was 14 and thinking “This is all a bit familiar.” I live in South London now and I think one of the reasons I love Folk Horror so much is just basic Nostalgia.

Why do you think Folk Horror has caught the public mood right now?
I’m not the first to say this but it feels like a perfect metaphor for what’s going on in this country right now, doesn’t it? That dangerous nostalgia. The desire to go back to— what? The 70s? The 30s? The Past in general despite the dreadful things we left there? This show is slightly more political than my first one as it’s the first I’ve done since the BrexiTrump happened and I’m one of those tedious, explosive Remoaners who can’t stop talking about the State of this Country once he gets going. One of my opening songs is a Pink Floyd-y rock number called “Whatever Happened To The Country That You Once Knew?“ where I sing about that nostalgia and how it constantly blooms into violence, madness and bestiality.

Do you think there is something peculiarly British about it?
Well we may have the Unholy Trilogy but Children Of The Corn seems as prescient a version of Trump’s America. What seems particularly British is how susceptible we are to a certain stripe of Fantasy. We invented the genre and if you look at a lot of the Tolkiens and Lewises they have this Romantic with a Capital R belief that if we only get the Good King back on his throne then everything will be alright again. Horror from Mary Shelley onwards is more equivocal and clear eyed about how fragile society can be and the dreadful things we’re capable of as a species. Folk Horror looks at our violence head on. It tells us that if your only concern is to purify society this will inevitably lead to burning the Outsider or the Witch. 52% of the country told the Eastern European seasonal workers to Fuck Off and now our Summer Fruit crop rots on the vine. Jersey’s little different. The island couldn’t vote in a UK Referendum but the motivation is there. The Jersey Royal crop was disappointing this year because there no one there to pick the bloody potatoes! The island’s farming has always depended on outside seasonal workers to pick the potatoes be it Bretons or Irish or Portuguese or Polish people. The local paper had the temerity to blame the weather this year. Apparently the Romanians were leaving because it was too rainy. What really happened is that when they went into a pub they’d be made to feel unwelcome by a load of thick proto-fascists. These people don’t have to come to Britain. They’re bright people who know the value of their labour and they’ll go somewhere else if they feel they’re not wanted. Sorry – got carried away there.

With all that Doom and Gloom do you think Folk Horror and Comedy can coexist?
I think they go hand in hand! The one thing that doesn’t seem to get said about The Wicker Man in all the articles about The 78 Greatest Horror Films That’ll Make You Shit Yourself is that it’s really, really funny. I was 10 when that first episode of The League Of Gentleman came on. Far too young. My Mum only turned it off when Tubbs started breastfeeding the Pig. It was the most shocking thing I’d ever seen but it also had silly people doing funny voices and that’s what lured me in. My brother and I still quote “And in the cupboard beneath the stair / You’ll find the towel for pubic hair.” You gotta laugh, don’t you?

Who should see this show?

Well your readers obviously. If you like 70s rock, classic Doctor Who, Horror and can’t get tickets to the League Of Gentlemen reunion then this is the Comedy Show for you! Also you get to see a hairy man sweating through a whole trench coat in an hour so there is honestly something for everyone.

The Story Beast: This Is Bardcore is on 9pm This Saturday at 2Northdown in London’s Kings Cross
https://www.tickettext.co.uk/2-northdown/thisisbardcore/



Extra Sensory Productions

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ESP is a creative channel via YouTube & Twitch that takes concepts of the unknown, the paranormal, and Forteana and translates them into the solid realm of artistic renderings.

Created by a team of artists forged from the need to express the paranormal into art. ESP is a project that unites artists from various platforms to discuss the unknown and to create art along the way

ESP is brought to you by John Chadwick and Melissa Martell.

Come on our show. Discuss your topic of expertise (degree or not!) and we will parlay your thoughts into creative drawings as we will discuss and present counter ideas while you inform us of your knowledge.  We also encourage, no, WE LOVE, poets, musicians, seamstresses, esoteric studies, film artists and more to participate with us in our live show!

