The Art of Jana Brike

Latvian artist Jana Brike creates oil paintings that explore notions of innocence and coming-of-age narratives.

Her inspirations for work has been as diverse as: folklore fairytales, children book illustrations, imaginative soviet animation films and supernaturally realistic classical painting; the colorful forbidden rare secret imagery of the western pop culture surrounded by mystical, almost religious tone for the soviet children; the terrifying war and deportation stories that her grandparents, and their little brothers and sister witnessed as small children; pompous alienated eerie atmosphere of the catholic church ceremonies in the Latvian countryside, and the breathtakingly beautiful ballet performances in the opera house, where she was taken since the age of two, as well as others. – all the bitter-sweetness and irreality of the every day.

The main focus of Jana Brike’s art is  the internal space and state of a human soul – dreams, longing, love, pain, growing up and self-discovery.

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Sailor’s Wives

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Aphrodite with Kitten

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The End of the Last Unicorn

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Paradise of Shared Solitude

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Gardener and the Centre of the Universe

The Hateful Eight

Our resident film reviewer is writer Harry Casey-Woodward who will be sharing his opinions on things he has watched…

The Hateful Eight, 2016, cert 18, dir Quentin Tarantino, 4/5

The first thing you should know about Tarantino’s latest feature is that it is very different to his last offering, Django Unchained.
I have decided that the quality of Tarantino’s films follows a certain pattern: he does two good films, then a not so good film, then repeats. His first two movies, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction are considered cinematic classics. His third movie Jackie Brown is not quite as exciting. The two Kill Bill movies that came after are still very popular, while many people I’ve met loathe his sixth film Death Proof  and it certainly showed at the box office. Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained wowed nearly everyone.

So I was worried about Hateful Eight fitting the pattern and being a poor film. After seeing it, I feel it shares some of the negative aspects of Tarantino’s lesser efforts and lacks the energy and creativity of his best. However, it’s lack of action and location-hopping compared to Inglorious Basterds and Django doesn’t make it a bad film, just different.

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I was excited enough about Tarantino making a period western with Django after repeating how much he’s inspired by them. I was even more excited when he said he was making another one. With both films, he has mastered what I believe are the two essential western plotlines. Django is obviously a journey western, where the hero goes on a quest through the ever-changing landscape of the Wild West and grows in some way. Then there are westerns centred in one location like a town, which tend to be tense action pieces.

Hateful Eight is an excellent example of this, for apart from a few outside scenes on a stagecoach the action nearly all takes place in one wood cabin. It’s more like watching an intense stage play than a movie. This made sense after reading an article on cinemablend where Tarantino declared he was thinking of writing for theatre.

I personally enjoy plots that are stripped down to the bare essentials, which is partly why I enjoy plays. Stories set in single locations are more intense and focused than plots that jump around locations, because you’re thoroughly engrossed in the characters and their dialogue.

Hateful Eight is no exception, as Tarantino never fails to hold your attention with his colourful cast of characters and their dialogue. Nevertheless, the film sometimes suffered from the same problem as Death Proof, which is that Tarantino over-indulged in his love for dialogue. In both films, the first halves are full of long scenes of characters chatting about topics not immediately related to the plot. Although the dialogue is entertaining, there were a few moments where I wondered if certain scenes were going anywhere and what was the point of them.

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On the other hand, these scenes are certainly good for building up suspense and character and the audience’s long wait for action is rewarded when all hell breaks loose in the second half. There are Tarantino’s trademark scenes of outrageous violence, but there’s a darker, more macabre spirit wreaking havoc in this film than in previous. The violence of Hateful Eight is over-the-top and streaked with Tarantino’s viciously black humour. But there’s none of Django’s tounge-in-cheek or thrilling heroics, nor any sense that Tarantino is daring you to enjoy the violence. Like Reservoir Dogs, it’s played for brutal shocks.

Like Django, the film is also firmly rooted in the history and issues of the time. The film is set after the American civil war and the emancipation of slavery. These events cause some of the tensions and divisions between the characters, for they still feel very strongly about them. Racism rears its ugly head, with frequent use of the n word directed at Samuel L. Jackson’s character. Misogyny also joins the party, for the only female character gets the worst treatment. However, this is more for her personality than her gender and the offensive attitudes expressed by the characters are simply reflections of American history. The historical background adds to the film’s quality and, along with Tarantino’s mastery of drama and the camera, balances with the moments of explicit crassness on screen.

