Interview with Brigid Marlin for the “Science and Religion” magazine

Oleg Korolev


Added on May 23, 2020

Interview (a full text) with Brigid Marlin for the “Science and Religion” magazine; Moscow, Russia ( “Наука и Религия” N12/2019 www.наука-религия.рф ) taken by Oleg Korolev on behalf of the publishing and prepared by Dmitry Zhukov ( Дмитрий Жуков)


Oleg Korolev

Dear Brigid, you, being one of the most famous visionary artists in the world, as well as a founder of the “Art of Imagination society”, organizer of the countless art exhibitions, in reality represent not only a private artistic personality but a real cultural phenomenon of the “visionary culture” in the global meaning. Don’t you think that this particular art movement has become a spiritual alternative to the Modernists mainstream in Arts of the second part of 20 century and later to the Post-Modernism of the Contemporary Art, which has been directly or indirectly sponsored financially and informationaly by certain structures of the establishment? I ask you, because you being a thinker, writer and philosopher and your family, which consists mostly of the famous authors and professors of the American and Canadian univercities, representing a real intellectual elite of the West, just could be informed as insiders. I even do not mention here all your famous friends in the Art and cinema spheres, as well as politicians and nobility, which awareness and opinions for sure could be shared in your close circle.

Brigid Marlin

Your opening description of me is very flattering, but it is true that I was one of the first to found a Society especially to promote Visionary and Fantastic art around the world ; “The Society for Art of Imagination.” This Society has expanded and has arranged Exhibitions world-wide for over 50 years, and helped many artists, working in isolation, to feel that they were part of an International Art family. To begin with, it might be interesting to study the origins and growth of Visionary and Imaginative Art: Art of Imagination is two-fold. It is the “art” – the skill and techniques evolved over centuries – and the “imagination” by which we mean the vision of the artist which lifts the work of art above the ordinary, and gives it a life of its own. This combination of art and vision has run like a silver thread through time and manifested at different periods throughout the history of humankind’s creativity.
The first Visionary paintings were early Christian paintings begun in the catecumins in Rome, but developing in Byzantium into beautiful icons, full of spiritual power. When Icon painting began in Russia, the greatest artist there was Andrei Rublev, He was born in the 1360’s and died on January 29th 1430.
In the western world Hieronymus Bosch (c1450-1516) painted visions which were full of a dark and surreal power and then the Italian Renaissance produced the poetic paintings of Sandro Botticelli (c1444- 1510); the mystical beauty of the works of Piero della Francesca (c1415 -1492) and the powerful and enigmatic works of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519).
The Flemish and Dutch Schools gave rise to Pieter Breughel the Elder (1525-1569) who gave a broad allegorical meaning to his landscapes, and Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), who did paintings of great religious intensity. In England William Blake (1757- 1827) was a poet and artist of visionary of genius.
At the end of the 19th Century the Pre-Raphaelite Brethren formed themselves in England to return to the sincerity of the Early Renaissance (before Raphael developed his “grand” manner). The three most prominent members were Sir John Everett Millais (1829-1896), William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1892).
At the same time the Symbolists in France explored the exotic world of dreams. Begun by Gustave Moreau (1826- 1898) the movement embraced Odilon Redon (1840-1916) and Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). Other artists in the Symbolist school were Norwegian Edvard Munch (1863-1944), and Austrian Gustav Klimt (1862- 1918). Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890) was a powerful visionary, but not part of any movement, he was too individual.
The Surrealist Movement was created in France after the first World War by artists and writers who were influenced by the horrors of the war and by their interest in the writings of Sigmund Freud. They were introspective, interested in exploring the subconscious. The most notable were Max Ernst (1891-1976), founder of Dada, Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1974), and Rene Magritte (1898-1967). Salvador Dali (1904-1989), with his dark dream paintings, became the most famous. In the USA Georgia O’Keeffe (1887- 1986) painted with a mystical intensity that was to influence many younger painters in America.
In 1945 the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism was formed after the Second World War when a group of young artists banded together. They were Erich Brauer, Ernst Fuchs, Rudolf Hausner, Wolfgang Hutter and Anton Lehmden, all marked by the horrors of the recent war.
The founder of the group was Ernst Fuchs (1930 –2015 ) whose work reflected the terrible experiences of living through Nazi occupation in the war. After the war ended Ernst attended the Vienna Academy of Art and there discovered that techniques were no longer being taught. He journeyed to Paris and there began his research and experimentation which resulted in his rediscovery of the Mische Technique, one of the secrets of the Renaissance; a way of painting with egg-tempera and oil glazes which made the picture absolutely permanent. After an Exhibition of his work in this technique in Paris in 1954, Ernst Fuchs’ fame spread abroad, and young artists from all over the world came to learn this technique, which he generously shared with all those who could learn from him.
A few years later many artists from America came to study with Fuchs. They included Bob Venosa, Mati Klarwein and Brigid Marlin, and later Oleg Korolev. They were joined by artists from as far away as Japan, Russia and Israel, and a new World-wide Art Movement was formed.
As the popularity of Freud and Jung grew, with a growing interest in psychiatry led to artists becoming inward-looking, exploring their inner worlds, and experiencing a growing alienation from society.
The cult of the individual became supreme. Instead of Schools of Art giving rise to, and developing new talent, the concept came in of every artist as a lone genius; freedom to express oneself seemed the only important thing.
In our day the artists are often seeking media attention until now it is the artist as artist that is the real exhibit. The human ego writ large has replaced the former great asperations of art.
In a more ideallistic age John Ruskin (1819- 1900) wrote, “What we want art to do for us is to stay what is fleeting, and to enlighten what is incomprehensible, to incorporate the things that have no measure, and immortalise the things that have no duration.”
One unexpected consequence of Modernism is that the spiritual and universal quality of art has been lost.
With the lack of a common aim, the sense of a brotherhood among professional artists has disappeared. Each artist is trying to find an individual answer to the question “What is Art?”. At the very dawn of Modernism the writer, Leo Tolstoy (1828- 1910) wrote, “We must distinguish art from counterfeit art. A real work of art destroys the separation between himself and the artist, and even between himself and all those others who also appreciate this art.“[But now..] Instead of art which feeds the spirit, an empty and often vicious art is set up, which hides from us our need for true art. And true art for our time would demand the union of all people without exception – above all virtues it sets brotherly love to all men.
As a result of lack of direction, Art schools are no longer teaching either drawing or the craft and techniques of painting and sculpture. Talented young artists are driven to despair as they find no real instruction is given to them, and no respect is accorded to the methods developed over time. If action is not taken, the skills that have taken centuries to evolve will in due course disappear completely! Yes I have not mentioned the important developments of Visionary Art in Russia. What was happening there along with the Icon painting?

