Dec 12 2011

#226 “Masks”

From Carole in Paris, France

This illustration from the talented Ms. Carole all the way from Paris opens the door for a wide variety of discussions related to the wearing of masks, both in a literal and figurative sense, and the ways in which we all seek to hide our true selves under various external facades. However, when I look at this picture, all I can think of is one particular incident that happened a little while back…

I’ll just dive right in. I have a bit of a confession to make. Not too long ago, I posted the photograph below which served as the cover of the annual “State of the Arts” issue for the Chattanooga Pulse, a weekly alternative news magazine in my hometown. Without expressly stating it, I implied that I was the individual who was pictured on the cover of the magazine wearing the wolf mask. In reality this is not the case. Here is the real story: A few months ago another Chattanooga native contacted me because he had seen my local attempts at advertising and was interesting in writing an article about my project for a graduate school class that he was taking. Being excited about the possibility of gaining more exposure for my project, I excitedly obliged and engaged in a series of Q&A emails to help the interviewer construct his article.

Shortly after this, I was contacted by a prominent member of the Pulse staff who asked me if I would like to be featured on the cover of the publication along with some of the other individuals which the issue was focusing on. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take off work to be a part of the photo shoot, and (long story short) I sent a friend of mine in my stead. So, in the end, the individual on the cover the Chattanooga Pulse is not me; he’s just a friend of mine.

It wasn’t until just recently that I discovered some of the interesting ramifications of having someone else stand in for me during the photo shoot. You see, several weeks ago an old friend of mine randomly happened to become a fan of WBS on facebook. I wondered if she knew that I was the propagator of the project, but since she didn’t contact me, I ultimately assumed that she did not. Finally, I decided to “out” myself to her. To my surprise, when I told her that I was the man behind the wolves, she said that she and her friends had been so curious about my identity that they began searching through all of their friends on facebook in an effort to match a particular body type with that of the masked man on the cover of the Pulse. Interestingly enough, they never connected any dots…

Before I go, I have to offer a sincere thanks to Carole for this unique and creative illustration. It marks the first picture to arrive in the post office box from France, and as such it will always hold a special place in my heart.

 


Dec 11 2011

#225 “Magical Forest”

From Elowyn in Chattanooga, Tennessee

The notion that wolves often reside in forests is nothing new to most of us, but something about this particular patch of woods depicted by 10-year-old Elowyn speaks to me in a way that is more powerful than I would have anticipated. There’s something almost Tolkien about the woods in which this complacent wolf finds itself, something magical, almost supernatural in certain ways. The trees and branches intertwine in a beautiful macrame of twisted wonder. Green shrubs sprout freely from the fertile soil of the enchanted ground. Birds and squirrels twitter and chirp in an innocent chorus of natural beauty. And in the midst of it all sits the majestic king of this charmed woodland, the lupine lord of the forest.

This is world so magical and so full of wonder that it could only be the brainchild of a young lady. Even her name, Elowyn, seems to represent her enchanted themes. Even though they are not pictured here, her work brings to mind scenes of knights and castles, elves and goblins, wizards and warriors. Ultimately, there is an endearing juxtaposition between the artist’s relative inexperience in life and her enduring themes of mystery and wonder. Although she is young, Elowyn has artistically produced a mystifying forest that seems older than time itself. In the end it all goes to show that perhaps those who have just recently entered this world have a more innate connection with the supernatural wonder of it. It makes one wonder where we came from, where our souls resided before they entered this material world. And all of this from the hand of a child, a hand that held Crayola crayons…


Dec 10 2011

#224 “Happeh”

From Dreya in Maryland

Happiness is not a response or a destination. It is a decision, a choice.

This is a lesson that I am continually learning, and it’s young artists like Dreya who are often my teachers. In the body of work Dreya sent to me, happiness is a clear theme. It seems that almost all of her wolves are smiling. They are all basking in the glory of a life filled with contentment and tranquility. They trot, they dance, they howl peacefully, they make friends with heart-shaped butterflies. Simply put, they seem to love life. Even the name of this work itself (which was chosen by Dreya) conveys the happiness that fills this young artist’s heart and flows out into her creations.

A few days ago someone posted a piece of scripture on the Wolves by Strangers facebook page. The verse was Isaiah 11:6, and it reads, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” I’m not calling Dreya a child, nor am I assigning any real supernatural powers of Biblical magnitude to her or her artwork, but at the same time I can’t help but to be lead to a more holy place of inner peace when I experience her works of innocence, purity and happiness. In a world that often chooses to focus on negativity and a society that sometimes seems to focus exclusively on entitlement and self-pity, it is artwork like Dreya’s that has the power to work small modern miracles.

