Hans Falla and Janine Paulette discuss “‘The Life of the Artist Niccolo di Mescolano’ by Stefano Pinnarco” by Steve Finbow.

'The Life of the Artist Niccolo di Mescolano by Stefano Pinnarco' with an afterword by Steve Finbow. (Alberegno Press, 2023)

Hans Falla: What Pinnarco conceals, and Finbow allows (for what reason we can only speculate or else leave well alone here – although there must be a reckoning at some point for sure - is the Philosophical ☿ which will dissolve the artist di Mescolano of self and congeal his many bodies. In other words, we’re on the cusp of the hallucinatory abyss where the boundaries of reality unravel and the elusive specter of nothingness beckons, and where lies a curious intersection—a tantalizing juncture - where the realms of fiction and magic intertwine. It is in this elusive dance that the enigmatic relationship between nothingness, fiction, and magic emerges, defying rationality and transcending the limits of the known. Let us venture into the labyrinthine corridors of thought, Janine, and explore the obscure connections that bind these elusive entities. 

Janine Paulette: This, Hans, if anything, is the essential move which will shed light on the darkness of the book. Nothingness, that ineffable void that eludes comprehension, possesses an allure that both entices and repels. It is a vacuum of existence, an absence pregnant with infinite possibilities. From this emptiness, fiction emerges—an ethereal construct woven from the delicate strands of imagination. Fiction, the offspring of nothingness, offers an escape from the constraints of reality, a playground where the whimsical and the impossible are rendered tangible. 

HF: Yes, yes and, yes, this is a dark book. Within the tapestry of fiction, the seeds of magic take root. Magic, the conjuring of wonder and the transgression of natural laws, emanates from the fertile soil of the mind. It is a glimpse into the realms beyond, a rebellion against the stifling grip of reason. Magic flirts with the boundaries of the possible, teasing the senses with its paradoxical nature. It is the alchemical fusion of imagination and belief, manifesting the extraordinary in the ordinary. But what binds nothingness, fiction, and magic in this enigmatic trinity? It is the power of perception, the malleability of consciousness that breathes life into their indelicate dance. Nothingness, with its formless allure, creates a void for fiction to fill, birthing perverse narratives that wound and curse. Fiction, in turn, awakens the dormant potential of magic, granting it a vessel through which it can manifest and captivate our derangements. 

JP: Mescolano is of course the artist of our Hermaphrodite, clearly made out of the Regulus of ♂ & common ☿ fermented together by the mediation of Diana's Doves as we can clearly read in Philalethes, Ripley, Epistle, pages 11, 12, 14, 15, 17, 21. As well as in the Preface (Ripley Preface p 7, 10, 58) and on his Gates p 258, 259, 266, 307. That a scholar has omitted this is a scandal but nevertheless we can repair the omission and make our own progress. 

HF: And as all scandals insist upon transgression at some level there need be no negative criticism in calling it ‘scandal’, and likely some sublime idiocy at play provoking nothing less than, at the very least, coy frisson

JP: I guess that raises the question as to what would we have gained had Pinnarco done his duty and reported the vast scholarship regarding Mescolano rather than set out the dubious claims that this was an artist both obscure and unknown in all literature? 

HF: Perhaps we’d have gained a sense of earnest historicism failing to register the ecstatic derangements. And who wants that? In the end the choice or presentation is felt to be the right choice. 

JP: And yet of course now, after the initial encounter, our own simple adjustment of perspective answers the scandal - or at least meets its delirious level. 

HF: I agree. Seeking out the artist was clearly a mistaken enterprise. Mescolano was an alchemist, or at least a fermental spirit in the Regulus of ♂ (our imperfect body) and the book writes scarcely a third part of the whole thing. Once that’s admitted then the mysteries of the book are washed away. 

JP: Exactly. That’s what excited me. Once the adjustments are made then we’re in a new ballpark – or rather the same ballpark but with a different atmosphere. 

HF: Yes. And as with any one third – because that’s what we have with Pinnarco and Finbow - the question becomes: but what of the other two parts? And then we can find in our sources the answers to its dark puzzles. 

JP: Exactly. Well put. So here’s how I’d have it: The other two thirds are a feculent earth which comes away with the dregs of the ☿, which being (for a trial) washed off with common fountain clean water, the shit after drying and burning weighing 2/3 of the Regulus (the other 1/3 being in the ☿) , the water evaporated to a skin has left – let’s put it this way, a salt in the bottom shooting into crystals in a cool place. In other words, the occult salt of the ☿. 