Oleg Korolev

Thank you for the review… In Russia, though we had a very strong mystical tradition of art which was not limited by the icon painting. Nicholas Kalmakoff worked in 10s years of the 20 century. In Paris there is a museum devoted to his art, and I find that he has influenced Ernst Fuchs. In the “Silver Age” we had Mikhail Vrubel, the symbolism which by all reasons could be described today as visionary artist. I guess you are aware of Nikolai Roerich and his sons, who explored Tibet and as they stated they reached Schambala. Their followers from the mystical art group “Amaravella” terribly prosecuted and imprisoned in the Stalin times. Also we may recall Pavel Tchelitchew and Eugene Berman, who have become immigrants. Tchelitchew, whose art work activity took place at the very beginning of 20th century heavily influenced a famous American artist Alex Grey, which wrote about this fact : “The Russian painter Pavel Tchelitchew was one of the great visionary artists of the 20th century (his obsession with anatomy and mysticism relates also to my own work). Tchelitchew’s paintings evolved through metamorphic symbolism to x-ray anatomical figures glowing with inner light, and eventually progressed to luminous, abstract networks.” In 20th century we had Evgeny Spassky, Vitaly Linitsky, Alexander Kharitonov, Vladislav Provotorov working under a strong Soviet ideological press. So, the art movement which we had in Russian Empire
and which later continued in the USSR obviously was a sort of a spiritual resistance to the dictatorship of Bolshvik materilism, to the “theomachy regime”.


Brigid Marlin

“Thankyou, that is very infomative! Itis a shame that most people in the West are not aware of the history of Visionary Art in Russia.

