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The Orata Dark Fantasy World: An Interview with Alex CF

The creative world of Alex CF is probably one of my favorite out there, by far. Alex is an illustrator, sculptor, writer, and singer based in London, UK and best known for his highly influential work with the dark post-metal band Fall of Efrafa whose lyrical content revolves around the mythology created by Richard Adams in his adventure novel, Watership Down.

Alex CF’s rich works revolve around the world of the Orata, a fictional tale of animal mythology that defines the depths of the world created in his first book, Seek The Throat From Which We Sing.

Alex CF illustrated animal art book cover

Alex CF is also the curator and custodian of the Merrylin Cryptid Collection that features unique cryptozoological specimens. He illustrated numerous documents, created poetic and engaging texts, and produced a plethora of adventurous drawings and illustrations that could easily be revered as remarkable and breathtaking masterpieces.

Alex is a complete fantasy artist deeply involved in his own mythology and world. His work mesmerizes me every time and I’m impressed by the deepness of his imagination.

Alex CF illustrative surreal animal art

I first knew you years ago when I discover your online museum. I was completely amazed to learn about the life of Thomas Merrylin and his cryptid collection, from which you are now the curator. We can feel a ton of different inspirations in this project; how did you end up with it and what’s the plan for such an amazing collection?

The collection was my life’s work for 13 years; it was an exploration into ideas and concepts of natural history, adventure, an exploration of the secretive places of the world, a time before humans hadn’t quite eroded every natural habitat and there were spaces left for those things who shied away from the human gaze. The inspiration was rooted in 19th-century scientific intrigue, turn of the century science fiction, horror and fantasy, and a love of “what if?”.

The culmination coincided with the rise of a reliance on conspiracy for explanation, the presence of the dangerous idea of “alternative facts” and I wanted nothing to do with that. At the heart of the collection was the concept of seeking empirical evidence, about using critical thought. It was an escape into the fabric of legend, and to explore the connection between literature, science, and art. This sadly isn’t the time for such thought experiments, and so the doors to that project have been closed. There was never any plan.

The Merrylin Collection held me in its grasp for 13 years, and then I began to explore the idea of finally creating my own unique universe to play in, inspired by my love of animal mythology and fantasy such as Watership Down, Secret of Nimh, and Redwall.

Regarding the Merrylin Collection, we can feel that you have a huge interest in unknown things. That’s something we can also see in your other creations. Can you tell us more about your influences and your inspirations?

When I was a child I used to visit family, and they had a collection of science fiction and fantasy novels. I was around eight or nine when I was introduced to the “World of the Dark Crystal” by Brian Froud. The film was a favourite, but this book was pure escapism. An entire natural history of this world beyond worlds, Froud engineered Thra from the ground up, from the animals that inhabit the forests to the hierarchy and aristocracy of the Skeksis and UrRu. I must have poured over that book a thousand times, and it cemented a desire to one day create my own mythology, my own fantasy world.

I guess my first exploration of that was in comic books; I was diagnosed with M.E when I was in my early 20’s and I was bedridden a lot of the time, so during my recovery, I drew all the a great deal. This began with horror-comedy digressions, but soon wandered into more thoughtful explorations of world-building with a comic called Wilderemere. I was feeling better around 2006 and began working on concept music projects, paying homage to my favourite authors; this in itself was also a lesson in world-building.

The Merrylin Collection held me in its grasp for 13 years, and then I began to explore the idea of finally creating my own unique universe to play in, inspired by my love of animal mythology and fantasy such as Watership Down, Secret of Nimh, and Redwall. This lead to writing my first novel, and the first part in a series ‘Seek the throat from which we sing”, an environmental epic about animal cultures in the shadow of humans. This now consumes much of my creative output.

You’re what I like to call a complete artist: you’re a writer, illustrator, sculptor, musician, and vocalist. You have a deep approach of the DIY for everything that you do. Can you expand on your creative process and how it can be different depending on your medium?

I think being unwell for the early part of my 20’s fundamentally changed my perspective of life. I fell into a deep depression, had to resign from my work as a graphic designer, and succumbed to this very sad reality. For those six years, I was so angry and frustrated that art was really the only relief… creating something meaningful, proving my worth to the universe. When I recovered, it had instilled this work ethic, and I felt I had to strive to make up for a lot of lost time.

The music I have shared has been some of the most profound experiences of my life. It’s all about just doing it and hoping for the best! The need to make is probably tied to a lot of deep-seated mental health stuff, but as long as I keep working it keeps the black dog at bay!

alex cf with owl print
Alex CF

So I guess the main drive began with something rather negative but I managed to co-opt that into a dynamo for projects, and I have always found setting goals – an endpoint, allows me to find fruition with those things. Music was a way of learning to share and compromise for a greater good, bands became legitimate ways to create a concept that was multi-faceted, drawing on dear friends own creative needs and finding a common goal. The music I have shared has been some of the most profound experiences of my life. It’s all about just doing it and hoping for the best! The need to make is probably tied to a lot of deep-seated mental health stuff, but as long as I keep working it keeps the black dog at bay!

alex cf illustrative death

Looking at your artworks and book, I feel sometimes that everything takes place in the same universe, the same narrative. Is that intent and are you trying to keep everything inside the same world?