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As with any good western, the scenery and music are quality too. The menacing original score (a first for the soundtrack-stealing Tarantino) is composed by Ennio Morricone, who also wrote the iconic music for such classic westerns as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. When the action was happening outside of the stagecoach and the cabin, the snowy mountain scenery looks stunning too; especially in the extra-wide 70mm camera format Tarantino shot in that got him in such technical issues during cinematic release.

So don’t watch this expecting another Django, but do expect a master class in suspense, acting and cinema in general. Yes it’s slow and not packed with action, but Tarantino has really pushed himself and succeeded in making a unique film not just for his own filmography but westerns in general. Although there are good westerns regularly coming out, Tarantino has been the director to smash the most generic conventions. With Hateful Eight, he proves westerns don’t necessarily need showdowns at noon and characters riding off into the sunset.

All gushing for Tarantino aside, it is really the cast that keep you gripped. Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell and Walton Goggins  from Justified are all perfect, and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s deranged role can be added to Tarantino’s gallery of powerful female performances.
So as it’s winter, hop on the stagecoach and ride into Tarantino’s cramped, snowy, blood-drenched hell. You’re in for a treat.

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Cactus Tattoos

We all love a cactus, perhaps because they are pretty hard to kill making them great for anyone who wants a colourful plant in their life without the responsibility! There is no better way to show others the things you love than in a tattoo so here is some of our favourite cactus inspired tattoos… 

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@charleedarwintattoo

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@darinrothtattoo

darin

@ngxtattoo

ngx

@nickstambaugh

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@tillydee

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@hollietoldmeto

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Mike Dargas

German artist Mike Dargas creates realism pieces with oil on canvas that show captured moments of intense intimacy and closeness.

In his portraits, Mike is not limited on certain types. He portrays young and old, beautiful and dark, fragile and strong people. They are lost in thoughts, show inner conflicts or transmit a unique or even holy calmness. The perfection of his technique seems to seek for the perfect image, like he was searching for the soul within each single one. With his works Mike Dargas challenges us to take a deeper look, to understand the nature of human being and to question our own emotional perception.

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Free Fallin

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Nothing Else Matters 

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Mutual Trust

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Blackened

Documentaries: Making a Murderer

Alexandra Langston is a creative copywriter, editor, and part-time blogger, living and working in Qatar. In this post Alex talks about the Making a Murderer series… 

Over Christmas, like a lot of people, I plummeted into the Netflix Making a Murderer vortex with wilful abandon. Living in the Middle East, I had heard a few grumbles about the series on the internet, but was otherwise unaware of details; in retrospect, blissfully unaware.
About a year ago, I delved similarly head-long into a series of documentaries about the West Memphis Three – three Arkansas teenage boys who in 1994 were found guilty of the murders of three younger boys. Two were sentenced to life in prison, whilst the perceived ringleader was sentenced to death.

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The murder, trial, and media coverage were all clouded by the so-called ‘Satanic Panic’ that pervaded the US for much of the early 90s. Wearing black, listening to heavy metal, and being interested in belief systems beyond the typical Christianity of the Deep South, meant a guilty verdict was more or less guaranteed. If it wasn’t for film makers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky capturing proceedings, that would have been that for the boys.

Fortunately, after the first film aired in 1996 interest in the case built, and over the next fifteen years the tireless support of the public (and some celebrities) led to new DNA evidence. In 2011 the possibility of a re-trial that would potentially embarrass the state led to an unusual plea deal; all three men were freed, but the state maintained their guilt.
I watched in absolute horror and astonishment, feeling elated at their release and total disgust at the injustice of the state’s lack of culpability. Overall though, I felt that this scenario had to be an anomaly, a one off. I was very wrong.

Enter Making a Murderer. In 1985, Steven Avery was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, and spent eighteen years in prison before being fully exonerated by new DNA evidence. Two years after his release, and on the eve of a multi-million dollar settlement from Manitowoc County, Avery was arrested and then tried and convicted of the murder of a young woman. His nephew, Brendan Dassey, was also sentenced to life in prison for his part in the killing.

