Archive of ‘art’ category

Carisa Swenson’s Curious Creatures and Aberrant Animals

"Brother’s Keeper” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography

“Brother’s Keeper” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography

(Originally published on the Coilhouse Magazine blog, May 5, 2011. If Carisa’s name sounds familiar to you ’round these parts, then you have an excellent memory, friend! I have previously written about Carisa and her Wormwood & Rue creations here and here. )

Carisa Swenson of Goblinfruit Studio creates curious critters who seem to have wandered quietly out of a child’s fable of forest creatures, gleaming-eyed and grinning from beneath be-fanged overbites. Yet for all their grimacing, there is no sense of malice, no reason to fear this peculiar lot; look closer and you will find something profoundly endearing, familiar, and gentle about this oddball cast of creatures. Though they are semi-feral fairytale beasties from a dark wood, one gets the feeling from their earnest, even kindly expressions that they, just like anyone, are yearning for a happily ever after.

From the artist’s site:

Carisa Swenson’s passion for creating curious creatures springs from many sources—a love of Greek mythology and Ray Harryhausen’s creations when she was a child, an appreciative eye for Henson Workshop in her teens, to the weird and wonderful films of Jan Svankmajer and The Brothers Quay in her twenties. But when Carisa studied with world-renowned doll artist Wendy Froud, the final die was cast: posable dolls would forever own her soul and trouble her nights, stirring her with a fervor that could only be quelled by stitching and sculpting her dreams into reality.

“Since 2006 Carisa’s work has been featured in several exhibitions and publications, including the Melbourne Fringe Festival, NYU’s acclaimed annual “Small Works Show”, Art Doll Quarterly, and Spectrum 17.

We recently caught up with Carisa for a bit of a Q&A; see below the cut for more concerning the Curious Creatures and Aberrant Animals of Goblinfruit Studio.

“Otto” ©Goblinfruit Studio

“Otto” ©Goblinfruit Studio

In your bio, you mention that you’ve been creating dolls since 2006, after taking a stop motion animation class – had you always been interested in dolls and posable creatures, and this led you to taking that fateful class, or was this a fortunate fluke from which a consuming passion was born? Further, I understand that you’ve studied with artist Wendy Froud, which sounds amazing… can you tell us about that?

My fascination with stop-motion, automatons, and fantastical creatures took root when I first set eyes upon Ray Harryhausen’s work in Clash of the Titans, and even more importantly, the Sinbad series (the statue of Kali awakening and wielding six swords will forever stay with me). Action figures had always been a huge part of my playtime as a child, but I had little interest in dolls (with the exception of a much-loved Holly Hobbie rag doll) and a tendency to gravitate towards stuffed animals. Oddly enough, my desire to learn more about stop-motion ended up sparking a desire to create dolls. Before then, I concentrated on illustrating, mostly for fantasy card games and children’s books, but sculpted tiny creatures on the side as a hobby.

Several years ago, when I finally decided to take a stop-motion class, I had that “aha!” moment while working on a model for class. Sculpting and creating a posable model enchanted me and I found it much more engaging than my past experience with illustration. The idea of being able to hold a piece of art in your hands and essentially breathe life in it through touch and interaction appealed to me. Once of the best reactions I witnessed to one of my dolls was at a gallery show—when a young child and her mother went to leave, the girl insisted on saying goodbye to it.

Studying with Wendy Froud was truly wonderful. One of the movies she worked on, The Dark Crystal, was a substantial influence on my work so I was fortunate enough to not only meet her, but learn from her as well. Passionate about her art, Wendy’s desire to teach others is an inspiration in itself.

“Skinbunny” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography

“Skinbunny” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography

©Goblinfruit Studio

©Goblinfruit Studio

Your creations not only have an uncanny whimsy to them, a grotesque charm, but when viewing these creations, one gets a sense that they each have a fantastical story, a unique tale to tell. How do you go about imbuing these moppets with such life and character? Is there any particular story about any one of them that you can share?

Like many children, I was fascinated by animals, and spent many hours scribbling out both creatures natural and fantastical. Our four-legged and feathered brethren inspire me in ways sculpting or drawing humans cannot, and allow me to effortlessly imbue my dolls with depth and feelings. My process of sculpting starts with a vague notion of what a doll will look like, or sometimes what their personality will be. However, the dolls often suggest to me what they want to be as I sculpt— often switching gender, species or disposition halfway through their creation. As somewhat of an introvert, my attraction to the trickster mythos seeps into many of my characters.

Generally, my dolls have snippets of a back-story…the rest is up to the viewer. For instance, there’s George…who is somewhat temperamental and destructive, ripping the heads off his playthings; or Edgar, whose peculiar shape was the result of his rabbit mother having a sordid one-night affair with a bonobo. Tara carries around her semi-absorbed twin brother on the back of her head, and Alphonse and Otto Snerk are part of the troupe of pernicious goblins who sought to entrance the sisters of Christina Rossetti’s poem with their tempting goblin fruit.