Oleg Korolev

Now I’d like to discuss somethig else; Meantime, currently we have the Contemporary Art dominating and even dictating it’s Post-Modernists ideology worldwide and Visionary Art is marginalized by the beau monde. Don’t you think that the same militant atheist a la Bolsheviks now rules with world Art processes in the USA and the West in general? In Russia they are also very influential. I am aware of your friendship with Ernst Fuchs, as well as the fact that you knew many great artists and thinkers, like film director Stanley Kubrick… I know that you are familiar even with Dalai Lama and Queen mother of the Great Britain. You even painted their official portraits! I bet you were speaking about art philosophy. What all of them said about sponsors of Post-Modernism and their intentions concerning this world? Let’s start with Ernst Fuchs and Stanley Kubrick and if you wish please continue with others. Please tell us about their views.

Brigid Marlin

I am very sorry to disappoint you but not all my sitters were interested in discussing the Art situation in the world today! Stanley Kubrick was a genius, but a highly focussed one. He was obsessed with whatever film he was working on. He had an enormous knowledge about films and anything to do with films, and he loved his wife Christiane dearly and loved her paintings, but in general his mind was only occupied with films and film-making. However, the film “How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb’ was his comment on the dangers of nuclear war. Ernst Fuchs was in complete contrast to Stanley. Ernst admired Stanley’s work and was very flattered when Stanley asked permission to use his etching of two tablets with writing on them for his movie, “2001, a Space Odessey” (Ernst Fuchs first met Stanley Kubrick in person at the first Opening Exhibition of “The Society for Art of Imagination” artists in the Mall Gallery London.) Ernst Fuchs was very aware of the degrading of Art in the world, and the loss of both spiritual and technical values in the art that was being produced. This is why he welcomed the artists that came to him to learn the Old Master Techniques and when a pupil succeeded he would rub his hands in glee and say, “Another artist saved from the terrible art being created in the modern world.” Fuchs worked very hard all his life to promote serious art; even as an art student he founded “The Vienna School of Fantastic Realism” which became famous. He wrote a book called (in English) “The Hidden Prime of Styles” which warned about the dangers of artists following money and fame, and how a country is later on judged by it’s art; and if the artists are not working and following their best ideals, that country can go down in history as base and uncivilized. Later Fuchs opened an art gallery to show the art of his friends and pupils, then he opened a Museum to show his paintings and furniture designs. He became very well- known in Austria and designed and painted Churches, and other buildings. He upheld the standard of art against all the degraded art being produced, and his name will be remembered forever.

Oleg Korolev

I would presume that perhaps Stanley Kubrick has answered to all the questions with his last film “Eyes Wide Shut”. At least he has discovered a hidden nature of the elites and we may easily understand their spiritual and moral values as well as their tastes in Arts. As for Ernst Fuchs, when I cooperated with him, helping to with a mural in Klagenfurt’s Chapel of Apocalypse, which he actually produced for 20 years, I remember him never missing a single church service by Sundays. He prayed very deeply. He was a every devoted Catholic Christian. In my opinion Visionary Art this is a sort of a subversive action of the Spirit in this world. And when he said : “Another artist saved from the terrible art being created in the modern world.” he meaned, perhaps, that it was a sort of initiation and joining to the struggle of the Spirit. Could you please tell about your own spiritual views, practice and experience?

