In Depth

From Cauldron to Canvas: Here Are The Wickedest Witches of the Art World

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From Cauldron to Canvas: Here Are The Wickedest Witches of the Art World
Juliana Huxtable. Image via Rewire.

Halloween is once again upon us which means it’s time to get spooky! To celebrate this most hallowed time of the year, when the veil between life and death is at its finest gossamer, we bring you four of some of the art world's finest practitioners and proud torch-bearers of witchery. So double, double toil and trouble, fire burn and caldron bubble—beware! These phenomenal self-identified artist witches might just cast a spell that’ll haunt you to the grave and beyond and perhaps teach us the greater lesson that often, it’s the arbitrary socio-cultural norms we institute that are truly scary.

 

ROSALEEN "ROIE" NORTON

rosaleenRosaleen Norton. Image via the Wild Hunt.

Should you have been strolling in Sydney during the 1950s down the bohemian district of King’s Cross, you may well have stumbled across a peculiar door placard reading, “Welcome to the house of ghosts, goblins, werewolves, vampires, witches, wizards and poltergeists." This would have been the front door of artist and local neo-pagan witch Rosaleen Norton. Also known by her witchcraft name, "Thorn," Norton was frequently referred to by local Sydney tabloids as “the witch of King’s Cross”—a bold title considering the fact that witchcraft was technically illegal in New South Wales until 1971.

Norton’s graphic depictions of pagan rituals, demons, and sexually explicit imagery were extremely controversial during the socially and politically conservative ‘40s and ‘50s in Australia, making the commercial success of Norton’s work all but impossible—at nearly every corner of her professional artistic career, her work came under fire by local authorities for obscenity. At one point, she and her then-partner, the poet Gavin Greenless, had even been accused of and arrested for vagrancy which, at the time, could have been leveled at anyone without stable employment (honestly, Bushwick is starting to sound a lot like literal hell for straight-laced old school Australians). The great down under wasn’t the only place that had a problem with Norton’s occult sensibilities. When a book of Norton’s work accompanied by Greenless’ poetry, titled The Art of Rosaleen Norton, was published, authorities in the United States actively destroyed any imported copies, which only flamed the fire of Norton’s cult celebrity. Since her passing in 1979 from colon cancer, Norton’s legacy has only grown, resulting in multiple posthumous books and biographies, museum exhibitions, and even an amateur 1982 play entitled Rosaleen – Wicked Witch of the Cross.


MARJORIE CAMERON 

marjorieMarjorie Cameron in Kenneth Anger's Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. Image via Alchetron.

Devoted fans of experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger might recognize Marjorie Cameron as the star of his 1954 short film, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. Featuring Cameron as well as other members of Los Angeles socialite and occultist Samson De Brier’s friend group (this included the famed French-American writer Anais Nin), the film was inspired by a Halloween party hosted at De Brier’s house called “Come As Your Madness.” A deep exploration of Anger’s interest in Thelema, a religion developed by the English magician and philosopher Aleister Crowley, Cameron’s role in the film is a remarkable one, considering her own history and involvement with the occult religion.

A talented painter, Cameron was introduced to the Thelemic religion by her husband, the rocket scientist Jack Parsons (a founding member of Jet Propulsion Labs) who, along with being a very close friend of Scientology-founder L. Ron Hubbard at one point before being completely defrauded, courted Cameron by insisting she was the "elemental woman” that he had invoked in a series of sex magic rituals called the Babalon Working. The two married in 1946, though Cameron would not get involved with Thelema until after Parsons’ untimely death in a rocket explosion. Seeking to communicate with Parsons beyond the grave, Cameron began invoking blood rituals and adopted a new magical identity, Hilarion. It was under this identity that Cameron became the head of her own occult group called The Children which dedicated itself to sex magical rituals with the intent of producing mixed-race "moon children" who would be devoted to the god Horus. Cameron was eccentric to say the least and many close to her during the years after Parsons death deemed her clinically insane. Still, Cameron continued to produce her own surreal, psychedelic works. In 2015, the digital media theorist Peter Lunenfeld described Cameron as "one of those people for whom art was life and life was art.” Though often referred to as a Beat artist because of her affiliated social circles, Cameron’s biographer Spencer Kansa vehemently contests this, arguing that Cameron was instead a “pre-Beat bohemian, whose heart lay in Romanticism.” Passing away in 1995, Cameron’s work has received wide posthumous acclaim, culminating in a 2015 retrospective held by Dietch Projects "Cameron: Cinderella of the Wastelands."

