Over Underworld 8: Quarantinis in the Afterlife

Dante notebook, from the Getty Villa Underworld show. Gouache, pen, watercolor, pencil.

What do we want most when we are traveling through an Underworld?  One ill-fated goal is to rescue another who is stuck to bring them back from Death, never a good idea: the Monkey’s Paw effect.  Better is to journey toward a happy ending, reuniting with our loved ones or God. This was Dante’s goal. Another favorite hope, a subset of reuniting with loved ones, is to be in ecstasy all the time, eating and drinking and making love and giggling– to get high. The goals of the Underworld are actually in alignment with the goals of Comedy, not Tragedy:  it should end with a reunion or party with loved ones, and you should be able to get drunk, maybe listen to some really good music…

A music band of 3 statues. The Sirens or Harpies are underworld creatures. This Siren is singling to a pipe played by a Satyr.

I made these drawings in the Getty Villa’s Underworld: Imagining the Afterlife exhibit. One thing that tickled me the most was Plato’s disdain for those who only wanted to go to the Underworld to drink wine.  There apparently was a cult devoted just to that.  As a citizen of perhaps one of the most hedonistic places on the planet, Sonoma County, California, where wine, weed, and fine food are elevated to a religion, I understand.

Plato loved wine, but was careful.  He even proposed the first age-related drinking laws: that boys should not drink before age 18, because it is wrong to add “fire to fire.” But he was careful not to elevate wine, preferring to use it as a tool for truth and celebration.  He said that to spend all our time in the afterlife “crowned and drunk” was dumb, that eternal inebriation was an unworthy goal for the Underworld.  Many of the Underworld themed wine vessels had phallic grape bunches, implying that there was even more bliss available Down There.

Detail of phallic grape bunch on wine vessel

In this time of quarantine and apocalyptic thoughts, I can’t help but remember the rat banquet scene in the Werner Herzog film Nosferatu.  The people are feasting and dancing in the square in a sea of rats, because they know that they are about to die. In our world, this is a good metaphor for substance addiction; unable to stop as a world falls apart.  Dark.

Scene from Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu

Is it so wrong to imagine that some of life’s fundamental pleasures might be available after death?  I wish you surcease of sorrows, but in non-apocalyptic quantity that does not wreck your world.  Or your morning. It’s a slippery slope.

Many entries to the Underworld were portrayed as steep descents. From the Dante notebook.

From Plato to you, as you sip your Quarantini  2,368 years later:  “What is better adapted than the festive use of wine in the first place to test and in the second place to train the character of a man, if care be taken in the use of it? What is there cheaper or more innocent?”

Here I am with my quarantini and pearls, sans rats.  Here’s to all of us. And from Plato: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” —Suzanne

This is the eighth Over Underworld release, a online art exhibit of paintings and sketches in March and April 2020. Featured art: Sketches from Dante’s Inferno Illustrated Notes. Contact saltworkstudio@gmail.com.
View 7 previous Over Underworld Art Exhibit paintings, sketches, and essays here.

Saltworkstudio Events in March-April 2020: Over Underworld: New Work, a virtual art exhibit of paintings and sketches released on SaltworkstudioFacebook, and Instagram.  #dantesketchbook #overunderworld  #saltworkstudio

 

 

Over Underworld 7: How To Placate Underworld Beasts

Bitch, Suzanne Edminster, acrylic, oil, graphite and ink on panel, 16″ x 22″

In our quarantine Underworld, we need a wildlife field guide. We are wandering through a dark, foggy place, the upside down world.  Or we are caught in stasis, like a formerly productive worker bee trapped in amber.  And then we come upon a monstrous beast…

The Bitch, above, is part of a series of Underworld animals.  I start with random marks, and the paint-beasts emerge from the darkness, almost like a negative developing in a bath in the old world of photography.  Since I believe Hell to be states of emotion and being, the Beasts are instincts turned to shadow and  gone bad.  All underworld animals are generally about the mouth or maw, devouring or spitting fire or venomous. All tend to have big red or floating eyes.  And many cultures have Underworld dog creatures, like my Bitch, like Dante’s wolf.

