Archive of ‘art’ category

Monster as Metaphor: John Allison, Webcomics Genius

mosthaunted

(originally published on the Coilhouse blog, November 23, 2010)

Devoted and cultish readers extol John Allison as “a rare gem in the often hard-to-navigate web comic underbelly.” Though you may not presently be reading John Allison’s current endeavor, Bad Machinerychances are that you are perhaps already familiar with him through his older works, Scary Go Round (2002-2009) or Bobbins (1998-2002), or as an artist/chum linked to through one or more of his contemporaries.

Fans of Jeffrey Rowland’s Overcompensating for example, will recognize Allison as “The Englishman” , a British gentleman of dubious distinction who  occasionally happens upon the scene to politely antagonize the regulars. Or, through Dumbrella Collective alum, R. Stevens, mastermind behind Diesel Sweeties and 8-bit illustrator of our charming editrixes here at Coilhouse. Maybe  even through one of the dynamic guest strips he has provided over the years to one of your long-time favourite web comic artists.

Marked by clever, peculiar dialogue, absurdist humor, dotty characters (and delightful ladies fashion!), mysterious happenings and hi-jinks, and a dense mythology (though compelling and completely addictive, to which  anyone who has begun to peek  through his archives can attest)  –  John Allison’s story-telling genius is unmistakable.  And  in a medium where visuals are the reason most viewers show up in the first place, the exquisitely charming, highly stylized art is “as big a draw as the comedy”.

Scary Go Round, “Bulgaria”

Scary Go Round, “Bulgaria”

Described as “postmodern Brit horror”,  Allison’s previous comic, Scary Go Round followed the hapless denizens of Tackleford, a fictional British town beset by all manner of supernatural activity including, but not limited to: zombies, space owls, the devil, and portals to other dimensions.  Though Scary Go Round ended in 2009 [EDIT: though it periodically picks back up again!] a few of his beloved characters have moved on to Bad Machinery, which picks up in Tackleford 3 years later.  The focus is on an entirely new cast of sleuthing schoolchildren attending Griswald’s Grammar School, whose well-intentioned energies may be causing more problems than the mysteries they solve  – but they throw themselves into it all with much vigor and aplomb.

Bad Machinery Flyer Art for Thought Bubble

Bad Machinery Flyer Art for Thought Bubble

I recently caught up with John Allison about his new endeavor; see below the cut for our Q&A in which John talks about the transition between old stories and new, the state of web comics today, and the meaning behind the monsters.

The artist

The artist

UNQUIET THINGS: Right now the “Big Push”, as it were, is your current series, Bad Machinery.  When you made the change to become a full time comic-ing man in 2003-ish, was Bad Machinery even a twinkle in your eye at that time, or was it something that evolved over the years from the characters that you developed in Scary Go Round? Has it been almost a year now since Scary Go Round ended? How has the jump from Scary Go Round to Bad Machinery gone? What were your expectations regarding your fans reactions? Were they met, or exceeded? (or neither?)

JOHN ALLISON:I certainly had no notion of creating Bad Machinery when I went full-time back in 2003. That was 7 years ago! It seems like a lifetime. At that point, Scary Go Round was just starting to get on its feet, audience-wise. It had only been running for about 12 months. Last summer I was frustrated with how sprawling Scary Go Round had become, and (not for the first time) I tried to work out what would make a good spin-off. I wanted something with a tight concept, so I couldn’t drift too far off my initial idea. And I wanted something that I could sell to a publisher in good conscience – something that wasn’t a mess!

I had some vague thoughts in my mind, a kind of Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys setup in the Tintin format (having read almost none of the former and admiring rather than loving the latter). I was probably very tired at the time!

The reaction wasn’t great, people loved the Scary Go Round characters. My last year of work on the series had been really spotty and I thought that readers would breathe a huge sigh of relief. And they did – as they stopped reading. Over the first month, half of the old SGR audience went south. It was a very frightening time. It wasn’t helped by what may have been the slowest introduction to a comic ever. Some readers were angry about “having to read about children”. They strongly identified with the old cast and were horrified by the new.