Brigid Marlin

My spiritual beliefs as a Catholic, joined easily with Ernst Fuchs beliefs, but where he enlightened me was when he told me how his beliefs joined with his inspiration, which he felt came from a high source. He told me once that he had been an unbeliever, and then one time he was struck down like St Paul by a vision and then he knew there was a God, and he became a Christian – a Catholic. I gradually got to know about Ernst Fuchs’ faith by studying with him. When I first saw his work in Paris, I made a vow that one day I would go and study with him, and after a few years the dream came true. Fuchs invited me to come to Vienna and learn the Mische technique.I found myself walking past large old grey buildings. Inside one of these I entered a dark vaulted hall, where stairs spiralled upwards. Fuchs lived at the top floor. Gasping for breath after the climb, I rang the bell. A jolly maid in an apron opened the door.She led me to a large studio filled with golden light from the setting sun, where a man in an oriental cap sat working. He looked up as I came in. I saw a beautiful face, very pale and finely chiselled, with dark piercing eyes and a black beard. “So you are Brigid!” he greeted me with a smile. I was overwhelmed. All around me were strange paintings; some exquisitely beautiful,some horrific. “I can’t believe I’m here!” I said, and to my embarrassment two large tears jumped out and rolled down my cheeks. Ernst Fuchs looked concerned and asked the maid to bring me coffee and sandwiches, which steadied me. He told me to come next day. Next morning I arrived while Fuchs was still having his breakfast. “It’s the early bird waiting for her worm!” he joked. He gave me a small wooden gesso panel and I had to decide what subject to work on. He offered me a statue, but I needed something more personal. I caught sight of my worried face in his mirror behind a vase of peacock feathers. “Can I do a self-portrait with peacock feathers?” I asked. “Of course .” said Fuchs and he brought a little mirror and peacock feathers for me to work from. I drew my composition in pencil on the board, and outlined it in indian ink. Then Fuchs coated the board with a red ground. I asked why red, and he said, “When you paint the white egg-tempera against the red, it gives the effect of blue. You can see this is you spill milk on a red table – it looks pale blue.. So gradually the painting becomes opalescent, like the bloom on a plum.” I then tried to paint with the egg tempera on the red board with little brush strokes. The tempera had to be mixed with water, and I couldn’t get the hang of it. If I used too much water it separated out into little droplets, but if I used too little the tempera stayed in little lumps and refused to flow. I flung down my brush in despair. Ernst Fuchs heard my groans and came and sat down and did a few brush-strokes on my painting, and then I tried to imitate his strokes.. I saw that before trying to paint, you needed to mix the egg tempera with a little water to the consistency of indian ink, then it could be applied in the right way. Holding my breath I tried to make my brush strokes as delicate as his, and I worked intensely, determined not to lose this opportunity to learn. Finally the whole board was coated with the first layer of egg tempera. and had to be left to dry. So Fuchs took me out for a Viennese coffee to celebrate. He asked me about my family, and I said how hard it was sometimes to go on painting when my work didn’t seem to be appreciated and my husband and so many of my neighbours thought art was a ‘useless’ occupation. Fuchs stroked his beard thoughtfully. “It depends on what you call useful! All our writing originally derived from picture-making. Civilisations are characterised by their art. But I believe art can be more than that, it can be a prophecy, a message from a higher world. The artist can be the medium through whom the message comes.” “Is this what we usually call inspiration?” I asked. “Yes, inspiration is being contacted by spirits. In fact we are always being contacted by spirits, good and bad. If you do something by inspiration, you do it to a pattern which is pre-existent. Michelangelo expressed this when he said that the statue was always there, hidden in the marble, he only helps to set it free. The artist succeeds to a greater or lesser extent, according to his gift.” “When you say we are contacted by spirits, do you mean angels?” I asked, but then because I was young and didn’t want to sound childish, I felt it would be more sophisticated to talk of ‘forces of nature’. Ernst Fuchs looked at me severely. “No, an angel is a creature like any other. Angels can descend as messengers and be seen or dreamt of. Some people are gifted to see that which is invisible to others.” “So when you paint your visions that means you can make them visible to others!” He nodded . “Yes, I am attempting to make the invisible visible! These things are there, and I try to represent them for people who cannot see them. I have no choice actually; it’s like being under a power greater than myself. When I paint I am painting something I don’t know, until it becomes clear and takes shape. Then I realise what it is. There is a connection between prophecy and painting. I have revelations and I give myself to them.” “But there are a lot of people who do not accept the supernatural.” I said, “Even whole countries! How does your art reach them?” “There are those who believe that they can order the world themselves and only allow the art of their way of living, or who believe man can live without art. Some States