Painting starts, my “negatives

I’ll let you wander in the Underworld with my Beasts for a moment.  The worst Beasts threaten to devour us during this Quaran-time: boredom, apathy, bitchiness, physical illness or disfunction, anxiety, cruelty to others with whom we are trapped, anger, denial, fear.  What freezes you when it happens?  What drives you to the couch, the bottle, your OCD activity,  the Netflix binge? That’s your Beast.

All Underworld beasts cannot be ignored.  You have to greet them, while avoiding being eaten.  You have to placate them so you can get by them and on to the next stage of the journey.  I have found three major modes of placating and soothing them, at least according to mythology.

  • Feed them.  Honey cakes seem popular.   Get to baking!  Spread some sweetness around.
  • Play music for them, or better yet, make music for them.  Music makes them wander off or doze off. Music soothes anything that is savage within us.  Making music, even at an amateur level, or trying to make or play music, opens a sort of beautiful mathematical or emotional space that the Beasts just can’t enter. Or you can also sketch them or poem them or paint them.  Create-a-beast.  They become friendlier.
  • Make a sacrifice to appease them.  Give something up to keep them calm or at bay. It’s like Lent.  You give them something that you will miss, like gossip or drama, or too much social media.
Suzanne Edminster, illustrated notes on Dante, Canto VI. Cerberus was not only a dog, but a snake/serpent monster, a part of the mythic genetics often omitted today.

I was happy to learn that there is a tradition in China of underworld Horses and Oxen. Perhaps Cash Cow, below, belongs to this tradition.  This was painted in 2017, shortly after the Trump inaugeration.  The cow is America, bought for cash and kept chained and overused for milk until it dies. Perhaps the little flying mosquito-like stars are the attack of the coronavirus.

Cash Cow, Suzanne Edminster, acrylic mixed media on canvas, 24″ x 24″

Dear Readers, I have new work, but have not been able to get to my studio to properly photograph it, due to movement restrictions.  I will try to do this next week so we can see what grows out of the Underworld– The Tree of Life– in the next Over Underworld Art Exhibit releases.

In the meantime, placate those Beasts.  All be well, Suzanne

This is the seventh Over Underworld release, a online art exhibit of paintings and sketches in March 2020. Featured art: Bitch,  Rocket Bunny, Underworld Herd and Night Hunt, all original acrylics on panels,  all $450.   Cash Cow, acrylic on canvas, $750. Available.  Contact saltworkstudio@gmail.com.

Events in 2020

March-April 2020: Over Underworld: New Work, a virtual art exhibit of paintings and sketches released on SaltworkstudioFacebook, and Instagram.  #dantesketchbook #overunderworld  #saltworkstudio

Over Underworld 6: Underworld Travel Tips

Over Underworld, acrylic on Canvas, 36″ x 48″, Suzanne Edminster

Right now we are all in an Underworld together. The Underworld is not a place but a state of being, full of dangers, ghosts and monters. We are traveling as pilgrims through it, and the robbers and tricksters are gathering, as well as the saints and helpers. The global quarantine is our Underworld.  

I learned a lot about how to navigate the Quarantine by studying the mythical Underworld/s.

  1. Follow the rules if you want to survive. In the Underworld, to get out, you mustn’t eat food, go in the wrong direction, or look back. In the Quarantine, follow the rules.
  2. In the Underworld, you are at the lowest point of personal identity. You are at your blurriest; your Great Things just don’t matter as much. If you are Jonah in the belly of the whale, your grape crop is not on your mind. Survive the half-light and the long night.
  3. In the Underworld, you are trapped until time or a god lets you go, or you go through the right fragile opening of chance. You really are imprisoned; to pretend otherwise is to risk a naive reaction that will have disastrous results. You can only comply and be aware.

