The Palace of Rotting Flesh: the Art of Agustin S. Lobos

Andrew Meek

Andrew Meek

“It’s gonna be a fucking blood orgy,” said Agustin Segundo Lobos over drinks in downtown Guelph, Ontario. He smiled, “I have been telling that to everyone, ‘A blood orgy.'” Agustin (“Augy” to his friends and fans) is one of the most interesting and iconoclastic young artists to spring onto the art scene in recent years, having created a distinctive and immediately recognizable body of work that elicits intense emotional responses from its viewers. His paintings, depicting haunting, gruesome figures screaming off the canvas, are rendered with extreme precision in stark hues of black, white, blue, and red.

Augy has worked around the clock, some “36 hours straight… I haven’t slept a wink,” in order to prepare for this evening, his first major exhibit in his home town, taking place on the third floor of Guelph’s The Dstrct Lounge venue. It’s an event co-sponsored by Atmostfear Entertainment, Brandon Marsh Photography, and Stigmata Tattoo, where he will be premiering six new paintings that have pushed his art into a new dimension, working in what he calls “two-and-a-half-D” as opposed to the two-dimensional canvas, acrylic and blood paintings he has focused on in the past. Supporting his artwork on Dstrct’s second floor, are four of Ontario’s finest underground metal and punk acts, Æpoch, the Dead Fuks, White Girl Wasted and Nothing, The Rat.

Augy produces his work using a wide variety of materials, the most striking of which being his own blood. Inspired by the work of Vince Castiglia, the use of blood serves to underscore the personal nature of Augy’s process and highlights the aggression, passion and dedication that he brings to the canvas. Producing a single painting is grueling work, taking hours and hours to conceive, map and execute, while exhorting a deep mental and physical toll on the artist. “I make myself lightheaded a lot, and every now and then I pass out,” he said. Augy speaks frankly about his process and his “harvesting” sessions, which generally occur “once or twice a month, more often than not, I do it myself. It’s really hard to do it by myself. Junkies, you know, are just injecting their drugs into their arms, whereas I am taking shit out of my arm which is really hard to with one hand without pushing anything back into your vein. I usually have a friend to spot me, and they’ll take the [plunger] of the syringe and pull it back slowly as the blood fills into the chamber.”

As to how he manages to keep his blood looking freshly hemorrhaged on the canvas, Augy adds, “an acrylic polymer to it to preserve the blood and keep it red. If you were to work with the blood just straight from the vein, from the syringe to the canvas, it’ll dry brown and coagulate, the polymer preserves the colour and quality of the blood and keeps it, well, fresh.”

His methods and products, combined with such titles as God’s Abortion, Rotting Palace of Flesh and Syphilis Smile, have generated no small amount of controversy, dividing people into two camps, enthusiasts and fierce opponents. “People either love it or hate it… They take time out of their own day just to fuck with me, and there’s nothing more flattering than that. I get emails from anti-abortionists, from angry feminists…” he paused, making a sarcastic gesture with his hands, “‘feminists,’ I get angry messages from christians and catholics and all sorts of people, telling me how much they hate me and how much they hate my work and how I am ‘going to hell.’ And I will see them in hell.”

On charges of misogyny Augy faces due to his portrayals of, and preoccupation with, the female form, he underscores the personal nature of his work, “As much as people think like I endorse violence towards women, it’s more so not [an expression of that] than it is towards myself. It’s violence towards myself and, in some sense, the world.”

The grace and courage with which Augy shoulders both the positive and negative reactions to his work is admirable, as are his views on the direction where he sees the current art scene heading, “I feel like nowadays art is losing its balls. You can paint four lines on a canvas, call it ‘art’ and charge $3,500 for it? That’s a joke. Art is meant to evoke emotion… it’s [meant] to create a revolution inside of you, to make you grow and blossom into a beautiful fucking human being.”

“I am nervous though,” he said, face covered with flecks of plaster and paint. “You never really get used to this kind of thing.”

By 19:30, Dstrct’s third floor had almost completely filled. Augy bounced around the room from person to person, cracking jokes and letting loose, atoms vibrating with manic energy, any outward manifestations of nervousness having completely evaporated. It was his night, and he seemed to have finally accepted it. The room, stuffed with bodies and movement, had begun to heat up and Augy, dominating the crowd, stripped off his tattered jacket revealing a sleeveless black shirt with the words ‘FIST FUCK’ emblazoned on the front in large white letters. “You can dress me up, but you can’t take me out.”

The new pieces on display depict the eviscerated and dismembered corpses of six young women in graphic detail. A combination of canvas, plaster cast around mannequins, acrylic paint and blood, the figures are extremely disturbing, even more so due to the conflicting feelings brought on by the intense concentration of sexuality and violence.

Five figures were arranged concentrically around the body of a sixth, lying supine, three knives stabbed grotesquely into her chest, shoulder and abdomen. The paintings share several similarities: abdomens torn open in vaginal slashes of gore, strings of flesh exploding outwards from wounds like rays of the sun; exposed breasts and pubes on prominent display, other body parts (legs, arms, heads in some cases) having been either sliced off or, reduced to bloody pulps. One figure (first on the left), is only recognizable as human due to its hips and pubis, any other defining characteristics have been almost completely obliterated. It appears as if her body has been torn in half, flesh ripped from connective tissue in thin strands of fibre and with five needles/syringes thrust haphazardly into her chest. Another figure, the centrepiece, appears to have been caught in the moment of a final kiss as her body was simultaneously rent in two. As one of the only figures to possess any recognizable facial features (immaculately sculpted in Styrofoam using an electronic dremel tool), the effect is startling. Her head bent to the side, eyes closed, mouth exploded in red carnage, she looks peaceful and serene given the chilling scene surrounding and enrobing her. This painting could be considered a perfect exponent of Agustin’s exploration of the duality between, in his words, “Chaos in peace, and peace in chaos.”