In that first month, while I was trying to find the mood and the tone of the piece, some long and pretty scathing reviews appeared on prominent blogs, the general theme being “by the end Scary Go Round had lost its way, and this is more of the same – but WORSE!” They tended to cite Berke Breathed’s Outland, his follow-up to Bloom County, where all the old characters slowly re-appeared. But for me, bringing back all the fan favourites that, to be honest, I never wanted to see again, made me feel ill. It was a miserable time, I went from believing in this new thing, to quickly doubting everything I did. I was fortunate that many of my friends in comics really supported what I was doing.

After a year, the comic has started to find new readers alongside the ones who stuck around, and it’s extremely gratifying when people write and say that they never read Scary Go Round, but they love Bad Machinery.

Bad Machinery, “The Case of the Good Boy”

Bad Machinery, “The Case of the Good Boy”

While Scary Go Round focused a on group of young adults in their early to mid twenties…and then later in the series you added several high school characters, this new batch for Bad Machinery are little folks, rather young – in grammar school, I believe. What prompted you to go in this direction?

I wanted to write all-ages books, kids’ literature that stands up when you read it today. I loved the Just William books, and I can still read them now, the writing is sophisticated and hilarious. It may be that this is not what the market wants, but as an exercise it was what I wanted to do. It also stops you leaning on lazy attention-getting devices – sudden death, sudden sexy times. You have to be a lot more resourceful as you write.

Scary Go Round, “Time Teapot”

Scary Go Round, “Time Teapot”

Both your comics are /were quite character driven, but the plots usually revolve around the general strange goings-on in town or the odd beastie du jour. .. previously we’ve seen zombies, vampires, dimensional portals etc., but I imagine writing about children presents the opportunity to introduce all kind of imaginative monsters and new bits of wonderful weirdness into the story. Your thoughts?

The idea of Bad Machinery is that the supernatural mysteries are a distraction from the real dangers, which are personal. All through “The Case Of The Good Boy”, the actual manifest danger is how Jack is being victimised through no fault of his own, and he can’t really ask for help. He’s the good boy! No one has spotted this. I’m probably not doing my job very well, am I? I like drawing monsters and beasts, but they’re not real so they lack a certain weight for me.20100513

With regard to “ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night” – I am keenly interested in hearing about your influences as such things go. From some of the references culled from within the Scary Go Round archive, one might be inclined to think that you’ve had some personal dealings with the Old Deceiver himself, ha! Or perhaps some passing familiarity with esoteric studies of some sort. Or at the very least a subscription to the Fortean Times. Can you tell us from where you draw your inspiration?

I’m an arriviste in this field, a dilletante. I don’t like horror movies and I’m scared of books about ghosts. There was a Dennis Wheatley book in the house when I was a child, with a picture of Satan on the back, I was scared of that too. All my work is a metaphor for actual real life problems. I did a story where a character’s girlfriend is blown up in a caravan and thereafter exists, and is seen sporadically, in the afterlife. That was about long distance relationships. When I tried to do actual mystical stuff, and I say this with no fear of contradiction, it wasn’t all that good. The problem is, when you’re generating a lot of material, it’s easy to lose sight of what you’re doing.

Scary Go Round, “Where the Dumb Things Are”

Scary Go Round, “Where the Dumb Things Are”

Scary Go Round, “Meddling”

Scary Go Round, “Meddling”

You’ve been doing this for quite a while now, practically when there were dinosaurs on the internet (as opposed to in space) – what are some changes – for the better or the worse – that you’ve seen in that time?  Can you tell us briefly about your progression from when you got started to where you are now?

People’s attention spans are knackered. The internet has become a Las Vegas casino, a comfortable, noisy area designed to keep you disorientated and keep you spending money. Good luck trying to find attention with longform work. But I think there’s a sense now that we have to push back in the opposite direction, that people don’t want to read articles surrounded by video ads and animation.

I started in webcomics when almost no one was doing them and occupied a privileged position at the forefront of almost every movement – Keenspot, merchandising, bigger web presence at conventions, when there was less competition. Based on that, I have probably underperformed to an extent! But when people who went on to huge success cite me as an influence, I am enormously proud. I just wish they would put a huge link to my work on their website, next to a giant animated arrow.

