December 1st – The Festival of Withstanding the Visage

Darius Ouvres was having something of a personal crisis in 1927. He was a well-respected painter, with excellent credentials in creating beautiful, colourful, happy images. He painted cats and dogs and children and beautiful young people petting cats and dogs and giving sweets to children. He painted the queue for the ice cream shop in summer, a young boy and his dog going sledging in winter. Before the Revolution middle class folks commissioned Darius Ouvres to paint their children, but since then he mainly sold prints or quick pieces to everyone else. Everyone was always smiling in Ouvres paintings, but since the Revolution, the man was smiling less and less.

It wasn’t so much a loss of income that began to niggle at Ouvres, as this remained fairly unchanged (before he had been paid lots for a single piece, but there were big gaps between work, whereas now many folks could afford to buy these cheaper pieces more regularly), it was that he felt his work was being devalued by this turn of events. Before he spent many days on a single piece, of which there was only a single instance. Mass production was cheapening things, sucking the individual soul out from them, he felt. Ouvres often described himself as ‘apolitical,’ but seeing as this is impossible, it seems that he was broadly in favour of how things had been, and treated the new world with grumpy disdain.

It’s easy to see why Ouvres might have felt this way, despite a lack of change in his material circumstances; it was all about a sense of importance. Being commissioned to create art that he would spend days on made him feel more important than simply selling a print. The 1920s were riddled with folks like him: those who’d lost out in the Revolution, but were too apathetic to do much about it except complain and sulk. Except Ouvres’ sulking took a particular, unexpected turn: he decided, in order to become once again ‘authentic’ and respected as a ‘serious’ artist (which it’s debatable that he ever was in the first place), to entirely change his artistic style.

Few of the paintings from this period of Ouvres’ life survive still, as the painter himself destroyed many of them in the fits of rage that he became prone to, at first almost as a performative element of the artistic process, but it seems later this element of his personality took over. Those paintings that do survive are dark and brooding, depicting monsters and murderers and executions. The dogs that had been petted previously were drowning, the cats took on haunting stares, their eyes startlingly human. The innocent children took of malicious tendencies. Sunflowers wilted and died. The change was so extreme that it seemed to some as if Ouvre had become possessed, or had succumbed to some terrible mental ague.

Indeed, the idea that Ouvres became possessed before he painted The Terrible Visage is a notion that persists, drawing many esotericists and occultists to the festival today. The festival takes place in the home of Terrence Snedvik, specifically in the sitting room. Snedvik’s mother, Selena, had seen Ouvres’ early works and loved them dearly, so much so that she decided to commission the artist to paint a mural in her sitting room, expecting some cheerful scene that would forever brighten her days. Snedvik was not aware of the ‘moody phase’ that Ouvres was going through at the time, and apparently expressed little surprise at the moody appearance of the artist, who was unkempt and sallow-faced. ‘He obviously has a great warmth inside,’ Terrance remembered her saying to his father, ‘Beauty comes from inside not from without.’ The artist locked the door, pulled the curtains closed and stopped up the gap beneath the door, so that nobody could watch him working. He never came out again alive.

The official prognosis of the coroner wasn’t suicide, as many had expected, but accidental death by prolonged exposure to paint thinners. By stopping up the door and keeping the windows closed, Ouvres gave no route for the fumes to escape, and he likely suffered a prolonged death. They found him after ten days, when Terrence’s father, Erdvard, forced the door down, an act that Terrence was not allowed to witness, but heard, just as he had heard the tapping on the wall a few days earlier, but had thought nothing of it. When the officials had been and gone, the sitting room was boarded up, and Terrance was forbidden from talking about it.

It was only much later, when both his parents had died, that Terrance finally looked inside the sitting room, and saw The Terrible Visage, that hideous self-portrait, all anger and malice, staring back at him. Before she died his mother had told him never to open the room up, but when once again, on the anniversary of those terrible events, he heard the tapping on the wall, he had to. At least this is what the Buentoilliçan Spiritual Times reported had happened, in a piece which caused a huge amount of attention and calls for Snedvik to open the painting to public viewings. Eventually, after a couple of week’s pressure, Snedvik agreed to open the room (which he had hastily closed back up again, apparently unable to withstand the evil stare of the mural) to the public once a year, on the anniversary of Ouvres’ corpse being found.

The revellers will line Snedvik’s hallway today, waiting their turn to see the painting, to attempt to withstand its terrible gaze for longer than three minutes and twenty six seconds, which is the current record. The door is locked after each entrant, so that they are alone with the artist, and it will only be unlocked if they frantically knock on the door. Without exception, each viewer looks drained as they exit. Snedvik, now 97 years old, has no children, and is looking to pass the house on to anyone who can withstand the gaze for 5 minutes or longer.

Other festivals happening today:

  • William’s Day
  • The Festival of Getting Down With It
  • The Festival of Bruised Pride