In this, the latest of Nazgul's occasional series of Honour and Darkness interviews, please welcome the master of the dark illustration behind many of Elisabetha's release – Neon Ästhet.
With a style all of his own and a juxtaposition of disturbing and darkly erotic images, this is a rare opportunity to get into the mind of one of the original band's unholy triumvirate. For those less familiar with Neon's art and design, Nazgul has interspersed examples drawn both from actual album artwork and from other illustrations (some I believe may well be previously unseen online).
To begin, Hugin provides us with his brief perspective on the work of Neon Ästhet:
"I really love Neon’s art: He makes something unique I think, it’s so archaic and evil! I especially love the "Demeter" cover he painted for Elisabetha - the same with his lyrics, it’s really EVIL!!!!" Alex ‘Hugin’ Wieser, September 2010
Hello Neon, welcome to Honour & Darkness!
Hello Nazgul, thank you for your invitation. Glad to be here.
Q: Firstly, can you explain the origin of your intriguing name: Neon Ästhet?
A: Sure. Neon was influenced from my fascination of neon light, a cold light that gives me my energy. It was also influenced by the Kraftwerk song, ‘Neonlicht’. The ‘Ästhet’ part came because at this time I saw myself as a modern day Dandy (aká Ästhet) and wore Dandy-like clothes. Since then there has been a change and I am now calling myself ‘Neon Krypton’(Krypton = mysterious). The time of me being a Dandy has gone, the Army-look is now in.
Q: Where did the other two Elisabetha members get their names from – Blutgraf Gha'gsheblah (Uwe) and Graf Alexander Zu Sankt Magdalena, aka Höllenfürst (Alex)?!
A: Sorry, I can’t answer that - I never asked Uwe and Alex about it!
[Nazgul’s note: Hugin tells me that Graf Alexander Zu Sankt Magdalena means ‘Count Alexander from St. Magdalena’ (being the village where he was born), and Höllenfürst was a ‘Lord of Hell’. Meanwhile, Blutgraf means ‘Count of Blood’, and Gha'gsheblah is a ‘Vampire Demon’]
Q: How did the three of you first come together to form Elisabetha?
A: I can answer from my side, only. I originally wrote a letter to Uwe, as an artist and being curious to work on a CD project. So we came to one another that way - and soon I was a member of a music project!
Q: What inspired the name of the group, "Elisabetha"? What other names were considered?
A: Oh, Uwe had explained this in past interviews: It was inspired by the name of Dracula’s wife in the great movie from Francis Ford Coppola. I don’t know if other names were considered name for the project.
A: Song writing, recording, sound - that was all the role of Uwe and Alex. My part was the artistic side. I created covers and/or artwork, and wrote or contributed to one or two lyrics. I sent them for feedback and if the answer came back ‘yes’ they were used.
Q: Can you tell us more about your artwork on those Elisabetha demos: what inspired you, and what favourite designs do you have from that time?
A: At first, Uwe sent extracts from the lyrics and various sound samples to me together with his interpretation of atmosphere, and so on. I listened and read and afterwards did my own scribbles, writing my meaning about these inspirations. I would send my work back and wait for feedback: that was the process from the beginning to the end of my work, so every artwork was a work in progress. My favourite designs are the covers from "Renfield" and "Und Wirklichkeit erfüllt die Seele wieder".
Q: Tell us a little about Alex and Uwe: what were they like to work alongside as friends and band members?
A: Alex and Uwe were very good friends. We talked a lot, and a meeting with both was a very good and intense one. Nowadays I have contact with Alex only. He is one of my best friends and I’m very proud and happy to be his friend.
Q: There must be some funny stories from the early days of the band: can you share one or two with us?
A: Most of them are a private thing, sorry! But one story is a strange one, so I will tell it. After contacting Uwe with the idea for submitting artwork, Uwe told me that the second Elisabetha member lived in the same town as myself! That was the first surprise. The second one, it was Alex, who I had met in the past but had not seen recently!
Q: The style of Elisabetha demo changed from radio-play with extensive samples (2000) to more black metal in nature (2003) - why did this transition come about?
A: Sorry, I can’t really comment on that: only Alex can really comment on the musical parts.
Q: OK, so looking back, do you think Elisabetha achieved its potential or do you have regrets?