The confluence of a looming settlement that would have financially crippled the county, and the investigation by officers and prosecutors that had also played a part of the original wrongful conviction, is at the centre of the ten hour series. The documentary raises questions about the trustworthiness of the investigation and its key players, but it has also seen a heavy backlash that claims a lack of impartiality from documentarians Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos. The two women are also accused of leaving out important trial evidence in order to more convincingly paint the defendants as innocent.

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What is clear is that for both men the investigations and trial were not entirely unbiased, and whichever side of the fence you come down on, the takeaway should be that we take a long hard look at our justice systems. In the twenty years since the West Memphis Three case came to prominence, how many more people have not received adequate defences due to a lack of money and resources?
Questionable journalism aside, it is important that these kinds of documentaries continue to be made – that we keep asking questions – because it is not just in the US that you can find yourself in an unwinnable situation.

The art of Frances Cannon

Frances Cannon is a 23-year-old artist and student from Melbourne, Australia, we chat to her about her body positive illustrations and what inspires her…

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Do you have a background in art? I have been drawing ever since I was a kid. It was fairly obvious to me from an early age that I wanted to study art and become an artist! I have just finished my Bachelor of Art (Fine Art) and I hope to study more and keep growing and expanding as an artist!

What inspires you pieces? I am inspired by humanity. Whether I draw about the body, emotions, relationships, life/death, dreams – everything revolves about what it is to be human. I am currently involved heavily in the body positive movement as well as empowerment of women and a lot of my art that I post online focusses on that subject.

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What message are you hoping to spread? I want people to see my art and feel connected. To feel warmth and happiness when they see it and to know they are not alone in their experiences.

Do you consider yourself a member of the body positive community? Absolutely! I had a lot of trouble loving my body when I was growing up, but over time I have learnt that hating myself takes way to much energy and that loving myself is so much easier and makes life SO much better! I definitely recommend.

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What medium do you use? What types of things do you draw? What medium I use depends on whether I am working from home or from my studio. My apartment is very cramped and doesn’t really have space for big works of art, so I usually do ink drawings or small watercolour paintings. When I have a studio I expand to doing big drawings in charcoal, or big watercolour or gouache paintings. I draw naked ladies a lot (though I do draw other things as well). The naked form is something I find truly beautiful and I find it empowering to draw bodies similar to my own.

Do you have any tattoos? What do you think of tattoos in general? Yes I have many! My current favourites are a tattoo of the character from The BFG, a book by Roald Dahl (my favourite childhood author). Another favourite is one of my own drawings of a girl hugging herself (a little reminder to love myself and my body). I love tattoos (especially black line-work tattoos) and I plan on getting lots more!

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Body Modification: Tongue Splitting

Meet 21-year-old Sophia Bickerton, an aspiring tattoo artist who we featured in our Stripped Back issue in The New Normal, a circus-themed shoot showcasing four inspirational people. Here tells us about getting her tongue split…

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I can’t say that I had a real reason for getting my tongue split, apart from the fact that I think it looks amazing! I love that you are able to do that to your body. I had wanted to get it done for the past eight years and only recently I plucked up the courage to actually go through with it! For two months before I got it done, I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind. I was dreaming about it almost every night. And I’m a big believer that what is stuck on your mind needs to happen. So it happened!

After a lot of research, I ended up travelling to London to have it split by Veronica Blades. When I woke up on the day, I was so excited – I  just couldn’t wait. While I was travelling I started to feel nervous, so nervous that I felt like I was going to be sick and in the end I had a panic attack because I was so excited and scared at the same time, I just couldn’t process it!

The actual tongue split was magical. I had forceps on either side of my tongue so when it had been cut, Veronica held them a part and I just couldn’t believe it. The thing I had wanted for so long had finally been done. I couldn’t stop smiling and giggling, I was over the moon! My tongue was finally in half! So after that I was on a natural high, I couldn’t feel a thing, only happiness.

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After everything was over and I had been sutured up, I sat down and talked to Veronica for a little while about aftercare and what my dos and don’ts were. After that, it was back to the underground to catch the tube and that’s when it hit me. I was in so much pain and, to make it worse, I ended up having a random coughing fit, which as you can imagine wasn’t very pleasant. It ended up making my tongue bleed a lot as it was putting pressure on my sutures. And that’s when I started to realise what I had done, I’ve just had my tongue split in half, and I must admit for the three or more hour journey home I started to regret my decision because it just hurt so much, it was throbbing and it was starting to swell.