call themselves ‘People’s Democracies ‘ but they sentence artists to death, or banish them to be safe from disturbance. They make an idol of their ‘State’ which is a political fiction, and want to force the artist to create images of worship to it in order to prove its reality. It is not by chance that such forms of State art are without art and do not participate in the developing movements of art (unless through their emigrants.).” “In fact”, he added, “I believe that the State should not employ the artist; instead the artist should create his art as an individual expression of his obligation to the State. Nothing is more inefficient than the art created under official criticism , which disarms and levels everything – until there is no surprise or stumbling-block left. Their ‘monuments’ become invisible in the future. This is the terrible fate of art which yields to the objection of the masses. But the fate of a people which make the artist yield is still more terrible. They die without a spirit, without commemoration; they decline without a monument, denied by their descendants!” His eyes flashed in anger. I was impressed. “Perhaps our civilisation will have machines as their monuments.” I said.”Do you think there is a danger of us all becoming enslaved by these machines?”Ernst Fuchs paused and considered. “I think that the machine can only be overcome and dominated if it liberates man to do specific work which cannot be done by machine. Only he whom the machine does not set free for nobler work is in danger of being enslaved by it. In fact machines are now triumphing over man’s spirit. Man has turned to worship an idol of steel and fire. The art of today has become technical science; the plastic arts- photography and film.”He looked at me thoughtfully. “You see, the age-old magical act of the true artist was to give eternal duration to one appearance instead of all this moving multiplicity. The artist’s desire was to raise the transitory for eternal contemplation.” I felt supported by this talk. Ernst Fuchs’ ideas were backed up by his own incredible paintings. But could I reach the same level of inspiration, and would I be able to learn this technique in such a short time? I realised it was now or never. I had to prove myself as a painter. At home I was always being interrupted by children or household duties; here I had no excuse. If I couldn’t produce a good painting under these circumstances, I would never produce one. On the next day, Fuchs covered my painting with a yellow oil glaze. This was put on very thinly, so that the egg tempera shone through in yellows and golds, while the reds came through as orange. Now Fuchs told me that here was a chance to improve my work. I must go over the painting, working much more finely in egg tempera than before. I was annoyed to hear that I had to improve the work I’d toiled over so painstakingly, but on studying it I had to admit that there was room for improvement. Then I saw what I lacked; self-discipline. Suddenly I felt I must stop depending on tranquilisers. At that moment I resolved to give them up for good. That morning I set to work with new energy. After this egg- tempera layer was complete, Fuchs showed me how to put on the blue glaze- the final over-all glaze. This created an amazing effect- the painting suddenly looked opalescent and mysterious. I was entranced. When it was dry and I could work on it again Fuchs told me this was the last chance to improve even more my egg tempera brush-strokes. I bit back my annoyance again. Feeling that he was a slave-driver I set out once again to work even more finely. With my smallest brush I put on the brush-strokes, holding my breath for fear of destroying what I had already built up. When this layer of egg-tempera was complete, I couldn’t imagine how to finish, but Fuchs threw me a challenge. “Now you paint it with oil colours. You know how to paint, don’t you?” “Yes, but I’m afraid I’ll mess up what I’ve already done…” “Then don’t mess it up! Put on each local colour as delicately and transparently as we did the glazes.” I tried but at first I kept getting into a mess. Fuchs had to keep coming to rescue me. “The trouble with this technique is that you can’t make a mistake!” I grumbled.. “Oh yes you can!” said Fuchs.. “You can?” “Yes, you can make a mistake, you can scribble over it, you can burn it up!” He snickered into his beard at his own joke. On the last day before I was due to leave Fuchs had to go out, and he left me painting in the studio, desperately trying to finish. When I made a mistake, I remembered how he had rescued me before, and then suddenly I began to understand the whole process, and was able to go on by myself. At last, after a long stretch of painting I finished, and stood back, surprised. The painting looked as if it had been done by magic, as if it had sprung up, overnight! At that moment Ernst Fuchs came in and stood behind me. I waited, but he said nothing for a long time. Then I felt his hand on my shoulder. “I congratulate you, Brigid, this is well done! I didn’t think anyone could have done a painting in this technique in so short a time!” I had to leave the painting to dry overnight and I returned next morning to collect it on my way to the airport. Ernst Fuchs gave it to me with a surprise present. He had put it in a beautiful gold frame! It was hard to say goodbye to this man who had given me so much of his time and so much friendship.
In return I resolved never to forget what I had learned from him, and to pass it on to other artists when I could.

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