In the Underworld, you are actually in the lowest part of the Hero’s Journey, the monomyth behind human life that was popularized by Joseph Campbell. As humans, we experience this as grief, depression, paralysis and heartbreak. It is most unpleasant. In the chart below, life is like an iceberg: most lies below the surface. Only a small part of our time is in the ordinary material world.  Americans are not good at below-the-surface thinking. We want to be heroically on the mountaintop, in the sunlight, at all times. My Over Underworld paintings have a very high horizon that reflects this often unacknowledged reality. I also put it ladders to connect the Under with the Over. We are in the crisis, the trial, the belly.  It is a temporary, and necessary, state. The hope is that we go on to the next stages as a people, and as individuals.  In the Over Underworld process paintings below, I tried eerie black and white paint sketches at the top… the road into the Underworld. They were beautiful but there was no real way to affix them.  The black and white compositions were turned into individual paintings and left me long ago.  There is only one of these large paintings left now, I think it might have been a seed or nucleus for the next work.

Paintings in Process
Progress of 3 Over Underworld paintings.

The whole world is in a chysalis of dissolution and re-forming. We have no idea what will come out at the end.  Joseph Campbell said, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”    I tried to make the unformed lower parts of the paintings as beautiful and ambiguous as possible to hint at the beauty possible in the Underworld.

Over Underworld: Beast by Suzanne Edminster

There may be a treasure hidden in the Quarantine Underworld for us, but we will have to travel carefully through it to discover it.  Be well, Suzanne

This is the sixth Over Underworld release, a online art exhibit of paintings and sketches in March 2020. Featured art: Over Underworld: Raven, acrylic on canvas, 36″ x 48″, $1750. Available.  Contact saltworkstudio@gmail.com

Events in 2020

March-April 2020: Over Underworld: New Work, a virtual art exhibit of paintings and sketches released on SaltworkstudioFacebook, and Instagram.  #dantesketchbook #overunderworld  #saltworkstudio

 

Over Underworld 5: March 25 Dante Day Story Time

I’m doing storytelling from the beginning Cantos of Dante’s Inferno today.  I’ll be on Facebook Live at Saltworkstudio Facebook at 10 AM, 1 PM and 5PM Pacific  Time.  Join me for some Dante sketches and their stories!  I’ll only post one sketch now as a preview.

The masses, waiting and waiting…

We are all waiting now.  The ancient is new again.  Ancient metaphors bring light to modern vision.    Thank you for joining me in my Over Underworld project.   Suzanne

This is the fifth Over Underworld release, a online art exhibit of paintings and sketches in March 2020. Featured art: Pages from my Dante’s Inferno sketchbook. Not for sale.

Events in 2020

March 25, Wednesday, is Dante Day in Italy, a new annual national holiday to honor Dante. I  will be storytelling from my Dante sketchbook at Saltworkstudio via Facebook Live. See event for more details.  FB live times: 10 AM, 1PM and 5 PM Pacific Time.

March-April 2020: Over Underworld: New Work, a virtual art exhibit of paintings and sketches released on SaltworkstudioFacebook, and Instagram#dantedi #dantesketchbook #overunderworld  #saltworkstudio #divinacommedia

Over Underworld 4: Dante Begins

The lion of ambition.

This is the fourth Over Underworld release, a online art exhibit of paintings and sketches in March 2020. Featured art: Pages from my Dante’s Inferno sketchbook, Cantos 1 and 2.

Since Italy has its first national Dante holiday this year on March 25, I’m releasing Dante sketches instead of paintings for the next few posts.  May celebrating his poetry help Italy heal .

We are Dante. The poem opens to a scene of attack and menace. The lion is ambition to rule, the despot. The leopard is worldly luxury and lust, hedonism, consumerism.  The wolf of avarice, of greed, is always hungry. After she eats, after feeding, she is hungrier than before, literally insatiable. Dante is lost in the woods, and all is lost.

I choose to see Dante as a guide through Underworlds, the times when we are trapped, in despair, lost, yet we know we are somehow on a journey, a lonely road. We need our guides. Virgil is Wisdom, who guides us through the “arduous and savage”way.

Virgil wrote the Aneied, another epic poem that contains an Underworld journey.

