Dark Stories and Images: An Artist’s Book
When I started to do the “ghostie” drawings in 1970 my ambition was to provide a symbol of humanity but without the eyes. A blind, judgment free template for the viewer to bring his/her own personal meaning. Of course as these things often go, my plans were ill-conceived and naturally not realized and I continued to do the ghost images which were now highly charged and imbued and manifest with personal meaning
Ghosts I realized quickly are powerful symbols for more than just the dead. Secrets. Issues. Whispers. History. In a way, every psychiatric disorder in the handbook could be called a ghost of sorts. After awhile I started to use the ghost images more explicitly to represent some of the more potent ghosts of my own. I found that my Ghosts, inherently potent symbols of death and other stuff become even more charged when they are harnessed to tell a story. Since 1970 I have made and continue to make many ghost images. In time they became “ghosties” in my mind. Not exactly friendly ghosts, but at least familiar ghosts.
So when I decided to recount some of the stories I present it was quite natural to illustrate these, written ghosts with my ghostie images. It turned out again an impulse totally misguided in retrospect. One of my goals was to purge myself of some of the ghosts rummaging around in my head by writing down and presenting some seminal turning points in life, small things, but key places or ideas in life seemingly of vastly more import than might be expected. In time it became a project that evidenced many dark things I had experienced or as my narrator says ” thought I had dreamed or heard tell of or experienced these dark tales myself.” In my mind I named the project “Prison Tales and other Sad Ass Shit.”
It was sitting around the fireplace moonless evenings in the century old sitting room at the Volcano House I was told most of these stories. This was during a time when I worked as a civil servant for the State of Hawaii. I was tasked to take a photographic inventory of State Park facilities on the island of Hawaii which required that I spend several weeks at the Volcano House in a small room by myself (my world class snoring precludes sharing rooms) whilst the others in the party stayed next door. The arrangement suited me fine as I often stayed up late recoding my notes of what the tall stranger had told me earlier.
It was after a particularly filling turkey dinner at the fine dining room, the second evening we stayed there, that I sat in one of the comfortable stuffed chairs and struck up a conversation with the tall, gaunt stranger who sat in the horsehair chair next to mine. As we talked I learned that he was a prison teacher, visiting the nearby Big Island prison facility and staying down the hall from my room. It turned out this time of year after dinner, in the dark evenings, we had the sitting room mostly to ourselves and the cleaners as the few quests moved to the bigger fireplace and the brighter atmosphere in the bar.
After we exchanged pleasantries and the usual mundane, “who ya are, watcha doing” kind of communication we settled into a story telling pattern. Mostly, it was he that did the telling, but some of the stories were mine as I recall. We also liberally shared a bottle of good scotch that I had the dining room waiter fetch on my tab from the bar on a small carved brass and wood Indian camp table. The whole effect was somewhat otherworldly, the century old Volcano House, perched on the edge of a live crater, smelly sulphur fumes visible miles away, a barren threateningly beautiful landscape, provide the setting. Our strange dark stories on these mostly moonless nights seemed somehow fitting for the time and the place. Volcano is a place where the miscegenation of evil and beauty is manifest in the landscape.
When we had our fill of telling and listening I went to my room and as they say in the Victorian novels, I “straight away proceeded” to record the stories in a black and white marbled composition book of the same type I use today. I wrote them down in the first person the intimate way he told them to me and and of course, the way I recount them. All in all, when I look at my notes I see that I have recored some 15 stories , 12 of which I plan to present here. In truth, the stories themselves have become so jumbled in my mind I can’t recall who told what and I even admit to retelling some of his stories as my own when I needed to make a point. Or just to amuse or impress a female. And as it is with these things I have lied about some of them being my own personal experience so often I believe my dissembling to be truth.
It was not until a few years ago in 2004 that I made the connection between the artwork that I was doing at the time and the dark stories. I realized that some of the ghost images would be especially appropriate to the dark content of the prison stories and suited some of the other stories also. I started to produce some images explicitly to illustrate the stories at this time also. What you see at this web site is an evolving process. I think of it as an artist’s book. A wordy artist’s indeed, but with images and word pictures. At some point I hope to publish a hard copy snapshot of the end game of that process.
Contact: John Shklov at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The preceding description is fictional. Any resemblance to circumstances, persons living or dead is unintended and entirely coincidental.
Images and Words: Copyright: John Michael Shklov. Kapaa, 2007