Today, tourists are encouraged to make their own visits to the crypts. But when artist and Goldmark Atelier’s master printmaker Ian Wilkinson made his, it prompted a visceral re-awakening. He was reminded of two childhood nightmares: a darkened corridor leading to a door, unknown voices whispering from the shadows; and a black bird alighting on the windowsill, announcing it was ‘time to go’. Left with an unshakeable association, he resolved to explore it. He bought himself a camera and over five years returned to document Palermo’s necropolitan populace.

The results are these: 67 photographic images of catacombed saints and sinners, still dressed in their finery. Attending them are a company of portentous birds, bearers of tidings good and ill, in similar states of mummification. Wilkinson discovered them soon after his return from Palermo, entombed within the chimney breast of an abandoned farmstead in Northamptonshire. Excavated by hand and photographed in his home studio, man and bird – and two personal visions – are united in these prints: departed souls and underworld envoys.

What began as a private endeavour to reanimate Palermo’s eternally interred quickly evolved when acclaimed writer Iain Sinclair was apprised of the project. In a fortuitous meeting with the publisher, Mike Goldmark, Sinclair accepted the kind of Sicilian offer that can’t be refused and left town for the catacombs. After years writing his way out of the labyrinth of London’s East End, Sinclair found himself in a true labyrinth, where all the familiar ghosts were waiting, eager to dictate their stories.

Our Late Familiars presents Wilkinson’s haunting imagery with Sinclair’s words: a fever-dream immersion in the plural connections of Palermo and its land of the dead.

Ian Wilkinson

Ian Wilkinson is an artist and master printmaker.

Iain Sinclair

Iain Sinclair is an award winning writer and filmmaker.