Taschen charts the figure of the witch throughout the history of art

Spooky season isn’t over yet… the editors of the new book pick their favourite witchy pieces for It’s Nice That from the selection of over 400 works.

Date
1 November 2021

Last night, as the veil between us and the world of the dead was at its thinnest, Taschen fittingly released its new book Witchcraft: The Library of Esoterica tracing the ancient narrative of witchcraft through hundreds of artworks spanning the Renaissance to surrealism. To mark the occasion, editors Pam Grossman and Jessica Hundley walk us through some of their favourite works in the book.

​​Grossman’s first pick is Auguste Rodin’s Witch’s Sabbath, France circa. 1890. “Many are familiar with Rodin’s iconic sculptures like The Thinker and The Kiss,” claims Grossman, “but he also made many loose, far more kinetic-feeling drawings.” Rodin’s sketched witch is a “brazen one”: Grossman helpfully contextualises the piece, explaining to us that there exists a long tradition of artists depicting witches as being “shamelessly libidinous”. Some historians, she continues, have theorised that the classic pairings of witches with their brooms, which many of us may have spotted darting around our skies last night, is “rooted in an old practice of women using broom handles to apply a psychoactive herbal unguent (or “flying ointment”) to their delicate tissues for quick absorption, thus giving themselves a hallucinogenically-induced sensation of flight.” Whether this theory is true or not, Rodin’s witch, thinks Grossman, certainly transmits a sense of “unbridled lust and bewitching abandon.”

Meagan Boyd’s The Coven, United States 2021, is Grossman’s second pick. Instagram artist Meagan Boyd devoted online following look to her signature illustrative style depicting feminine magic. “This painting depicts a coven, or group of witches, who form a circle of protection and celebration,” says Grossman. “They’re dancing naked – or skyclad as it’s sometimes called in the witchcraft community – but these are no objectified nudes.” Grossman continues that she views these witches as having power on their own terms and are “intentionally connecting the divinity of their earthly bodies with the heavenly bodies above”. Grossman points out that it is also an allusion to Matisse’s La Danse with a “spellbinding feminist spin.”

The editor’s last pick is Josh Sessoms’ So Tonight That You May See, United States/Guyana 2018. Sessoms, explains Grossman, combines the symbology of varying spiritual systems into new representations of modern magic. “This sorceress reflects a potent brew of traditions, as Sessoms has blended African-Caribbean and Western Hermetic iconography together throughout the piece.” Grossman expands that the witch is a “true visionary who has The Sight – the ability to see into other dimensions,” whilst the symbol for the element of Earth floats above her acting as a halo, “crowning her with natural sovereignty.”

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Auguste Rodin: Witch’s Sabbath, courtesy of Taschen.

Jessica Hundley chooses Lucien Shapiro’s Raven for her first pick. A U.S.-based contemporary artist, Hundley says that Shapiro creates “stunningly magical multimedia work – often using found objects such as bottle caps and broken glass and creating totems, sacred objects, and ceremonial masks.” The result is transformative works that Hundley feels explore themes of darkness and light, while elevating the meaning of everyday materials into “visual spells and incantations”.

“One of the most fascinating and mysterious figures of the 20th century,” claims Hundley of her second pick, the poet and artist Marjorie Cameron, who’s work Danse, Songs for the Witch Woman appears in the book. Cameron was the widow of the rocket engineer and occultist Jack Parsons and was deeply immersed in esoteric practice within her own art and life. “Cameron brought her revelatory aesthetic to Hollywood’s cult underground throughout the 50s and 60s. Her fearless exploratory work was hugely influential on the Ferus Gallery Pop Art scene and beyond,” continues Hundely. Cameron also appeared in films by the experimental filmmakers Kenneth Anger and Curtis Harrington as well as producing her own performances, painting and illustrations. “Truly a woman beyond her time.”

“Let it all be animal, my life and death, hard and clean like that, anything but human... a lot I care, me with my red heart in the dark earth and my tattooed feet following the animal ways.” This quote from Vali Myers in 1968, says Hundley of her last pick, reflects “the fearless, feral approach that infused both her art and performance.” The Australian-born Myers was a dancer, artist, and bohemian from the 1960s who established a studio and wildlife sanctuary on the Italian coast, “eventually becoming a countercultural icon, the beautiful and mysterious Witch of Positano.” Hundley claims that Myers’ connection to nature and specifically to animals was intrinsic to the artist’s being.

The book is available to buy online and in stores.

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Marjorie Cameron: Danse, Songs for the Witch Woman, courtesy of Tashcen.

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Vali Myers: Blue Fox 1972–74 (Copyright © The Vali Myers Art Gallery Trust)

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Josh Sessoms: So Tonight That You May See 2018, courtesy of Taschen.

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Lucien Shapiro: Raven. Photography by Shaun Roberts from the film Thank You Darkness, Thank You Light 2018, courtesy of Taschen.

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John William Waterhouse: Circe Invidiosa 1892, courtesy of Taschen.

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Meagan Boyd: The Coven 2021, courtesy of Taschen.

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About the Author

Dalia Al-Dujaili

Dalia joined It’s Nice That as a news writer in July 2021 after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh. She's written for various indie publications such as Azeema and Notion, and ran her own magazine and newsletter platforming marginalised creativity.

dad@itsnicethat.com

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