Thanks, Dreya. If there’s anything I can say about this illustration, it’s that it truly did make me happy.

To see more of Dreya’s work, check out her dA page here.


Dec 9 2011

#223 “The Cave”

From Kusti in Finland

The cave. It is the very embodiment of fear and mystery. It is the truest representation of adventure and danger. But in the mind of the famous philosopher Plato, it is also a symbol for ignorance and naivete. If you have never read Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” I highly recommend it. Taking just a quick glance at this picture of a handsome wolf standing proudly at the mouth of this chamber instantly reminded me of this classic story with a lesson for all of us.

Here is the gist of the tale, courtesy of our friends at Wikipedia:

In the “Allegory of the Cave,” Socrates describes a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and begin to ascribe forms to these shadows. According to Socrates, the shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality. He then explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall do not make up reality at all, as he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners.

The Allegory is related to Plato’s Theory of Forms according to which the “Forms” (or “Ideas”), and not the material world of change known to us through sensation, possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality. Only knowledge of the Forms constitutes real knowledge. In addition, the Allegory of the Cave is an attempt to explain the philosopher’s place in society: to attempt to enlighten the “prisoners.”

As the perpetrator of this project, I have been tempted at times to deem myself the great philosopher who possesses the wisdom and knowledge to lead the uneducated masses from the cave of ignorance. But in the end, I know that this self-assessment is just the result of self-centered pride and is truly inaccurate. It is not me who holds the key to enlightenment, and I hope that you will take no offense at this, but it also not even the artists whose works are collected here that are the cultivated philosophers. No, my friends, it is the wolf itself. It is the lonesome lobo, the master of the wilderness, the furry fountain of enlightenment.

Thank you, Kusti, for leading us to this conclusion. For while it is the wolf who is the true leader of the pack, it is you who have made this fact known to us. Best wishes.

To see more of Kusti’s work, check out her website.


Dec 8 2011

#222 “Captain Lupis: Werewolf Pirate

From Dr. Elijah Hobblestank in Chattanooga, Tennessee

I received this picture quite a while ago, but taking something definitive from it has proved to be quite a struggle. As such, I have avoided discussing this piece for some time now. In the end, though, the fact that I have had difficulty interpreting the underlying messages of this work doesn’t mean that I believe they aren’t there. Nay, this illustration is not some empty conch shell; it is rather a tightly sealed clam which possesses pearls of wisdom and wonder and is loth to share them with just anyone. The viewer must gently coax the messages out of this piece. It must be treated with respect, much like a lady. She will take you to worlds unknown if wooed properly, but just like a woman, this illustration will only open its legs for those who care enough to spend the time unraveling its secrets. Even at this point, I can’t say that I have discovered all that it has to offer.

What to touch on first…. Let’s start with the characters and move on from there. As we can see, a pirate-werewolf of sorts seems to be serving up a goblet of wine to a seated woman. The lady is dressed in apparent finery, but the supposed captain of this vessel wears disheveled rags to say the least. Also, interestingly enough, neither of the subject’s faces are shown. I think that ultimately this works to send a message pertaining to the illusion of comfort that is often present in the constant struggle between male and female forces. The wolf in this illustration is no doubt in awe of the woman and the beauty that she possesses, and likewise, his rugged features and wild appearance offer the promise of adventure and excitement to the gentler sex. But at the same time, something sinister seems to be at work here; the element of predator vs. prey is equally on the forefront of our minds. Also, though, while the wolf is obviously the dominant figure in the picture (he stands while the woman appears to be seated), he apparently seeks to serve her. Perhaps this is a comment on how even though the masculine sex is viewed as being more ascendant and supreme, the hardness of a man can still be softened by the mystery of a beautiful woman. In many ways, the fact that this piece pictures the man as a wolf supports this idea as well. The very fact that this sailor possesses lupine attributes might be tied in to the idea that the love of a woman is powerful enough to subdue even the most savage of creatures.

