Artists & Writers Who Ignite Us

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

~ Thomas Merton, American, Trappist Monk, 1915-1968

Unravelling. 16" x 16" Oil, beeswax and metal leaf on board
Unravelling | 16″ x 16″ | Oil, beeswax and metal leaf on board | Pam Hawkes
La Nebbia (The Fog) | oil on ancient wood | 40 x 30 cm | Agostino Arrivabene

What is it about a particular painting, poem, photograph, piece of music, dance performance that sets us so on fire? There’s clearly an alchemy at work here which cannot be contrived or predicted, a mixing of what the artist brings forth from the imagination, together with what we ourselves carry to the experience: our own unique psychology, personal history, those all-but-forgotten stories from our past.

The following, then, is a very personal pick list of those who have resonated both with my readers and myself, artists and writers who shared with us, through their work and interviews here, precious glimpses into their psyches and souls: sometimes tender and exquisite, other times painful, even disquieting, but always courageous, insightful, honest.

Martyrium. S.Dorotea Oil on linen cm 70x50
Martyrium. S.Dorotea | Oil on linen | cm 70×50 | Agostino Arrivabene

AGOSTINO ARRIVABENE, oil painter, Gradella di Pandino, Italy:

“Agostino’s work is art that stops you in your tracks, takes your breath away and deeply disturbs. It’s decadent, symbolic, fantastic and surreal all in one, like Bosch and Dali in one person, with some Felician Rops for good measure. He is brilliant, truly.” ~Italian-Canadian poet, Salvatore Ala

Much as might be the experience of stepping inside the artist’s own seventeenth century, iron-gated manor, entering the paintings of forty-five-year-old Italian oil painter, Agostino Arrivabene is a journey into deliberately-orchestrated madness, with alternating glimpses into both hope and despair. Everywhere you turn a rich and densely-packed agglomerate of one-of-a-kind mementos and oddities offering the visitor at once clues and concealments at every turn.

Arrivabene: “My house is like a nautilus shell wherein time has stopped. Inside you will encounter a rarefied atmosphere where the scarlet velvet mingles with coral-colored walls, and ancient, deformed animals watch over my slow, artist’s movements, and where the window seeps in northern light which floods the floors a blue pearl color, much like that of the exhumed dead. I live just as certainly as a hermit or an old ghost, a sweet dog by my side and an Ukrainian maid who looks after me from time to time.”

When asked about the inspiration for his art, Arrivabene says, “My life has been characterized by tragic events since early childhood. My mother suddenly died when I was four years old and my father, although a very sound man and a good educator, created around him an atmosphere that denied life and was haunted by death. This nearness to death taught me to release any taboo about i, and has shown me new lands and new ways of considering life, just like Persephone, who, taken to the underworld by Hades, discovering a new dimension, swings between two dimensions that are deeply entangled. Persephone gets to know the perennial struggle between the opposites: life and death, love and sorrow, light and darkness. So death became for me the way to amazement and wonder.”

indietro avanti Rea et Ade Majestas Oil on wood cm 38x48
Indietro avanti Rea et Ade Majestas | Oil on wood | cm 38×48 | Agostino Arrivabene

Arrivabene: “Maybe it was the mysterious disappearance of my mother that even now leads me to scan the sky. I am acutely aware of that veil that ends one life, at the same time also opens the door to new consciousness.”

Ematofagi , Erzebeth Bathory ( The Blood Countess and Countess Dracula)| oil , gold leaf on wood | Agostino Arrivabene

Arrivabene: “Edward Lucie-Smith said the role of the artists is turning into that of saints or shamans. I think a sort of shamanism is still possible only if talent wants to express and look for the eternal, for the answers to ultimate and ancestral questions concerning truth, beauty, divine and immortality. An artist is first of all a poet; poetry is a motion from inside that expresses through harmony, a music through images, sounds and shapes; poetry looks for harmony, not for dissonances. The artist is like Orpheus who, starting from an abstract insight, recomposes the shapeless and arranges it in new orders that amplify his primitive and visceral perceptions. Through this process, the artist finds a mathematical and abstract order that brings men more closer to the mystery of beauty.”