“Tara & Timmy” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography

“Tara & Timmy” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography

“Tara & Timmy” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography

“Tara & Timmy” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography

Much of my inspiration comes directly from nature itself. My fascination with the natural world and its beauty provides a constant source of wonder and solace. Birds and creatures of the forest all work their way into my creations, in addition to the influence of fairytales and classical mythology. Empty, decaying buildings, rooms and houses stir my imagination with their dusty pasts or potential futures.

Beyond the natural world, other influences for my art stem from the likes of independent video games, which, besides the initial desired interactivity, are a rich source of art and music. (Some of my favorites include Machinarium by Amanita Design, The Path by Tale of Tales, and more recently, Superbrothers’ Sword and Sorcery.)

Some other sources that provide continual inspiration for me are horror movies of the sixties and seventies, stop-motion masters The Brothers Quay, Kihachiro Kawamoto and contemporary doll artists such as Virginie Ropars and Anita Collins. Movies like Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, The Cell (Eiko Ishioka’s breathtaking costumes are truly awe-inspiring), Fantastic Planet (which I discovered through The Cell), and Jeunet and Caro’s The City of Lost Children and Delicatessen have also served as artistic inspiration in the past.

Of course, music plays an important role while I’m working in my studio, helping me conjure that space in which to begin creating. Movie and video game soundtracks, ambient and pagan/spook folk albums have been getting quite a bit of airtime as of late, but I have my moments when I need to listen to some Prodigy, Ministry or Metallica.

Swinebalg by Carisa Swenson ©Goblinfruit Studio

Swinebalg by Carisa Swenson ©Goblinfruit Studio

The Plague Doctor by EC Steiner

The Plague Doctor by EC Steiner

Tell us about ARS SOMNIUM, your project with King Unicorn (Eric Steiner). I understand this is a collaboration built upon a concept dredged from the “most fertile playground for artists” – dreams and nightmares. Sharing dreams for artistic translation sounds like an intimate endeavor in which comfort zones are bound to be breached! [Edit: EC Steiner now creates under the moniker Casketglass]

When Eric approached me last year about a possible collaboration, I agreed without hesitation— our style couldn’t be more different, and it would be a compelling experiment to see where this would take our unique artistic vision. Concepts were passed back and forth until we hit upon the idea of sharing descriptions of the numerous denizens that wander, shuffle and glide through our dreamscapes. Once we pass off descriptions, we then actualize each other’s dream inhabitants in our own individual style. Given the subject matter, it could potentially be discomforting…but this has not proven to be the case. Seeing one’s dream (or nightmare) being through another person’s eyes is fascinating and unexpected. The energy within this project is fantastic, and I’m looking forward to working with Eric on more dolls in the near future.

Jester

“Jester” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography

What future projects are you planning?

Ars Somnium is an ongoing collaboration, so you can expect to see another creation for the project this year, with the next piece straying far from what usually emerges from my studio.

Currently I’m creating several dolls for upcoming gallery shows, but the one self-indulgent project in the works, which I’ve just begun, is a 52-card deck featuring my rabbit dolls. Eighteen new dolls will be created with the suits reflecting the various personalities within my creations. This will most likely take up a good part of my time throughout the rest of 2011 and early 2012.

Find Carisa: Website // Instagram // Facebook // Twitter

“Cornelius” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by by Thomas Gotsch

“Cornelius” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by by Thomas Gotsch

“We have art in order not to die of the truth.”

ARTSLike many of my dear friends, I have been consoling myself with art lately, nearly drowning myself in it. Well, maybe just the opposite, really. Between the terror of our current administration and my own personal traumas and tragedies, art has been the life vessel that’s saved me from going under. I can always breathe easier and hope for better things when I look at something beautiful. It keeps me safe. And sane. Or at least the illusion of these things. And I’ll take that. Sometimes it’s the best we’ve got.

I don’t know precisely when it was that art became such a crucial part of my life; I’m certainly not an artist…although it does run in the family, somewhat. My grandmother on my father’s side was a concert violinist, my father is an artist, and one of my uncles is an architect. But all of that talent passed me by, I’m afraid. Except, perhaps, the enthusiasm for and appreciation of such things–I’ll confess to an overabundance of that!  I wish, though, that I had at least gone to school for art history or criticism or theory or something like that, so that I could make intelligent appreciative comments and engage in discussions without looking like an idiot, but ah, well. Maybe in another life.

For right now, though, I’d love to share with you some of the illustrations and paintings and photography which has lately been relieving, reviving and rescuing me–and the incredible humans who have brought these visions to life. I am so grateful every day that there are dreamers and stargazers and worldmakers who create these marvelous things that make my existence just a tiny bit more bearable.