Day two and three were the most uncomfortable, the swelling had taken over and my tongue had ballooned that much that I had to sit with my mouth open, my tongue just wouldn’t fit in my mouth – I couldn’t even push my tongue in to close my teeth. But pain wise, it didn’t hurt during the day but strangely would hurt at night.

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And sleeping, oh damn, that wasn’t fun. I went through so many tissues! The drooling was unbelievable and just when the pain would subside and I was drifting off to sleep I would wake myself up by drooling everywhere. In the end I had to sleep with tissues pressed up against my mouth so it didn’t go everywhere.

Day five was the best day, the swelling was minimal and there was hardly any pain. The only down side was the fact my tongue looked so disgusting due to the white scabs. After a week, I ended up taking the stitches out, they were so uncomfortable and hurt so much. But  without them, my tongue felt amazing, I felt free, it felt just like my normal tongue again. The best part was that I could eat properly again.

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People have had mixed reactions, my nanna doesn’t like it at all and doesn’t understand why I would do that to my body, where as my grandad was happy for me, as he knew it made me happy. My niece and nephew love it, they are always asking if they can see it, but for them, it’s normal. They have grown up around me and know that I’m a little different to the rest of the family.

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When I’m talking you can’t really tell what has happened, my tongue looks different but for someone who hasn’t seen it before they don’t know. I’ve had  people ask me what is wrong with my tongue and they seem shocked when I tell them that I chose to do it.
But for the most part, people don’t care, they find it odd but they know it makes me happy and that’s all that matters.

I plan on having my tongue split further back in a few months, which I am really excited about! It healed up just a tiny bit and I’d like to have my split as big as it will allow me without having to have my frenulum cut. I’d also love to get my ears pointed in the future,  but I cant see myself going through the healing process, as it will take months to fully heal and be very painful. For me, having my tongue split is the best thing I have ever done and it is now my favourite part of my body.

Gypsy East Desert Erotica Photo Shoot

In the depths of the Rajasthani desert, the Gypsies created magic… 

Check out the Gypsy East ASOS for your own magical treasure that the gypsies discovered on their travels 

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Art direction & styling – The Gypsy East Collective
Model – Emily-Louise McGuinness
Photographer – Alexandre Fantie-James
Shoot assistant – Harry Newbould

 

Film Review: Slow West

Our resident film reviewer is writer Harry Casey-Woodward who will be sharing his opinions on things he has watched…

Slow West, 2015, cert 15, dir John Maclean, 4/5

If you liked Django Unchained, how about a western shot in New Zealand by a Scottish director? You’ve got to admire a director when they choose a western for their first film in this day and age, when westerns are no longer guaranteed profit makers (unless you’re Tarantino). It must be even more of a challenge to make a good one, now Django has raised the bar and Tarantino’s new western The Hateful Eight is in the saddle. But new director John Maclean has crafted a stunning western for his first feature, which is now out on DVD and Blu-ray.

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Slow West has a simple but original plot. The hero is a young Scots lad named Jay Cavendish played by rising Australian star Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road and Let Me In). Having left Scotland, we find him riding alone across the vast, wild landscape of the American West to find the girl he loves, who has already emigrated west with her father. He bumps into Silas (Michael Fassbender), a lone drifter who agrees to ride with Jay for reasons known only to Silas.

Both are testament to the theory that opposites attract. Silas is a traditional western hero. Even Fassbender acting in his native Irish accent just adds to his rough charm. He’s got the weather-beaten costume, the stubble, the cigars and the gun. The only thing he lacks is a heart. I was worried Fassbender wouldn’t pull off this Clint Eastwood -like character, since I’ve only seen him in well-spoken civilised roles like the android in Prometheus and the English officer/film critic in Inglorious Basterds. But he’s utterly gripping as a cool, cunning gunslinger.

Jay Cavendish, however, is the natural bumbling teenage sidekick. What he lacks in experience and practicality, he makes up for with naivety and romanticism. Whereas Silas has dulled his emotions, Jay remains the victim of his passions which have led him on his epic, dangerous quest to find his love. Kodi Scot-McPhee gives a charming performance as a lovesick, wide-eyed poet horrified by the violence and suffering he witnesses.