Now that we have caught up to present day…can we expect to stick with these characters for awhile, to see them grow and mature as they continue to battle monsters and solve mysteries? Can you give us a peek into what might be in store for our young friends?  Or…do you already have something else – something entirely new – brewing?

I’m going to take a month off Bad Machinery to do a mini-series about one of the Scary Go Round characters. It’s kind of a pilot for a series, though if it became a full series I doubt I would have time to draw it myself. I’ve spent months working on the character designs and getting the look and feel of the thing. It gives me a chance to draw adults again, something i do miss. I love drawing fashion and of late have started to feel out of it – there’s only so much of that kind of design work that you can do with 12 year old characters.  But I have a thirdBad Machinery story worked out, it’s kind of ludicrous and sad at the same time. Even though it’s been an uphill struggle, post Scary Go Round, I love writing the new comic. If people get that from it, then the difficulties are by and large worth it.

The idea is to do a “case” for each of the three terms of seven years of grammar school. If I get that far, we’ll have been places together. I hope that I get the chance.

sneaks-copy

*For extra art not seen in the main comic, be sure to check John’s blog, as well as his Flickrstream for doodles and magnificent sketch fiestas, such as this Beardsley-esque Gaga.

gaga

…And The Winner Is…!

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The cauldron has spoken and Vanessa Irena is the winner of a postcard set from Luciana Lupe Vasconcelos. Congratulations, Vanessa! You will be receiving a set of postcards from the artist featuring the image below. Please email me at mlleghoul AT gmail dot com with your address!

Thanks to everyone who read the interview and left a comment, and be sure to peek back here in the upcoming months for more Q&As with fantastical artists and art giveaways!

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Flowers From A Darker Path: The Art of Luciana Lupe Vasconcelos {Interview + Giveaway}

HEKA

I remember a piece of art hanging on our dining room wall, just above the record shelf that I hated dusting because it was cluttered with those wine colored Avon Cape Cod candle holders and piles of incense ash and various new age ephemera that I had to actually pick up and wipe under instead of working around–for I knew my mother would not fail to inspect my work. Ugh. At any rate, I used to zone out entirely while gazing at the various framed posters and prints that hung over this overstuffed record cabinet, taking in all of my mother’s wonderful art, which I don’t think I even realized had a lasting influence on me until this very second.

The poster in question, surrounded by Erté prints, and oversized posters of the major arcana from the Thoth deck (with a occasional B. Kliban thrown into the mix) was…well, I don’t exactly remember. The was a lady. There might have been a goblet, or a cat, or a long, winding strand of pearls. What I do distinctly remember was a scrawling signature at the bottom, utterly illegible except for a swooping “J”. Maybe a crooked “C” that trailed off to a distorted “W”. In my head, I began to refer to the creator of this fantastical art, as “JAW CRAZER” and I was astounded when, earlier today, I sent a text to my sister asking if the name meant anything to her…and she knew exactly which painting I was talking about. And I swear –I never, ever said that name aloud. Crazy. Or CRAZER, as the case may be.

What does this have to do with anything? I suppose I was thinking of this earlier today when I was mentally visiting the nostalgic walls of my past and the imagery that continues to influence me, even today. And when I discovered the art of Luciana Lupe Vasconcelos several years back, I was immediately taken back to the mystery and secrets of my mother’s collection, which, though small, was brimming with striking visions and potent symbolism and it quickly found a place in the dark corners of my heart, even when I am too pained or proud to acknowledge it.

Currently residing in the mountain town of Teresopolis, Brazil, Luciana Lupe Vasconcelos (b.1982) is a Brazilian artist whose work explores the realms of the mythical, mystical and occult. With a Bachelor’s degree in Visual Arts, and a Master’s in Visual Culture, Lupe worked as a graphic designer, tattoo artist and children’s book illustrator before start pursuing her own artistic voice.