John Chadwick is an illustrator, animation filmmaker, writer and educator. His art ranges from the written and spoken word to book covers and model making. His work has been exhibited, printed and performed in various forms since his 1995 film “Spiritual Love” was nominated for Young Narrative Filmmaker of The Year at the 1996 British Short Film Festival. In 2010 he was awarded the Writer/Illustrators bursary from the Feiweles Trust at The Yorkshire Sculpture Park. In 2014 his animated short film, The Brain, was selected by Serge Bromberg to appear in a showcase of animation inspired by Charlie Chaplin at HAFF (Holland Animated Film Festival).  John is currently an administrator of, the popular Facebook group, Folk Horror Revival where he facilitates the Young Artist of The Month Award.

Melissa Martell is a graphic designer, artist, and writer from Vancouver Island, Canada.  She has her degree in Advanced Media & Interactive Design, with a particular passion for typography, identity branding, and layout design.  She has featured her graphic design works in several art exhibits, including the NIC Art Exhibit in 2013 and 2014.  Her interactive digital sculpture piece, In Orbit, was featured in the exhibit

Curiosity + Process = Discovery at The Comox Valley Art Gallery in 2015.  Melissa also enjoys painting with oils and is excited to get the time to focus on art on the ESP live channel. She works as a freelance graphic designer and you can view her portfolio, not only on this website but on her two linked sites below.

In 2016 Melissa co-founded the podcast The Folklore Podcast with folklorist and actor Mark Norman of Circle Of Spears Production.  She served as art director, graphic designer, social media marketer and web designer until 2018, when she left to embark and grow creatively on this current production of ESP.   In 2015/2016 she also helped co-found The Curious Fortean FB group and online blog and wrote regularly on Fortean, paranormal and esoteric subjects (you can find some of those writings on her own personal blog at https://www.scarlettart.rocks/scarlett-blog ).

For more information visit – https://www.espirit.tv/about-esp

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The show launched on Monday, March 5th. There are some fantastic guests lined up  and  fascinating topics which ESP are excited to share with everyone! Next Saturday (March 7th 2018) they plan to start live streaming some shows, so keep an eye on the Facebook page  and website for more news.

The goal is to have a new show each week, with fascinating topics.

Remember to subscribe to our YouTube and Twitch channels and share our content as it’s released to help us grow and get our guests noticed as well!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5WVPm76CADJf_nyGbVWMgQ…

https://www.twitch.tv/extrasensoryproduction

For more info visit –
https://www.espirit.tv/ 

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John Chadwick is an illustrator, animation filmmaker, writer and educator. His art ranges from the written and spoken word to book covers and model making. His work has been exhibited, printed and performed in various forms since his 1995 film “Spiritual Love” was nominated for Young Narrative Filmmaker of The Year at the 1996 British Short Film Festival. In 2010 he was awarded the Writer/Illustrators bursary from the Feiweles Trust at The Yorkshire Sculpture Park. In 2014 his animated short film, The Brain, was selected by Serge Bromberg to appear in a showcase of animation inspired by Charlie Chaplin at HAFF (Holland Animated Film Festival).  John is currently an administrator of, the popular Facebook group, Folk Horror Revival where he facilitates the Young Artist of The Month Award.

Seen in Half Dreams: The Fairy Investigation Society Interview Andy Paciorek

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Andy, thanks so much for agreeing to talk. First of all, can you just tell us something about your background and how you became so interested in fairy art?

Hi, thanks for asking me to talk. I have had an interest in strange and mysterious subjects and have also compulsively drawn since I was a child, so it was probably inevitable that I would someday end up drawing fairies. As a very young child I think I saw stuff, that I never really thought anything of at the time – faces in the trees and one time I remember playing on the fields at the back of my house with an unfamiliar child who was very pale with white hair and I think white clothing. Nobody else seems to have seen him or knew who he was, which was odd as it was a small village where most people knew each other. I think he said his name was Samuel. I never thought he was a ghost, angel, faerie (though some theories identify faeries as either being ghosts or fallen angels) – just a kid. He wasn’t an imaginary playmate either as I only ever saw him the once. As I got older I became more and more interested in supernatural subjects but paid little attention to faeries as still then I had the Tinkerbell impression of them.

So what changed things?

Well, in my reading I came across Passport to Magonia by Jacques Vallee and then the books of Hilary Evans and that brought me around to a new way of thinking about faeries, which inherently felt righter to me. On the art side as well as Froud and Lee’s
seminal Faeries, via the Pre Raphaelites and Aesthetic artists I became aware of the Victorian genre of Fairy painting and I became enamored especially with the works of Richard Dadd and John Anster Fitzgerald. There was a dark, mysterious underbelly to their work which really resonated with me.

