Meet Your Maker
Recently, I thought up a phrase but I can’t work out whether it’s mine or not. Google doesn’t reveal anything, so I guess it is.
‘Every great artist is a megalomaniac.’
Every great artist thinks themselves to be God.
In the interests of nuance, I should have said ‘almost every great artist.’ Loribelle, (a goddess in my eyes) is best described by the moniker Rava Avis, a term that is not mine at all, but written by the Roman poet Decimus Lunius Luvenalis, known in English as Juvenal in his Satires inthe 2nd century AD. Rava Avis means ‘rare bird’ and is actually one of the words I courted her with at the outset of our relationship. It wasn’t just a pick-up line; I meant it. Loribelle is imbued with a humility that is at odds with an artist of her vision, her power, her brutality. This gives a jarring, even violent, incongruity to her work. How can somebody so good, and I mean this in the most prosaic sense, create works as bestial, as fantastical, as this?
Juvenal’s full line is ‘a bird as rare upon the earth as a black swan," and to me, he could have been writing about her.
Her work is violent and obsessive, spectral and bewildering, restless and demonic. At first glance, there are lots of men and beasts. Some figures have arms raised as if beseeching a higher power but jettisoned in a Daedalian room, a private hell. Others have bodies rivened by an explosion of ecstasy, whilst others are not people at all but simply faces within shapes, staring and waiting, insensate and forgotten. Speared Christ hangs alongside a crest fallen eye! In ‘Martyr,’ Christ is hurled upside down, splayed, for saken and ecstatic. ‘Pictures at a Crucifixion,’ a nod to Mussorgsky’s iconic suite‘Pictures at an Exhibition’, has at its centre a Deaths head, eyes sunken and distended, assailed by a ragbag of his terrible friends. One of them is the watcher – a somnolent, white entity Loribelle only refers to as ‘the dreamer within their own dream.’
You’ll see my face in there too; overtly, in ‘Age ofReason,’ and nebulously in ‘Cain and Abel.’ Loribelle’s hands make a cameo in ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ and ‘Phantom 2.’ In ‘The Prince,’ Loribelle’s teenage brother Ian is Hamlet, moody and malcontent, as if unable to look you in the eye; teens have always been like this. Where does all this come from? Where in Loribelle’s mind do these phantasmagorical images originate?
The Philippines, wracked by centuries of unbending hope and the promise of the cross, is a pestilence of smells, sounds and sacristy. Santa Ana, her first home, is a district of Manila, a seething wasp’s nest that is clogged with traffic, poverty, wealth, smog, corruption and (incongruously, like Loribelle) the friendliest people on earth. Like most tiny countries, the Philippines has been kicked around like a tin can for centuries, first by the Spanish and then by everyone else. The Spanish brought Christianity to the Philippines and it was a great business decision for faith is the animus of this tiny archipelago jostled in between China and Indonesia, smack bang on theRing of Fire. Every Filipino I have ever met has been super-charged with hope. You can see it in their faces, hear it in their sing-song voices (this is a literal statement – I have never met a Filipino who could not sing) and in their jokes, often shared between lots of siblings and Dinuguan, a food made from pig’s blood.
From the time she could remember, Loribelle went to Church, a church I have not seen but have heard so much of that it has assumed a discrete form in my mind’s eye. She describes the interior as gold everywhere, on every surface like a membrane. The priest was adored, a vessel of God, designated with the power to forgive, condemn, and intercede, reducing the local women to beatific fawning. But it was Christ himself who towered over the parishioners, his body pierced and bleeding, wrought with gold finery. It's cared her and yet entranced her, that diabolical language of sexuality and conflagration in the flesh.
Then there are the movies Loribelle and I both love – in ‘A Dream of Innocence,’ I can really see the craven devils of Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Hour of the Wolf’ hanging off the roof like impious bats. Then, there’s Loribelle herself who, like many artists, is loath to ascribe meaning to her work but is resolute in that her paintings of me are actually the most savage self-portraits, a window into her mind.
