Constantin Chopin • “Centaurus” • From the “Aratea” Series • 2016

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Constantin Chopin is French artist based in Los Angeles. Chopin was was born in Puyricard, a small village near Aix en Provence in the south of France. He was introduced to Graphic Design at Cambridge’s School of Art, United Kingdom. Early tensions involved his discernment of associations and affinities for various histories and mythologies. In this regard, Chopin is something of a classicis who finds a veracity of expression in more ancient forms. As a creature of the modern, Chopin takes on a difficult task which he describes as, “finding way to draw on these ancient influences in a way that finds relevance in contemporary and future-casted designs.” This emphasis on “future-casted designs” speaks to his multidimensionality as an artist: He is concerned not only with past forms and their relevance to the present, but for what how both might shape future unfoldings.


Following completion of his bachelor’s degree, Constantin spent a year in London honing his creative, intellectual, and technical fundamentals. He did so by interfacing and working in various collaborative and visionary contexts. This involved the strengthening of associations with various artists, craftsmen, and entrepreneurs.

In 2016, Constantin desired carry his craft to the next level of academic engagement. This prompted him to begin his MFA in graphic design at ArtCenter College of Design in California, USA. Constantin accomplished his degree with vivacity and seriousness — an accomplishment which led to a feature in Graphic Design USA as one of the “Students to Watch 2019.”

Throughout his time at ArtCenter, Chopin revisited those ancient influences and developed his own creative philosophy. Using traditional and modern creative languages, Constantin employed a vast cultural heritage to nurture inspiration. From branding exercises and storytelling, to experiential installations, Chopin questioned and explored the space that exists between the physical and the digital. Now a faculty member at ArtCenter, Constantin shares his influences and thoughts on the nature and future of Creativity.

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Château de l’archevêque Jérôme Grimaldi, Puyricard, Aix-en-Provence, France

The town of Puyricard has a geographic and social relationship with Aix en Provence that closely resembles a constellated form. It’s unsurprising that Chopin’s work is concerned with the classical constellations. The grandeur of Chopin’s work in this regard belies his humble roots. Such a dynamic hearkens to a deeply meaningful truth: that sweeping macrocosmic visions are often born from microcosmic spaces. This is not enough for the oft three-dimensional Chopin, whose work also explores the mesocosms which lie between macro and micro. These liminalities also abound in his exploration of the spaces between physicality and digitality.

The embodiment of these visions lies in Chopin’s Aratea series. Aratea contains fourteen prints that use a modern lens in order to depict constellations and their associated mythologies. Chopin describes Aratea as “a multi-generational poetic map of the heavens.” The utilizes a “mixed-medium approach to revive the thoughts of the ancient poets Aratus of Soli (315 B.C.E.), and Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 B.C.E.).

“In the early 3rd BC, flourished in Macedonia, a young greek poet named Aratus of Soli,” says Chopin. “His only surviving work; Phaenomena – a book aiming at describing the constellations and weather signs — used didactic poetry as a medium to communicate practical information.” Chopin’s website is more of a interactive experience of poesis than an online gallery. The section containing Aratea commences with a passage from Aratus of Soli. The passage in question reads:

“From Zeus let us begin, him do we mortals never leave unnamed, full of Zeus are all the streets and all the market-places of men, full is the sea and the heavens thereof, always we all have need of Zeus.”

Chopin’s says, “The idea is that, knowledge of the stars allows you to recognize changes of season, to anticipate weather changes, and to navigate through space.”

Chopin continues his exposition of Aratus’ biography, noting Cicero’s translations:

“For the next hundred of years, Aratus’ Phaenomena served as a framework for various ancient poets and scholars that all independently revived the story through poems and mythological stories. In 106BC, Marcus Tullius Cicero translated Aratus’ work from Greek to Latin, greatly influencing thinkers of the throughout the middle ages.”

Aratus of Soli


Chopin taps into this tradition for Aratea, noting that:

“In a true Aratean fashion, I used materials from both Aratus and Cicero to form the core of the illustrations while integrating adjacently information about the stars and the heavens from complimentary ancient sources and NASA’s. Fascinated by this creative process that defies time and space. I wanted to carry this knowledge further, into the modern world, and shed a new light on this ancient wisdom.”

So… We arrive at Chopin’s first constellation print, entitled Centaurus:

The Centaurus constellation depicts an centaur wielding a bow. The piece not only depicts the constellation itself, but a stunning and original representation of the archer in the act. The work is then interceded with precise astronomical details, using modern information sourced from NASA. For example, the image below lists the characteristics of the Proxima Centauri star, which forms a node on the constellation Centaurus. It details size, brightness, color, and more:

Passages from Aratus’ work itself are also woven into the piece, with close regard to the negative space within the representation. Here, another navigational text related to Zeus can be seen and beheld against the golden-bronze representation of Centaurus:


Chopin’s piece shimmers with splendor. The work exudes a sense of magnitude that reflects the towering nature of the star-forms we call constellations. Lucky for us, there are thirteen more prints in the series which we will continue to explore. Stay posted for Chopin’s equally impressive Aquarius.



