Whether an ace dealt from the bottom or your Grandpa Morty’s coin behind the ear trick, sleight of hand deceives the eye and mind. But in the works of artist Brian Sheehan, the deceit and guile of sleight of hand is entwined with shadows and the macabre. Welcome to Legerdemain.
“It’s a French word,” Brian said of his chosen nom de guerre. “They have a beautiful sounding language. It sounds harsh and beautiful at the same time. It means an expert at conjuring tricks or deceit.”
The art of Legerdemain is mainly created through the warping of vintage photography. Captured images of figures from the past are cut, combined and painted to produce new, ghastly images.
“Primarily, what I do now is photo manipulation and digital painting,” he said. “When I first started out, I would use a lot of vintage photos, nothing more recent than the 1920’s and 1930’s and anything before then. When you get rid of certain aspects of the photo, duplicate it and mirror it so it’s not just a mirror image, but mirrored over the top of each other, it makes something completely different.”
As a self-described “digital hoarder of vintage photos,” Brian feels that the photography of yore lends itself to haunting imagery. Consider it a combination of black and white, the newness of the medium and rudimentary technique.
“In the 1800’s, when photography was new, it was fucking creepy,” he said. “People would pose with their kids, and if the kids wouldn’t sit still, an adult would put a drape over themselves and the kid would sit on their lap. I guess the hope was that with the drape, they would just look like the couch and the kid didn’t have to be held down. But in some cases, it was so fucking obvious that there was a person underneath the cloak.”
Brian used one such photo for his piece “Luctus Avis.” Here, a photo of a child and its shrouded parent becomes a bird of ill omen, which provides insight and slight contrast to its title.
“I always choose Latin,” he said. “There’s this old horror movie I watched when I was a kid, and somebody was translating Latin and it just sounded so cool. Plus, Luctus Avis sounds a lot fucking cooler than Morning Bird.”
Along with the use of Latin, Brian uses sigils, runes and symbols of his own creation to enhance the messages of his works.
“Garnishing things with crimson reds and golds and sigil work, that was something that started off for aesthetic reasons,” he said. “The more I delved into it and read about how other artists were using it to strengthen their message, I started giving more thought into it. I think about them just as much as the image itself.”
As a kid growing up in the suburbs of the Detroit metropol, horror movies provided inspiration for Brian, whose tastes ran a little older and deeper than the standard slasher and zombie gore that is usually all the rage of the pre-pubescent.
“At a young age, I grew up on a lot of Victorian horror, lots of Vincent Price stuff,” he said. “I think that’s where my love for that aesthetic came from. Anything that took place in the mid-to-late 1800s. All the old Universal monster movies. There’s an old film called Begotten, a really fucking great film. There’s no dialogue, it’s very harsh and very hard to look at, but aesthetically, it’s awesome and terrifying at the same time.”
In addition to his graphic art, Brian is also the vocalist for the band Fell Ruin. He designed the cover of their album, Devices, by combining photographs of a bride on her wedding day and portraits of two women mourning at a funeral.
It is in this piece that all the facets and inspirations of Brian’s art come together. Brian said that he got his start in graphic media out of necessity, as his bands needed art direction.
“I always had an interest in it, but it became one of those things for years where I was asking friends for help,” he said. “Like, ‘Hey man, can I come over, compensate you with this or that and help me make a flyer? I drew this out on paper, does it look like an album cover to you? How about I sit over your shoulder and tell you how to do this?’”
“Eventually, that wasn’t enough,” he said. “It was like,‘why the fuck aren’t I doing this?’ So I just started asking a lot of questions and watching a lot of Youtube tutorials. It just became a thing of making music and then wanting to do the visual storytelling on top of that.”
Not only has Brian designed all of Fell Ruin’s graphic output, he has done numerous fliers and posters for shows in the Detroit area, for bands such as Goatwhore, Primitive Man and Abigail Williams. He also designed the poster for the Shadowoods Metal Fest, which took place last September in Maryland and was headlined by one of Hell’s Headbangers flagship bands, Midnight.
“That’s how I really started doing all this and getting my name out there,” he said. “I just got tired of seeing the same terribly Photoshopped stuff, like the band’s name is still in a rectangle on top of some fantasy art and it’s all cut and paste. I miss the old days of the sweet show flyers that are poster-worthy, that you wanna hang up in your room. It’s been making a comeback, and I’m just doing my own take on it.”
When he’s not creating under the Legerdemain banner or screaming his head off in Fell Ruin, Brian works at a local haunted house. Rather than running around in a Leatherface costume down the hall from the guy in a Jason Vorhees mask, Brian combines work with art by creating his own custom masks.
“Working at a haunted house, it became a thing of not wanting to just go to a Halloween store and picking out stuff and wearing it,” he said. “It was about wanting to build my own thing that wasn’t tangible, that somebody could see and say ‘Oh, I recognize that.’ If you were to make your own costume and be Chatter from Hellraiser or Michael Myers, those things are all good and cool, but people can still relate to that, so I wanted to make my own thing.”
“Masks were just something fun to do,” he continued. “I started cheating. I was buying masks strictly because I like pieces of them, like I liked the eyes from this one and the mouth from another one, and I would hot glue them together, then put papier mache over them so they became one thing. It became a little more elaborate with the papier mache and a lot less dependent on buying other masks.”
Masks are not the only brand of unholy headgear in Brian’s war chest. With help from friends at a hacker space in Ferndale, MI, Brian constructed a blackened crown that can be seen in the video for the song “The Hand of Will,” by his studio project, Scorned Deity.
“I wanted to make videos and ya gotta make props to do that,” he said. “That’s something that I could not have made without a friend of mine, there was a lot of collaboration on that.”
“Ya know those cheap, plastic, gold-plated crowns you can buy?,” he asked. “I used one of those as a foundation to start on, then just added cardboard to help shape it a little bit better. I used a toilet paper and Elmer’s glue concoction, which kinda works like papier mache, but it’s stronger and easier to work with. Cheaper, too. The crystals were just scrap pieces of acrylic that I held to a flat sander to make black quartz. I spraypainted them on one side so they were still transparent.”
Brian has recently started a webstore in conjunction with society6.com, where he is selling prints and Iphone cases, along with framed prints and stationery. Not all of his works are available for purchase as of yet, due to having to resize them to fit the dimensions of their products. It’s one thing to paint a picture, see, and quite another to turn it into a blanket.
“It’s brand new,” he said. “I never had prints before until did an art show in August, so I started a Bigcartel with the runoff. Now I’m with this sweet website called society6. Instead of ordering a shitload of Iphone cases with my artwork on it that no one’s going to buy, I can upload my artwork to their site. If someone likes it, they can order it and they’ll make one Iphone case and send it directly to them.”
“They do everything. They do prints, they do shirts, they do coffee mugs. They do fucking blankets. It’s sweet, because I never thought in a million years that I would have something like that.”
The year is young, and 2016 has a great many things in store for Brian. Fell Ruin is currently in the studio working on the follow-up to Devices. He has also partnered with Cellarmen’s, a brewery in Hazel Park, MI, to provide art direction and design for their cans and bottles that will be hitting the market this summer.
Until then, find out more about Legerdemain Art at https://www.facebook.com/LegerdemainArt/ and http://legerdemain-art.com. To purchase prints, phone cases and hell, maybe even a fucking Fell Ruin blanket at some point, visit him at https://society6.com/legerdemain.