Velvet Buzzsaw Explained-The Real Art Is Scarier Than The Film

Haunted paintings and evil art take center stage in Netflix’s Velvet Buzzsaw.

Velvet Buzzsaw Netflix
Courtesy of Netflix

Netflix is on a roll.  Bird Box was a bonafide hit.  It premiered at the right time, had a huge name attached, and the novel the film is based on by Josh Malerman is extremely well regarded.  By employing the age-old technique of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, they are trotting out the Jake Gyllenhaal led Velvet Buzzsaw.  Teaming up with Nightcrawler director Dan Gilroy the streaming juggernaut is seeking to catch lightning in a box, er bottle… once again.  Nightcrawler was so dark, sleazy, and unfortunately very relevant it hit home in a big way.  It also hit a home run with audiences.  For this new film, supernatural fever dreams meet the art world.  Gyllenhaal’s character plays a pretentious art critic who cares more about being the smartest arty in the room instead of promoting art for art’s sake.  A delicious Renee Russo channels Cruella Deville and along with Zawe Ashton(Josephina) are the catalysts for the films creepy turn to the darkside.  Capitalizing on the huge success of Bird Box John Malkovich returns for round two.  Paintings from an unknown artist surface and the sundry money-grubbing art groupies all let greed rule the day.  The paintings take on a life of their own and start to turn on all those covetous, bombastic, and douchey power players in the art world.  What transpires is one wild trip to Panos Cosmatos’ Mandyland. 

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In the film, the paintings are made by mixing in human components.  Those elements permit the vengeful spirit of the artist to enact their justice.  Blood and serum co-mingle with oil-based ecru to create black magic.   As unsanitary and bizarre as that seems it has more than a little basis in fact.  Artists have literally suffered for their art.  They have given their blood, sweat, tears, and sanity for their muse.  Here are some of the most interesting examples of extreme art.

Using bodily fluids is not as uncommon as you might think.  It has had a place in the art world since the beginning of time.  Both obscure and traditionally popular artists alike have used these unconventional supplies.  Andy Warhol used his own urine and those of his sizable entourage to produce his work Oxidation.  As far back as the post-classic period of the Aztecs, blood has been used in religious ceremonies, and saliva was used commonly as a liquefaction agent with pigment.  Now, it is being used to create statements and collections that are powerful in both concept and imagery.  Antony Gormley uses blood and semen, Andres Serrano uses urine, and Rose-Lynn Fisher created an entire collection from photographs of tears.  Like snowflakes, no two tears are the same, and different emotions create different types of tears which are all captured in her photographs.  New York-basedartist Vincent Castiglia has used over twelve pints of his own blood mixed with paint since 2002.  His use of his own blood was used to produce an intimacy with his pieces he could not achieve otherwise. 

In 1961 conceptual artist Piero Manzoni preserved 90 cans of his own excrement in tin cans and said cans sold for 181,000.00 in 2007.  There is no question of what’s inside. It sure isn’t a bait and switch as they are labeled appropriately Artist’s ShitMay Ling Lu uses her own menstrual blood to color her pen drawn pictures detailing her bodies monthly cycle.  Attempting to de-stigmatize menstruation Christen Clifford takes the menstrual blood from several women over the course of years to bottle vials used to paint on willing male volunteers at showings titled I Want Your Blood.

Marc Quinn drains pints of blood every six weeks to freeze and then mold busts of his own head.  He has five busts to date, and each one requires a whopping ten pints.  His melding of humanity with message does not stop with blood as he has also used his son’s placenta to sculpt a piece titled Lucas.  In 2017 he drew blood from 5,000 people.  Two tons in total from a mix of refugee’s and non-refugees volunteers were taken for Odyssey Bloodcube.  This installation which is housed outside the New York Public Library was created to raise awareness and funds for the growing refugee crisis.  Donations can be made at the site or on the website above.  The use of the deeply personal life fluid to promote hope instead of death is what prompted so many to volunteer their fluids.

Photograph: Marc Quinn Studio/Human Love Worldwide/Norman Foster Foundation

Some use body parts and fluids to raise awareness, some for shock value and others to eliminate disgust.  Still, others use it for remembrance.  Japanese artist Hananuma Masakichi made a replica of himself in 1885 after determining he was dying from Tuberculosis.  He pulled out his own hair, teeth, and nails to make the wood sculpture as realistic as possible.  Adding insult to the injury of fingernail-pulling he didn’t die of TB, and his girlfriend left him toothless and penniless.  That’s a bad beat, dude.  Human hair has longed been used to braid, twist, and sculpt into mourning pieces.  Some of them are quite beautiful if you can get past the whole hair thing. 

Human fingernails and teeth are combined with resin to make Lucie Majerus’ Human Ivory.  Queens, New York artist Mike Drake makes emerald colored paperweights out of his nail clippings.  French artist Honore Fragonard was making a macabre statement about the state of the human body with his 700 corpse re-imaginings in the 18th century.  He was an anatomist that used his knowledge of the human form to create decidedly disturbing nightmares.  At one time his most famous work of a human riding a horse was rumored to be his ex-girlfriend.  This has since been debunked, but it definitely adds a weird twist.


The use of body parts does not come without its hazards though.  The obvious health risks of body fluids notwithstanding many superstitions and religions still hold the importance of maintaining the human form intact.  Voodoo practitioners use fingernails and hair for dolls.  These dolls could be used for harm, control, or love.  Blood magic utilizes blood combined with spells to do all kinds of things like protection wards and prosperity spells. 

There are also several real-life paintings that are said to be so haunted no one will have them in their homes.  The Hands Resist Him by Bill Stoneham leaves a string of dead bodies in its wake.  In addition, it has been bought and sold numerous times on eBay with sellers telling horrifying stories of children coming out of the painting and disembodied voices.  The mysterious The Anguished Man painting has actual footage said to prove unequivocally it is haunted.   The unsubstantiated but nonetheless scary story has the artist painting with his own blood shortly before taking his own life.  Wailing in the walls and strange noises were all things supposedly experienced when the painting was displayed.  Giovanni Bragolin’s painting The Crying Boy is both sad and disturbing.  The image itself is tough for a parent to look at but coupled with the strange history of this painting, and the numerous house fires it has survived is enough for firemen to universally shun any paintings like this in their homes.  A painting by Laura P. from a famous paranormal photograph by James Kidd in the ’90s produced falling clocks, strange noises, and the general sense of unease with anyone who see’s it. 

For lovers of AMC’s The Terror I present Man Proposes, God Disposes by Sir Edwin Landseer.  It depicts the demise of Sir John Franklin on his ill-fated voyage to find The Arctic Passage.  Polar bears instead of Tuunbaq were to blame for his death in the painting.  It hangs in the Royal Holloway College, and it is always covered on exam day as the students fear it will drive them mad and cause them to flunk their tests.  In Galveston, Texas Portrait of Bernardo de Galvez follows guests of The Hotel Galvez where it resides.  This painting is not so much evil as a control freak.  Do not try to take a photo of the painting without its express permission or the photo will turn out all kinds of wonky.

What is A Tuunbaq

As you can see there is a ton of material of which Velvet Buzzsaw can pull from, and don’t even get me started on the sexual connotations.   With the way events unfold in the film it’s fair to say something wicked this way comes, and it isn’t a Dorian Gray.  

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