Constantin Chopin can be found via his website, hieros.io

Images and art via Constantin Chopin © Reproduction strictly prohibited.

Image credits:

Images of Château Grimaldi and Aratus of Soli via WIkimedia Commons. Works in public domain.

Marta Polato • “Memento mori” • 2021 • First look

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Grave Willow returns to the work of artist-in-residence Marta Polato. Her latest piece is a stark death’s-head created with oil on paper. It evolved from a series submitted for inclusion in a scholarly anthology of esoterica. The painting is entitled, Memento mori:

In the painting, a skull is shown crowned with a wreath of berried ivy, or Edera. Polato is multifaceted in her Dionysian expressions of the plant. Her devotion to the ivy spirit is no secret. Like the willow that grows over the grave, ivy dances upon tombs and abandoned structures.

Based near Venice, Polato is no stranger to the profound Memento mori around her. Venice is home to Ponte dei Sospirithe Bridge of Sighs. Passing over the narrow waters of Rio di Palazzo, this limestone bridge is quite literally a passage between life and death. Historically, Ponte dei Sospiri served as the link between the interrogation chambers of the Doge’s Palace and the cells of Prigioni Nuovethe New Prison. As prisoners crossed from one edifice to the other —often being led to their death in the square — they beheld the sight of the lovely Venetian world one last time. Deeply, they sighed for the fate which awaited them beyond this final vision.

Ponte dei Sospiri. Venice. Photo by D. Scopelliti. 2016.

Polato reminisces on her own experience crossing bridges. Ponte degli Scalzi comes to mind. The name itself means Bridge of the Barefoot, or Bridge of Barefoot Monks. She youthfully recalls walking barefoot over the bridge intoxicated sometimes drunk on just Veneto alone. She says such barefoot crossings are traditional, though she does not know exactly why. It should come as no surprise that the ivy-adoring Polato delights in these experiences. On many occasions she has depicted ivy in its aspect as a plant of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, fertility, and ecstatic celebration.

As for bridge-travels and Memento mori… Creeping does our experience cross over such deathly ponti: Sometimes with sighs forlorn, and breaths of the inevitable. In other instances it crosses barefoot and intoxicated.


Polato is an Italian artist born in Padua and based in Venice. Her works capture the dance — both earthly and otherworldly — of European mythic traditions, herbal folklore, and esoteric currents. Like the flora they depict, Polato’s works emit a subtle potency. Polato is the first visual artist to join the Grave Willow project.

Marta Polato can be found on instagram via @__hedera__.
She can also be reached at marta.polato@hotmail.it

Images via Marta Polato © Reproduction strictly prohibited.

Arcadia Ego • Or, the Tomb & the Tree that Weeps

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Regarding the grave and the willow… One of the artistic visions that profoundly inspired the Grave Willow project is Et in Arcadia ego, of which there are many iterations. The work is also known as Les bergers d’Arcadie (The Arcadian Shepards). The most well-known version is that of the 17th century French Baroque painter Nicolas Poussin:

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In other iterations, a youthful shepherdess is depicted roaming through a verdant wood. She is bemused when greeted by a standstill reminder of her own ephemeral fate: an enormous tomb amidst the forest. The most well-known versions depict a group of shepherds partaking in the shared experience of bewildered memento mori.

The image shown above is an Etienne Picart etching based on Nicolas Poussin’s original. The French lettering on the larger image reads:

“Le souvenir de la mort au milieu des prosperitez de la vie. L’Arcàdie est une contrée dont les poetes ont parlé coe d’un pays delicieux et par cette inscription on marque que celuy qui est dans le tombeau estant Arcadien n’a pas esté exempt de la mort.”

Roughly translated:

“The memory of death amidst the prosperities of life. Arcadia is a country whose poets have spoken of as a delicious country and by this inscription we mark that the one who is in the tomb being Arcadian was not exempt from death.”

Such reminders serve as the source of Arcadia ego’s power. Often it is among the dense thickness of the fields that death arrives to make itself known. These meetings and relationships are are fonts of power. Such loci are liminal crossroads. They are also sources of profound misunderstanding and fear. Let us offer to courageously explore the zones between life, death, and vision.