HF: Yes, and surely even those without the esoteric insight will grasp what is in play. 

JP: By which we can deduce that the sly narratives of his ambition, genius, jealousy and murderous intent, alongside his violent ending, are but the vulgar gold of the red sulphurs decocted in his white paints and rocks by, in the end, Finbow. 

HF: Masterfully put. So we might say that the derangements of the beautiful hermaphroditical body lives so long till it becomes a fiery water – the works themselves as reproduced in this volume. 

JP: That’s what makes it so hilarious to read the descriptions of the many works – brilliant in their details and yet obtuse… 

HF: Deliberately so, I’d say. 

JP: Maybe so yes, yes, but nevertheless obtuse in their grasp of inner meanings - where from the perspective of the mage we can immediately perceive the white tepid suffocated water, the Pontanus fire, Ripleys Dragon, Rosaries Green Lion, Flammels winged Dragon and Corascene Bitch, the Philosophers Beia to be espoused with Gabritius, the Moon to be joined with the sun, all so secretly and brilliantly concealed by all Philosophers. And so on. 

HF: Yes, and all that exemplified exactly in the ‘Saint Jerome Hearing the Trumpet of the Last Judgment’ and ‘ Apollo and Daphne’. In the realm of magic, the ephemeral becomes tangible, the illusory becomes real. It is the interplay of belief and suspension of disbelief that imbues magic with its captivating aura. Like a magician's sleight of hand, magic distracts, seduces, and ultimately transforms our perception of reality. It is a sublime dance with the numinous, a journey into the liminal spaces between the known and the unknown. 

JP: We can start to see how Mescolano approaches his work in two ways. There’s the easy work where the matter is all about that which the fire sublimes. This is incautiously done, and the early career as described by Pinnarco captures some of this. 

HF: In a sense the time of all this is precise: the time of this decoction to perfect red is always 220 days. (Precisely the number of days referenced in this book). What the narrative does raise is the question as to whether Mescolano or some other party (the Medici’s? Machiavelli?) meant his early work to be, as it were, sublimed above 10 times its surroundings, as was clearly the case. 

JP: His achievements were noted as being too quickly attained and of such a high quality that many were suspicious of his means. As we know, when accomplishments become too fiery then what happens is that both reputation and the body will instead of dissolving coagulate it self. 

HF: The descriptions in the book, and the alleged reproductions of his paintings in the last section, clearly show that in the early works glass held about twelve times more than the spirit. Nothingness, fiction, and magic are but facets of the same enigma—an invitation to explore the boundaries of our imagination, to question the nature of reality itself. In their delicate embrace, they transcend the limitations of the mundane, inviting us to venture into the depths of the extraordinary. They challenge us to confront the shadows that lurk within the recesses of our consciousness, beckoning us to confront the inexplicable and find solace in the unknowable. 

JP: Yes – which places a little more pressure on this text that, frankly, takes Mirandola’s claims about ‘Socratic frenzies’ seriously. 

HF: I agree. Mirandola’s a red herring surely. Throughout, his comments are themselves instances of a very perturbed Artes Prohitae at work in the secondary literature itself. It’s sly and well wrought but of course, a disturbed erection. The book is disturbing of course, and creates an enormous sense of anxiety, but it’s interesting to try and understand why. This is the second way, so to speak. And here the shadow figure of Finbow shadows everything. 

JP: Quite. Knowledge of alchemical treatises on the furnace and degree of heat show us that he must have been using a heat to keep lead or tin in fusion, and therefore a temperate heat in the mineral kingdom. This is how the alchemy of reading works. How can we deduct this? And is not knowing the answer to this or any of the likely questions creating the anxiety? I don’t know it for certain, but I don’t think so. 

HF: I agree. It is clear that in many of these works (if not all with red pigment) after decoction to the red, it must have been decocted again in the same water, in the same proportion, with the same regimen; only with the fire a little slacker to increase in goodness and quantity at pleasure. And to cap this, his use of gold obviously comes out of the Regulus Philalethes in Ripley's Preface p. 7. (As we mentioned earlier). But then we still have to try and figure out why the anxiety, why the physical and mental disturbance. 

JP: Is it a sense of resentment? 

HF: The disaster of reading! Yes. I think there’s a very real despair at the heart of the reading, and this is a reading the authors very much intend to bring about I think. The despondency at the end, when it’s over, is a profound experience and both startling, inevitable and vivid. And not just reading. Writing too, of course. 