When told by a viewer that they couldn’t understand his paintings, David Lynch replied ‘yes you do: your eyes are moving.’ This captures the essence of what art is about for Loribelle – art is about art which is also about art and in finitum, the distillation of all of life’s beauty, its ugliness, its savagery, its' unfairness, its capriciousness, its humour, its innocence. The artists that Loribelle loves the most also defy ready explanations; Bacon with his silent screams, Freud with his pink and mottled nudes, Nolan with his stark and violent humour, Schiele with his erotics of the ugly.
I’ve been told not to admit this publicly, but writing about what one is passionate about makes one unguarded; Loribelle does her best paintings in the space of a day. This is because, much like performing is forme, the process of creation is all-consuming, a seppuku of the soul. Once she’s started on an idea, it’s a matter of containing it as it streams out, the breaking of a ruinous dam. If she misses that billowing of energy, it’s too late. So, like with many great artists, there’s a shadow at play just ahead of her and she has to grab it, destroy it before it destroys her. On the days when she’s not fast enough, it’s more like the nightmares we all have, when you need to run away from something or somebody but your body is leaden and paralysed.In rare moments, the shadow wins and it feels like a death. Most of the time this doesn’t happen and she works into the night until the painting is done, long after I’ve retired from the piano, half drunk on the settee with milk arrowroots locked in a garish embrace with my old t-shirt.
In the last two years, I’ve introduced Loribelle to Olivier Messiaen, especially his ‘Twenty Contemplations on the Infant Jesus,’ a monumental and exultant two-hour colossus; part piano work, part exegesis, part devotional. Listening to Messiaen’s harmonic language, built on concentric and consecutive triadic chords feels like staring into crystal shards. Like the burning bush of the bible, it can give you bliss or make you bleed.
Below, are some common harmonic motifs, fourths macerating other fourths, minor thirds squelched on top of fourths, intervals so wretchedly close to other intervals that they sound as if macerated with a scalpel.
There’s a video on Youtube of Messiaen playing the organ and talking. In it, he’s wearing what looks to be like a polo jumper, perfect for golf. There’s something so easy and affable about him, unassuming, like a socialist uncle who you see once a year for Lent. It’s so incongruous that it made me love him even more. I think Loribelle is a lot like Messiaen.
Loribelle hasn’t heard Messiaen’s stuff in a while now; I think a person needs to drift to and from his music at will. It’s a contortion of beauty and ugliness. Like many French Catholic thinkers, Messiaen gravitated towards natural theology, the idea that God can be known from his works (i.e.the ‘world’) – a philosophy regarded by many before and since as akin toPaganism. If you’ve ever heard the raucous shrieks of wild birds in the forest,you’ll know that Messiaen heard them too and called those sounds God.
Like William Blake before him, he regarded Christ’s birth, death and apotheosis as something beyond the binaries of beauty and ugliness: more like ecstasy, the type of feeling, often borne of suffering, that can be found in the most godless of places, such as Stalag VIII-A concentration camp in Poland, where Messiaen was imprisoned for a year during World War 2.
Loribelle, being from the Philippines, was raised staunchly Catholic and I was ‘begotten’ by Jewish parents. But neither of us are religious; we are committed non-believers. All the same, whenever I see paintings like ‘A Dream of Innocence,’ Memories of Santa Ana,’ ‘Tenebre,’ ‘Exodus from Manila’ and ‘Martyr,’ I can’t help but feel she’s touched on the same ineffable cocktail of algolagnia that Messiaen did, the sorrowful and grotesque mystery of God becoming man and, heretically, Man becoming God. Is this latter transmutation not the work of a great artist? It is said that great art causes a suspension of disbelief.
All of these works displayed here stretch beyond human consciousness into something greater, more expansive, more tenebrous, more incantatory than words can express. There are very few artists who can do this– even, it must be admitted, (and this is only my opinion) the greats.
Sometimes you’ll look around at Loribelle’s works and it seems impossible that one painter could have done all this. Anyone who is familiar with her output over her protracted 5-year professional career would have seen examples of photorealism, realism, abstraction, pop-art and surrealism. She’s used to getting the following compliment/backhanded insult -there are so many styles. Or as a question. ‘What’s your style?’ Sometimes it’s framed as a constructive suggestion. ‘You need a definable style.’ Or even: ‘you need one style.’