He also calls on his beloved Beatrice, who has died and gone to heaven. She appears with her girlfriends: Rachel, who symbolizes contemplation, and Lucia, who is clear vision, eyesight, and light. They indicate their approval of his journey, and then we don’t see them again for a long time.  They are all making a brief visit from heaven.  Hell is not their style.

Beatrice calls in Rachel and Lucia.

So gather your friends:  Wisdom from the past, Light, Meditation, Divine Love.  Dante needed his beloveds to help him continually trust that he would have guidance during his pilgrimage .  I noted that “Hell is forgetting that there is a paradise.”  Keep to your dream-path. It’s actually a Divine Comedy, even if we walk through Tragedy along the Way.  Suzanne

Painted notes

Featured work: Pages from my Dante’s Inferno illustrated notes.  Not for sale.You may share this freely.

Events in 2020

March 25, Wednesday, is Dante Day in Italy, a new annual national holiday to honor Dante. I  will be storytelling from my Dante sketchbook at Saltworkstudio via Facebook Live. See event for more details.  FB live times: 10 AM, 1PM and 5 PM.

March-April 2020: Over Underworld: New Work, a virtual art exhibit of paintings and sketches released on SaltworkstudioFacebook, and Instagram. #dantedi #dantesketchbook #overunderworld  #saltworkstudio #divinacommedia

 

 

Over Underworld 3: Dante’s Inferno Sketchbook

This is the third installment of the Over Underworld art exhibit, a virtual release of paintings and sketches in March 2020.

Featured art: Pages from my Dante’s Inferno sketchbook, earlier circles of Hell

Dante surveys the Holy Grail. This is not from the Inferno, but I needed a break.

The Underworld is not necessarily Hell.  But, sometimes we get lost somewhere Not Good, like a Twilight Zone episode.  It happened to Dante. For the past year I have been doing a close reading of Dante and making a sketchbook of visual notes.  They are not illustrations, but ways to help me remember what I’ve learned.

Reading Dante is like Shakespeare or the Bible; it endlessly unfolds.  But I’ll post a few pages from the notebook with some of my observations.

Virgil, Dante’s guide, from Canto 2. A friend in need.

I’ve made up several lists of rules for going through the Underworld from reading Dante.  First, a tour guide is worth paying for.  Virgil leads Dante through, but can’t go with him to Paradise, as he is a Heathen, but is a good friend.  I discovered that Dante loves his non-Christian geniuses of the ancient days, but has a problem with them, as the Church said they were consigned to hell. What to do, what to do?

From Canto 4. Dante makes a hell that is like a paradise for his buddies!

He makes a beautiful green garden in hell so that these pre-Christian immortals can hang out! The petals of the flower hold the names of his special people. I began to be interested in painting themes from this Canto.  I didn’t want to do paintings of the Seven Deadly Sins, but I discovered the Seven Liberal Virtues– top right corner– which are the antidotes for these sins, and am working on an abstract series from them.

Source material for sketchbook project. My favorite is at the top right, a Modern Library edition from 1944.

Last year I went to the Library of Congress and got to see original Blake lithographs of Dante’s Inferno in the rare books reading room.  Here is my pencil copy of Blake’s print, made in the Library, and my LOC library card.

Pencil drawing made on location in the Library of Congress of a print made from an original Blake lithographic plate. Amazing that this masterpiece was accessible, on asking.

Plagues were a fact of life in the 13th and 14th century.  But Dante saw the worst infection as a moral plague infesting his time, with politics destroying peaceful structure and ripping Florence apart.  This next sketch features a wasp from his description of demons flying up like swarms of hornets.

From Canto 3. Swarms of dead people mourn, “We never were fully alive.”

This is the Canto that orders, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”  I was surprised to find that there was also strong message to live fully when you are alive on earth in the same section!  In all that darkness, there is always light somewhere in Dante. Suzanne

Featured work: Pages from my Dante’s Inferno illustrated notes.  Not for sale.

You may share this freely.  shortlink: https://wp.me/pP1o3-1xu

https://saltworkstudio.com/2020/03/21/over-underworld-3-dantes-inferno-sketchbook/

2020 Events

March-April 2020: Over Underworld: New Work

Virtual Exhibit released by SaltworkstudioFacebook, and Instagram.