A: Looking back, I’m sure that Elisabetha achieved its potential. It has got better with every new project, and I’m rather proud to have been a part of it.
Q: What did you think of the modern Elisabetha sound: "Morella" and "Über das Prinzip der Unschuld"?
A: Answered simply, Elisabetha was a vampire-music-project. That means a great intensity, not only in sound and lyrics but also the special atmosphere.
Q: How would an Elisabetha fan go about getting their CDs or tapes signed by Neon Ästhet?
A: An Elisabetha fan can send CDs or tapes (or just covers) to me with return postage: 4 Euro (Europe) or 6 Euro (World). I’ll sign them and return them to you. But don’t forget that the post takes time, and I can’t be held accountable for its reliability. Send your CD's, inlays, letters, etc to: Arnold Reisner, Hauserstr.12. 4040 Linz, AUSTRIA
Q: Is the collaboration between the three of you on a hiatus? Or is it more of a matter of each of you feeling that you have fully explored the creative process/talents that each of you brought to "Elisabetha" and that the collaborative process has reached a natural end or closure?
A: That I can’t answer. For me, the end of Elisabetha was a big surprise. I took a short break, because the concept and ideas for the last projected CD were neither in my imagination nor inspiration. That was an artistic thing only. So I was not involved with what went on afterwards. Shortly after this time, there came a mail saying that Elisabetha had gone.
Q: Do you listen to any of Alex's current projects (Uruk Hai, Hrefnesholt, etc)? If so, do you have any favourites?
A: Yes, I listen to many of Alex’s current projects: My favourite is Bonemachine.
Q: What are you up to at the moment, in both art and in life?
A: At the moment, my private life remains to be "undead and well". I experienced private troubles last year, and also the death of my mother in May this year. Some very hard times recently, but my life always was a survival from troubles. Also, I had artistic burn out, and reverted to science for more than one year - my artistic desire is back up and I feel I can draw again and be ready for new pictures. That’s good for my private life and a rather good feeling overall.
Q: Many of your illustrations I've seen focus on eroticism and vampirism, clearly strong influences on you?
A: Yes, both are very strong influences. In writing and art, I picture a universe of Eroticism-Blood-Pain. Privately I’m an admirer of the Marquis de Sade, who I consider an important philosopher too. I am interested in true crime (psycho killers) and war crime, and read a lot about cannibalism and the study of cannibals. All of these influences I call dark eroticism. But I’m neither Freddy Krueger nor Albert Fish *giggle*! Privately, I am a peaceful guy. I have a rather cynical humour though. I’m into S&M and military-fetish, and prefer plump and fat women....
Regarding vampirism, it’s one of the two most important points in my life. Not only do I read novels and look at movies, I also read a lot of non-fiction on the subject, and do special meditations. As I said, vampirism is part of my life, so I’m looking always for contacts to talk about it through email or pen-pals until we meet.
Q: Are you a self-taught artist? Who are your artistic influences?
A: Yes, I’m self-taught. Not only as an artist, most of my specialist knowledge is also self-taught. My influences include (i) as an artist: Hieronymus Bosch, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Alfred Kubin, Hans Bellmer and Francis Bacon; (ii) as a writer: H.P.Lovecraft, Lewis Carroll, Marquis de Sade, Fritz von Herzmanovsky-Orlando and Kathy Acker
Q: Is there a piece of art that you wish you had created?
A: That’s easy to answer - the 'Toteninsel' by Arnold Böcklin.
Q: As an artist, what mediums do you prefer? Do you find yourself returning to one or a few reoccurring themes in your art?
A: If it's copy-collage or usual picture I prefer aquarelle and tempera colours, both in a special technique that I self-developed. But also I use in fusion colour-textmakes, edding and so on. Don’t know borders. If necessary for a picture, I also would use lipstick and nail-polish. Only airbrush, oils or acrylics are not my thing.
Q: Have you designed any album covers for other bands and, if so, which ones?
A: Yes, I have done one cover but it never was used. It was not my best kind of art, so I will not talk more about it....
Q: Where can we see more of your artwork: are you online or exhibiting somewhere?
A: Google anything about Neon Ästhet or Arnold Reisner! But this homepage - www.tschossener-ge.org - is from a good friend of mine. We have written together a vampire-novel, and a ghost-ship themed one will soon be ready. We plan to start another vampire novel too. All of these are German language.
