If I think about when this work started, then of course I quickly land in the forests of Thüringen and the first of the Devil ring series in 2007. But then that work really stared with visits to that region in 2001. Recently I unearthed a stack of drawings from my late teen and early twenties: wild pigs, black dogs, old cars and headless horsemen. Clearly the things that attracted me to the Forest were not something new.
There was always a dark side, an interest in spooky things, and the obsession with Ghost Trains is now common knowledge. But they were also comical, harmless and popular things, things that made their appearances not only at fairgrounds, but also in cartoons on TV or in the jewellery that rolled out of the trinket automat at the supermarket. Popular culture and the everyday remains the baseline in much of my work.
The characters in this series inhabit an imaginary world that has its roots in the Forest work, Unheimlich and these early drawings. Smooth Devil, Stone Devil, Wood Devil, Dough Devil, Fire Devil, Eel, Water Sprite, Millipede, Swine and Old Tree. These characters have broken through to the surface of this deep old river of preoccupation, crept out of their dank and mossy worlds and I have captured their likeness before they slip back under the surface and head on their merry way.
And then there are Cat, Fox, Rat and even more to come, those devils never sleep! They are out at night when all is still, stalking the edges of convention, conjuring figures, cloning, clowning, chatting with rats, talking to survivors and calling the ravens from their sleep. All the creatures of that world know them and understand their place. These figures are not dark like the spooky matter we don’t understand, or that net that does us no good, they are kind, edgy, misunderstood. They come from a foresty, mossy place, have made their way into our imagination for centuries, perhaps they were even there at the very beginning, Smooth Devil, Stone Devil, Wood Devil, Dough Devil, Fire Devil, Cat, Rat, Fox, the list is long and old as the hills. These likenesses that twinkle on a finger and bring us luck or a smile or cause us to remember that times have changed and we are luckier than some, and that we are strong and proud regardless of where we are from – that’s their job, that’s their pleasure, the black cat that survived the witch hunts, the fox that kept her fur, the rat that came to live in our pocket, the crazy old devils that all of us know.
Helen Britton 2018