*Trigger warning: the topics of sexual abuse and eating disorders are referenced in this article.*
I was asked to exhibit in Milan, and I was called “the queen of horror” in Italy.
When the curator of the exhibition saw my paintings (with many red strokes representing blood), they asked me if I had ‘softer’ works. I explained to him, with difficulty, that blood is not only death, but it is what makes a body alive! And in the end, I happily exhibited my works. This is my style. And my love for what I paint will never make me a rich person in Italy (it has actually penalized me a lot). But fortunately, now art can be seen from all over the world with a click. And I’m taking all the satisfactions that come with that.” – Lilith Divine.
Lilith Divine and the realm of dark art
Dark Art is sometimes misunderstood. It can be seen as a “lesser” genre within the art world, given less respect than say, figurative or contemporary. It’s often associated with the moody goth, the emo, the weird, and the outsider. And this can all be true. But does this mean that dark art should be taken any less seriously? When Italian artist Lilith Divine shared her story with me above, it got me thinking once again about the limitations, which many dark artists struggle with. Often, the initial shock value can lead to viewers missing the deeper meaning in an artwork. Perhaps they need to read about the piece, process it, and then understand it better. I can argue that the same could be said about symbolism or visionary art. Perhaps, instead, a dark artwork is a raw expression of emotion or experience personal to the artist. But does a dark or macabre aesthetic mean a work should be any less meaningful?
Predominantly, the dark art scene is still a rather closed bubble. But things are changing and expanding. This is due to artists such as Lilith and her husband Konan who continue to spread their dark art wings unapologetically, and the connecting wonders of the internet. I, myself, first discovered their Madness Circus while perusing Instagram one afternoon!
Today, I share with you the story of the Madness Circus Tattoo Shop & Creative Art Lab. It is a place where echoes of the primal live comfortably. Homemade oil paints ground by hand are lit by lamps built with real animal bones and recycled objects. Steampunk creatures glisten proudly, surrounded by tattoos, illustrations, and bold paintings. The Madness Circus welcomes anyone who will keep an open mind and heart, and a deep respect for Mother Nature.
Madness Circus Tattoo Shop & Creative Art Lab
Lilith and Konan are both artists, working in paint and sculpture respectively, as well as running their tattoo studio. Lilith’s paintings and illustrations exude a raw, earthly energy which proudly celebrate her close connection to Mother Nature. She admits to having thousands of ideas, which would take many lifetimes to complete, but each day provides the possibility to move step closer to processing her experiences and putting them on to canvas.
Charmingly, both Lilith and Konan are incredibly hands-on artists. Lilith creates many of her paints from scratch herself. “My husband’s father was a great furniture restorer and carpenter.” She shares. “In the 80’s, he found very old earth pigments and used them for 40 years in his putty and paints. He died two years ago…in his memory, I decided to use his pigments in my paintings, so a part of him will always be with us. I feel like a 1500’s alchemist mixing walnut oil with lavender essence, oleo impasto medium and earth pigments. I go centuries back in time, and I am proud of every tube of colour that I fill. It is something unique that must never be wasted.”
Alongside this, Konan’s three-dimensional artworks are built by recycling materials scavenged and sourced, creating new life to abandoned objects. Konan’s studio is a place of regeneration and magic. His animalistic sculptures are an ode to steampunk, yet Konan is also a master woodworker and furniture maker. Through his creative vision, unique wooden and metal treasures – both decorative and functional – are born.
Additionally, a deep connection to nature is important to both Lilith and Konan.
People are waiting for an app that will make you smell the flowers, instead of opening the door, walk a little and look for them. Konan and I believe that we should go back to lying down on a lawn to have fun and relax instead of going on Facebook.
Learn how to grow a plant inside a pot and take care of a living creature instead of playing with the Happy Farm app. It’s a very long speech…but to summarise: rediscover who you really are. With real friends and real life. And distance yourself from followers, filters, false images, and everything that is just stupid appearance.
Dark art lighting two souls
Speaking with the duo, they shared with me how creating dark art has helped them to be their best selves. To live freely, creatively, and share their messages with the world in a powerful way – all through The Madness Circus.