The Philosopher’s Stone (La pietra del Filosofo) | oil, gold leaf on brass | 44 x 40 cm | Agostino Arrivabene
Amor Vincit Omnia | oil, gold leaf on wood | 69 x 63 cm | Agostino Arrivabene
Il Piu Bello Della Gente di Deo ( Ciparisso) | oil on linen | 71 x 56  cm | Agostino Arrivabene

DORIANNE LAUX, poet, North Carolina:

While Agostino Arrivabene offers us an otherworldly voyage, Pushcart Prize-winning, North Carolina poet, Dorianne Laux, takes her readers inside the rhythms and song of common experience. Whether describing the dance of working as a dishwasher or caring for a young child as a single mother, Laux shows us the tiny miracles inside the ordinary. Not prettied-up treatments, but the true gritty beauty to be discovered within, if we would only create the silent space to look long and deep enough, to listen.

Moon in the Window

I wish I could say I was the kind of child
who watched the moon from her window,
would turn toward it and wonder.
I never wondered.  I read.  Dark signs
that crawled towards the edge of the page.
It took me years to grow a heart
from paper and glue.  All I had
was a flashlight, bright as the moon,
a white hole blazing beneath the sheets.

Someone spoke to me last night
told me the truth. Just a few words, but I recognized it.
I knew I should make myself get up,
write it down, but it was late,
and I was exhausted from working
all day in the garden, moving rocks.
Now, I remember only the flavor —
not like food, sweet or sharp.

More like fine powder, like dust.
And I wasn’t elated or frightened,
but simple rapt, aware.
That’s how it is sometimes —
God comes to your window,
all bright and black wings,
and you’re just too tired to open it.
Look at me. I’m standing on a deck
in the middle of Oregon. There are
friends inside the house. It’s not my

house, you don’t know them.
They’re drinking and singing
and playing guitars. You love

this song, remember, “Ophelia,”
Boards on the windows, mail
by the door. I’m whispering

so they won’t think I’m crazy.
They don’t know me that well.
Where are you now? I feel stupid.

I’m talking to trees, to leaves
swarming on the black air, stars
blinking in and out of heart-

shaped shadows, to the moon, half-
lit and barren, stuck like an axe
between the branches. What are you

now? Air? Mist? Dust? Light?
What? Give me something. I have
to know where to send my voice.

A direction. An object. My love, it needs
a place to rest. Say anything. I’m listening.
I’m ready to believe. Even lies, I don’t care.

Say burning bush. Say stone. They’ve
stopped singing now and I really should go.
So tell me, quickly. It’s April. I’m

on Spring Street. That’s my gray car
in the driveway. They’re laughing
and dancing. Someone’s bound

to show up soon. I’m waving.
Give me a sign if you can see me.
I’m the only one here on my knees.  

Laux: “You want the rawness of the experience, but not the actual gaping wound. It’s a delicate thing to write about trauma, as poetry is already such an intense form of communication. Understatement helps. We all know that if you scream something, you may get someone’s attention, but they aren’t actually listening to what you’re saying as much as how you’re expressing it– anger, grief, fear. But if it’s whispered, it actually intensifies not only the experience, but the words being said. We strain to hear what’s whispered. We turn off what’s shouted.”

 They buy poetry like gang members
buy guns — for aperture, caliber,
heft and defense. They sit on the floor
in the stacks, thumbing through Keats
and Plath, Levine and Olds, four boys
in a bookstore, black glasses, brackish hair,
rumpled shirts from the bin at St. Vincent de Paul.
One slides a warped hardback
from the bottom shelf, the others
scoot over to check the dates,
the yellowed sheaves ride smooth
under their fingers.
One reads a stanza in a whisper,
another turns the page, and their heads
almost touch, temple to temple — toughs
in a huddle, barbarians before a hunt, kids
hiding in an alley while sirens spiral by.
When they finish reading one closes
the musty cover like the door
on Tutankhamen’s tomb. They are savage
for knowledge, for beauty and truth.
They crawl on their knees to find it.