See below for my interview with this visionary artist and leave a comment to be eligible to win a set of postcards from Lupe!  A winner will be chosen at random one week from today, on August 22, 2017. Today’s interview and giveaway is part of an ongoing series I will be running indefinitely here at Unquiet Things. A few months ago I wrote about the life-saving effect that the beautiful, profound art which speaks to one’s heart can have on one’s troubled soul, and I don’t believe this is a need that will ever become obsolete, especially in times like these.

Babalon_Tratado

Unquiet Things: In your bio you note that you’ve worked as both a children’s illustrator, as well as a tattoo artist! I love this juxtaposition of art created for young humans, as opposed to art for the 18+ crowd. Did you enjoy (or not) both experiences, and was there anything special that you learned from them, that you incorporate into your art today?

Looking at my trajectory now, I realize I did come a very long way until feeling confident enough to call myself an “artist”… I went to graphic design school (instead of art school) thinking it would be a good way of making a living as a creative, but I became very dissatisfied with the nature of the work and ended up experimenting with other things until I finally realized art was my calling. While still working as a graphic designer, I started an apprenticeship at a famous tattoo studio in my hometown. Then I opened a tattoo shop with a friend, but after a while I realized, again, that it wasn’t for me. So an illustration job came up at a local newspaper, and I decided to give it a go. It was mostly illustrations for children, and from that I started to get book commissions and work from home. It was a period of much learning, and I did my best to compensate my lack of classical education in art by studying and attending courses and workshops. I was an avid reader as a kid, and book illustrations were my first contact with art, so I was really happy to be working doing exactly that! What happened was that doing book illustrations made me eager to go deeper into the realm of fantasy for inspiration, which lead me to start doing my own thing. Pop surrealism was all the rage at the time, and seeing many children’s book illustrators making the leap and becoming fine artists made me realize I wanted to try that too. My first pieces were much inspired by pop surrealism, but as I progressed I distanced myself from that style and plunged into darker influences. The experience with children’s book illustration helped me unlock my creative potential, and as I felt more and more confident, it allowed me to fly higher.

Oraculo

How does this evocative phrase (which I first noted on your website? facebook? I forget now): “From my rotting body, flowers shall grow, and I am in them, and that is eternity” figure in to the art that you create?

I like that quote so much! To me is very connected to how I perceive the work of art in relation to authorship: my work will outlive my earthly body, and to me that’s the true meaning of “living forever”…

ANoiteeumaVacaPreta

Your work explores the mythical, the mystical and the occult–I’m curious, did you have an interest in these themes before you began to illustrate them, or did the interest grow, somehow, from the practice of your craft? And I’d love to hear about some of your specific inspirations, whether they were occult artists, like Austin Osman Spare or Rosaleen Norton, or perhaps the writings of Kenneth Grant, or Dion Fortune? But don’t let me put words in your mouth! Those were just some examples from the top of my head.

I’ve always been very into fantasy and fairytales, since I can remember. I was a child who would talk to animals and plants, who collected stones and set little altars of things I found and who daydreamed all the time about parallel universes were magical things happened as a normal thing… in my teens I had a wiccan phase – it was the post “The Craft” years after all! Those things were always part of my life in a way or another, although it was in the last 5 years that I took the studying of occult literature more seriously. This coincided with the development of my own style, and the two things went hand by hand. I was exposed at first to the works of Austin Osman Spare and Marjorie Cameron, which blew my mind! At first I got to know the artists with occult-related works, and from there I started to read Crowley, Grant, Fortune, Grey… also books on tarot, symbology, mythology and alchemy. I’m also a huge fan of Jodorowsky’s books on tarot and psychomagic. I use his method for tarot reading, it’s a great tool for self-knowledge and to help others. He’s a truly visionary genius. William Blake, and W. B. Yeats are also two visionary artists with a very inspiring body of work. They have written a lot about the experience of the visionary artist, and I look up to them a lot too. Lately I’ve been reading a lot about surrealism, particularly about the women associated with the movement, and I’ve been pretty much obsessed with the subject. There was an exhibition of women artists linked with Frida Kahlo and surrealism in Mexico here in Brazil a couple of years ago, and it was a hugely impacting experience for me. The works of Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington in particular struck me like lightning! I already knew their respective works, but seeing them live was life changing. I’m also a huge sucker for Leonor Fini’s work, I absolutely love her!

VANITASITempusFugit

ODAINDEOS

Are you a practitioner of the arcane arts, or would you consider yourself more of a scholar, perhaps as it relates to research for your own art? Or maybe a bit of both?

I’ve been an irregular practitioner of the arcane arts for the most part. I think I can call myself a scholar, yes. My occult practices are much blended with art producing, but in an instinctive kind of way, not following any path in particular. I’ve flirted with chaos magick, thelema and other paths, but I found very hard to compromise entirely with one thing, and I definitely don’t like belonging to anything in particular. In that sense I’d say I’m an eclectic; I like to do my own stuff, in my own therms. But I feel very connected with entities like Lilith, and the goddess Babalon, who turn up frequently in my work.

TheCupofSuspicion_300

One of my favorite pieces of yours is “The Cup of Suspicion”. Can you tell us a little bit about this work?

It’s interesting that you mention this particular piece! It’s one of the few that has a particular, personal meaning. At the time I had a health scare that proved to be very hard on my nerves. I felt an intense sense of impending doom, hence the hanging sword thing above the figure’s head. Luckily it was just that: a scare.

Lupe Studio

Lupe Studio1

I always love to get a peek at an artist’s studio, could you give us a virtual tour of the creative space, where you bring to life these mythical illustrations and paintings?

My working space is actually divided in two. I share a room with my husband in which I have my computer and a drawing table, and I also have a small painting studio in another room –that’s a good arrangement to me, as I need more concentration to paint on the easel.

Thelema_O

I’m also very nosy when it comes to what is currently inspiring my favorite artists! Is there anything you’ve listened to, read, watched, or become aware of recently that’s sparking your creative flow?

Well, lately I’ve been re-visiting the work and life of spanish-mexican artist Remedios Varo in an almost obsessive manner. From my main “pantheon” of favorite artists (which includes Leonora Carrington, Leonor Fini and Cameron), she is the one which I relate in a more personal level: she was also the daughter of an engineer and spent her childhood moving from town to town; she was shy; she worked as a commercial artist before developing her own style, among other details. I’ve been very inspired by her lately, and I’m reading her biography by Janet Kaplan for the second time. Also inspiring me lately is the book Surrealist Women – An International Anthology, which is full of inspiring prose and poetry by the women associated with the movement. Another book that is pretty much in my had these days too and that I just finished reading is W.B. Yeats – Twentieth Century Magus. It’s full of great insight into the magical thinking he applied to his life and work. On the subject of music (which I love, of course!), I’ve been listening a lot to a singer introduced to me by a dear friend, called Lhasa de Sela. Her music is great, I listen to it constantly while working.
LeChasseur Noturna Tame

I would love to see a tarot deck incorporating your imagery….or perhaps an illustrated codex or grimoire. Do you have any plans for things like that, or am I just full of wishful thinking?

I do have plans for a tarot deck, but it’ll probably take a while. It’s something I want to be meaningful, not just pretty figures on a deck… so, there’s a lot to plan still. There’s other projects in the works, but I rather keep the mystery for now… I’m also a bit superstitious in regards to talking about those things too early.

Find Luciana Lupe Vasconcelos: website // facebook // instagram // twitter

Thank you, Lupe, for sharing your art and visions with us today and for the giveaway opportunity for Unquiet Things readers! Please leave a comment to be eligible for the postcard set, and a winner will be chosen at random on Tuesday, August 22, 2017.

A Gallery Of Moods

Feebrile1

A few months ago I wrote about the life-saving effect that the beautiful, profound art which speaks to one’s heart can have on one’s troubled soul.

This idea, and the art I shared, resounded with many people, and so I thought I’d create a small series inspired by the concept, and which will show up here at Unquiet Things periodically throughout the rest of the year.

If you follow my facebook or my instagram, some of the following pieces will be familiar to you–many of them are the kind of thing I look at and immediately think “IT ME.” Imagery that I will share on social media because I’m feeling goofy, or it makes me laugh, and I can relate to it in some ridiculous way. I thought I’d collect them all in one place, for your amusement as well! Have a peek below to see my #currentmood, #squadgoals, and various other dumb sentiments as reflected by a piece of art that caught my eye. Maybe you’ll see yourself in them, too :)

And check back over the next few months for some interview with the artists who create the art I’ve been admiring, as well as some giveaways!

 

#currentmood

artist: Christine Pellicano

artist: Christine Pellicano

altered art by Robin Isely

altered art by Robin Isely

artist: Kebba Sanneh

artist: Kebba Sanneh

Loie Fuller, 1887. Photographer Otto Sarony

Loie Fuller, 1887. Photographer Otto Sarony

artist: Lisa Sterle

artist: Lisa Sterle

artist: Kensuke Koike

artist: Kensuke Koike

artist: Gosia Herba

artist: Gosia Herba

 

#feelings

artist: Charlie Bowater

artist: Charlie Bowater

artist: Brooke Didinato

artist: Brooke Didinato

artist: Julia Agafonova

artist: Julia Agafonova

artist: Alex Stoddard

artist: Alex Stoddard

artist: Leo Peralta

artist: Leo Peralta

 

#wardrobeinspo

A History of Caricature and Grotesque in Literature and Art by Thomas Wright, 1875.

A History of Caricature and Grotesque in Literature and Art by Thomas Wright, 1875.

Spider Lady by Caz Williamson

Spider Lady by Caz Williamson

artist: RUNE NAITO

artist: RUNE NAITO

artist: Adele Mildred

artist: Adele Mildred

 

#beachbodygoals

Art commissioned by Charles Band for the Italian film THE BLOODSTAINED LAWN. Artist Lee MacLeo

Art commissioned by Charles Band for the Italian film THE BLOODSTAINED LAWN. Artist Lee MacLeo

Loraine and the Little People by Elizabeth Gordon and illustrated by M. T. Ross, 1915.

Loraine and the Little People by Elizabeth Gordon and illustrated by M. T. Ross, 1915.

 

#careergoals

The Old-Fashioned Fairy Book by Mrs. Burton Harrison, illustrated by Rosina Emmet

The Old-Fashioned Fairy Book by Mrs. Burton Harrison, illustrated by Rosina Emmet

artist: Forever Autumn by Stephen Maycock and Jen Brook

artist: Forever Autumn by Stephen Maycock and Jen Brook

"Her majesty led this strange orchestra" by Rosina Emmet Sherwood

“Her majesty led this strange orchestra” by Rosina Emmet Sherwood

 

#squadgoals

artist: Chiaki Sakamoto

artist: Chiaki Sakamoto

Harpies in the Forest of Suicides, Gustave Doré

Harpies in the Forest of Suicides, Gustave Doré

artist: Sara Ray

artist: Sara Ray

art: tin can forest

art: tin can forest

 

#saturdaynight

Erik Desmazières - The Temptation of St Anthony [a reimagining of the original art by Jacques Callot.]

Erik Desmazières – The Temptation of St Anthony [a reimagining of the original art by Jacques Callot.]

artist: Fernando Falcone

artist: Fernando Falcone

artist: Lena Bryksenkova

artist: Lena Bryksenkova

The Hoard of Chaos by Sanjulián

The Hoard of Chaos by Sanjulián

 

#GPOY / #itme

artist: Feebrile

artist: Feebrile

artist: Nate Burns

artist: Nate Burns

Señorita Gato, Stephanie Chaves

Señorita Gato, Stephanie Chaves

artist: Sean Gadoury

artist: Sean Gadoury

The Spirit Feast by Kat Philbin

The Spirit Feast by Kat Philbin

Mia Mäkilä’s Feel Good Demons

ohlala
(originally published on the Coilhouse blog, June 30th, 2011)

“I paint my demons. I paint nightmares. To get rid of them. I paint my fears. I paint my sorrow. To deal with them.” – Mia Mäkilä

Mia Mäkilä, a self-taught artist who lives and works in Sweden, describes her art as “horror pop surrealism” or “dark lowbrow” and further illustrates: “Picture Pippi Longstocking and Swedish movie director Ingmar Bergman having a love child. That’s me.”

