E. Thor Carlson Logo Top
Home PageAbout the ArtistSite SearchReviews & ExhibitionsWork in CollectionsSite Specific MuralsClient Design ProposalsLord of the Rings ArtDante's Inferno ArtFantastic ImagesFine Art PortraitsPaintingsFine Art PastelsArt DrawingsFine Art AbstractsArt SculptureArt TapestryFiber ArtFine Art Technique BooksFine Art LessonsContact UsAbout this SiteLinks Page


Dante's Inferno Art > Dante's Inferno Art Review


Dante's Inferno Art Review



Review from the Worcester Telegram
Sept 22, 2004

By Craig S. Semon


Inferno sparks Artist

Images of terror, torture inspired by Dante's Poetry


Fitchburg.-- Despite being hung in a clean, well-lighted space, the current exhibit at Fitchburg State College's Hammond Gallery resembles the old "Night Gallery" television series with its scenes of torture, torment and terror.

But instead of master story teller Rod Serling stalking in the shadows and E. Thor Carlson at Dante's Inferno Exhibitcreeping up behind you, patrons had master multimedia artist E. Thor Carlson chatting up a storm on "Dante's Inferno: Visual Images from Hell" during the show's recent opening.

"I like showing them in this space. It's an intimate space", Mr. Carlson said. "Some gallery spaces are so huge. Things get lost."

The bespectacled Gardner native, who calls Newport, N.H. his home, brought a calming, rather than a chilling effect, to the surroundings with his telling words, vibrant images and vigor for life.

"These new images were inspired by the poetry of the 'Inferno', which is the beginning of a three-part poem, now called 'The Divine Comedy' by Dante Alighieri," Mr. Carlson explained. "He called it merely 'La Commedia'. At that time, the word comedy meant that it had a happy conclusion rather than a foolish one."

Previous translations of 'La Commedia' never satisfied Mr. Carlson, he said, and Longfellow's heavy-handed English version, he added, would put him to sleep.

Finally, in the form of a new Italian-English translation by Michael Palma, (published in 2003), Mr. Carlson found a version that captured Dante's original vision without losing the richness of its poetic structure.

"He (Palma) has managed to use Dante's pentameter and rhyme," Mr. Carlson said. "And I recommend it to anyone wanting to enjoy this dismal trip, if that is possible, in English, with triple rhyming verses, just as Dante's Italian."

Inferno: A New Verse Translation by Michael Palma While the exhibition is based on Dante's masterwork, depicting these images is Mr. Carlson's reaction as an artist to the madness of war, he said, with inspiration drawn, sadly, from the recent invasion of Iraq.

"The verses from Hell, through poetry, create for me images of the lost souls, the lost causes and the futility of the human condition in time of war," Mr. Carlson continued. "War is Hell. War is abhorrent. It solves nothing. There has to be a better way!"

Mr. Carlson admitted that he's not the first artist to be inspired and to capture the infernal images that Dante imagined.

In addition to early illustrated manuscripts by unknown 14th century artists, Dante's immortal text has been celebrated by artists such as Sandro Botticelli, William Blake, Auguste Rodin, Gustav Dore and Rico Lebrun.

As did his predecessors, Mr. Carlson started with images of Dante and later, Virgil, his tour guide through Hell, within the described settings.

He later had the epiphany that the viewers would be more directly involved if they witnessed these horrific images first-hand.

Mr. Carlson said he wanted the viewer to get the feeling that he was looking through Dante's eyes.

"Most of the illustrated versions I have seen have Dante and Virgil in every single illustration and has less impact to them. My desire was to hit you in the eyes with these rather dreadful scenes because there is nothing pleasant about the Inferno and it was never intended to be pleasant."

Mr. Carlson subjectively chose an image or two from each canto, which he said he feels has power and is visually archetypal.

Cerberus by E. Thor Carlson

"Of the 34 canti in 'Inferno', I have but scratched the surface," he said. "Moreover, still yet to do are the other two parts of the 'La Commedia', the 'Pergatorio' and the 'Paradiso' with 34 more cantos each."

Mr. Carlson started his Inferno series as drawings using Cennino's toned paper with black charcoal and white chalk, then he went to black and white sgraffito (scratchboard) before shifting to paint and canvas.

"I chose to use acrylic rather than oil because (with) acrylic I can duplicate the old egg tempera technique in modern materials," he said. "It's a very fast way of working, as opposed to oil, which you very often have to wait for several weeks sometimes for it to dry. It enables me to work much faster while the idea is still hot."

Some of the images of hell are so "hot" that one might singe their eyebrows if they look too close.

Dante's Inferno Everlasting Fire by E. Thor Carlson
Everlasting Fire

With titles that include "The Door to Gloomy Hell Is Always Open", "Behold Satan, the Emperor of the Realm of Misery", "The Perpetual Fires", "The Fearsome Wood", "A Dark and Savage Wood", and "The Wood of the Suicides", Mr. Carlson gets his point across. Still, the artist can't resist playing Devil's advocate.

"It's very experimental," he said. "There are some things about it that I am very pleased with and others that I'm already thinking about doing over in a different way."

But the exhibit is not all fire and brimstone.

While the Dante's "Inferno" segment is making its debut, there are other recent, less hellish, works on display.

One work which was done in the 1980's (and in oils) but could easily fit in the "Inferno"/ "Night Gallery" vein is "The Watchers of Armageddon".

"It resulted actually from a dream in which these "people" were watching the destruction of Planet Earth. I happen to think that we are not alone in the universe, so this my interpretation. It's not a pretty subject. It never intended to be," Mr. Carlson said. "I guess there is part of me that keeps wanting to try to make images that have impact and there's the other half that wants to make peaceful things."

Portrait of the Artist as an Old Tree by E. Thor Carlson
Portrait of the Artist as an Old Tree

A more whimsical work with its roots firmly planted in the ground is the painting "Portrait of the Artist as an Old Tree".

"That, for me is a survivor," he surmised. I'm about to turn 80 in another year and I have been painting since I was 10.

The 1943 graduate of Gardner High School said he is touched by the fact that younger generations seem to respond to his work.

"That gives me a lot of energy and I'm always happiest it seems that young people don't bat an eye at these things," he said. "I think Hell is what we create ourselves."





Home - What's New
Site Search - Site Map 
 -  Contact Us

Page End Graphic

Copyright © 2007-2016 EThorCarlson.com.
All rights reserved.

Web site by Wild Goose Web Design

Privacy Policy