~from “Savages,” by Dorianne Laux

Laux: Why bother if you have no hope, even a very small hope, for our species? Maybe, as artists, we think that if we stop and look closely, or if we look closely enough, something good could come of that gaze, something apprehended. O’Keefe seemed actually to do the opposite, bring us close to see the pain in the beauty, or as Rilke would say, the terror of beauty. Kahlo took her physical pain and made it oddly beautiful. Did it take courage for them to do that? I don’t think they had a choice. Artists seem to be compelled to do what they do, obsessed, preternaturally alert to the world, not just to pain and beauty, but…the existence of each within the other. And for some reason, they feel compelled to make something of that, write it down, make a painting of it, a sculpture, a song.”

GLENN BRADY, outsider artist, Queensland, Australia:

Seesawing between naive and morose, color-filled and dark, Glenn Brady’s oils invite the viewer to follow him back to his Australian childhood, presenting the viewer with fantastic landscapes birthed from mostly solitary wanderings.

Glenn Brady
The Big Red Boat

Brady: “Childhood was good in the fact that Mum and Dad, even though strict, especially Mum, would let us go and do as we please. I did spent a lot of time on my own. Roaming around the suburb, which I loved. Ordinary Aussie burb. Half houses, and then a huge industrial estate full of factories, and a train line running through the middle. I love trains. Used to spend hours playing or just sitting on the tracks.”

Glenn Brady January 23, 2011 On your timeline · Hide crows factories and me..100cmx100cm
“Crows, factories and me,” 100cm x 100cm

Glenn Brady: “But my mother was prone to very bad depression and was hospitalized for a long time when I was five. I think being the mum of three fairly wild boys was too much. [She] walked out on us when I was sixteen. No reasons. Bag in both hands. Said, ‘that’s it. I’m going!’ I didn’t see her for four years. And still rarely do. Have seen my father twice since that day. Older brother, four times.”

"Living By the Freeway," 90cm x 120cm
“Living By the Freeway,” 90cm x 120cm

Brady: “I had a breakdown at sixteen as well…just before she left. Almost committed suicide. I couldn’t walk outside without having massive anxiety. Even just to catch a train, be at a mall, etc… And since I didn’t know what was wrong with me, I began to drink to hide it. A lot. Still do.”

Pam Hawkes

"Asleep," 50cm x 70cm
“Asleep,” 50cm x 70cm

Glenn Brady: “I moved out to live with a bunch of other drunken teens. Around 1982, with no family around, I found punk rock, and got very involved in it… [It was] like being a kid again. And part of ‘something.’ Colorful. And loud. Everyone I am close to still to this day is from that. And a lot are dead. About thirteen mates. They burned very brightly.”

Glenn Brady, "Bringing the Unwell," 120cm x 120cm
Glenn Brady, “Bringing the Unwell,” 120cm x 120cm
Glenn Brady,"Rain Under the Traffic Llights," 120cm x 90cm
Glenn Brady,”Rain Under the Traffic Llights,” 120cm x 90cm

The inventive and enigmatic musicianship of MORISHIGE YASUMUNE, Tokyo, Japan:

The notes are stretched long and low…searching…winding…moaning…dropping down into uncertain depths…Suddenly: quick-quick, high note! Silence. The piano takes over, low keys. Vibration…stretched out…then: another “dong!” Hands slapping wood.

“It sounds like someone is walking through the woods and they’re scared,” observed my fourteen-year-old son.

Sabrino Sollazzo of Milano, Italy: “He’s telling a story by sound and mind pictures. Oh, it makes me feel free!”