 

GENESIS BREYER P-ORRIDGE 

genesis breyerLady Jaye (left) and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge (right). Image via the Quietus.

Best known as the godparent of industrial music, Genesis P-Orridge is arguably one of the most influential and spearheading cultural figures this side of the 21st century. Identifying as third gender, h/er profoundly sincere and daring explorations and expressions of gender fluidity, pandrogeny, love, and occult themes have broken down binaries for over five decades in all facets of life. In 2016, the Rubin Museum of Art exhibited a show of P-Orridge’s work which included h/er sculptures and found object assemblages composed of everything from fossils to resin-preserved tampons. In the accompanying catalogue, P-Orridge describes their practice within spiritual terms, stating that “It has always been my belief that Creation, the making of ‘art’ in any medium or combination of mediums, is a holy act. To be an ‘artist’ is as much a calling from and to a divine service as becoming a physician, nurse, priest, shaman, or healer.”

Of P-Orridge’s many radical projects, including Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, h/er early group COUM Transmissions with fellow British performance artist Cosey Fanni Tutti was arguably what set the stage for what would become P-Orridge’s boundary bending legacy. The groups confrontational performances dealt with explicit themes including sex work, pornography, serial killers, and occultism, challenging societal norms to the extent that a 1976 show at London’s Institute of Contemporary Art garnered them the tabloid title, “wreckers of civilization.” In 1981, P-Orridge became a founding member of Thee Temple of Psychick Youth (TOPY), a network of artists practicing forms of magic and dedicated to liberating themselves from the shackles of social control, heavily influenced by Aleister Crowley and William S. Burroughs. After being falsely accused of sexually abusing children during an episode of Satanic paranoia in the early ‘90s, P-Orridge removed themselves from TOPY and moved to New York where s/he would meet h/er future wife and collaborator, Jacqueline Mary Breyer or Lady Jaye, as she would come to be known. It was with Lady Jaye that P-Orridge began one of the boldest expressions of love and devotion through h/er Pangrogeny Project, wherein both Jaye and P-Orridge underwent a series of body modification surgeries in order to resemble one another, therein uniting as a single entity or a “pandgrogyne.” Though Lady Jaye passed away in 2007, P-Orridge remains committed project to this day, referring to h/erself in plural as a tribute and way to memorialize the presence of h/er beloved.

 

JULIANA HUXTABLE

julianaUntitled in the Rage (Nibiru Cataclysm) (2015) by Juliana Huxtable. Image via MOCA.

Once upon a time, in the year 2013, an online image-based platform called “Tumblr” was the favorite venue for many artists to advertise their aesthetic visions (for those completely unfamiliar, think of it as a proto-Instagram). Adorning the heading of performance artist, writer, poet, and DJ Juliana Huxtable’s Tumblr page were the words (in all caps) “BLUE LIP BLACK WITCH-CUNT.” Referring to herself as “cyborg, cunt, priestess, witch, Nuwaubian princess,” Huxtable’s transformative imagery draws inspiration from the Black Muslim esoteric group, the Nuwaubian Nation, which fuses black nationalism with UFO theories and Egyptian iconography. In claiming the title of witch as a black trans woman, Huxtable effectively broadens the limited cultural scope of the occult and feminine mysticism to include otherwise marginalized narratives. Using nightlife as an avenue by which queer and communities of color were offered concrete possibilities of alternative utopias, Huxtable established her nightlife gender project, #SHOCKVALUE as a safe space for these communities to be free to explore their bliss and “future social relations.” Huxtable is also a member of the artist collective/coven, House of Ladosha, which works to deconstruct hip-hops masculinity and sexuality.

Frequently referred to as a muse (which, for the record, she hates), Huxtable was regarded by many as the star of the 2015 New Museum Triennial which featured a sensational life-size nude sculpture of Huxtable by Frank Benson alongside Huxtable’s own iconic self portrait photographs and poetry. Her works are often fantastic explorations of social media, internet subcultures, fashion, consumer culture, and the African diaspora. She has exhibited and performed many renowned cultural institutions including the New Museum, the MoMA, Portland Institute of Contemporary Arts, and the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.

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