The eye that illustrates the cover of Shae Detar’s Another World reminds me of a scene from Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain where a character who looks like Christ steps naked into the domain of someone called the Alchemist. Like everything else in the film, the moment radiates secret and symbolism. The entryway to the Alchemist’s throne is the mind’s eye. And beyond that threshold, the line between the sacred and profane disappears. Only the psychedelic remains, which isn’t just some hippy dippy way of saying, It’s all so far out, man. It’s a way of describing something primary about creativity: psychedelic, from the Greek ψυχή (soul, mind) + δηλοῦν (to manifest). A manifestation of the mind—which doesn’t roll off the tongue like Detar’s title, but you get the connection.
Like Jodorowsky’s film, Another World takes nature’s most recognizable figures (bodies, rocks and caverns, rivers, streams, trees) and, in true psychedelic fashion, exalts them.
In this, one of the opening images, a woman summits what might be the same holy mountain I was thinking about. Her body is shadow, mere form among forms. But her face repeats the shape of the sun (you see the sun center left of the stone?). Which begs a question. What light lights up her face, turned away as it is from the primary source? But then I can’t help but think, everything primary accounts for itself: stone, sun, body, and the compositional triangle (primary among shapes) whose apex hosts the Alchemist’s throne (are we seeing it now?), the mind’s eye.
Even with the use of color (watercolor and acrylic), Detar favors what’s primary. Yellows, reds, blues.
Add to this the thematic refrain of women at the heart of primary stories: Persephone (out of underworld, the depths, the caves), Aphrodite (out of the foam, the sea), Gaia (out of Chaos).
Then again, there’s something either in myself or in the book (to be honest, I’m not sure I can tell which is which) that wants to resist those associations, not for a lack of relevance, but for the sake of what makes Detar’s work psychedelic, which is to say, representative of one artist’s imagination, unique among competing narratives.
Some of that quality has to do with technique, certainly: the choice of color (the crayon-box-ness of it, the innocent indulgence in apples and lemons and blueberries), the pairing of color to form (detached and preternatural), the arrangement of form against form (granite/skin, leaves/legs), and so on. But I’m also thinking of expression and how there’s so much more in the faces of these human beings than the ecstasy of St. Theresa.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of ecstasy here. But there’s also satisfaction, curiosity, introspection, amusement, suspicion, indifference, and understanding. That’s what really grabs my attention. The book itself is otherworldly, true; but what’s also true is that each person in the book is another world unto herself.
A beautiful production by Skeleton Key Press. (Check out my review of Russell Joslin’s Alone Forever Sometimes, another great book from this publisher.) Also, I think I’d be committing some sort of crime if I didn’t recommend Antony and the Johnson’s “Another World” as the proper soundtrack for Detar’s book.
by Shae Detar
Skeleton Key Press, 2022
9.1 x 11.4 in
136 pages, 65 color plates
Edition of 450