Love Spells for a Thief

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by Elizabeth Marruffo

After finishing a series of international arts residencies in Italy and Mexico, I had my luggage stolen.

Luggage containing all of the work I had created over the 12 month period.

It was a devastating experience.

It made me think about the ways we process loss. The ways we deal with things that are unchangeable and beyond our understanding. It made me think how we can will that loss into something else.

In my home country, Mexico, there exists the votive painting tradition. These are small paintings that are commissioned as a response of gratitude for a perceived miracle that has occurred. Giving thanks and acknowledging the forces that exist beyond our control. They often celebrate a successful return from the edge of the void, a cured illness, surviving a car crash, a marriage conquering infidelity.

I began to paint a series of votive works for the unidentified thief of my artworks. Each one, a love spell, an attempt to turn loss and devastation into hope and optimism. These sixty love spells are painted on hexagonal panels of wood, incorporating the symbols I have developed in my practice, some of the artworks that were stolen, as well as some of the mundane personal items.

The love spells themselves were drawn from online sources. Quiet pockets of the internet, where feminine desire and ambition is nurtured and invisible ways of manifesting these needs are planned. A whispered word here, a sprinkling of salt there. Gentle, discreet ways that women, for centuries, have attempted to effect change in the physically brutal world around them.

It is no coincidence that these spells are found in small pockets of the internet that are easily dismissed or disregarded. As the voices and knowledge of women have been dismissed and disregarded throughout time. Here, in these digital covens, voices can rustle against one another and talk of new possibilities.

These painted spells exist as new possibilities. As records of loss. As objects of transformation. As acts of transgression.

They are for myself, for my family, for what is gone and what will come.

These are love spells, for a thief.




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The following small hexagons are acrylic, oil and copper leaf on wooden panel, measuring 20cm x 27cm. The images show the painted front of the wooden panel and also an image of the back of each panel where the love spell is written’

Header photograph by Claire Mueller

hex first strip narrow small text
hex A strip narrow smaller hexeshex b strip narrow small text 2

Panel 1

above: Stolen Goods, acrylic, pastel, oil and copper leaf on Belgian linen, 127x120cm, 2016

hex C strip narrow small texthex D strip narrow small text 2

Panel 2

The Great Work

above: Six Kinds of Magic, acrylic, oil, pastel and copper leaf on canvas, 150x90cm, 2016

catalog essay by Campbell Whyte

Nostalgia is often thought of as being something a little saccharine. Rose gardens, lace curtains, those embossed biscuit tins printed with impressionist paintings. A sentiment for the feeble, for those whose mind wallows in the past instead of engineering the future.

This wasn’t always the case.

In the 1600’s Nostalgia was considered a very serious medical condition. Symptoms included nausea, fainting, fever and would eventually result in death.

Sitting by a fire. Smoke slides between our fingers. Rising into the night sky. It weaves its way into the fabric of our clothes, coats our hair. The smell lingering for days.

Humans have always tried to hold on to the fleeting. To secure our intangible memories in the physical realm, so our hands could grip them, clench our fingers around them. So that they would not be lost.

In 18th century England, brooches were crafted, featuring portraits of loved ones, encased with locks of human hair. Metal. Flesh.

In Mexico, masks would be carved depicting the first white Spaniards that landed on their shore. Masks, worn to remember what was inflicted upon their ancestors. Wood. Resin.

In the walls of the Chauvet Cave in France, prehistoric humans painted hundreds of scenes. Animal migrations, weather patterns and the phases of pregnancy. Stone. Water.

Elements bonded together in a sort of alchemical process to become something different. Something of increased power and import. Arranged and rearranged to transfer meaning from one body to another. This was also the primary aim of alchemy, as practiced across centuries and continents.

As far as modern scholars can tell alchemists were equal parts scientists, poets and charlatans. For every interrogation into the nature of our material realm they performed there was an equal and opposite act of deception and snake oil sales. For every invention of gunpowder, there were uncountable poisonings by heavy metal laced elixirs of immortality.

The mixing of the elixir of immortality, or philosopher’s stone was the alchemist’s greatest ambition. The process to get there was known as transmutation. It was used to turn lead into gold, quartz into ruby, the dirt of the earth into the sugar of heaven. To turn something of lesser value and meaning, stone, water, into something of greater value and meaning, a painting.

The alchemists sat in their laboratories, alone. They read from their secret texts, boiling metals and rendering stone to ash. They were not only transmutating the material world around them, but also, more importantly, the soul that resided within their own fleshy chrysalis.

Their encrypted texts of runes and glyphs held record of everything they mixed and burnt and consumed and evaporated. Every past deed recorded in the dance of ink over paper. And so it is with all things, every object containing within it a secret language of memory. Everything we touch, connecting us directly through thousands of years of memory, of human hands shaping the world around us.

We remember the alchemist in their studio. We remember Lucy walking the plains.
We remember crawling out of the ocean.

The physical manifestations of a universe made conscious.


Panel 3

above: Family Tree, oil and copper leaf on wood, dimensions variable, 2016

hex E strip narrow small texthex F strip narrow small texthex G strip narrow small text

Panel 4

above: No Shamans to Guide us, acrylic, pastel, oil and copper leaf on Belgian linen, 127x120cm, 2016

hex H strip narrow small text 2hex i strip narrow small text 2

Panel 5


above: photograph by Christophe Canato

Elizabeth Marruffo is from the small border town of Agua Prieta in Sonora, Mexico. In her painting practice, Marruffo engages with ideas of self-representation along with themes of collective grief, loss and love. Her paintings appear as dreamlike images where the earthly and the otherworldly co-exist. With an increasing interest in folkloric traditions, she uses the techniques of a traditional painting practice and creates works that have a distinctive and contemporary voice.

In her work with children’s community groups she uses poetic and gentle techniques in ways that encourage a child’s ability to develop their own creativity and sense of self.

Elizabeth currently lives and works in Perth, Western Australia. She is also the director of Milktooth Arts Space, where she develops and runs children art classes and adults art workshops. She is a sessional lecturer in painting at Edith Cowan University, has been a finalist in numerous national painting awards including The Portia Geach Memorial Prize and is represented in various collections.




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