Today I associate Belgium with the astounding and esoteric arts practiced by the Church of Ra, as well as a host of other groundbreaking underground musicians and artists. But Belgium has a rich history of challenging artists, one of its most noteworthy being printmaker Félicien Rops (1833-1898). A companion of Baudelaire, he illustrated a volume of his poetry, and both considered themselves members of the Decadent Movement. Living at a time when the discussion of Satan, sex and sadism were especially frowned upon, he dedicated his gorgeous etchings to these subjects, revealing his inner turmoil as well as confronting “bourgeois” society with their own hypocrisy. He never sought fame, and in fact revelled in the offence many of his pieces provoked in people.
Women were his subject matter – specifically the femme fatale, which he defined as “Satan’s accomplice, [a woman who] becomes the supreme attraction which provokes the most extreme vices and torments in Man, a mere puppet.” While this may have been his actual vision of women who lived their lives at night, it was also the view of European society at large – the prostitutes, the drug addicts, the wild women who enjoyed sex and night life were all pawns of Satan, unlike the Christian women who stayed in their chaperoned place. Rops puts these women on the cross, crucifying them for the path either they chose or the world chose for them. They perform the sexual acts of the devil, and they enjoy it. Jesus himself is portrayed as a demon with a raging boner. His work confronts society with both its ills and its misogyny, but with such conviction that it seems the artist himself feared them as faceless creatures of sexual evil. Rops’ work is the seed planted a century and a half ago that grew into some of underground metal’s most blasphemous imagery.
Via Dangerous Minds