© 2022



TEXT Vega Brennan
Fictional Moths by Vega Brennan
Baldwinholme, Carlisle, Cumbria

I am in the process of creating moths using Rorsach ink blots, layering up colour. I use colours and forms that connect to ideas of sickness, pollution, corruption, otherness. The coated paper and the viscosity of the ink (and how much alcohol it contains) create dendritic patterns that in turn look like feathers, ruffles, veins, staining or fur. The patterns mirror each other in minute detail.

The work becomes performative. I concentrate on the gestures and the pressure of my fingertips. I take the paper over to the window and look at the sheen of the ink, how it drips when I tilt the page. I work quickly, making branches of a evolutionary tree where one moth generates another in form and colour, speeded-up mutations dependent on the ink on my palette and brush. I create a moth-house of fluttering, varied shapes that are shuffled around like playing cards.

Layers of ink, translucent and opaque in turn, transform unpromising starting points into species that appear to have their own weight and existence outside of the flatness of the paper and their liquid genesis. This is the simplest form of printing: where one side mirrors the other and vice versa. The ink transfers from both sides and each is equally the matrix and the receiving surface.

I reject very few ink blot drawings. I do not know the outcomes and leave the judging until I have completed a series. The weighting of my criteria for keeping a drawing are varied but can be categorised with these questions:

  • Does it look like a real moth?
  • Is it too pretty?
  • How would it survive alongside an illegal activity? What would be its food, its behaviours? What smells, lights, chemicals would attract it?

I work on a small scale, only a little larger than the linocuts I intend to make. In comparison to making the ink drawings, the process of making a reduction linocut is slow, methodical and difficult. The fluidity of the ‘real moths’ is transformed into a problem-solving exercise with layers, colour gradients and the imprecision of the human hand. Shapes are flattened out and simplified when I repeatedly try (and fail) to match the complexity and subtlety of the ‘original’. The use of xuan paper is expedient: comprised of rice grass, it is absorbent, thin and soft as skin. I start out printing by hand but eventually I move over to the large cast-iron relief press ‘made of bridge parts’. I brace my feet against the floor and listen to the thunk and pull of the cammed elbow mechanism to create a tiny blodge of colour on tissue-thin paper.

The reproduction becomes the only referent and akin to publications of the early entomologists and biologists who shared their New World discoveries with their peers. A Chinese whisper of images and degradations. Hic sunt Dracones. The moths speak of worlds that do not yet exist, or maybe worlds that exist even now that we have yet to discover or may never discover.

The fictional moths become the silent, beautiful evidence of illegal night-time activities of humans. The Moon Glory flutters around semi-urban wooded carparks with its steamed-up windscreens and attracted to the torchlight and fumy breath of the onlookers. Mottled Jack-Under-The-Hedge camouflages itself amongst the primary colours of shattered and discarded plastic toys and stained mattresses, mimicking the floral designs on the polyester ticking. NO NAME clings to the spatter-sprayed concrete walls of back-alleys. Looped Phyrric is almost undetectable, laying its eggs on warm and dusty circuit boards and folding its wings on flickering screens, attracted to the hormones and smell of white men in dark suits, wet-dreaming of nuclear strikes.

These moths do not care about us but we should be frightened of them. They are not metaphors or analogies for our limited human psyches. Their monstrosity lies not in their size, their ability to kill or their dirty habits. Their very existence is monstrous.

And they don’t give a fuck about beauty.

Looped Phyrric, reduction linocut on Xuan paper, image size 50 x 70mm, paper size 180 x 250, edition of 10

NO NAME, reduction linocut on Xuan paper, image size 50 x 70mm, paper size 180 x 250, edition of 10

Mottled Jack-Under-The-Hedge, reduction linocut on Xuan paper, image size 50 x 70mm, paper size 180 x 250, edition of 10

Moon Glory, reduction linocut on Xuan paper, image size 50 x 70mm, paper size 180 x 250, edition of 10

Charred Carpet, reduction linocut on Xuan paper, image size 50 x 70mm, paper size 180 x 250, edition of 10

Cutsword, reduction linocut on Xuan paper, image size 50 x 70mm, paper size 180 x 250, edition of 10

All of the above to be published as a book with letterpress, limited edition of 6, The Real and Fictional Moths of the Solway Mosses. Publication date to be confirmed.

Reading list

Borges, J. L., The Book of Imaginary Beings, London: Vintage, 2002

Harman, G., Object Oriented Ontology: A new theory of everything, London: Penguin, 1981

Sennet, R., The Craftsman, London: Penguin, 2008

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