Jeremy Harte has a very nice comment somewhere: he says that Brian Froud basically took Katharine Briggs’ Fairy Dictionary and drew it.
How does folklore writing inform what you draw, Andy? It is very influential and inspiring. How I came to write and illustrate my own folklore books, however, is a bit of a strange journey. At one point in my life an opportunity arose for me to work on a travelling carnival, so I literally ran away with the show folk for a few years, starting off in Wales and then travelling to the Far and Middle East. There was a girl who worked on the fair with us in the Philippines, who had a sort of a Goth look and one night I heard some Filipinos refer to her as a WokWok. And I asked them what that meant and they said Witch of the Night. I broached the subject with other locals and they informed me that the WokWok was a type of Aswang, a breed of differing vampiric or sinister entities and that piqued my curiosity. Then in Oman on one of the carnival games, the prizes were big Tasmanian Devils – Taz cartoon character stuffed toys and a local pointed at the toys and told me that people like that lived in the interior of the country, so I grew more and more interested in creatures and beings from different world folklore and mythology. Upon leaving the carnival life and returning to Britain I worked for a brief stint temping at Bizarre magazine in London. Whilst there a small filler feature was needed so I wrote a short ‘Ten alternatives to the Bogeyman’ which featured I think WokWok as well as Black Annis, possibly Tonton Macoute (Uncle Hears Me) and I cannot remember who else now but I went on to write about and illustrate far more than ten. I decided to illustrate a series of portraits of strange creatures from British and Celtic folklore. For research I had a massive pile of books scattered around me – Reverend Robert Kirk, W.Y Evans-Wentz, Katherine Briggs, Wirt Sikes, W.B. Yeats and many more and I thought it would be handy to have all this reference in a single book. So not finding one at a time, my proposed series of portraits became that book – Strange Lands: A Field Guide to the Celtic Otherworld containing over 170 illustrations and further descriptions of all manner of mystical beast and beings, many from the Faerie domain. Whilst I was still working on it John And Caitlin Matthew’s Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures came out, which is a bumper reference book. I would have possibly pulled my hair out in despair at the work I’d done, had Harper Collins not contacted and commissioned me to provide interior illustrations in the Encyclopedia. In the end the books have a different feel to them but actually complement each other pretty well.
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And your latest published work?
Well, last year I published Black Earth: A Field Guide to the Slavic Otherworld, a book I had finished writing years ago but which span over time getting the illustrations done amongst other work I had on. Again, there are a number of Faerie type entities to be found. Slavic folklore is one of the most under-represented in English language or translated books, which is a shame as there is some rich interesting material to be found in those lands. I am pleased I tackled that as a subject and hopefully there will be further material published by other authors relating to that lore. I am tempted to do further Otherworld Field Guides; have a series of them – Japanese, Native American, Oceanic … etc. There is a wealth of possibilities but it is also a lot of work involved.

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As to your drawings I just want to start, if I may, with the phooka, a favourite Irish supernatural creature. How do you go about drawing that?

With Strange Lands, there was a lot of almost automatic-style drawing involved. After reading a text I would just draw with the being vaguely in mind. What was on the page quite often was initially little more than a scribble, but from that I would trace over and the pictures which were in the book. Whilst numerous entities virtually drew themselves, others had a little bit more conscious input from me. I knew I wanted a goat in the book and the Welsh Gwyllion could have also offered that opportunity but of all the shape-shifting forms the Phooka takes, the goat seemed to push itself forward. Brambles feature within the illustration in reference to the superstition that it is unwise to eat over-ripe blackberries as either the Phooka or the Devil himself had either spat or urinated on them. I am pleased I went with the goat aspect of the Phooka as a film of recent years I enjoyed was the Witch with its unlikely superstar of Black Philip the goat. I also prefer the sinister entities and illustrating them so shapeshifting bogies appeal to me.