But going back to the fact that these characters are not wholly pictured, I believe that this was an intentional decision on the part of the artist to allow the viewer to inject himself/herself into the piece. Art only becomes real and important to us when it is applicable to our own lives. As a result, whether we are female or male, the universality of these “headless” subjects allows us to easily step into their shoes. For the male, he is able to explore his own sense of masculinity and assess his relationship with the fairer sex. Does he offer the finest of wines with sincerity and admiration? Or has he been scorned by the wiles of women to the point where he may have even poisoned the cup? For the woman, does she seek to be the princess that she is treated as? Does she appreciate the admiration that is due to her? Or does she sit in resentful silence, longing to cast off the trappings of beauty? In short, does she desire to be more than a decorative prize?

And finally, the notion that all of this is taking place on board a ship (which is largely suggested by the peg-leg of the lupine subject and the skull and crossbones in the background)- what can we make of this? In many ways, I feel that this contributes to the universality of the topic at hand as well. Since ships have the capability of sailing all over the world, this work of art is for all people in all places. It literally resides in international waters. But at the same time, this pirate-themed setting that causes us to picture the precariousness of the open water leaves the viewer with a sense of danger and uncertainty. And in the end, due to the amount of speculation that went into this analysis, “uncertainty” is a word that sums up this piece all too well. But I do think we can all agree that one thing is for certain: this illustration is totally awesome and all of its mysteries only serve to enhance its overall beauty.


Dec 7 2011

#221 “Bacon!”

From “Kattyao” in Hull, England

I have mentioned before how we seem to be living in a wolf renaissance of sorts, how interest in the wolf seems to be peaking or at least culturally on the rise for the moment. But what is just as intriguing as this mounting interest in wolves is the fact general interest in other pop culture phenomena seem to be rising at exactly the same time. This is, of course, nothing new. Interests and trends seem to ebb and flow naturally throughout time, but the study of which specific phenomena peak simultaneously can be very fascinating.

I know that it might sound a bit strange, but besides a wolf renaissance, we also seem to be living in a unique time period that is somewhat focused on a rebirth of appreciation for… wait for it… bacon. Yes, puzzling as it might be, it seems like I’m seeing references to bacon everywhere I look. It’s hard to nail down more than just a few specifics, but I can’t help but to think an overarching interest in bacon is on the rise. I’m also not alone in this assumption. I can recall that recently Maxim magazine featured a short piece every month called “Bacon Porn” in which the publication focused on all sorts of bacon-related news. Everything from bacon-flavored beer to bacon-shaped Band-Aids were discussed in this regular feature.

So, seeing as how this fat-filled culinary treat seems to have also achieved a recent rejuvenation of interest, it’s not surprising that these two ideas (wolves and bacon) would cross paths. After all, anyone who remembers the typical children’s stories of their youth will no doubt remember that wolves and pigs always seem to be thrown together in some way. So, in the end I must tip my hat to you, Kattyao. You have breached a gap and married two ideas that unexpectedly fit together so well. And with that, I think I’ll fire up the stove and help myself to a pound or two of that glorious, artery-clogging delicacy. But before I go, I’ll leave you with a few links to some truly interesting bacon-inspired creations:

Recipe for Chocolate-Covered Bacon

Bacon Explosion

Justin Bieber Meat Portrait w/ Bacon Hair

 


Dec 6 2011

#220 “One of the Pack”

From a stranger in Highland Heights, Kentucky

Over the past several months, I have focused quite a bit on this venture’s goal of establishing a loose community of artists and wolf enthusiasts who have all chosen to take part in something fun, simple and a bit unique. Through the power of art and a deep love and appreciation for the lobo, people from all over the world have come together to create something magical: a collection of weird and wonderful wolf-themed artwork that welcomes all submissions as special and important. In the end, nothing sums this up as well as this one simple illustration. With his bright, optimistic eyes and endearing smile, this wolf encourages all of us to find a place where we can belong and also inspires us to open our arms wide in acceptance of others. Let’s face it, we’re all in this thing together, so let me officially say right now that if anyone in the Wolves by Strangers audience needs a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on, I am here for you. You have done so much for me, and I stand ready to return the favor. You know how to reach me….

Howls and Scratches,

“J”


Dec 5 2011

#219 “Coming of Age”

From Mike in Columbia, Missouri (drawn by a friend)

This wolf struck an instant chord with me as soon as I laid eyes upon it, but ultimately it’s difficult to explain why. Even now, several days after receiving the picture, I still can’t nail down what it is that seems to speak to me so deeply. One thing is definitive, though: there’s something about this creature that takes me back to my childhood. In the end, I think this is due to the fact that this wolf appears to be a predator, a “bad” wolf, an aggressor, but there’s also a playful and innocent quality that prevents it from being overtly frightening or disturbing. In some ways this idea was referenced in the subject line of the email that Mike sent, which read “Friend or Foe?” The construction of the illustration with the “fuzzy” lines presents a certain softness, but this velvety appearance is combined with an ominous crinkling of the lip and a slight deviousness in the eyes that seems to say, “I may not be as pleasant a creature as I appear.”