The artist and the mystic both know this relational truth:

To Destroy is to Create — To Create is to Destroy

The spirit of this vision is likewise embodied in the image of the willow tree growing among the grave. Weeping, the willow is not hesitant to mourn. Yet, the willow mourns amidst steady growth and radically transformative life. The verdant life of the willow is born amid the same land which holds the dead, grinding their bodies to dust. In turn, Grave Willow acknowledges this relationship as encompassing both the celebratory song and the dirge. Life is known and celebrated only by virtue of death’s presence — and vice versa. The terra infirma between them is where the Grave Willow dwells.

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Image credits in order of appearance:

Kirk after Giovanni Battista Cipriani. The shepherds in Arcadia. 1788. Stipple engraving. London. Image via Wellcome Library digital archives. The image is licensed under Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Nicolas Poussin. Et in Arcadia ego. 1637-38. Oil on Canvas. Image via Wikimedia Commons. Used according to artistic and educational fair use criteria.

Etienne Picart (1632-1721) after Nicolas Poussin. Four figures contemplate the inscription on a tomb in Arcadia. Paris. Image via Wellcome Library digital archives. The image is licensed under Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Marta Polato • Tree Lore from the “Erbario Suggestivo” Series • 2019

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In the spirit of the willow — and of new beginnings — Grave Willow wishes to feature an artist we hold a deep adoration for.

Behold the work of engraver, illustrator, and printmaker Marta Polato. Polato is an Italian artist born in Padua and based in Venice. Her works capture the dance — both earthly and otherworldly — of European mythic traditions, herbal folklore, and esoteric currents. Like the flora they depict, Polato’s works emit a deep potency.

Polato is highly-versed in her media, and dedicates to it the kind of serious time and labor that engaged artistry commands. Ever oriented towards refining her techne, Polato is fully-conscious of form, content, and historicity. A 2021 graduate of the Biennium in Graphic Art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice, her former student bio on the Italian art hub Giovani Artisti reads:

“… Her poetics have always brought out a passion for themes of the occult and esotericism, with a strong symbolic meaning through the most ancestral suggestions. The natural and symbolist element represent the pivots from which her graphic corpus develops, which branches out into the expressive means of engraving techniques and artistic drawing; with the prevalent use of black and white by means of a basically incisive sign, her work moves among the most archetypal images giving them a new identity — anchoring itself strongly to mythology, history, and poetry…

Polato was born in a town in the province of Padua, and has always been dedicated to the visual arts since childhood. She enrolled in the Modigliani Art School where she graduated in 2015 with the address of Figurative Design. In 2013 she came into contact for the first time with the engraving disciplines and the world of art printing at La Corte della Miniera in Urbino, an experience that would lead to her enrollment at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice in the School of Graphic Art under the chair of Professor Andrea Serafini. Here her artistic experience moves between various disciplines of graphics and printing, including: chalcography, xylography, screen printing and lithography; always progressing equally in the studies of the history of art, drawing, illustration and anatomy. In 2018 she obtained the 1st level Diploma in Graphic Art, choosing to extend her academic career in the two years of the same discipline. She also tries her hand with pure, self-taught, and amateur passion in digital and analog photography.

Dualities and liminal spaces abound in Polato’s work. They are interwoven among a rich and raw herbarium. Here, syncretic visions of vegetation, crucifixion, and sabbatic night flights commingle in a dark ecstasy.

The series in Polato’s body of work which embodies this most strongly is called Erbario suggestivo. Translated from Italian, it means suggestive herbarium. Erbario is a collection of fourteen works expressing the mythic dimensions of numerous flora. It is only appropriate to feature two of Polato’s centering on the Tree that Weeps.

The first piece is a 2019 work entitled Salix L. — the latin botanical name for the willow. Salix L. was created with pen, china ink, and pencil.

Salix L.

Polato offers up an exposition on the themes of the willow. These themes are nested in the context of Celtic mythology and religious belief:

“For the Celts the willow was considered a highly sacred tree. Similarly, in the Celtic tree alphabet (Ogham) it was associated with the number five, connected to the Great Mother. The Druids created woven baskets with willow branches, which would then contain the human sacrifices made at the full moon as a gift to the Goddess. This line between death and life (which unites the willow to other plants such as cypresses and poplars) is fueled by the fact that, in ancient times, there existed a belief of the willow killing its fruits due to the rapidity of their ripening post-bloom. This aura of mystery towards the plant informed many beliefs, such as the medieval — according to which the willow would be the seat of witches’ haunts; reached the foot of the tree to perform their spells. In this regard, writer Robert Graves analyzes the etymology of the English words “witch” and “wicked,” tracing them back to “willow.” We find it widely quoted also in the Old Testament, where it is an allusion to suffering in Egypt; it also seems that it was he, the willow, who supported Christ in a yielding due to the weight of the cross while walking up the slope to Golgotha.”