It’s impressive work, and a hit with the crowd. More and more people lined up to the pieces, snapping photos then running off to look for Augy to offer their praise and congratulations. This went on for some time until, after a brief announcement, the crowd emptied out down to the second floor, where the first band was about to take stage.

Performing first was Æpoch, a three piece from Cambridge, Ontario comprised of Brett MacIntosh (bass/vocals), Bobby Chounramany (guitar), and Greg Carvalho (drums). The heaviest band of the evening, Æpoch took the stage with the most difficult job of the evening, warming up the crowd. To this end, they were a fantastic success. After a brief introduction and chat with the crowd they launch into their admittedly loose setlist (“If you have any requests feel free to shout them out,” said frontman MacIntosh before launching into their first), kicking the night off with a fantastic energy and stage presence.

Technically proficient, Æpoch ably flew through rollicking rhythms and constantly changing tempos and beats at the drop of a hat. The musicians had incredible chemistry and fed off each other, with each bandmate getting their own moment to shine without ever tipping the balance. Lead singer Chris MacIntosh’s vocals soar above the music, ranging from a deep, baritone growl to a piercing howl, complementing Chounramany’s blistering arpeggios and bass-rich thrashing as well as the unreal beats produced by Carvalho and his drum-kit. Highlighting Æpoch’s skill, were the two instrumentals near the beginning and at the end of their set, that got the whole crowd banging their heads. Æpoch was the hardest-hitting act of the evening and is certainly a band to watch out for.

Following Æpoch was the first locally-based band of the evening, a four-piece ensemble called the Dead Fuks. Comprised of Emelie Gariepy (vocals), Mike Torsky (guitar), Trevor Ullerick (bass), and Kevin Toms (drums), the Dead Fuks play a no-nonsense straightforward brand of, in their words, ‘metallic stoner music with a punk attitude.’ Carrying forward the energy and enthusiasm brought by Æpoch, the Dead Fuks got straight to the point, offering up a setlist full of catchy, rhythmic, heavy tunes bolstered by the interplay of Mike Torsky’s guitars and Kevin Toms’ drumming that kept the crowd headbanging and moshing along. Out front and centre were Emilie Gariepy’s vocals. Wavering between a PJ Harvey-esque croon to an all-out metal vocal-chord shredding assault, the immensity and clarity of her voice combined with her stage presence elevated the band’s set to the next level. Highlights of their performance included the songs: ‘NUMB’ and ‘Punishment’.

Next up was the Guelph punk duo fronted by Derek Schaller, White Girl Wasted. By far the funniest of the four bands playing tonight, White Girl Wasted sound like the drug-addled cousins of Pixies and the most chaotic moments of The Stooges decided to band together solely to punch you in the face with a vicious wall of sound, cracking jokes along the way. With zero regards for basic human decency or any sense of good taste, White Girl Wasted blasted through their set with unparalleled enthusiasm and energy. Schaller, armed with a custom-built guitar and an array of effects managed to create a sound that had no business being as full as it was (having complimented him on his guitar, Schaller told me, “I don’t know shit about guitars.” Later amended to, “I don’t know shit about guitars, but I know how to play ‘em.”), that was perfectly complemented and enhanced by the incredible drumming of his partner. Their musicianship, showmanship and unique sense of humour got the whole crowd up and dancing/moshing for the entirety of their set (at one point Schaller launched himself into the crowd). White Girl Wasted is definitely one of the top bands to keep an eye on as they continue to develop. Highlights of their set include Schaller’s diatribe on the future, the song “Augy’s a Twat,” and their final number, a barely 30-second long piece of noise-disguised-as-a-song announced simply with, “Alright, this is gonna be a short one.”

Following this performance was a brief intermission, where the crowd headed back to the third floor to watch a promotional video showing some of Augy’s work in progress. There was a slight problem with the syncing of the video, set to music by Cavalera Conspiracy, which lead to some frustration but was still an enjoyable behind-the-scene look at Augy’s process. The video was followed by more praise for Augy, and brief smoke break after which the crowd went back down for the final band of the evening, Nothing, The Rat.

Nothing, The Rat, a local trio fronted by Justin Snape (guitar/vocals) along with Taylor Kerr (bass) and Alex Snape (drums), play their own version of grunge-soaked punk rock. Frontman Justin Snape led the way, screaming and screeching his way through the impeccable set while absolutely wailing on his guitar. Taylor Kerr played bass with aplomb, jumping and dancing around, eyes wide and lolling around the back of his head like a deranged mental patient. Drummer Alex Snape carried it on home with his heavy and on-point drumming. Some of the best performances of the night took place during Nothing, The Rat’s tenure and the crowd responded accordingly. Definitely, one of the finest bands that Guelph has to offer, Nothing, The Rat’s combination of catchy riffing, screamed vocals, humour and obvious talent make them an ideal band to keep on your radar. Highlights of the performance include: everything, even the brief, broken cover of the Backstreet Boys towards the end of their set.

The Palace of Rotting Flesh was a fantastic art exhibition/musical revue, bringing some of the finest young artists that Ontario has to offer together in celebration of the new work of one of its most unique exponents. Augy, only 24 and already with a number of high-profile sales (including Max Cavalera among others) and several exhibitions under his belt, with more being planned in cities like Toronto, Guelph, Bogotá, Colombia and London, England, seems poised on the brink of breaking out in a serious way. We all look forward to his continuing and well-deserved success.

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