Featuring Pieces that inspired Never Speak, book one in the Murderous Arts Series.
I. RAY’S HOUSE
The protagonist of Never Speak is Ray Watts, a visual artist who lives above his gallery in Hudson, NY. Ray has gothic taste. His patron saint is Edgar Allen Poe, with whom he shares a weakness for absinthe. He of course lives in a Victorian house.
One like this one in Hudson, only narrow, sandwiched between other shops on the main drag of Hudson, Warren Street. Narrow, and somehow sentient…What would bring life, even a kind of self-awareness to a house? An eye.
II. RAY’S OCULUS
In Rome, Italy, I gaped up at the oculus of the Pantheon:
After that, as I traveled around Europe, I saw oculi everywhere.
“Oculus” is the term for a round, eye-like window. But it was when I read that one meaning of the Pantheon oculus is the “eye of God,” that I was certain Ray’s house had to have one.
III. RAY, IN EXTREMIS, STARES INTO HIS OCULUS….
And recalls this famous artwork:
M.C. Escher, Hand with reflecting sphere
(What extremis is Ray in? I’m not spoiling it.)
III. RAY DISCOVERS RELIQUARIES
First, in case you’re not clear, a reliquary is a container for the relics of religious saints. It typically holds bones, but can also house clothing, a heart or even an entire pickled corpse.
San Domenico, Bologna
Long ago in Bologna, Italy, before I’d ever thought of writing fiction, I visited this church filled with Renaissance treasures (in addition to the lovely fresco pictured above, this chapel has three sculptures by Michelangelo. Mozart played the organ here.)
But having a bit of the future Ray in me, what really excited me was this:
It’s a lovely thing, finely worked in solid gold. But inside of it is San Domenico’s head. A few days later, up the road in Modena I visited the Duomo. There, in the crypt, lying in a case I saw the entire body of San Geminianus.
These relics creeped me out, and the creeps lingered after I’d left the church and left Italy. I’d long been fascinated by the macabre, starting (like Ray) at age 12 by poring over the stories of Edgar Allen Poe. But now my head (happily still alive and attached to my neck) buzzed with questions.
Why had they put that head in that ornate jar? Why set the whole body of that other saint on display? Research on reliquaries revealed that people believe that some of the spiritual power of saints survives death and remains in their…remains. That power emanates from these relics. Get close enough to them and you can feel it, even own some of it. (Though I’d seen Catholic relics, this belief is widespread in other religions, such as Buddhism.)
I didn’t believe. Not quite. I certainly didn’t believe in eternal life. But I’d always wanted to. In truth I couldn’t quite explain my fascination with relics. And that kept it alive in me.
Three in one: Saints Vitale, Clemente and Modesto in the church of San Vincenzo in Italy
IV. RAY’S RELIQUARY PARODIES
Ray’s interest in the containers for relics leads him as an artist to want to create his own—reliquary parodies, modern takeoffs on the old ones. They’re a sub-set of assemblages, three dimensional collages made of found and created materials. The patron saint of this form and Ray’s inspiration for working in it is Joseph Cornell. Whenever I stumble on one of his little boxes in a museum I’m spooked out. Somehow the sum of their seemingly unrelated parts is spookier than the parts. Once you get to know Ray, you can see that this Cornell is right up his alley:
The inspiration for Ray’s first parody, “Rats” was a crucified mouse I found in a shop filled with whimsical art on Valencia Street in the San Francisco Mission. It was better than this ugly thing I found for sale online:
“Taxidermy Mouse on Crucifix Jesus Christ Unusual Gift Religious Goth Steampunk”
I’d already come up with Ray’s artworks when I saw this at the De Young Museum:
”Cathedral” by Al Farrow
This church is constructed of guns and ammunition, an example of the artist’s commentary on the history of religion and violence. I was excited. I felt like I had a finger on the pulse of this obscure corner of the art world, and that this piece might have escaped from Ray’s gallery into a real museum. Farrow has a reliquary section on his website. He doesn’t call them parodies, but that’s what they are.
Another Farrow I found online. And I found this:
“Cold War Reliquary” by Dale Cox
V. RAY’S MASTERPIECE
Before Ray discovered reliquaries, he was already interested in bones. As a kid, one of his favorite toys was the visible man model:
He’d assembled it and painted it, his first job as an artist.
Years later he found a cow pelvis in the house he and his partner Liz were about to buy:
Liz takes Ray to Rome. He likes his bones, but when he sees this in the Capuchin Crypt, he wonders if the monks who made this haven’t taken it too far:
(Photo by Dnalor_01 on Wikimedia Commons license CC-BY-SA 3.0)
Those bones haunt him thorughout the plane ride home. Then he sees this in the Metropolitan Museum in New York:
Michael Redlin, Amber casket
As he dozes on the train back to Hudson, the bones of Rome come together with the amber of the casket and that old visible man, and his masterpiece the Bathroom Installation is born.
I’d love to show it here, but it only lives in my imagination. And on the pages of my novel,Never Speak, available on Amazon here: http://geni.us/neverspeak