#overunderworld  #saltworkstudio

 

 

Over Underworld 2: The Sky is Falling on the Little Red Hen

This is the second installment of the Over Underworld art exhibit, a virtual release of paintings in March 2020.

Featured art: The Sky is Falling on the Little Red Hen

over underworld the sky is falling
The Sky is Falling on the Little Red Hen, acrylic and gold metal leaf on canvas, 16″ x 20″. Private collection, Montreal, Canada

I’m here in coronavirus lockdown in Sonoma County, California, watching our collective sky fall.  In 2019, I did a series of small works that reflected the political situation. When I do these paintings, I just really let anything happen, but normally a fairy tale or folk tale or aphorism starts to emerge, combined with images from my daily life.  I don’t know how or why these paintings happen. I try to paint first, analyze later.

The Little Red Hen in the story was the worker who could not get any help to make bread from all the farmyard animals.  Nonetheless, everyone wanted to eat the bread when she was done. It seems to be an original American fable not based in European storytelling.  The link is to a 1918 version of the tale.

The Sky is Falling involves another hen, Henny-Penny, which must be why the two stories melted together in my painting brain.  The Sky is Falling is as apt a metaphor for our current toxic political crisis as I’ve seen.  It is a nasty and violent story of trying to have your urgent message of emergency and disaster heard by The King (Trump)and being eaten alive along the way by his rich henchman, the devious propagandist named Foxy-Woxy! The link to the version I’ve given you has illustrations by Arthur Rackham.  Both tales are worth re-reading.

The painting implies a reordering of the world.  The gold of the good is fractured and falling down the sky.  An ominous figure in the right corner is scheming on Henny-Penny’s egg– try to eat something he has not produced.  There may be a weeping eye in the sky, if a god is looking on.

I actually do have a little red hen in my five-hen free-range urban flock.  She’s named Hedy Lamar, is a bantam Cochin chicken with feather “slippers” on her feet, and lets me carry her around. She lays adorable little bantam eggs.

 

At the end of The Sky is Falling, the little red hen looks at the massacre around her and “crawls out of her burrow” because she has to get productive and lay an egg! Our hopeful vision is  that we all need to get to our small creations to start to bring the good back to the falling down sky.  Stay safe in your shelter and enjoy your “burrow,”  but don’t forget to lay your “egg.” Make your little contribution to the normal and good.  Folktales and history both say it has all happened before. It’s our turn of the wheel now. Suzanne

You may share this freely.  Link:https://saltworkstudio.com/2020/03/19/over-underworld-2-the-sky-is-falling-on-the-little-red-hen/

2020 Events

March-April 2020: Over Underworld: New Work

Virtual Exhibit released by Saltworkstudio, Facebook, and Instagram.

#overunderworld  #saltworkstudio

Backstreet Gallery, where the exhibit is installed, is available for visit by appointment.  Email Saltworkstudio@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Over Underworld 1: Coronavirus as Visual Metaphor

Tree of Life details, Suzanne Edminster, acrylic on canvas

This is the first installment of the Over Underworld art exhibit, a virtual release of paintings in March-April 2020.

I’m an artist, not a mystic, but I love to reflect on symbols. An abstraction has kidnapped our world, the coronavirus, so it now exists as our shared global symbol.  Examining the metaphorical side of the coronavirus doesn’t mean we are escaping or ignoring the scientific; it means that we can be human and turn it around like an orb in our hands, exploring  shades of meaning, comfort, fear and awe in it.  If we seek myth and meaning, we don’t have to scrub terror away from our minds.

Coronavirus under microscope

The virus is the corona, the crown, related to the sun, to kings, the orb that unites all of humanity and gives life. The sun is the heart, is play and fun, is wild nature in full summer bloom, the petals around the sunflower.  In the Tarot deck, the Sun card shows a walled garden in which children and animals play– the original divine and protected innocence, Paradise.