There are so many fairy artists out there now and you’ve already mentioned a few. But who do you rate as being among the best? Who are your living inspirations? Who should we go and look for?
Alan Lee, Brian Froud, Charles Vess, all deservedly earned their position of being the successors of a tradition that followed Arthur Rackham, Dorothy Lathrop, Edmund Dulac and the other Golden Age illustrators and before them the great Victorian illustrators and fairie painters, but it is great to see that this tradition is continuing. Amongst those who regularly or frequently illustrate themes associated to Faerie, it is the darker earthier works that appeal to me as they maintain that capricious undercurrent and strange nature of the subjects, so apologies to those I have surely forgot but among the contemporary Faerie artists I admire are Karen Hild, Virginia Lee, Marc Potts, Cobweb Mehers of Eolith Designs, and especially Julia Jeffrey. Julia’s most recent body of work relating to the confessed Scottish Witch Isobel Gowdie is my favourite of her work, very sinister and evocative.
I’ve recently finished editing the Fairy Census 2014-2017. When people are describing fairy sightings frequently – I’d guess five or six times – people say, ‘it looked like a Brian Froud drawing’. What is happening here is modern artwork influencing sightings or is modern artwork taking from reality?

In talking with people about fairy artists, we think those who are ‘seers’ are very apparent. Among those whom I mentioned in the previous question are some whom I know or would expect to be Seers. There is an authentic feel to their work; it is not necessarily from literally seeing with the eyes but frequently just sensing and allowing those sensations to take form. With those who do that, sometimes it is as if the entities are rendering themselves through the conduit of the artist. The reasons for them being seers can vary. With Richard Dadd it could be his madness – he would simply smear paint on a canvas to begin and then paint the faces he saw peering out at him in the
pigment. For John Anster Fitzgerald there is a suggestion that his visions may have come from laudanum or opium half dreams. Some may simply be more sensitive to such things.
Location could also be a factor, Froud lives on Dartmoor which is notoriously ‘thin’, but the reasons why people may report Froud-like creatures is because they are seeing the types of creature Froud also sees. His earthier creatures are completely like those half-seen peering faces that can be found amongst foliage, tangled roots, tree bark and burrs, dry stone walls and such places. There is a stylistic difference amongst individual artists, but it may be that Brian’s work most closely captures the forms that numerous other people have seen. There is also the consideration of archetypes. If a collective unconscious exists, then art and reality will constantly influence each other I think

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Let’s finish with a boring but fundamental question. If anyone is interested in commissioning you for art work or just buying one of your books, how do we get in touch?

My solo books are available mail-order only from

http://www.blurb.co.uk/user/andypaciorek

but books I have illustrated for Harper Collins and other publishers are generally possible to buy from bookshops, Amazon etc. I can be contacted at andypaciorek@yahoo.co.uk
Andy, thanks so much!

This Interview first appeared in Fairy Investigation Society; Newsletter 7. New Series. January 2018

Founded in Britain in 1927. The Fairy Investigation Society has members from many different walks of life with different views about fairies and fairy existence: what ties us together, in mutual respect, is an interest in fairy-lore and folklore.

Read the Fairy Census 2014 -2017 here –  fairy census 2014 -2017

Alongside Darren Charles, Andy Paciorek will be discussing witches, faeries and folk horror at the The Pagan Federation Scottish Conference on Saturday April 21st 2018

Do Not Adjust Your Sets …

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Listen to an interview on BBC Radio Tees from earlier today with Folk Horror Revival’s very own Andy Paciorek and Darren Charles, in which they discuss folk horror, and the upcoming events in Edinburgh, Wakefield and Whitby Interview starts at around 2 hours 4 mins in.
(Available for 29 days from today)

Bob Fischer sits in (25/09/2017)

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Radio airwaves crackle with life …

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On Monday 25th September 2017, Darren Charles and Andy Paciorek of Folk Horror Revival will be getting interviewed on BBC Radio Tees.
Tune in to the Bob Fischer show between 2 and 3 pm (UK time) to hear wyrd myriad ramblings about things most strange and folk horrorish.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/bbc_tees

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/bbc_tees

Folk Horror Revival Interview: BBC Radio Tees

The BBC Radio Tees Interview by Bob Fischer with Folk Horror Revival creator and artist /author Andy Paciorekcan be heard for the next 28 days on the link below.
The show is dated 15/07/16 and folk horrory bits are on the time bar between 2.05 and 3.00 or between the Detectorists theme and The Hare and The Moon

15/07/2016, Bob Fischer – BBC Tees

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15/07/2016, Bob Fischer – BBC TeesThe perfect soundtrack to your afternoon across Teesside, County Durham and N. Yorkshire.
View on www.bbc.co.uk Preview by Yahoo