This link - http://www.ooe-talenteforum.at/ - is from a culture-society, where am I a member. There is a little cross-section of my art and maybe on or two lyrics too, again in German.
Maybe I will reinstate an older page in the future for myself, but this I cannot promise now.
Q: Given your interest in vampire lore, are you of the belief that real vampires live among us and are not just fictional?
A: That real vampires exist among us is a fact for me.
Q: Do you feel that recent films such as the Twilight saga add to the vampire mythos, or lessen it?
A: I think the Twilight saga is a part of the mythos. Maybe, it’s a little Rosamunde Pilcher like - it’s nicely written and has many good ideas. So it adds a little bit to the mythos.
Q: Do you think that the generation of interest in the vampire life-style through modern films is a dangerous thing, or a positive thing?
A: I’m sure that it’s not dangerous. I’m 48 years young and have been a horror-fan since I was sixteen. During my time there have been many generations of styles and interests and in every generation teachers, psychologists, parents and others say that ‘it’ is dangerous. I find the vampire style and interest a positive thing. For some people it is a ‘soft revolution’ against simplistic mindsets and maybe a help to finding themselves. And later, they can look back and say, hey, we were rebels too. For the others, it will be the doorway to a real interest into vampirism. Both are very positive things.
Q: What are your opinions on the current depiction of vampires in popular culture? What do you think makes vampires so popular over other monster mythos, such as werewolves, mummies, Frankenstein, zombies?
A: I think there are more facts. The Vampire is a sexy and charismatic one. He takes what he wants, and has survived death, and has magic-like talents like a dark Superman. Also, the Vampire is Jesus-like, but without morals. These all make the vampire very erotic. On other side, he is a lonesome creature, a feeling that each of us knows from time to time. Another point is the history: The vampire mythos is as old as any culture, and occurs all over the world from the vampire Gods and Goddesses in ancient religions through to ballads featuring strongly in modern popular culture. Those are one or two facts of many: Hey, I could talk for ages about vampirism!
Q: Who do you think would win in a fight: a vampire or a dragon?!
A: Sorry to all vampire-fans, but the dragon would win! Because a dragon is like a tank, a war-machine: It has armour, fire and poisoned claws...
Q: If you were stranded on a desert island for a year, what 3 CDs and 3 books would you take with you?
A: One of my survival handbooks, *giggle*? Okay, without joking - you know, that’s a mean question. But I will try to answer it. For certain, one CD with music from the East (Syria, Turkey, Afghanistan or so on). As a second choice, ’Chelsea Girls’ by Nico - she is a goddess to me. And thirdly an old Black Metal album, like Venom, Slayer, or something like that.
On books: from Marquis de Sade‚ "120 Tage von Sodom", a good non-fiction book about the Voodoo religion and an anthology of stories from H.P. Lovecraft.
Q: [What can only be called a classic Philip Knight mad-as-a-goose contribution!] I’m currently completely boned on coffee, three heaped teaspoons of instant, no milk or sugar. How do you take yours? Do you require any kind of stimulant to be creative and how does the process pan out? Are you a fidget and does one converse with the badger? Do you get badgers where you reside?
Q: Since the interview that was published in the Depravity Zine #2 (2005) and republished in Honour and Darkness blog, you said your "desire is to onward down the Dark Path" - how has that journey been? Has there been anything to surprise you? Anything that challenged you and expanded your philosophy about life and yourself as an artist and musician?
Not to be misunderstood, Darkness, Vampyrism, are still in me. I prefer to use dark energies, but now I also use other energies without problems.
And there has been another big change. For nearly two years I’m a member of the Voodoo religion. That’s the second important part of my life. Meanwhile I’m a Voodoo Priest, and I could in theory be the head of a parish. I can do big rituals and will do it for people who need advice through me. My priest’s title and name is Papa Simitye for people who want to speak with me as a priest. For all others, I’m still Arnold or Neon.
There is no change to my philosophy. It’s just the same, as Popeye the sailorman would say, "I am what I am. And that’s what I am." Simple enough! I always have tried to go my own way and it is not a contradiction to work in a standard job and also to be an underground artist/writer. The borders between underground and mainstream only exist for small-minded people. The only truth is to go your own way, with all of the highs and depths that follow, and live every day of life as if it were your last one. So you can say at the end: I have lived every day of my life.