But the corona is what shows when there is a total eclipse of the sun, and we are experiencing this darker sun symbol.  An eclipse was terrifying in ancient times. Many images from past cultures are very consonant with our experience of the coronavirus.The images are of monsters– wolves, dragons, heavenly dogs, pumas, frogs, giant snakes, insects– eating the sun, the source of life, like the spread of the virus. I saw the total eclipse of the sun in 2017, and the sky chill that descended came from a deep, instinctive place.

I am doing a ten-painting series on the Tree of LIfe, a mystical Jewish metaphor that spread throughout European culture. It is a series of orbs connected by pathways, and is a positive metaphor for continuous creation, types of ethical experience, and joyful participation in the whole. But there is also a tradition of the darker sun, a sort of shadow side to each of the ten positions.  The dark sun, as a polar opposite to the vital sun/heart, prevents us from experiencing The Sun realm. Light, beauty, joy, play, trust,  and a connection to the heart  is replaced by consuming fear and suspicion and survival angst– the dark corona.

To reconnect to our selves, our bright Sun, we need to consciously focus on those things which are obscured: safe community,  art, aesthetics, enterainment, kids, pleasure, nature, beauty, and the bright and protective sides of our chosen religions and deities.  It is our riddle how we will do this, but the Italians singing from their balconies have the right idea! I suggest making a lot of noise to drive away the demons, preferably with our own instruments, pots, pans and voices. Even to the present day, after a total solar eclipse, astronomers at the Griffith Observatory dance, yell, and beat pots and pans.

The Little Red Hen. Alternate title: The Sky is Falling. Painting on canvas from 2019. Private collection.

The sky is falling, as it always has.  Don’t get eaten by any giant frogs.  Stay loving, dance with life, pet your animals, walk in nature, and use those pots and pans. Suzanne

You may share this freely.  Link: https://saltworkstudio.com/2020/03/17/over-underworld-1-coronavirus-as-visual-metaphor/

2020 Events

March-April 2020: Over Underworld: New Work

Virtual Exhibit released in the Saltworkstudio Blog, Facebook, and Instagram.  Backstreet Gallery, where the exhibit is installed, is available for visit by appointment.  Email Saltworkstudio@gmail.com

 

 

 

Secrets of the Carlton Arms Art Hotel

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A short hallway becomes a miniature cityscape.

We stayed in the Carlton Arms in New York City, and by chance, we got to see a wide variety of rooms twice: once when we needed to choose a new room because our room was needed as gallery space, and once with the New York Adventure Club tour.  Since we saw more spaces than are normally available to show– the hotel cannot show rented rooms–  I thought I would share them with you, with photos not included in my other Carlton Arms post.  We were also privy to some myths, legends, and secrets of the hotel…

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Astonishing “neon” murals done in paint alone

Our room had an entire quilted graphic narrative around the molding.  We were actually staying inside a story.  We took some time to read it, and to see how themes were reinforced around the room.  By the way, it was a quiet and cozy room.

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The story was that of an immortal energy-soul as it evolved toward a specific heaven.

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Panorama storyline part one.

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Panorama storyline part 2, showing a rainbow enlightenment at the end.

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Plaster bas-relief wall sculptures in our room

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Me at the end of the Egyptian-themed hallway outside our room.

The hallway was a real marvel.  It was done in the 1990s and is still beautiful.  Whether or not the artist achieved fame, she created a place of lasting amazement and beauty.  If I could make an artwork that made hundreds of people happy over a few decades, I would be delighted….There was one door that had a painted warning on the outside, very aggressive, with the message that a trans person had done the art inside.  It was a “Beware, be afraid, yea who enter here” sign.  But when you stepped in the room you entered a strange paradise.

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An undersea, tentacled fantasy.

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Central image of the room

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The photos don’t really do justice to the strange beauty of the room.

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Painted mirror frames. Most of the furniture was painted so that the effect was seamless.

I was reminded of our visit in Rome to the Villa Borghese, with its intersex sculptures, a favorite of the then-pope– equally beautiful, and unsettling.  The hotel manager says that they try to be sensitive to the needs of the clients; this room is not necessarily recommended to those with young children.  The hotel tries to give guests the choice of available rooms.  Here is a secret: check in early in the day to get a choice of rooms in your price category.  The staff is extremely nice and will help you find the right space. The hotel has 54 rooms in its largely unrenovated, walk-up building.

