A steady stream of exhibitions, movies, and publications over the past year may suggest an interest in the occult has re-awakened in the collective consciousness.

From the groundbreaking “Language of the Birds” at NYU Steinhardt (curated by Pam Gossman) and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s blending of the body with mysticism in “Try to Altar Everything” at the Rubin Museum this year, to the well-received Robert Eggers movie The Witch, to journals blending occult topics with culture such as Abraxas Journal or Sabat Magazine. It seems that for any number of reasons the barriers that once made such subjects difficult to treat seriously by the institutions and public at large are dissolving.

As with any subject gripped by zeitgeist, there are also talents who’ve explored this terrain for years whilst remaining just on the periphery. Micki Pellerano is one of them.

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His intricately-rendered drawings, baroque performances, and music videos have mined the shadowy history of occult for almost a decade, being exhibited at MoMA PS1, the Museum of Art and Design, Geffen Contemporary, Envoy Enterprises, American Medium, and the aforementioned “Language of the Birds” show.

I first encountered Pellerano’s work when he was the bass player of the pagan-tinged gothic-folk-punk group, Cult of Youth, years ago. In the misty, manicured graphite surfaces of his drawings—depicting bodies in smoke and shadow, Babylonian gods and arcane rites half lit by fire—I connected immediately with what I saw as a mutual affinity for the maligned melodrama and obsessive draftsmanship of the late-19th century symbolists (Gustave Moreau, Odilon Redon and Jean Delville to name a few).

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I had the opportunity to visit Pellerano’s studio recently and found it to live up to my expectations: black walls, candles, an altar, rows and rows of dark book spines with titles ranging from the Golden Dawn to Lautréamont’s Maldoror—an aesthetic that lies somewhere between Hammer Horror and what might be an office for Aleister Crowley.

To see his graphite drawings in person, many of which are fitted into slightly dilapidated antique frames, is to realize that no reproduction could do them justice.

The fantastical imagery (evocative of weird fiction and the hallucinatory drawings of occultist Austin Osman Spare) is enough to seduce me into Pellerano’s world of fever-dream-noir. But the details keep me lingering in their grip too.

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His gentile gradients of pencil hatching cohere into biological and mineral textures, as if underneath the figuration there is a monstrously suggestive, Lovecraftian abstraction eating its way up through the paper.

Far more strange than artists of the Salon de Rose-Croix, Pellerano’s closest historic precedent may be symbolist master Sascha Schneider, whose work depicted a world of homoerotic mysticism at the turn of the twentieth century. Schneider and Pellerano both move unselfconsciously between a romance with the body and a more etheric, visionary world.

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Though he has exhibited widely and received substantial press, Pellerano’s work has rarely been contextualized as contemporary in much of what has been written on him. On the surface this may be due to his historical approach to style but I suspect it is more his love of figure and narrative, two subjects burdened with criticism since at least the middle of the twentieth century.

I’m sure the artist, who has pursued his dark and unfaltering vision all these years, will remain unfazed. (Alessandro Keegan)

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