R.K. Shuquem

R.K. Shuquem

It's been too long since I've shared an influential artist and today it's my pleasure to delve into the works of R.K. Shuquem. Like Nora Keyes who I wrote of in my January 26th blog, I primarily knew Shuquem through his work with the carnivalesque synth punk project Loto Ball and previous musical groups he was linked to including The Phantom Limbs and The BoyScouts of Annihilation.

I recognized that Shuquem was the artist behind The Phantom Limbs' haunting album covers that managed to be grotesque even in their abstract nature and here and there I'd stumble across his sketches and works; insinuations of figures with faces twisted by tragedy devoid of flowery romance. No matter the medium, there always seemed to be a great deal of violence contained within the detailed, almost frenzied chaos of lines that still somehow formed a striking whole.

One of Shuquem's Pantocon album covers for the Medieval Crimes series...

As a writer, I was offered a behind the scenes glimpse into an ambitious, long-term project in which Shuquem is even now immersed. He's titled the series Medieval Crimes and it's supported by a back story as complex, intricate, and violent as the work itself. Shuquem created a fictional black metal band called Pantocon that figure prominently into his Medieval Crimes mythology.

Sometimes I'm attracted to work initially because of its ability to travel to places my mind would not have attempted on its own and Shuquem's use of architectural design to explore a dystopian prison system is a perfect example. My own architectural ignorance (and at times indifference) have actually worked to cement the physical contemplation of the Medieval Crimes project in my mind.

But Shuquem takes this one step further, actually utilizing these illustrations of physical structures to explore metaphysical concepts and his own spiritual philosophies. In this way, Medieval Crimes explores society and the individual simultaneously. From what I recall, Pantocon performs on a televised variety show that involves the prison. There's also the presence of a deity in the Medieval Crimes story that adds yet another dimension (or potentially tears the dimensions that we can comprehend apart).

While I'm pretty much just exploring Shuquem's visual work on the project today, it's worth mentioning that he has plans to record Pantocon's records at the end of the project, working backwards so that we're exposed to the band's philosophies and album art prior to hearing a single note. I had the pleasure of seeing some of the Pantocon art in person at a gallery event last year in which Shuquem spoke with me at great length about the project.

The eye of God looks down upon a dystopian prison system in another of Shuquem's works for the Medieval Crimes series...

While the mythology and scope of Medieval Crimes are possibly the most inspiring aspects of the project for me, it's worth mentioning that the work itself, even when divorced from its source material, is pretty astonishing in its own sense of grim glory. Its ornate qualities recall the obsessive detail of Rudimentary Peni's Nick Blinko. Such qualities have found their way into my own work (possibly best illustrated in the burlap scarecrow hoods featured heavily in the Pentacles suit that I'm currently working on - previews are available in my last blog post). 

An unsettling figure in the prison system of Shuquem's  Medieval Crimes  series...

An unsettling figure in the prison system of Shuquem's Medieval Crimes series...

Shuquem periodically shows Pantocon's album covers along with his Medieval Crimes notes in galleries in the Los Angeles area so it's worth keeping up with him through one of the links below. 



Nora Keyes

Other than myself, there is only one artist whose work (thus far) has graced my apartment with its presence on my walls: Nora Keyes. Not only has Nora displayed masterful technique and a myriad of inimitable styles, but she’s actually managed to make her artwork directly functional. Her art is so diverse that trying to explain it as a whole is beyond daunting so I’ve selected 3 pieces that, in their diversity, may still offer some sort of reference toward the elusive core of Nora’s visual art world. 

The first piece comes from the album art to The Centimeters’ first album, The Facts of Destiny; the gate through which I was introduced to Nora Keyes’ aural and visual work. There is a hyper-reality in Nora’s illustrations within The Facts of Destiny that I find nightmarish in the same way the Genesis music video for “Land of Confusion” scared me as a kid. These images take something familiar and recreate them with something just skewed or exaggerated enough to render them alien.