The way in which this husband and wife support each other as artists is beautiful. “We work together in our tattoo studio, The Madness Circus. For everything else, it would be a dream to work in the same place – but I use oils and Konan uses sawdust, brass, and copper powder. It would be a big mess!” Laughs Lilith. “However, there is always an exchange of thoughts in our work. Konan looks at how I paint my animal skulls to correct his designs, anatomically speaking, for his steampunk creatures. In turn, he helps me with advice on my composition. Konan also builds me easels, frames, strange gadgets and wooden mechanisms that turn my studio into something almost alive!
“It’s not a rhetorical phrase, but we really are “One”. We’ve been living and working together 24/7 for eight years, and we’re still walking hand in hand at 46 as if we were 15. We complement and improve each other. This says everything about what love is for us.”
We are dreamers. And whatever happens to us, we will never stop dreaming, creating, and painting what we are.Lilith and Konan: The Madness Circus
Art is a savior
But even before these two artists met, art had played a large, healing part in Lilith’s life. “At 8, I lost my mom, and at 9 I was raped.” She explains. “I was abandoned, abused, and experienced many bad things while I just wanted to live in my woods. I started fighting the war for survival between anorexia and many other problems. The best gift, given by my father who was an Italian-American decorator and artist, were simple coloured pencils. Those pencils saved my life.
“I’ve always been an extremely shy person and drawing and painting was my way of ‘talking’: my ‘safe house’ from wickedness and bad things. Every time I felt I was done living, I’d find a pencil and paper and draw.”
When I didn’t have the money for even one colour, I crushed a flower, a leaf and a brick, mixed them with water to make watercolours, and drew.
Creating something that could make another person happy gave me a piece of energy. I understood that the gift that was given to me couldn’t die with me, but that it had to be cultivated. And that – I – saved my life. Many times.
“First, I was a self-taught artist. Then I graduated with full marks in 2001 at the Albertina Academy of Fine Arts in Turin, Italy. Meanwhile, my love for art and the predisposition for freehand drawing opened the doors to the world of tattooing. There were difficulties with the old Italian tattoo studios. They were dull and unwilling to teach – it seemed they were interested in me only because I was a young woman. So, I moved to Switzerland and as an apprentice, began to travel and tattoo. In 2007, I opened the Lilith Divine Tattoo Shop.”
A story of strength and a hope for the future
Lilith’s journey was not an easy one, but her drive to create art led her to owning her own tattoo parlour while also exhibiting her paintings. In 2013, she won the “Best Black and Gray” award at the Tattoo convention in Rome. Following that, invitations to the most prestigious tattoo conventions in the world didn‘t take long to arrive. Her dark art came to life on the flesh of people from Las Vegas, N.Y., Berlin, Frankfurt, London and beyond. In 2017, she opened the Madness Circus Tattoo Shop & Creative Art Lab with Konan – and they never looked back.
We try to survive every day creating and building something, always together.
I do believe that dark art is becoming a better-known genre, which is – finally – being taken more seriously by the wider art community. It is due to artists such as Lilith Divine and Konan (and their gloriously imaginative Madness Circus) which will keep pushing dark art into the limelight.
“I am always asked to tone down the dark and macabre tones in my works.” Shares Lilith. “But if I did so, I would distort what I am and what I transmit in my works. So instead, I prefer to sell less paintings, but stay true to myself and find the right customer. The customer base may be niche, but they appreciate my works and understand them.”
It is only when artists share their visions unapologetically that we can continue to move forward, both as artists and art lovers, as both roles live in equilibrium with each other. Art heals, and it shares stories and experiences. It gives a voice to those who would otherwise suffer quietly. Let us keep encouraging artists to find their own voices – and most importantly, celebrate when this happens, rather than asking them to tone it down.
Lilith Divine will be exhibiting as part of Darteweek in the historic city of Leece, Italy, from 7 – 14 July 2022. Darteweek is a city-wide exhibition, where original paintings will be exhibited in 7 specially selected historical buildings across Leece. For more information, follow Lilith and Konan below.