JP: It wouldn’t be too strong to say that this is a perverse book and one that stimulates a terrible sense of dread in me. I felt this very strongly both as I read it – maybe after about three or four pages in – and certainly by the end I was physically ill. 

HF: What is left out of this process, or is only hinted at perhaps in the latter part of Pinnaro’s account, is the matter of the crude sperm which flows obviously in the pigment shit. 

JP: Brilliant. The sperm. The delirium of existence and the void combining in an indecency that is never mentioned, never identified, never named. 

HF: Again, knowledge of the relevant texts reveals… 

JP: Ripley? 

HF: Yes. The knowledge of the relevant texts reveals that Mescolano was using sperm from three substances of which two are extracted out of the earth of their nativity… 

JP: All those desiccated bodies, the St Bartholomew flaying and so forth… 

HF: Yes … and so by the 3rd part we then confront Mescolano working as a pure milky virgin-like nature drawn from the Menstrue of a sordid whore, as they used to say. 

JP: Vivid Hans. Yes. It is difficult to understand why this crucial and obvious fact was not discerned (or if discerned, why it was suppressed.) Finbow? 

HF: Alchemically understood, the colour schemes and forms are offsprings of simple occult chemistry. Briefly, what Mescolano is using are three springs: water (a mercurial bond which sophisters can behold so far as our outward shell reaches); the blood (of our green Lion totally volatile and devoid of metal) and the spirit (a chaos, appearing to the world in a vile compact form, to the Philosopher united to the blood of our green Lion, which thereby is made a Lion able to devour all creatures of its kind.) So yes, probably Finbow. 

JP: Quite. The spirit is separable from the water and blood and then our Lion is actually green but stops then being our lion and is the true matter to multiply Emeralds. 

HF: This seems the insane fulcrum of the text’s relationship to the paintings. The indecency of both the text and its subject matter is incendiary because its matter is implied and nothing more. We are in the lunatic archive of the catastrophic absence. 

JP: Of these insane debauched springs the water is so common everyone at the time – then and now frankly - drew upon and used. Its Saturnine drossines and frigid superfluities were purged by two other springs through which the water is artificially caused to run. These two make but one well, as you know, whose waters appear dry and are surrounded with an arsenical wall. 

HF: Arsenical. That’s good. Arse. Nickle. 

JP: The slimy bottom abounding with mineral salt and sulphur, which actuate the water of the first well whose primary quality is coldness and make it a bath for the Sun & Moon. So that’s why we find in the writing – matched by the secretive art works – arsenic, slime, sulphur and the old waters of the moon and the impossible waters of the sun. The ingenious catastrophe is thus instantiated. It’s all there. As we ponder the delicate threads that interweave nothingness, fiction, and magic, we are reminded of the fragility of our perceptions, the ephemeral nature of existence. Like a fleeting dream, they offer glimpses of alternate worlds, inviting us to transcend the confines of our mundane reality and embrace the wondrous, deranged, maniacal and miraculous horrors. 

HF: Yes. Here we get an explanation of both the processes and the form of the art produced, and the anxieties that must have possessed all who first admitted such art to their sensations and judgments. 

JP: So back we go to the sordid whore. The first Menstrue, the Philosophical preparation of the damned Magi, who both describe the fountain of these mysteries and also hide the secret, have called each composition lead. It is no surprise that the German occultist art guy made his books out of lead. 

HF: Anselm Kiefer? 

JP: Like a sorcerer transmuting base metals into precious treasures, this artist transformed humble lead into vessels of occult revelation. The lead books, crafted with meticulous devotion, were ascribed esoteric symbols, cryptic texts, and diabolical imagery that defied decipherment. Each page, heavy with the weight of hidden meaning, beckoned the viewer into a realm of hermetic secrets and forbidden knowledge. And yet to many they were blank. And sealed. 

HF: These lead books were not mere objects of aesthetic contemplation; they were conduits to the unhinged realms of the subconscious. Their raw, elemental presence challenged the sensibilities of the rational mind, provoking a visceral reaction that transcended intellectual discourse. One could not gaze upon these artifacts without feeling the tendrils of unease slithering through their veins, like a primordial serpent coiling in the shadows. 

JP: Ooh, well put. I like that. A bit over the top, but good. Exactly. Here Finbow’s own relentless pursuit of the uncanny has imbued his own books with an eerie vitality, as if they were sentient beings breathing in the suffocating air of the macabre. So all these tomes, distorted and twisted by some invisible hand, whisper secrets to those daring enough to listen. In their metal-clad embrace, one could hear the echoes of forgotten rituals, the hymns of long-extinguished cults, and the lamentations of forgotten gods. Stefano Pinnarco, Steve Finbow – I mean, come now, isn’t it an obvious connection? 