Tell me, what’s keeping you afloat right now, and propelling you forward?

Three of Swords, Caitlin McCarthy

Three of Swords, Caitlin McCarthy

Rose, Ellen Rogers

Rose, Ellen Rogers

Miss Meatface

Night Jar Illustration (Adam Burke)

Night Jar Illustration (Adam Burke)

Munich Art Studio (Becky Munich)

Munich Art Studio (Becky Munich)

moonworship

the moon and her women, Sarah Goodreau

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 Untamed series, Jaime Erin Johnson

Vesper, Darla Teagarden

VESPER, Darla Teagarden

Lizz Lopez

Lizz Lopez

Fox Familiar Mask, Camille Chew

Fox Familar Mask, Camille Chew

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Keevan and Kieran, Goblinfruit Studio

Ivonne Carley

Ivonne Carley

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Calling In the Four Quarters, Karyn Crisis

I am no bird II, Helena Aguilar Mayans

I am no bird II, Helena Aguilar Mayans

Athena, Jessica Joslin

Athena, Jessica Joslin

Abigail Larson

Abigail Larson

Jas Helena

Jas Helena

Lupe Vasconcelos

Lupe Vasconcelos

A Decadent Parade of Outrageous Fancies: Alastair

Droles

Drôles de gens que ces gens-là

A Decadent Parade of Outrageous Fancies: Alastair

(Originally published on the Coilhouse Magazine blog, May 11, 2010.)

Who is Alastair”,  mused J. Lewis May in 1936. “No one knows; not even – it is hinted – Alastair himself.”

An artist, composer, dancer, mime, poet, singer and translator, Alastair was a fascinating and elusive personality, and perhaps best known as a gifted illustrator of the fin-de-siecle period.

Bad Counsel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Officially born of German nobility in 1887 to the family of Von Voigt, and later mysteriously acquiring the title of Baron, Hans Henning Voigt was an enigma. He claimed to be a changeling…the spawn of an illegitimate union between a hot headed Bavarian prince and a pretty Irish lass (and many of his relations later accepted this explanation of his origins). To his delight, “he was referred to as German by English writers, as English by German writers, and as Hungarian by French writers.”

Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray

A collector of characters, Alastair had a great gift for friendship despite his bizarre and capricious persona, theatrical behaviors, and perpetual unhappiness. Among those in his inner circle were Harry and Caresse Crosby; Harry, having heard of Alastair, believed him to be “the embodiment of all his fantasies, a creator of the most outrageous fancies”, and hastened to meet with him. Many years later Caresse recalled of the first visit, “He lived in a sort of Fall of usher House, you know, with bleak, hideous trees drooping around the doors and the windows… a blackamoor ushered us into a room where there was a black piano with a single candle burning on it. Soon Alastair himself appeared in the doorway in a white satin suit; he bowed, did a flying split and slid across the polished floor to stop at my feet, where he looked up and said, ‘Ah, Mrs. Crosby!’”

Campaspe

Campaspe from the Blind Bow-Boy

Although clearly influenced by the sinister, serpentine style of Aubrey Beardsley, with echoes of the deliciously unhinged work of Harry Clarke, and a bit of the occult grotesquery of Austin Osman Spare’s art – Alastair’s perversely decadent illustrations are wholly, unmistakably, his own. His strangely attractive beings, with alternately tortured, anguished or menacing countenances, ornately and elegantly attired, skulked and cavorted amongst all manner of plays, novels and short stories. Oscar Wilde’s Salome, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher (1928 edition), and Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Chloderlos de Laclos are just a few examples of works that contained examples of Alastair’s menagerie of fever dream fantasies.

Alastair retired in relative obscurity, and there were few to mourn his death in Munich in 1969. A dazzling, melancholy character of his own creation, he was a man of rare and unique tastes, and perhaps a mystery right to the end; but mostly, one would surmise – a man, who, “was as he was because he could not be otherwise.”

The Artist At Home

The Artist At Home

Herodias

Herodias

Night

Night, pencil drawing, The City of Night

Usher

Usher and Madeline, pencil illustration, The Fall of the House of Usher

Eleanora

Eleanora Duse, portrait

Casati

Marchesa Luisa Casati

Our Lady of Pain

Our Lady of Pain

Queen of Night

The Queen of Night, from The Magic Flute

All images included in this post are from: Alastair: Illustrator of Decadence (1979) by Victor Arwas, and scanned from my copy of the book.

this, that, & the other thing {xxxi}

evegrimoireGorgeous art by Brittany Schall in Grimoire issue #1

3. dressesHow nineteenth century Britain became obsessed with insects

tumblr_oi50b0Pi9C1u4z6nuo1_500Stripcraft: Lux ATL’s Spells For The Revolution

OS-WEB-2

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