This is admittedly a bugbear of mine, because I’ve gone through it too. When I lived in the United States, I was often cornered with the following line: ‘what’s your niche?’ I think that this is as much a problem of the world as it is of art and of course the two are inseparable because they describe each-other, reluctant bedfellows. As we are regularly reminded, everything has been done already, so, with fine arts not exactly dead but perhaps in an induced coma since, say, the seventies, now, so we are told, we need to do art. Where once art was made, now it must engage. Where art once spoke on its own terms, now it must be interactive. Where art once spoke to the highest aspirations of man, now it must be trammelled by every ism in the cosmos, bowdlerised beyond all recognition and pummelled with an ideological mallet so big that even Messiaen’s Jesus would have shaken his head and said ‘gentiles.’
When I was asked this question – ‘what’s your niche?’ – I would reply ‘music.’ And I have consistently encouraged Loribelle to answer in the same way: ‘art.’ I think an artist who produces different ‘styles,’ without compunction, is a beautiful thing. Goya did it, Schiele did it, Picasso did it, but only now have we become so commodified in our tastes, so formulaic in our thoughts, so metastasized in our categorisations, that we could exhort an artist to be smaller, less, a style. Loribelle has ‘a style’, sure, but it’s not because of what she doesn’t do; it’s because of what she does.
‘Meet Your Maker’ has a deliberately imperious tone, though the phrase never appears in the Bible. It is something to be shouted from a pulpit by a stiff-necked, sepulchral type, straight out of James Joyce – or maybe Santa Ana. It is also, like many exhibition titles, ironic in that it signifies the essence of art as something that celebrates and disrupts, that is both of and outside the culture that it reflects. Postmodern thinkers such asRoland Barthes, (what’s with the French?!) tried to disrupt the cause-and-effect chain, prevalent for centuries in the form of reductive archetypes like the lone, emaciated, artistic genius creating something out of nothing. Barthes went so far as to claim that ‘the author is dead’. Like all absolutist statements, it is more than a little impish. When you see Loribelle’s work, all of you will recreate it in some way, by virtue of the fact that you are different people and forge meanings through relationships, background, culture, and language itself. ‘Meet Your Maker’ is also about Loribelle the artist, mediator of the influences that created the art. It is also a rejoinder to the artworks themselves, having a strange sentience of its own.
In these troubling times, when every cultural object is squeezed and ossified, drained of its inherent juices and left to rot, when art is marketing and marketing is art, when news is entertainment and entertainment is art so news is art, when distrust of expertise is a religion, and distrust of religion is expertise, when binaries have become abolished only to be replaced by their own abolitionist binaries, we need great art more than ever.It sings, it sanctifies, it questions, it frustrates, it arouses, it repels, it eroticises.
I am sure that ‘Meet Your Maker’ will cause you to feel something, whether it is joy, despair or something completely different that might take you time to unearth. I know it does this for me, even now, after two years of seeing Loribelle’s work and development. Great art is the type that causes us to see something of ourselves, especially that which is disavowed, in front of us. This is why we must all, at some point or another, believers or not, meet our maker. Or, as Winston Churchill famously said it: ‘I am prepared to meet my maker. Whether my maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.’
Words by Simon Tedeschi.
Born in Manila in 1990, Loribelle Spirovski emigrated to Australia in 1999. She graduated from the College of Fine Arts, UNSW, in 2012, and has been working as a professional artist since 2014. She has exhibited across Australia, USA, UK and Europe, and her work appears in private and public collections across the world. She is the winner of the 'Naked and Nude Art Prize' (Manning Regional Art Gallery), the 2021 Bluethumb Art Prize and is a three-time finalist of the Archibald Prize. She has collaborated across various fields including Swedish fashion brand Limitato, Patos wine, Sinbono handbags, and the album covers of musical artists including, Methyl Ethel, Sondre Lerche, and her husband, pianist Simon Tedeschi. In 2021, her work was featured in a major public art installation in Potsdamer Platz, Berlin. She lives and
works in Sydney, Australia.