Seeing something so alien in something at the same time so familiar can be a really jarring experience. Likewise, there is something in that realism combined with grotesque exaggeration that reminds me of the work (both visual and literary) of Mervyn Peake, possibly best known for the simultaneously comic and grim Gormenghast trilogy. The Facts of Destiny was released in 1999 and I don’t see this style in Nora’s current work but it still feels worth mentioning not only for its statement of Nora’s immense illustration talent and fusion of quirkiness and intensity but also as my introduction to Nora’s art.

iPhone camera photo of one of nora's illustrations in The Centimeters' The Facts of Destiny artwork with my chipped nail polish slightly intruding…

A print of the second piece proudly hangs on the wall of my living room and serves as an example of Nora’s directly functional artwork. While it can be argued that any piece of art can serve as a transdimensional portal, Nora’s collage work is designed specifically for meditative purposes, ambitiously and directly addressing the importance of raising consciousness and elevating frequencies. Staring into this piece from 2013, it’s easy to relax and feel yourself transported to higher worlds.

An example of Nora's meditative aid collage art circa 2013...

Finally, this 3rd piece is from a recent show I had the good fortune of attending that featured two of Nora’s recent works. I believe this particular painting, The Cosmic Hissing Serpent, is from 2014. An alluring flow moves through much of Nora’s recent painting work, beautifully illustrated in the fiery current of the serpent. There is something warm and lulling in the patterns that calls you into that flow.

The Cosmic Hissing Serpent - Nora Keyes - 2014

Nora does periodic art shows throughout the Los Angeles area and you’re best bet of seeing her breathtaking and frequency-raising work in person is to follow her on Facebook at:


Nicholas Capaldi

You may not know it to look at the site, but I've actually been drawing and painting pretty steadily throughout the holiday season. While I'll be sharing my latest work very shortly and you can still count on regular updates on my own work through this blog, I'd also like to start using it as a space where I can share influences or artists who are inspiring me through their own works. One of the most beautiful aspects of living in LA is the overwhelming flow of creativity.

It's actually difficult to find someone who isn't doing work in a creative field whether that be acting, directing, visual art, music, dance, design, etc. You'd think that with this being the case, you'd come across a lot of shit, but honestly every artist I've had the pleasure of meeting has impressed me. 

Nicholas Capaldi was one of the first people I met after relocating to LA from Florida. At the time, he was playing synth in an experimental metal band and we started hanging out through a mutual friend. He took me to my first (and only) Dodgers game, we hit up the local museums here and there, and we spent a lot of time at parties and shows. Initially, I had no idea of his talent and it wasn't until some time later that I actually had the pleasure of seeing his work in a gallery setting.

And the Waste of Seed - Nicholas Capaldi - 2010 - oil on canvas

Since the extent of my official art studies was a basic humanities course in a university that was one step removed from community college, I can't really describe Capaldi's works in any way other than personal. When I look at his paintings, I see a world that is alien and skewed, a reality where the displacement of something simple results in a slightly terrifying glitch. His pieces are like nightmares that steal your voice with terror, yet seem far away in the sunlight of the following morning.

Even as you try to explain them, try to make sense of that paralysing horror, you can't find the words. Looking at his paintings which are large enough to create the impression of falling into them, I'm reminded of the myth of the Philadelphia Experiment, a supposed military cloaking test gone awry in which soldiers were rumoured to have re-materialized fused to their ship or with their bodies turned inside out.

How Dinner Missed the Belly - Nicholas Capaldi - 2013 - oil on canvas

Capaldi also tends to use elements of still life painting stirred with his surrealism. At times, the titles of the paintings are worked directly into the pieces or plastered across the images themselves. Figures at once beautiful and grotesque, mutant eunuchs mingling with angelic hermaphrodites naked and bleeding, offer blank faces. Anatomy is externalized while the use of color is somehow reassuring and disjointing in its TV dinner hues of creamed corn yellows, canned ham pinks, and bleeding cranberry reds.

And How Everything Here Feels Good Now - Nicholas Capaldi - 2011 - oil on canvas

Of course, if you spoke to Capaldi he'd probably have his own drastically different take on it but I suppose that's the beauty of an image once it leaves the artist. Regardless of how close my interpretation falls to Capaldi's intentions, his work is stirring. Check out his site so you can stay posted on his work as he's pretty prolific: