HaberDash Monthly - December 2023

Herdthinner
15 min readDec 15, 2023

This month, we profile contemporary artist Marc Seguin, publish an essay by David Hunt, and share our favorite 3-Ingredient Raw Chocolate recipe.

Marc Séguin: Mastering Darkness on Canvas and in Prose

In the intricate tapestry of contemporary art, Marc Séguin stands as a fireball whose work speaks volumes without uttering a word. Born on March 20, 1970, Séguin’s journey from Ottawa, Ontario, to the halls of Concordia University incubated a talent that transcends the canvas and seeps into the realms of storytelling.

His artistry breathes life into reductive minimalism, where the power of each stroke belies the simplicity of form. Séguin’s paintings aren’t mere compositions; they’re visceral experiences laden with a resonance that extends beyond their physical boundaries, beckoning viewers into a world of dichotomies and complexities.

Séguin’s narratives weave through destruction, terrorism, and the papacy, embracing darkness with a brush dipped in human ashes. But amidst these shadows lies a luminescence — a profound exploration of our world’s political complexities, environmental challenges, and societal divisions. His art provokes contemplation, unveiling a beauty that exists in the midst of chaos.

Beyond his studio walls, Séguin’s life unfolds between the organic embrace of Hemmingford, Quebec, and the vibrant pulse of Brooklyn, New York — a juxtaposition reflected in the depths of his creations.

Marc Séguin’s impact exceeds the galleries. His literary journey, from “La foi du braconnier” to “Stealing Alice,” paints worlds as vivid as his brushstrokes. As a filmmaker, Séguin’s versatility shines, adding layers to his artistic tapestry.

He’s not a mere observer but an active participant in the theater of contemporary society. Séguin’s refusal to be confined by boundaries — temporal, territorial, or disciplinary — propels his art into a realm that transcends limitations.

In Séguin’s art, viewers don’t just witness beauty; they journey alongside complexities and contradictions, finding mirrors reflecting the enigmatic essence of our existence.

His upcoming exhibition, “Icons,” slated to unveil in Los Angeles at Lowell Ryan Projects on March 9, 2024, offers a glimpse into Séguin’s artistic evolution.

Discover the dynamic Marc Seguin collections on herdthinner.com, offering a range of activewear for men, youth, and kids.

3-Ingredient Raw Chocolate

Preparation Time: 10 minutes | Skill Level: Easy

Ingredients:

1 cup raw cacao
2–3 tablespoons raw honey
1 cup cacao butter (or coconut oil)

Directions:

Combine all your ingredients.

If you are in a cooler climate and your coconut oil is hard, you may have to melt it slightly in a double boiler. Pour into chocolate molds or a lined baking tray (to keep it super simple) and allow to set in the fridge!

Get creative and add your favorites to really treat your taste buds. A dash of vanilla, a pinch of sea salt, a little nut butter, goji berries or raspberries… The choices are endless!

THE INFALLIBLE POPES OF MARC SEGUIN

PAPAL THICKETS / STICKY WICKETS: TALES OF THE DON MAGIC JUAN

Twenty years ago, having just graduated from High School, my parents played both genial docent and strict chaperone on a Jamesian grand tour of Europe that, by day, was to be filled with the standard pit stops of improving culture. In three months I would be heading to the almost mystically tweedy East from the sun-kissed barbarism of the California Coast, from public to private school, and from the riptides of the Pacific Ocean to the manicured lawns and Alexandrine libraries of what Fitzgerald famously described in The Great Gatsby as, “the fresh, green breast of the New World.” I was, in fact, to attend a liberal arts college, and while San Francisco had long been steeped in an all-inclusive, anything goes, New Age liberalism, it’s grasp on the arts, to put it mildly, was sketchy and arriviste.

Like Nick Carraway, Fitzgerald’s quietly voyeuristic double, my parents were keen to overcompensate for a blindered pioneer optimism that surfaced, like the gold flakes washing up on the edge of Sutter’s Mill in 1848, at historic moments of speculative opportunism. Europe was to be the blue-chip, 24-karat insurance policy against the cultural iron pyrite of the Klondike Old West. One vanished world would replace another, so that the traditions of a third could better be absorbed. In my parent’s anxious mind, this steady diet of duomos, coliseums, basilicas and canals was to be their last-ditch pedagogical effort before summarily cutting the cord, a pre-emptive strike against a lingering inferiority complex which clung to “Left Coast” pilgrims with the same tenacious grip as the quaint, fog-enshrouded cliches of cable cars cresting near-vertical hills. Steep and deep, the Rice-a-Roni treat. Then as now, this catchy emblem of civic boosterism encapsulated the equally shallow roots that prompted Nick Carraway, with a sigh of retrospective clarity, to muse: “I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all–Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life.”

It turned out to be a sweet deal. Notre Dame, the Spanish Steps, and the Parthenon by day — cocktails, clubs, and a crash course in an international sign language of fumbling overtures, both erotic and otherwise by night. There was to be one condition, however, rigorously enforced by my mother, who it’s worth noting was a 3rd generation Italian-American who had faithfully, in the truest sense, attended Catholic schools: I was expected to refrain from any late night bacchanals on the day before we visited St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Not only was it understood that I would be refreshed, alert and literally bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on this auspicious day, I was expected to be an enthusiastic recipient of whatever magisterial performance art and ceremonial prestidigitation was on offer. In short, I was to leave my casually earned cynicism and budding Enlightenment principles at the door. This was the liturgy in advance of the liturgy, so to speak. I needed only to remain tight-lipped and open minded while Pope John Paul II addressed his adoring crowd of thousands. For this small price I would buy my future freedom.

By the end of his 27 year reign, Pope John Paul II made 170 visits to 115 countries, survived two assassination attempts, beatified 1,340 people (more than all the previous Popes combined), mastered a total of 10 languages, and wrote 14 papal encyclicals. Still, this was 1987 and it would be seven years before Time Magazine crowned the Pope “Man of the Year,” a secular canonization ensuring eternal pop-celebrity. Though I had sworn off comic books not long before, in 1983 Marvel published a four issue mini-series featuring the Pope that made Karol Josef Wojtyla the man seem at least as superhuman as Daredevil or Moon Knight. He was an actor, playwright, and goalie on his high school soccer team. He was hit by a German truck in WWII and easily recovered from a massive concussion. He took two bullets at the hands of Mehmet Ali Agca, a Soviet-hired Bulgarian gunman, lost three-quarters of his own blood and — dare I say it? — miraculously lived. Did I mention that the Don Magic Juan was an avid downhill skier and alpine expert? The tale of the tape was staggering. In my fevered 14 year-old pulp imagination Pope John Paul II was the Silver Surfer and Galactus rolled into one: simultaneously both herald of the legendary devourer of planets, and said cosmic gourmand.

It would be some time before I cared to recognize that the Holy Roman Empire was, as the popular trope would have it, neither “Holy,” nor “Roman,” nor an “Empire,” pinballing back and forth as it did between Constantinople and Rome, between Imperial and Papal authority, and between the burning of heretics at the stake and the triumphal unification of vast stretches of land. But why get caught up in petty historical details? No, what truly mattered and what I and other cloven-hoofed pagans of a similar age did know was that the Pope tooled around in a tricked-out, customized Mercedes Benz ML430 SUV comfortably enthroned in a bullet-proofed plexiglas box, all the while offering benedictions or beatdowns as the need, or occasion, arose. Sure, his less enlightened predecessors had dissed Galileo’s heliocentric model in 1633 and tossed him in the pokey, but here was the Grand Poo-Bah himself, the Big Kahuna in the flesh, the Supreme Muckety-Muck in rakishly pointed miter or, to borrow a phrase from what I would later learn was an institution with similar executive powers and modes of deploying them, the “Capo di tutti capi.” Though he was the living embodiment of the Apostle St. Peter, had Facebook existed in 1987, Pope John Paul II would’ve counted the Holy Trinity as the top three people in his friends network.

Celebrity wattage, as we currently understand it in our wired age of omnipresent cell-phone cameras and real-time internet feeds, necessarily depends upon a consistent and unrelenting dissemination of deeply invasive personal images, both high and low, scandalous and adoring. In the popular media, at least, Pope John Paul II received that rarest of free passes in that hagiography was never employed as a strategic rhetorical device, but rather as an obligatory convention — in fact, the onlyconvention; living saints, as you might imagine, got the saintly treatment, and that was that, now on to Page 6. In parsing the Pope’s viewpoints opposing homosexuality and same-sex marriage, the ordination of female priests, his support of Opus Dei, or his failure to respond to the sex-abuse crisis within the church itself, the eminence of the Holy See itself acted as a shield against tabloid exploitation. In a typical Op-Ed column in any major newspaper, one might rail against the Pope’s absolutist position against artificial birth control, including the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV, but the Pope need not submit to the scrutiny of a Barbara Walters Special, let alone a scantily clad Vanity Fair spread.

Though I couldn’t have known it at the time, this special dispensation would have the paradoxical effect of actually increasing his auratic juice. His power, even before he addressed the assembled crowd that day, struck me as being in inverse proportion to his visibility; pop stars, after all, posed on album covers, made music videos, signed autographs, were turned into playing cards, produced clothing lines, became color commentators, adopted Cambodian babies, married and divorced with startling frequency. The Pope did none of these things. Rarity, in both his public appearances and papal decrees, not 24/7 carpet-bombing cable saturation, cannily fended off media exhaustion, hence increasing the longevity of his news-cycle.

The crypto-mystic netherworld of the papacy, then, with its byzantine hierarchical structure of bishops and cardinals acted as a concealing buffer against any “low” culture assaults. The centuries-long institution of the Holy See, in other words, and not the Pope himself, diffused any sense of schadenfreude, forestalled the eventual necrophilic death wish of the committed fan, since one could not properly identify with — mano a mano — an entire bureaucratic super-structure. Raphael might paint Pope Julius II as an avuncular Santa Claus in red and white vestments, head bowed and slouched in his throne with the weight of all those unanswered prayers, fairly keeling over in exhaustion from making his list and checking it twice, but such mythic idealizations were the airbrushed boudoir photos of the day. That is to say, they appealed to the subject’s vanity, were painted within the stock conventions of the genre, and above all, their misty-eyed rendering of extreme pathos concentrated the viewer’s mind on the freshly humanized Pope, while fairly obliterating the shadowy tentacles and clandestine activities of the corrupt Star Chamber from which he sprang. Tender mercies, indeed. Such ethereal valentines penned in oil were the stock in trade of the fawning court supplicant.

Five hundred years later, Francis Ford Coppola, in Godfather I and II, could aestheticize the interior of the Vatican and cue up as many Gregorian chants as he liked, portraying the Pope’s minions as master puppeteers in a decadent Illuminati, but again, this epic, celluloid transubstantiation into Hollywood saga seemed to further inoculate the Pope against the future scrutiny of an Imus or Stern or Oprah. These were the competing thoughts that swirled uneasily in my mind standing way back in the nosebleed section as the Pope stepped onto his balcony. Comics and movies and the dim remembrance of a hilarious Monty Python limerick: “Every sperm is sacred, every sperm is great. If a sperm gets wasted, God gets quite irate!” And then suddenly, as if beamed down from some astral elsewhere, a postage stamp-sized image of an enfeebled spiritual potentate in a kingdom 1 billion strong advanced to the railing and turned to the breathless, weeping crowd like the sequined gloved King of Pop himself, and the 261st Pope smiled gingerly, waved a few times as if the whole of St. Peter’s Basilica was a giant inflatable parade float, then beat a hasty retreat into his velvety lair. That was it: an encore, a cameo, a tipping of his cap after hitting a grand slam over the Green Monster. The grin without the cat. Insta-absolution. It proved to be enough for his admirers who, like me, were equally primed with the pop backstory, but who, unlike me, had both faith and belief. Naturally, he brought the house down.

I had received my audience with the Pope ­– not private, but still — and as I cruised through Sotheby’s in May of 2008, stopping dead in my tracks in front of Francis Bacon’s “Study From Innocent X,” I was reminded that the alcoholic Irish genius himself never saw the source material for his own masterpiece. Neurotically concerned that his own private audience with the Velasquez painting which haunted and obsessed him all his life would leave him perilously disappointed, he spent three months in Rome in 1954, and never once stepped foot in the Galleria Pamphilij where the painting then resided. Or perhaps he felt unworthy of the privilege. Through endless books, catalogs, postcards and various reproductions, Bacon enacted a lifelong analytical autopsy of every square inch of that Velasquez painting, honoring it, but embalming it too, so that he might simultaneously breathe new life into his own version while remaining true to his inner vision. This struck me as “fear and trembling” coupled with monomaniacal devotion to the nth degree. Such extreme anxiety of influence tends to be crippling for mere mortals, but a necessary condition for all great art, and by extension, the critical beatification of any artist who wills himself up to the task.

The Canadian painter Marc Seguin is a poker-faced Sphinx unencumbered by hidden agendas. In person his mood is dignified on the surface, much like the elegantly compressed shorthand of his technique, but appearances — in demeanor, as in painting — can be deceiving. Something is simmering and the deep sublimation would seem to announce the dress rehearsal for a display of frantic posturing, though none is forthcoming. A changeling throughout his career, he effortlessly glides from Neo-Expressionist primitivism, to disembodied icons floating in anti-gravitational space, to grim burlesques of wanted terrorists in drag. The link? Seguin eschews the horror vacui of hysterical realism and its joyless fixation with sledgehammer pyrotechnics in favor of an anti-transcendental mood that lulls even as it burrows uncomfortably into our psyches. Somber, silence drenched, and distilled to the point of mere vapor, the painterly economy of his expressive style seems to counter — if not cancel out entirely — the fetish of virtuosity. It is a frequency shorn of gross amplitudes.

Seguin’s series of figurative paintings are the skeptical inquiries of a gimlet-eyed iconoclast who, with X-ray specs, tends to see directly through things, but from an oblique angle. The Doctrine of Papal Infallibility is his latest crusade (if that’s not too strong a word), and he’s leveled his diagnostic gaze on a rogues gallery of various Popes glacially frozen in his signature life-like grisaille. Established at the First Vatican Council of 1870, the concept of papal infallibility is about as self-evident as they come. The gist? The Pope is unable to err in teaching the revealed truths of faith and morals as handed down by Christ and laid out in the Bible. Needless to say, such uncompromisingly literal rhetoric is a blueprint for fundamentalism run amok. Infallibility here means more than exemption from actual error; it means exemption from the possibility of error. Beyond its presumptuous grandiosity, papal infallibility’s inherent hypocrisy is based on the Vatican’s insistence that it has always existed — despite its ratification in 1870 — since the beginning of the Roman Catholic Church, a bit of circular logic that no doubt grabbed Seguin’s attention.

So is Seguin an agnostic, an atheist, anti-Catholic with a vindictive streak? Is he exceedingly appalled by the spectacle of Mel Gibson flogging an Abercrombie & Fitch model in a rubber flesh suit for 90 minutes? Does he lay awake at night bemoaning the lack of available prophylactics in Africa and consequently the millions born into extreme poverty? Or is he just at wit’s end by the endless procession of smug pageantry, the perfumed atmosphere of incense masking the largest commercial real estate firm in the world? Seguin would say I’m projecting and therein, I’d hazard, lays his conceptual strategy: subtle agitation in lieu of strident moralizing. Implicate rather than indict. Provide a readily available pitard in the guise of prefab poses pitched somewhere on the banality spectrum between mugshot and yearbook photo, then stand back and let the accused do the hoisting.

Seguin, like the Belgian painter Luc Tuymans, suspends authorial license through a systematic process of extreme evacuation — tabula rasa as both means and ends — gently coaxing the viewer’s own historical brushes with Papal lore whether glancingly anecdotal or discomfitingly in the flesh. Emotional engagement, after all, requires physical breathing space — acreage to roam within the boundaries of the canvas itself — not just the painterly bravura that resides in, say, Titian’s rhythmic folds of cascading papal vestments in his full frontal Pope Paul III, nor Velasquez’s concentrated psychological intensity in Pope Innocent X’s beady, thousand yard stare. The latter is a provocation, the Travis Bickle of its time, a near accusatory double-take in gloriously arrested motion which fairly goads: “You talking to me?” A kinesthetic tour de force of spring-loaded fury to be sure, but one feels the coolly suave hand of Velasquez on the shoulder, turning, guiding, providing us with his own readymade thought balloon. By contrast, towering above us at a statuesque nine feet, Seguin’s paintings initially seem like vast, frolicsome playpens — giant sandboxes with which to kickstart memory’s Super 8 projector unmolested by top-down painterly dictates. Let’s get lost! he seems to say, except we do and it turns out to be a forced conscription. Stop-Lossed, second tour in the ether.

Alas, a trademark Seguin tease: once inside his vacuum-sealed borders the air proves mighty thin, the modes of egress few and far between. And his spectral popes, too, like stern but faintly benign headmasters grinding it out until they collect their pensions. No ham-handed caricaturist in the proto-Zap manner of Daumier’s ectomorphic Pinnochios, Seguin is careful to soft-pedal the histrionics, faithfully maintaining each silhouetted Pope’s august identity as proud holder of the keys to the kingdom, but also as common men who hold dear to themselves the psychotic delusion that Christian law is an inorganic document — unchanging, inflexible and capable of denying any logical contradictions in papal pronouncements as if history existed alone for their pleasure. As if history prostrates itself in the face of sheer hauteur. Yes, they loom over us in mock-lordly repose, Subcomandante Benedict, for instance, a synthetic amalgam of Seguin’s polaroids, jpegs, magazine cut-outs, YouTube clips, or perhaps first hand accounts, as provisionally stitched as unreliable memory itself. But now we are trapped alongside them in the painting. The situation compels a counter-history. The cock of the walk is upholstered in soft down, spackled with thick tar, ruffled in iridescence, aloof as Mt. Rushmore, impervious as granite. Seguin just hands us a pick and offers up the quarry.

-David Hunt

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