Her work consists of digital paintings and vintage photographs manipulated and distorted to produce nightmarish mixed media portraits. The creations borne of Mäkilä’s artistic process are both uncomfortably horrific and unaccountably humorous– demonic entities lurk in the form of gash-mouthed, leering Victorian families staring from within a tintype void. Fire-breathing/ennui-stricken and dandified gentlemen ejaculate from the precarious heights of a Parisian rooftop. All manner of flaming Boschian hells overflow with cavorting fish and flamingos and God knows what else.

holiday-in-hell

Can all the world’s fears and sorrows, splashed and splattered in fiendish form on canvas, truly be this ghastly, this wretched, this… funny? Equally terrifying to contemplate: what malignant spirits might we coax to the surface, were we to make art conjured from similar soul-sourcing? Coilhouse’s recent interview with Mäkilä yields candid anecdotes about her own process; by examining the evidence of her painted demons, perhaps we can discern how to have a little fun exorcising our own.

thegame

You describe your art as “dark lowbrow” and refer to a “dark lowbrow movement”. Please tell us about that.

Mia Mäkilä: I think I’ve gone from horror art and more of a gothic style, to a more pinkish lowbrow style with cuteness/horror rather than the gothic elements, and I feel more at home with the lowbrow artists than the gothic ones. I don’t listen to Marilyn Manson or slice my wrists when I feel bad, and I certainly do not paint my lips with black lipstick. I love life and I celebrate it everyday, so my mind isn’t as dark as my paintings. I enjoy music from the ’80s, classical music and don’t watch any splatter horror movies; I love Ingmar Bergman, Hitchcock, David Lynch, John Waters and cute romantic comedies from the ’80s, like “The Breakfast Club”, so I’m not that dark minded after all.

But I love that mix of dark and cute, sad and happy, and the juxtaposition of the ugly and the beautiful. I am darker than a “regular” artist might be, but I am too light for the horror genre, so I am in between – just between a toyish and light style of lowbrow (pop-surrealism) and dark horror/gothic style.

the_rage

You mention that the horror in your art is your way of processing difficult themes such as “fear, angst, madness, rage and sorrow “, and you list Ingmar Bergman, David Lynch, Tim Burton as influences for their dark drama and symbolic inner worlds. But you’ve also said that you use a lot of humor to do this, and seem to enjoy making “… demons [have] fun on the canvas”. I am curious to hear about your inspirations and influences in this vein. What makes you laugh, what are your amusements– and how does that translate into the exquisite grotesqueries you create?

I am very amused by the unexpected. It could be funny pictures I’ve found on the Internet of a very fat naked woman with a bottle stuffed in her ass . I mean, who takes such pictures, who’s that woman, what was the actual situation like and how on earth did it get on the Internet? That’s very funny, I think. I collect such pictures, and I post them on my blog as well, just to show people how funny reality can be.

An at the same time, it’s disgusting and sad. I mean, a bottle in a fat lady’s ass is quite disgusting and sad but still very funny. I like that mix of emotions. I don’t like funny pictures that are staged or faked, I like the coincidental humor, when you have no control over the situation and it just accidentally becomes funny– like a joke made by the cosmos. I use stuff like that in my collages; my paper cutouts become jokes of scary and disgusting combinations, just like the strange images I find on the Internet.

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I read somewhere that you said – “I don’t believe in artist as moneymakers, but as magicians.” Do you mean magicians as in purveyors of trickery and illusions? Or perhaps in a more occult, esoteric sense? Both? Neither? I’d love to hear additional thoughts on that.

What I meant by that was, I don’t believe you can pinpoint what “art” really is, it’s when the artist has made an illusion that people can be fooled by. Just like a movie is an illusion of something real, art can be an illusion of something real or unreal. It’s very interesting, really. Art doesn’t need to feel real, but when you have made a really good piece of work, you give it life and it becomes this real and authentic world of it’s own.

