Meticulous Red-Ink Illustrations Tell Mystical Stories
Fin Simonetti’s drawings will affect you on the subconscious level—starting with the color.
The Pisser, pen on paper. Courtesy of Interstate Projects.
Sex, pain, piss, goats, and garbage: it's all here in the deftly detailed, deeply symbolic red-ink drawings of Fin Simonetti, a.k.a., FIN.
It can be hard to look at these initially; all that red confuses the eyes. Once you slow down and look deeper, you can make out complex arrangements of symbols and subjects. Women appear vignetted in poses and situations that seem somewhat familiar, maybe Gorey-esque. It's all evocative of something you've seen before… but where?
"Each figure has a different and specific intention," Simonetti tells Creators. "Sometimes they are references to historical or literary figures… but they are never specific 'people,' rather they stand in for ideas or images." In other words, they are meant to look familiar, to conjure up visual memories from your red-aggravated brain.
The color red is a stimulant that makes your visual brain go into overdrive, causing an instantaneous physiological reaction. Red brings lots of cultural baggage, too: danger, aggression, desire. But for Simonetti, the most interesting cultural reference is to the humiliating red pen most Westerners encountered in school: "The teacher marks your homework in red pen. it's not necessarily an art material and that appeals to me—it's more used as a corrective tool."
A lot of work is about interpretation: how we perceive and reference images and concepts. So the red ink reminds you of how you felt when pedagogical teachers corrected your work; the images of women remind you of various facets and ideas of the female experience. And there are hidden symbols as well, like the Rod of Asclepius.
For background: Asclepius looks much like the easily-recognized Caduceus, which most Americans know as a symbol of medicine. Caduceus has two snakes intertwined; Asclepius is a single snake. But here's the thing: Asclepius is the actual Greek symbol of medicine, while Caduceus is historically associated with trade and trickery. In 1902, the US Army Medical Corps used the wrong symbol, and the image stuck "—eventually re-inscribing the meaning of Caduceus," Simonetti says. "So within this narrative, I'm interested in how the dominant reading overpowers and re-contextualizes the meaning and use of an image."
Throw in a Victorian bed and a few garbage bags, and you've got a fascinating picture that symbolizes much more than it shows.
Simonetti uses red ink even while sketching her images: "I have dozens of red pens with me at any given time. The longer I've had a pen in rotation, the fainter its ink will be. When I am starting a drawing I will use the oldest/driest pens to sketch out the composition, and then I slowly work towards fresher pens. I label my pens with a system of colored tape to indicate how long each one has been in use."
As conceptually complex as these drawings are, Simonetti likes to distract her frontal lobe while working on them. "Working through concepts or unpacking images is very cognitive, and I work in silence. But once I get to the actual drawing, I always listen to something verbal or narrative," she says.
"At my best, I draw from gut-level. It's not a thoughtful place, it's deeper than that. I think being distracted makes me work better. Like having a steady outside narrative occupies part of my cognition, so my brain isn't nattering away. It's almost like having a babysitter?"