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Near the lobby was a bar area that could re-morph into a hotel room with the addition or removal of the beds. The beds were very comfortable, with excellent mattresses on top of a more portable folding frame.  The rooms are redone by new artists every 3-5 years or so, and displayed in a one-night only opening in March as art exhibits. The very next day they are returned to hotel rooms!

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Scott and I in the “bar” room. The bed will be removed for the art opening night.

The hotel offers residencies to artists to re-do rooms, and has an annual art show to display them.

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Scott is either flirting or animating- not sure which!

The Carlton Arms has many secrets.  Since it is has been a hotel now for over 30 years, they downplay the colorful past of the SRO days (single room occupancy).  So many people seem afraid to stay here, and indeed it is not for everyone. Their primary clientele is now European.  Scott and I stayed in a room with a shared bath and we never needed to wait. I give it high ratings for a feeling of coziness inside a huge city.  You get to live inside art itself. And there are cats too.

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Poster for the 2019 Artbreak Hotel Opening

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Topsy, one of the hotel cats.

 

The Banksy Down the Hall

The Banksy on the first floor of the Carlton Arms Hotel.

The Banksy Down the Hall

I’m staying at the Carlton Arms Hotel in NYC, Gramercy. Stepping out of our first room and walking toward the shared bath, I encountered a bear politician, Elvis-Mickey, and a stick of dynamite in a ballot box. It’s the Banksy near the bathroom.

Banksy detail

These days are upon us, again.

I thought this light switch might have been a Banksy, but it was painted by a transgender woman with a great sense of humor.

The Carlton Arms is not an art hotel; it’s a hotel for artists. Any artist can tell you that though they find a place rich and evocative, that taste is not necessarily shared by the general public. Artists love an edge. When I had a studio at the Barracks, an old naval airbase complete with a creepy overgrown bunker, I loved it. But it was quite difficult to get patrons out there, even for open studios. It was just a bit too intimidating.

Fourth floor Egyptian themed hallway, where we moved from our first floor room; the room was needed for a gallery show.

The bubble wrap ceiling

So what I’m saying is that the hotel is not for everyone, and doesn’t pretend to be. It’s in a largely unrenovated 1880s building, with 54 rooms tied up in a tangled net of pipes and architectural elements. There are two cats who will visit in your room, and astonishing art, everywhere. It’s like wandering around in a building made of artist’s neural pathways and memory banks. It is literally and metaphorically held held together by paint, a living body made of art. And so it shocks, delights, and inspires, because it is art.

One of the two or three hotel cats visits our room Sign near the street level entrance

The coffee room raccoon says hey

The hotel’s colorful past is carried forward into the future by yearly shows, where rooms are transformed into art installations, then returned to lodging spaces. The hotel staff were friendly and gracious. They allowed us to tour unoccupied rooms during a lull between checkout and check-in

First room we had, first floor near lobby Inhabitants of all species Inside a room

Magical “neon” murals that glowed, all paint. We had never seen anything quite like them.

Inside a room

Beauty, humor and anguish are everywhere.

Our charming “Hygge” room (my name for it) on the Egypt floor, 10D. More doileys, lace, handwork, Scandinavian style. Charm and giant cookie burgers, plus instructions on life. The top moldings are all quilted fabric art cartoons.

Our spectacular hallway.  The rows of face masks mounted as pharaohs are the manager and workers in the hotel.

Our hallway. You can see me at the end

Room of purple mirror walls

An encounter

Hotel life problems

I’m not doing a travel hotel review here. I am so tired of yelp-style critiques. We love it; we are temporary dwellers in a living history. Tonight a chapter of the NY Adventure society tours here. On Thursday the latest Artbreak Hotel art installation and opening reception is happening . I’m climbing 64 stairs to our room, and I’m awed that this is still here. Also, clearly, Carlton Arms Hotel knows who the heck Banksy is.  Thanks, Carlton Arms.

Flatiron building , near the hotel