Polato’s depiction of willow lore highlights a universal quality to the tree. This quality lends itself to the deep syncretic vision emerging from Polato’s media. This depiction also engages the themes that Grave Willow emphasizes: The dialectics of life, death, and myth — as well as the slippery membranes between.

The second piece shown below is much starker. It is a 2019 etching entitled Salice — the Italian word for willow:

Salice

A stark duality is emphasized in Salice. The etched branch revels in a juxtaposition which drives this quality. Ever conscious of aspects related to uplift and renewal, Polato remarks, Non sembra poi così triste

“It doesn’t seem all that sad.”

Another of Polato’s most striking images centers on the stately walnut tree. This work, entitled Noce, exudes the witching quality that marks much of Polato’s corpus:

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Noce

Noce is the Italian word for the Walnut tree. Polato is ever loyal to her expositio of lore, and she asks us what the noce has to do with a caryatid, or Καρυάτις in ancient Greek. A caryatid is a pillar in the shape of a woman’s body used to support temples and other structures. In her own words, Polato provides an answer:

“What do the female statues called caryatids have in common with the walnut tree? The three daughters of the king of Laconia were pardoned by Apollo with the gift of clairvoyance, as long as it was used for good. Dionysus fell in love with one of the three, Caria, who reciprocated him. The jealous and curious sisters used the gift to learn more about their relationship; Needless to say, the god punished them by turning them into rocks…

…Caria died of pain, and Bacchus took pity on her and turned her into a fruitful nut. It is therefore up to Apollo’s sister, Diana, to tell the sad story to the Laconians; they erected in her honor a temple with columns with female features carved in walnut. For this reason, the plant was associated with the Great Pagan Mother. It also holds a strongly dichotomous symbology between death and life. Often these beliefs carry a precise botanical meaning: in fact, around the walnut there is no growth of other plants due to the substance that its roots secrete.”

Polato also contextualizes the piece with localities:

“In Benevento there is a story of a large walnut which attracted witches and demons on the night of St. John for wild parties and magical sessions. A bishop named Barbato in the seventh century tried to have him uprooted but to no avail; legend has it that the walnut grew back and the janare (witches in the Campania dialect) continued to find themselves in that area. The nocino liqueur is famous: on the solstice night only the women had the burden of removing the still green drupes, strictly with wooden tools (never in iron. This liqueur was considered a panacea, I pray of the magic of that night and far from the dismal vision attributed to the plant.”

Noce detail (with shading)



Marta Polato can be found on instagram @__hedera__.
She can also be reached at marta.polato@hotmail.it

Images via Marta Polato © Reproduction strictly prohibited.

D. Scopelliti • “Roam” • (Working version) • 2021

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Written in April of 2021. “Roam” is piece on visionary modes born from pressure. Danny Scopelliti and Matt Montrose recorded this working/demo version of the piece via a DIY home-recording setting. The a piece largely gave rise to the Grave Willow project, along with its associated themes of fate, vision, and death.

Montrose led and calibrated the recording process while contributing vocal overdubs. The track features a Martin acoustic on rhythm, a Fender jazz bass for underpinning, and textural work on a Fender Telecaster. Scopelliti features on all 3 instruments and lead vocals. The accompanying Otto Seitz (from an 1896 edition of the German magazine Jugend) emerged as a resonant fit for the subject matter.

Lyrics below.

Lyrics:

“In the furnace of the midnight sun, the heat struck to my bones.
Strong with all had I did declare that I was damned to roam.
When you’re out clawing at the road you have no hearth or home.
And the only ember from the source into the sea is thrown 

The visions found me when I ceased to look, they were a vast connected chain.
Like the word inside a foreign book, the full translation came.
Revelation is that golden tome the pure alone can read.
Revolution is a turning wheel, not a slate wiped clean

With the dead, all the living share their bread.
Lifting up and letting down, all returning the ground

Body naked, back uncloaked, the feral night untied.
Radiant, the fire can’t be choked.
The blaze you must abide.
Crying out in tongues I sang, I hailed the chasm far and wide
In the terror of the great expanse, surrendered to the tide

With the dead, all the living share their bread.
Lifting up and letting down, all returning the ground

With the dead, all the living hang their head.
Sifting through and searching ‘round.
All returning the ground”

Copyright © • Danny Scopelliti/Grave Willow • 2021


Image credit: Otto Seitz. From the 22 February, 1896 (no. 8) edition of “Jugend” magazine, or “Münchner illustrierte Wochenschrift für Kunst und Leben” (Munich illustrated weekly magazine for art and life). Image via University of Heidelberg digital collections. Seitz is passed away (1846-1912), so copyright attribution for this work is used according to the date & criteria of artistic fair use.