I think that in the end this illustration transports me back to those early childhood story books that first presented the concept of good vs. evil. It seems as if the design of the writers and artists of those Golden Books was to begin introducing the young reader to a world that is not always filled with light and love, but they did so in a manner that was not so abrasive that it would damage the psyche of the child. In many ways, we only know the good when it is presented in direct comparison to the bad, so early introduction to these concepts is key in the development of the worldview of a young person. But ultimately, even though I think that this wolf might represent something sinister, it reminds me of a simpler time, a time of more innate innocence, a time when even the villains in the story were lovable and endearing.


Dec 4 2011

#218 “Patience”

From John at the University of Missouri

Patience truly is a virtue, and no one knows that better than John. While I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, John has been patiently waiting for his illustrations to appear on wolvesbystrangers.com for 218 days, that’s basically every single day since website has been in existence. And if you want to get technical about it, seeing as how he submitted these illustrations several days before the website was even launched, he has actually been waiting for 240 days. I sometimes lose my cool when the drive-thru line has more than 3 cars in it! To have the dogged patience and sense of perseverance that John possesses… what a blessing that would be. What a lesson can be learned here. What an example has been set.

But also, I must say to the viewing audience that I think these pieces have been worth the wait. They seem to represent a spontaneity and impulsiveness that is certainly a key to the success of this project. Contained within these simple lines is an excited willingness to participate in something new and something unusual and a zealous thirst for life that cannot be quenched. But another feature of these illustrations that truly touches my heart is the sincerity and selflessness of their construction. As I said earlier, wolvesbystrangers.com had not been launched when John submitted these illustrations to me, therefore he could have no real desire for recognition and no expectations of attention being drawn to himself based on his participation. He was simply doing a favor for a stranger who has hopefully now become a friend. It was a strange favor, yes indeed, but that didn’t matter to John. He didn’t feel that it was his place to judge. He simply obliged the request with love and goodwill, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Turning to the illustrations, themselves, one will notice wolf-related themes that run the gamut of those typically presented by the Wolves by Strangers project. The first illustration seems to reference this project’s mysterious and enigmatic aspects. Just as my identity is still unknown to most, John’s first submission to the project was one that played upon the ideas of secrets and riddling. The second illustration, which pictures a smiling wolf, is no doubt an allusion to the joy that this project brings not only to me but also to those who participate. While the concept might sound a bit unorthodox at first, participation in WBS is sure to bring a smile to anyone’s face. The third picture is significant because of its topical nature. With the holidays upon us, what better time would there be to display this seasonally relevant illustration of a wolf and a snowman reveling in the inherent joys of Christmas time. And finally, no small collection of lupine artwork would be complete without some reference to the wolf as a predator or natural combatant. This last illustration places the wolf back into his natural environment of the competitive wild, where he is forced to feast upon others for his own survival. It’s predator vs. prey in this simple illustration that explores the true nature of survival.

In closing, I’d just like to say again that I appreciate John’s patience and that I hope this post has been worth his wait. Thanks again, John. Best wishes!


Dec 3 2011

#217 “Death Incarnate”

From Andrada in Romania (perhaps near the Carpathian Mountains)

Sometimes the work of an artist can be so deeply disturbing and so gut-wrenching that we simply cannot avert our eyes. The magnificent horror of what greets us is simply too intense; it pulls us into a whirlpool of twisted sorrow and a beautiful depravity that is simply too gripping to be denied. In my humble opinion, the work of Andrada accomplishes this artistically demonic task.

But please don’t think that my description of Andrada’s art is meant to be uncomplimentary. On the contrary, any work that is able to evoke such an emotional and physical response cannot be labeled as anything but a true artistic triumph. I believe that Andrada purposefully seeks to achieve the macabre, the gruesome, and the morbid, and that she succeeds with flying colors (colors that are in the shades of black and grey, of course). If you view here other work (located here), you will find that you have ventured in a world of unearthly horrors and grotesque imaginings. But simultaneously, it is not devoid of beauty. The ghastly images she creates are rendered with such an amazing talent that the viewer cannot but be moved to wade deeper and deeper into the pool of Andrada’s grim body of work.