Morishige Yasumune
Morishige Yasumune

Explains Morishige Yasumune, a graduate of Shizuoka University, who has a self-titled album out on CD Baby, another one called, Fukashigi, and performs throughout Tokyo: “I always try to concentrate on only the sound itself—what I am making with my instrument…I think that the best condition for improvisation is to play without thinking, just feeling and doing. Similar to meditation.”

Improvisational guitarist, Jaakko Savolainen (Alvari Lume) of Finland: “I think that an instrument, when it is played long enough, becomes a part of the musician’s personality, soul, the way of seeing oneself.”

Yasumune: “Between the instrument and me…once in a while…deep smooth conversation.”

Savolainen: “Music turns out a natural way of breathing and seeing the environment. You really start feeling the sound through your body. For me, it is important to feel the sound on my fingers and let it go through myself. The touch of the sound is so very important. I hear this in Morishige’s playing too…”

Yasumune: “In Japan, we had huge tragedy on 3/11. So many people died, and so many people lost their family, friends, house, and job. And huge number of people have been also attacked and scared by invisible dangerous radioactive materials still. I have talked with my friends who are artists and musicians. We are feeling that something completely changed after 3/11 for us. I don’t have a quick answer for how we should create beauty in such hard times. I do think this is an good opportunity for us to think more deeply about why we play music, create art. I think it may be about relationships between people. How we encourage a person who is in trouble. I decided to stop having gigs for a while because of my father’s sickness. I can’t say exactly when I will be able to play music in front of the people again; but I think this will be good time to think about art and music more deeply.”

JULIE ALBERS, cellist:

A classically trained cellist who began studying violin at age two and cello at age four, Albers made her major orchestral debut with the Cleveland Orchestra in 1998 and since then has performed in recital and with orchestras in the U.S., Europe, Korea, Taiwan and New Zealand. Albers won Second Prize in Munich’s Internationalen Musikwettbewerbes der ARD, and was also awarded the Wilhelm-Weichsler-Musikpreis der Stadt Osnabruch. While in Germany, Albers recorded solo and chamber music of Kodaly for the Bavarian Radio, performances that have been heard throughout Europe. In November, 2003, Albers was named the first Gold Medal Laureate of South Korea’s Gyeongnam International Music Competition, winning the $25,000 Grand Prize.Miss Albers’ debut album, Julie Albers, Cello, on the Artek label includes works by Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Schumann, Massenet, and Piatagorsky.

Julie Albers, cellist. Photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco
Julie Albers, cellist. Photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco


Julie Albers:The cello is very close to the human voice in terms of range and timbre, which is what causes the deep human connection. There are very few instruments that have as diverse of a range of color as the cello; so somehow, no matter what voice you are looking for with the instrument, you are able to find it.”

Julie Albers:I feel that when I’m completely ‘in the zone’ performing, I need to exit the thoughts of the mind and go into a different place of listening, feeling and reacting. This is the state where I feel like I am an instrument for the music to speak through instead of having to ‘make the music.’ There is definitely a process for getting to that place though. First, I feel it is important to find out exactly what I want to say with a certain piece or section of a piece, and this is done through many methods, some technical and some musical, but always focusing on emotion and feeling to create the guide to the story that I would like to tell. I find that in developing a definite vision for each piece, I actually get myself to the point of allowing spontaneity and freedom to come into the music-making process. My goal is to try to find something different in a piece with each playing, never just settling into the original vision as the only way.

I feel that being a musician is very much about exploration; there is also something very liberating about being able to create something that is uniquely your own. Some musicians find this through their own composition and some of us find it through going back to the works of the great masters. Being a musician is having the ability to communicate with anybody on a much deeper level than words are able to reach. I love not having to use words!”


BODYVOX, Portland, Oregon’s award-winning dance troupe:

Imagine falling down the rabbit hole and encountering a myriad of fantastically flexible beings who move from one quirky (and silent) persona to another with the well-choreographed grace of, well, dancers.

Bodyvox co-founder, Jamey Hampton
Bodyvox co-founder, Jamey Hampton

Led by Emmy award-winning choreographers, Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland, BodyVox exudes the joyful playfulness the husband-and-wife team bring to both their art and their marriage.