HF: And hilarious in its unhinged mannerism. For it contains the bath for ☉ & ☽, drawing out and receiving their tinctures and like a fertile soil ennobling it a hundred fold. Of the 3 menstrues, Acetum, Elixir & Azock, the first is the Sharp vinegar, menstrual mundi in sphaera Lunae toties rectificatum ut possit calcinare solem. In this is made our magical solution of Sol, Eclipsis Solis et Lunae in cauda draconis; tis (saith Artephius) the only instrument in the world for our art, causing ☉ to putrify, lose its hard compaction and turn to black atoms or calx, the period of our first menstrua. In other words – novels, poems, spells. 

JP: Look at the reproduced images. The spring of our Green mercury at which sits Diana naked, two dreadful beasts have in their keeping a substance whose colour is sable mixed with argent veins and destroyed Cadmus. Then with Diana's charms he’s tied by ferment and made under water to abide and wash him clean by sublimation, repeating these washings & sublimations seven times. Now look at the hands. They become Anonymous on the apparitions in the work. 

HF: In all of them. True. The hands are disgusting and evil, demonic slime. 

JP: The artist revels in the transgression of boundaries, in the obliteration of the safe confines of conventional artistry. The book and its paradoxical amalgamations of beauty and horror, elicits a forbidden fascination that entangles the senses in a web of seduction. It defies categorization, mocking the conventional notions of artistic interpretation, and demands that the viewer confront the disconcerting depths of their own psyche. It is in the forbidden chambers of the unconscious that the true essence of the book is unraveled. It serves as a talisman, a key to unlocking the darkest corners of the soul, revealing the grotesque and sublime aspects of human existence. The artist, be it the impossible Niccolo di Mescolano, the equally absurd Stefano Pinnarco, or Steve Finbow, whosoever, is a deranged shaman, guiding his audience through an infernal pilgrimage, forcing them to confront their deepest fears, their suppressed desires, and the chaotic forces that lurk beneath the veneer of civilization. This book, silent and brooding, remains a testament to an audacious rebellion against reason and the mundane. It is a reminder that art, in its most potent and disturbing forms, possesses the power to dismantle the complacency of the human mind, to transgress the boundaries of what is considered acceptable, and to evoke primordial emotions that defy comprehension. 

HF: Thus it becomes a spiritual tincture sparkling like flame, most sweet in Sadeian taste, most pleasant in Sadeian smell - which we call an oil though it be permissible in all liquors: which Sade oil is the tree of life, triumphing over all the miseries the most incomparable treasure in the world. 

JP: Which gives us the perfect image of what lies beneath, or within, the reading. There’s gold reaching down from shoulders to the ground, and a crown of gold , a Queen stark naked, dame nature a body which is really no body but just pain, which endures the sublimity of the most violent fires which can be made, diaphanous, yet compact. 

HF: Sure. This book shines like Tagus or Pactolus, that they desire a weird conjugal fealty, given here eleven times. It’s bloody obscure at this level. The fire must be continually increased, especially after the womans’ rule or beginning of colours and blackness. Which is, even to me, off the scale obscure. 

JP: I agree. In the end we are warned about the delirium of colour and nothing much else. The dissolution of the sulphur shows itself first in a yellow colour - which must come with moisture otherwise its ominous - then come the other colours – green, blue, black . The colours and signs of the whole work are described particularly. As in Ripley's Epistle. Which as we’ve noted, is curiously never referenced anywhere. 

HF: In the end we can say that this is a strange book about death, nothingness and art as alchemy. As deranged as they come. 

JP: I think the Borges Pierre Menard connection incomplete but helpful. 

HF: Yes. Next time we should start there perhaps. Or de Sade.

JP: Right.

About Steve Finbow

Steve Finbow once worked for Allen Ginsberg, he has been a lecturer in the UK and South Africa, a journalist for The Japan Times, a writer for Quarantine theatre company and writer in residence at The Function Room, London. His work appears in many international anthologies and journals. His non-fiction includes Notes From The Sick Room and Grave Desire: A Cultural History of Necrophilia, while his fiction includes Balzac Of The Badlands, Down Among The Dead and Nothing Matters. His latest book is Polaroid Haikuby with Jukka Siikala out on Infinity Land Press.