I think there are always going to be threads in all of my projects, especially musical projects, defense of natural spaces, the war against oppression, ideas that were formed in the music I grew up with, and is still incredibly important to me. I think bands are where that’s most notable, besides my current work in writing and drawing.

Initially, bands were love letters to our favourite books, Watership Down and His Dark Materials, the work of China Mieville. those were a starting point until I felt comfortable enough to take those concepts and apply them to my own stories. Having said that, the current bands I am involved in share a common story, both Morrow and Archivist, two separate bands whose lyrics are two sides of the same story, two timelines that converge at the end of their respective albums. Pretentious as hell, but a lot of fun!

I wouldn’t consider myself spiritual at all in the most common sense. I am an atheist, with a deep passion for science and natural history. But then again this word is very subjective. As a lover of fantastical worlds and make-believe, I feel a draw to the idea of hidden meaning, magic, occult, and nature worship.

Two years ago, you released your first book, “Seek the throat from which we sing”, and more recently “The Orata”, an incredible encyclopedia of your world and creations. Can you tell us more about those two projects and the sequel?

These books are about animal cultures in the united kingdom, it is a tale of dark mythology, exploring the ideologies, cultural practices, magic, and rituals. their lives, wars, and prophecies. It deals with a raw and visceral take on animal fantasy and environmental folklore. The Orata is the spoken scripture of the foxes within that story and applies to the world in which those books take place, but also the title of the aforementioned encyclopedia. As you said, it began with my first novel, “Seek The Throat From Which We Sing’ and continuing in the sequel I am currently working on, ‘Wretched is the Husk”.

Whilst I was writing the first book, I would draw the characters and places to help fully form and flesh out plot points, and after those years I had amassed a lot of drawings, and I decided that with a little more effort this could be a guide to that universe of sorts..well, four years worth of work later The Orata was complete, and I came full circle to my nine-year-old self – this is my ode to Brian Froud, in spirit, my world-building. It’s definitely my life’s work. It’s the thing I am most proud of!

alex cf seek cover book

Are you putting any spiritual intention into your art?

No. I wouldn’t consider myself spiritual at all in the most common sense. I am an atheist, with a deep passion for science and natural history. But then again this word is very subjective. As a lover of fantastical worlds and make-believe, I feel a draw to the idea of hidden meaning, magic, occult, and nature worship. But this is much like being passionate about science fiction, you wish it was true, but it’s fun to imagine.

I have a fondness for “supposed” hidden knowledge, but I feel much of what is hidden isn’t hidden at all, it’s just waiting for us to find it. That is the wonderful thing about scientific discovery, we are exploring the makeup of the universe. That the natural world contains so many incredible traits, things evolved for their own use that could help us if we would just stop screwing it all up is entirely true.

I think spirituality can be applied to my perspective of nature as a means to use folklore to impart useful information to your descendants. Indigenous peoples found a way to be symbiotic with the land and through folklore and belief they passed that to their children. We have, in many ways completely abandoned community knowledge of how to live in sync with nature. At our own peril, sadly. Now we turn to the gods of harm for guidance, and look where that has got us!

Recently you did some creations based on HP Lovecraft works. How big were his world and novels are an inspiration for you?

I was introduced to Lovecraft via Edgar Allen Poe, and a fondness for the turn of the century literature, such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, MR James, Robert Chambers. Definitely a passion I have struggled with, in regards to his thoughts and beliefs. I think the work of authors who have re-contextualized his world through the lens of modern attitudes is clever, and it has made me consider how to take from his work what I love – that being hidden secret worlds and strange entities, and find my own cosmic horror. I began working on a project called the Book Of Venym, which will be part occult, part folklore, part cosmic horror, and also a weapon against the rise of fascism and hate.

alex cf eldritch prints
alex cf illustrative work The Orata

What is something you still aspire to achieve in your career?

I hope to somehow feel complete; don’t think this will ever happen!

Who has been the biggest inspiration in your life?

My friends and loved ones, my family who introduced me to so many wonderful fictional worlds when I was a kid, Brian Froud, Kevin Eastman, and Pete Laird, Tolkien, Arthur Rackham, Gustave Dore, Ernst Haeckel. Too many to name!

Alex, finally, can you reveal some of your next projects?

My main focus over the coming months will be the sequel to my first novel, entitled ‘Wretched is the husk” and the aforementioned ‘Book of Venym.’ I have just finished writing the lyrics to the next Morrow album, of which my dear friend David has created incredible music for. We have some other music projects in the wings, and I have started painting on canvas again, we shall see where that leads!

Alex CF Social Media Accounts

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Big Cartel

About Author

Julien Djoubri is a french art aficionado who lives in Amsterdam. He has been lulled by Pop-Culture and art since his childhood. He loves to share his overflowing love for everything related to illustration, photography, movies, and other oddities. He loves to wander in the galleries and discover new universes. His other major passion is to get lost on the bizarre part of the internet to discover new artists and their worlds.

1 Comment

  • Ernesto
    November 8, 2020 at 4:14 am

    Excellent! I came across Alex by reading about the Merrylin Museum, but I did not know he was such a great artist! Congratulations to him, I hope he continues with his excellent work.

    Reply

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