After being treated to a dress rehearsal of their upcoming holiday show, I sat down with Hampton and Rowland and asked them about their success on and off the dance floor:

Ashley Rowland: “I don’t think there’s any formula set in stone for how Jamey and I collaborate together. There’s a lot of ball passing. Maybe I’ll have an idea and he’ll take it down field. We have great trust in each other to lead the group.”

Jamey Hampton: “It’s pretty rare that we have a day that just goes ‘ker-plat’. We frankly don’t have time for that. We have to create so many shows, if you have a day where things aren’t going as planned, you just have to trust and follow whatever impulse you have. I don’t believe we ever start off with complete ideas. It’s about how you play with this or that.”

Ashley Rowland: “I think creativity has no arrival time. You can get an idea for a piece by watching concrete poured as you’re driving to work. Or an idea for a costume when you’re simply clothes shopping. You start to play with everything.”

Jamey Hampton: “I think the key is to pay attention when those ideas do come. If you ignore them, they don’t come as quickly the next time. They say, ‘You’re not friendly to us.’ So then you have to spend time rebuilding the universe’s trust. With creativity, just like everything else, you have to keep working at it. There’s ability, and then there’s craft. Craft involves homework. And just doing it. And doing it. So we work a lot on our craft.”

Deanna Phoenix Selene: And how does working together affect your personal relationship?

Jamey Hampton: “I think our work is our relationship.”

Ashley Rowland: “Our household, our parenting, it’s all woven together. Each an extension of the other.”

Jamey Hampton: “I always say there’s no way I could go home and explain to anybody else what I do all day.”

Ashley Rowland: “I’m so thankful to have a partner in life who sees things so openly. In all our projects. Whether it’s buying a car or choreographing a piece or parenting. It’s all fun.”

BodyVox dance troupe, Portland, Oregon
BodyVox dance troupe, Portland, Oregon

PAM HAWKES, oil painter, UK:

If it’s possible to be seduced by a painting, and I, for one, can attest that it most surely is, chances are that the enigmatic women who peer out at us from the canvases of UK oil painter, Pam Hawkes, have brought more than one viewer to their knees. By giving us just enough glimpse and no more into the souls and psyches of her very feminine subjects, then letting them blush in pink and gold, Hawkes teases and delights as much with what is not revealed as what is.

Pam Hawkes,"Fading," oil on copperfeaf gilding on board, 122cm x 122cm.
Pam Hawkes,”Fading,” oil on copperfeaf gilding on board, 122cm x 122cm.

Pam Hawkes: “Beyond that surface beauty, I try to unsettle, to question the ideal. It’s connected with my love for medieval marginalia and religious icons, my first visual inspiration. The craftsmen who painted these images were not allowed to veer from the imagery prescribed by the church; and yet these icons seem to take on whatever persona the viewer, or worshiper, needs it to be. This is heightened by the beautifully and elaborately executed frames which further separate the imagery from the mundane world. My work takes much from this, frames which I paint or gild, sometimes carrying the central image over into the frame, escaping from those confines. The use of metal leaf again comes from iconography, and the use of text, which often rather than use as a way of illumination, I use to confuse or in opposition to what’s happening in the main image.”

You Made Me, Pam Hawkes
Pam Hawkes, “You Made Me. Part II,” oil, beeswax, dutch metal on board. 104cm. x 92cm. 2012

Pam Hawkes: One of my paintings does haunt me. When my daughter reached puberty, I did a large painting of her as the little girl I felt I’d lost as this new teenager was emerging. At the time I was exploring the notions of space and deconstruction of painting, and the image was of her split in half on the two opposite margins of the canvas. The one part of her emerging, the other side departing, and in the center was a void, just raw linen. Not long after this she became critically ill with meningitis and was on life support for three months and in a coma. She eventually recovered, but I could not look at this painting again. I still have it, rolled up in my studio. After this, my work changed, I reduced and simplified, they became quieter and still; but through this, I think, more complex.

