This is the second story in a series exploring the connections between art and magic. Click here to read the first.
Sam Wolfe Connelly's haunting, eerie images look like they're right out of a classic German Expressionist horror film, generating equal parts wide-eyed wonder and inexplicable unease. His photorealistic oil paintings and detailed illustrations often depict psychically tortured subjects set against seemingly mundane backdrops, juxtaposing a keen sense of existential angst with the often equally terrifying bounds of earthly existence. Judging by his impressive body of work, it's clear the artist is influenced by the supernatural, and that the world of magic plays a role in his practice. But when viewing his oil paintings and graphite illustrations, the question comes to mind: to what degree does Connelly actually believe in magic, himself?
Raised outside Washington DC, Connelly was trained at the Savannah College of Art and Design, majoring in Illustration. He's since relocated to NYC, where he currently works as a gallery artist and illustrator. In the short time since his graduation in 2011, he's had three solo shows, and his work has appeared in over a dozen group exhibitions. The artist's well-earned early success is due to his singularly spooky vision, and it's evident that a good deal of Connelly' inspiration is somehow rooted in the occult.
The artist describes magic as "an overwhelming feeling when all explanation leaves your body," adding that that it can be tied to fear of the unknown or wonder and intrigue. "To me, magic is the absolute lack of everything you have ever known to be true," Connelly explains.
Yet while the paranormal is clearly a recurring theme in Connelly's work, the artist says that the genesis of his images come from his own memories, just as much as magic.
"A lot of my work stems from my childhood. I mainly paint things that were an important part of my life as a kid that I feel like I've lost to growing older," he says. "What I miss about being younger is the lack of rationality when it came to things like ghost stories or myths. By not being inhibited by reason, those things seemed true, and so, so much larger than life—as if anything was possible. And I always think back to how frightening the unknown could be. To me, that's the magic I try and capture with my work. Something once possessed is now something fleeting and much harder to obtain."
To Connelly, art itself is a kind of magical practice, in the sense that fantastical fictional worlds are created from nothing but a few tools and the artist's own imagination. "It's also telepathic in a way, and acts as a silent form of communication between the creator and the viewer," he elaborates. "The process of making art is such a selfish, solitary one that it seems amazing to me that the purpose it serves is very much the opposite, where that which has been created in the dark can only be effective when seen in the light."
Connelly believes that today's contemporary artists are more receptive to occult/esoteric themes in their work, in that the inherently malleable nature of art itself means that the discipline is "constantly shifting," whether due to new techniques, art world attitudes, personal philosophies, or emerging worldviews.
"Art no longer has to be only about documentation, or portraits of nobles, or even grandiose acts of rebellion," Connelly says. "There no longer has to be a large blatant message in your art for it to garner attention. Personally, I've always tried to bring subtlety to my own work, because I think it's a powerful tool. And I think when you begin to mix subtlety with altering elements of reality, it can hook that feeling of surreal familiarity that I think a lot of people crave in art."