Upcoming projects? Collaborations? Shows?

I’m working right now on a new collection of both paintings and digital collages and I have some projects and future show that I’m keeping a secret for now…

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Those Who Disappear

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A long, long time ago, I had a livejournal account. As a matter of fact, I had several. I was always moving around, and purging and deleting and recreating myself. Mostly because I was living with a despot, an utter bastard of a human being who could not bear the fact that I had connections beyond the tenuous and yet tyrannical connection that he had with me. I had few friends beyond those I developed online, and I would be damned if he ruined that.

Thusly, a new livejournal name every three months or so (and again, my apologies to those who had a hard time keeping up with me.) Before all that, though, in the early days of LJ, I became somewhat friends with a certain LJ user. You know what I mean by “somewhat friends”; you thought they were really cool, so you friended them, and then eventually they friended you back and every once in a while you’d comment on each other’s posts but you never exchanged email addresses or AIM account info, so you probably weren’t really good friends, right?

This person, we will call her A.–and I am refraining from using real names or even online usernames or monikers, the reasons for which I will explain shortly*– was an artistic sort, and i loved seeing the creations she chose to share, and the evolution of her work. I enjoyed reading about the new techniques that she employed, and the snippets of whimsical, surreal poetry and prose that would sometimes accompany a new piece. I rejoiced with her when her work was commissioned as cover art for a work of speculative fiction/fantasy. I looked forward to every time something she posted in my feed…until one day, after noting a prolonged absence on her part, I realized her journal had been purged and her site had been taken down.

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I grieved in a quiet sort of, hopefully non-creepy way. I barely knew a thing about this person, and we certainly weren’t true friends, but I found myself strangely bereft not knowing where she was or what was going on with her. Every few years I half-heartedly peek around the internet to see what turns up; one year, through a blog I thought belonged to her partner at the time, I briefly saw her appear under a new username. I found that same username listed in a popular fragrance forum which I lurk about frequently. I reached out to the user and never received a response. A few years after that, while searching for her older user name, I saw that she commented frequently on a certain blog over a decade ago.  It appeared that the blogger and she were on friendly terms and seemed to be personally acquainted, and what excited me is that the blog had been consistently updated and was current. I found the blogger on twitter and contacted him. He wrote back to me! He knew who I was looking for, and thought she was well and said that he would pass my information on.

I never heard back.

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I should learn a lesson from this, I imagine. Some people don’t want to be found. Perhaps some people don’t want to be found by me. Or, at least they don’t want to be found by revenants from their past, good, bad, or otherwise. And so I stopped searching, and poking, and peering and prying. My intentions were good, but I don’t wish to hurt anyone. I don’t wish to be a reminder of a life someone has tried to leave behind…I mean, I think I understand that almost better than anyone. And so I am not linking to anything I have found, or referring to this person by any of the names I know them by–that’s not fair, and who knows, it might even be dangerous for them. I don’t know their circumstances, do I?

But I do hope they are well, and that they are happy, and that they continue to create. I’m afraid for her, and for many artists, I suppose, that once they disappear, their work might too. And I thought it was so beautiful, and that she had so much potential, and it nearly breaks my heart to think that one day there will be no evidence of it. That it will be as if it, and she, never existed.

If you read this one day, A.,you’re probably going to be weirded out.  Our exchanges were so brief… the only one I actually even remember is our mutual complaint of over-sized SUVs in the tiny parking spaces of small apartment complexes. Why do I care so much? Why do I care at all? I think maybe you were (are?) a sensitive soul and I that you will understand, even if I can’t articulate it. Are you still creating? I hope so. Be well, where ever you are.

This is me letting go.

(But I wanted to have a record of some sort, of your fantastical works, just in case. I hope you are okay with that. )

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*though I have refrained from using names, etc., I have left the watermark on the art, because I think it’s kind of rude to mess around with that stuff.

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.

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“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

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Night Jar Illustration (Adam Burke)

Night Jar Illustration (Adam Burke)

Munich Art Studio (Becky Munich)

Munich Art Studio (Becky Munich)

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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

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