Andrada labeled this particular work “mrtyu” which is a Sanskrit word for death. When examining the illustration in conjunction with the title, one is overcome with a sense of morbidity and danger. Although the illustration does not depict an actual death scene, we get the impression that slaughter is not far from this beast’s mind. Then again, maybe this creature is a physical representation of death, itself. Perhaps this creature is death in a bodily form. Seeing how this wolf is frightening but also breathtaking and captivating in its presentation, this might make sense. Either way, this illustration chills me to the bone with a haunting sense of satisfaction.

Thank you, Andrada. I hope that you will continue to bring out the beauty in the macabre.


Dec 2 2011

#216 “Far Out”

From Trine in Denmark

My first illustration from Denmark! And what a beautiful piece of artwork it is. To tell the truth, my first impression of this illustration is that it may as well have come from outer space. While I’m a little ashamed to admit it, I must say that Denmark is a place that is a bit of a mystery to me. It is nearly as foreign as a distant planet or star; in fact, it may even be more mysterious since I am able to look on the stars with my own eyes every night and I have never truly seen the country of Denmark.

Is this what the artist of this piece had in mind? Am I just as mysterious to him as he is to me? Or is there another theme at play here? Perhaps this work is designed to call attention to the “universal” nature of the wolf and the illustration is a commentary on how the creature is able to permeate all time and space. Maybe it is an editorial about the fact that this world is no longer home to the wolf since this earth has been overrun with man and the machines he creates. But then again, maybe it’s just a cool picture of a wolf in outer space….. you know…. since wolves love the moon so much.

On a related note, it’s interesting to consider how the concept of space is something that is comforting to some and a bit disturbing to others. For a few, the concept of the vastness of space is frightening because its incomprehensible nature. It is a cold and lonely place devoid of emotion. To others, though, this otherworldly realm is one full of adventure and possibilities. It really is the final frontier, and as such, it offers limitless possibilities.

For me, the expansiveness of space is neither and both at the same time. It’s a bit frightening to realize that there is a great unknown universe above me, but at the very same time the idea of escaping from this world and leaving all of its trappings behind couldn’t be more attractive.

In closing, I’d like to leave you with a lullaby that my mother sang to me when I was young and which I was reminded of when I saw this illustration from this generous stranger in Denmark.

The New Moon

Oh, Mother, how pretty
The moon looks tonight
She was never so cunning before
Her two little horns
Are too sharp and so bright
I hope they’ll not grow any more.

If I was up there
With you and the moon
We’d rock in it nightly, you see.
We’d sit in the middle
And hold to both ends
Oh, what a fine cradle ‘twould be!

We’d call to the stars
To get out of our way
‘Lest we should rock over their toes
And there we would stay
‘Til the dawn of the day
And see where the pretty moon goes.


Dec 1 2011

#215 “Instant Art”

From a stranger in New York

At times I have gone to great lengths in my efforts to spread the word about “Wolves by Strangers.” Methods of introducing the project to strangers have included everything from hiding Easter eggs with flyers hidden inside to posting ads on Craigslist in various cities throughout the world. This wolf in particular is a result of visiting an online chatroom and interacting with random strangers. All in all, this is a bit of a new concept that I have been exploring, and as of yet, I haven’t been able to accurately assess whether the amount of time invested in relation to the success yielded is great enough to continue with this method. But regardless, I must say that sharing the project personally with people has been quite exciting.

In this particular instance, I just happened to be speaking with a stranger from New York. I don’t even know his/her name. The conversation was very short, and when I introduced the idea of the project, the stranger seemed interested but also a bit skeptical. Then, suddenly, the stranger sent me an imgur link and quickly signed off. When I clicked the link, I was greeted with this picture. Much to my surprise, as soon as I mentioned the project to this generous person, he/she began sketching immediately and then almost instantly uploaded the illustration. I was pleasantly shocked at the immediate results of my efforts, and while the resolution here is a bit fuzzy and you can tell that the illustration is just a simple spur-of-the-moment sketch, this picture means as much to me as any that I have received. It was conceived out of a place of impulsive trust and a willingness to participate in something fun and different. It was a momentary passing of two cars on an electronic highway that was as random as could ever be imagined. In the end, I just hope that this stranger enjoyed the experience as much as I did.

In keeping with this idea of quickly produced artwork, I wanted to feature the video below. Simply put, it’s amazing how a masterpiece can be achieved in less than a minute.