The pair encounter a range of western characters. They’re tracked by a shaggy-coated man named Payne and his motley band of outlaws, a cool performance by fellow Australian Ben Mendelsohn who played hot-headed businessman Daggett in The Dark Knight Rises. There’s also a Swedish couple turned desperate store robbers, a travelling writer documenting the extinction of Native American culture and a bounty hunter disguised as a priest carrying his rifle in a smart case (a possible homage to the eccentric antiheros of the spaghetti westerns).

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Thankfully Slow West follows a trend that has been cropping up in recent westerns. This is acknowledging the fact that the American West was populated by emigrants from all over the world, thus not everybody spoke in a cowboy drawl (a fact often ignored by even the best westerns in the past). The director admitted that he wanted to make a film about the West from an emigrant’s point of view.

The film also features Native Americans. Some are depicted as deadly and otherworldly, others as very human. The main characters mention the decimation of the Native American civilisation, often cynically, as an irreversible tragedy. It has been a while since any recent western has acknowledged this dark side of American history in such a modern fashion. As well as accurate historical details, the film does a good job of representing genders too. When we finally see the love interest Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius)on screen, she’s a gutsy farm girl who ends up doing most of the shooting in the showdown at the end.

If this colourful cast of characters isn’t enough to attract you, the film is worth seeing for its sheer beauty. Most westerns can boast extraordinary landscapes and Slow West is no exception. Like Lord of the Rings, Slow West could be an advert for New Zealand. We switch from tender flashbacks on the Scottish coast to dramatic New Zealand scenery of forests, mountains and plains which makes a perfect Western backdrop. Whoever went location scouting did a good job. The best thing about filming in New Zealand, as the crew discovered, was the incredible light and colour the beautifully framed shots were blessed with. The colours are especially striking for a western, reminding me of technicolor 1950s classics like The Searchers. As Maclean explains, that was purely due to the quality of New Zealand natural light and he didn’t want to shoot another brown western anyway.

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Despite the cool characters, the original plot and striking cinematography, there are two criticisms I would make of this film. One is that it lacked the ‘oomph’ present in other great westerns like The Wild Bunch], Unforgiven and even Django, which stops it ranking alongside these classics. In other words, as nice as the film was to watch I didn’t feel a great emotional impact at the end. The running time is only eighty minutes, which means you have less time to feel involved with the characters than a longer film. However, given the content of the plot I feel there were still opportunities for a greater emotional scope. Moving onto the other criticism, I felt the movie was putting more effort into being strange for the sake of it. The nature of the plot is rather episodic, which leads to several random scenes like Jay and Silas riding past three men playing music in the middle of a barren plain. Jay converses with them in French on the universality of love and death. While it’s nice to see such creative elements in a western, it does reduce the historical realism a tad.

But then Slow West is a different breed of western to the intense, action-packed examples I mentioned above. It’s sparse, lyrical style reminded me most of Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 western Dead Man starring Jonny Depp. Both films are beautifully shot, spiritual journeys through imaginative landscapes of the American West. Both feature traditional Western clichés mixed with modern sensibilities and both balance cynical humour with tragedy and graphic violence.

The presentation of the violence is worth noting in Slow West. Don’t expect the glorified, over-the-top action of Django. It is thrilling and even playful at times, especially during the climax during which Payne fires a bullet to make a weather vane spin round. However, there are other scenes when the pointless, catastrophic consequences of random violence are clearly plain, with little dialogue and visible emotion from the actors needed. Though I have mentioned the lack of emotional impact in this film, I still genuinely feared for the heroes’ survival in the final shootout.

Overall, the film is sparse but not cold. The more I think about it after viewing, the more I admire the creativity involved and the sheer amount of elements that were brought together. This is a cool, lean slice of cinema that looks amazing with subtle depths of emotion and heartache. I respect that such an unusual little gem was allowed to be made and I further respect the fact that it was a British production, having been presented by Film 4 and the British Film Institute. Perhaps this will lead to another wave of European westerns like the Italian spaghetti westerns in the 60s. Shepherd’s pie westerns anyone? More like haggis western, as the director is Scottish. Silliness aside, he has done a remarkable job for his first film and I hope his future efforts share in the poetic, imaginative spirit of his debut.

All opinions of the director are taken from the special features on the DVD