Deanna Phoenix Selene: Your definition of beauty?

Pam Hawkes: Surfaces that I want to stroke, touch or lick.

Deanna Phoenix Selene: Which would you say is the most important quality to have as an artist? A good imagination? Or superior craftmanship?

Pam Hawkes: Imagination. Craftsmanship comes with practice. 

The Darkest of Days and the Brightest of Nights. II. oil on copperleaf on board. 12ins. x 12ins.
The Darkest of Days and the Brightest of Nights. II | oil on copperleaf on board | 12ins. x 12ins. | Pam Hawkes

WOJCIECH PIOTROWICZ, photographer, Korsze, Poland

"The Secret," Wojchiech Piotrowicz
“The Secret,” Wojchiech Piotrowicz

Selecting just one photographer who stood out among all the other talented women and men I’ve had the honor to profile this past year was no easy task, but in the end it was a Polish artist whose quiet stories about the fleeting but precious nature of youth who most captured our hearts.

Wojciech Piotrowicz: “Perhaps I want to save the world of my children for later, so their memories can be fuller than mine? We have so little photographs from the time when we were kids and they are usually from holidays or important events. Perhaps I want to enter the world not accessible to adults anymore – to feel, see, live, to be so carefree again just for a while? The fact that so many take my photographs emotionally proves that we all have a child deep within ourselves, a child that enjoys simple things, a child that has been forgotten and burdened under all our adult affairs.

My father was ‘invisible.’…He taught me nothing, said to me nothing, gave me nothing… Maybe this is why I’m trying to be a good father…

Maybe this is the most powerful thing that [compels] me to do my photographs.

Wojchiech Piotrowicz
Wojchiech Piotrowicz

*               *               *

Further Notes:

AGOSTINO ARRIVABENE: To read Agostino Arrivabene’s full Combustus interview and enjoy more of his artwork, see “Wrestling the Muse,” Or visit his website: /

DORIANNE LAUX: to enjoy the full Combustus interview with Dorianne Laux, please visit: “All Poetry is Preparation for Death.” Visit her website at:

MORISHIGE YASUMUNE: Morishige’s album, Fukashigi, is available through the Combustus Store.

JULIE ALBERS: Enjoy the full Combustus interview with Albers by reading, “To Dance with Sound.” Also visit her website at: Cellist Julie

JAAKKO SAVOLAINEN (ALVARI LUME): To read more about Jaakko Savolainen’s own musical practice, an improvisational free-jazz guitarist who records under the name, Alvari Lune, please see his earlier interview in Combustus magazine: Jaakko Savolainen, guitarist & composer, Espoo, Finland. Also sample some of his free improv works at:

GLENN BRADY: For the full interview with Australian outsider artist, Glenn Brady, read “Leaving Normal: A Matter of Perspective.” Or visit his website at:

BODYVOX: For the full interview with the founders of the Portland, Oregon dance troupe, please see the interview in Combustus magazine: “Keepin’ It Real in Portland, Oregon, part two: Bloodyvox, Fresh Blood” Or to see about ordering tix to watch the dancers in person:

PAM HAWKES: The complete Combustus interview with Pam Hawkes can be enjoyed here: “Pam Hawkes, UK: A Deeper Truth.” Or visit the artist’s website at:

WOJCIECH PIOTROWICZ: To enjoy his interview in its entirety: And to view more of Wojciech’s work:

Combustus Managing Editor | + posts

My dream: to create a unique vehicle for artists and visionaries from all genres and all over the globe to inspire and learn from one another.


  1. Dawn Burnham on January 4, 2013 at 7:45 am

    What a terrific selection of images, sounds and altogether, a feast for the senses. Thank you to all who contributed patiently to this portfolio. . .its rather superb!

    • Combustusmanagingeditor on January 4, 2013 at 1:56 pm

      What a lovely comment, Dawn. Your words are a gift!

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