Archive of ‘art’ category

Alchemical Catharsis: The Art of Alice Rogers

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When perusing Alice Rogers’ portfolio, or perhaps scrolling through her Instagram account, you get the sense that she wants to frighten you, just a bit. But this isn’t some sort of jump scare, shock-value fright – no, there is a sense of intent here.

Rogers, through her explorations of dark themes on canvas and photography and in sculpture, invites – nay, demands – the viewer to do the same as well. It’s not the stark horrors of fearsome wolves, menacing swords, or lean, beckoning claws of hungry spirits that are the threat here.

As you peer more closely closer at Rogers’ work – despite yourself – you also begin looking inward. Your own shadows, secrets, devils, and darkness are brought to light. Rogers’ works reflects both the damage we do to ourselves and the scars of those old hurts inflicted by others, and at its heart, it is about the vulnerable magic in making something beautiful from these wounds – and the balance achieved in doing so.

I recently caught up with Alice Rogers about her works, these painful yet ultimately cathartic worlds she creates, and the magic and manifestation, power and purification that is part of the process.

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S. Elizabeth: Tell us a little about your artistic background – What were your first inclinations that you had a strong creative instinct? Can you pinpoint the moment you decided you wanted to become an artist?

Alice Rogers: I loved drawing from the time I was a small child. My family and teachers encouraged me to keep at it, so I painted murals and designed the school t-shirts and all that sort of stuff. I actually went through a period where I rebelled and said, “Maybe I don’t want to be an artist!” and decided I was going to study forensic science instead, but I ended up double-majoring in fine art and English in college, anyway. I was never able to choose between those two things – art and writing – and I still try to organize my life so that I don’t have to.

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You are a writer, photographer, illustrator, and sculptor – within so much of your work you show us liminal worlds and stories within these worlds, and it’s all just brimming with what seems to be intensely personal symbolism. In what medium are you happiest working, when creating these worlds?

I think of all various mediums and forms of expression as tools. Some tools are more appropriate for certain projects or ideas than others. I find that drawing is the most immediate way for me to express something, so even though I’m also a writer, I tend to draw instead of journaling. Occasionally a phrase or sort of poem will come to me before I start a drawing and I work around that. I can’t always communicate everything I want to get across in a drawing, and that’s where the three-dimensional stuff comes in.

I wouldn’t call myself a photographer. I’m certainly not skilled, technically, in that area, but I’m having fun exploring the idea of creating little worlds in three-dimensional space and capturing them in still images or short films. Sometimes I’m just drawn to one medium more than another; for three years I didn’t create anything visual at all and only wrote, and then it sort of flipped. Having all of those tools available keeps me creatively stimulated so I if I get burned out doing one thing, I move on to the next for a while.

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From photos of your studio, it is difficult to tell where the altars end and the workspace begins. This idea/philosophy of “art as magic” – can you speak to that? And along those lines, in your Instagram, I came across the term “Seiðr,” which I found to be an old Norse form of sorcery sometimes associated with the goddess Freyja. Do you consider what you do, the art that you create, a form of Seiðr?

Last December, I was thinking a lot about manifestation. I sort of ride the line between intellectual curiosity and belief when it comes to magic and the occult, and I interpret most of it as a system for refining and manifesting intent. You have to determine what you want and why, then make all sorts of small changes in your life that add up to make it real. Magic isn’t just about manipulating energy; it’s finding power in knowing yourself in a really intimate way.  At the time, I was preoccupied with negative patterns that were repeating themselves in my relationships and I drew out what I wanted to manifest, which was a deep connection with a person possessing certain qualities. That drawing turned into several more, and sort of ushered in a new phase of creative expression for me.

Symbols are just such potent visual shorthand, and joining them together can give them even more power. They can say so much with just a few strokes of a pen or brush. The symbols I prefer to use mostly originate from Western occult traditions and Germanic paganism, and in this way I draw upon my own ancestral heritage and the knowledge and power of so many people who have come before me. So even though I’m incorporating these symbols and ideas into my art in a way that’s intensely personal for me, others can look at what I create with it and find something that resonates for them in a totally different way, or so I’ve been told.

In the end, it’s not about what other people find nice to look at. It’s not even about the final product. It’s the meditative, half-conscious, magical act of translating emotions and abstract concepts into visual form, which is therapeutic for me. It’s a deep analysis of self, relationships with others, and how I interact with the world that’s really for no one’s benefit but my own, but everyone is on their own particular version of the same journey.

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You write of your fascination with the line between the scientific and the supernatural, and that you “reside in the balance between reason and belief.” I find myself marveling at the stark contrasts in your work, the extreme juxtaposition of dark and light, of shadow and exposure… and yet it all speaks to a sort of balance, if I am not mistaken. Tell us about the value and meaning of balance in your work.

When I really started paying attention to the themes that were popping up in my life over and over again, the idea of balance really stood out. I’m not sure why exactly, just that it seems like the universe is constantly reminding me that it’s part of my life’s work, along with a search for truths that a lot of people might find scary or uncomfortable (which is what draws me to the occult). There’s no light without darkness, and without pain, we could never fully appreciate beauty. That might sound clichéd, but it’s true. I don’t necessarily see things in black and white – there’s an awful lot of gray in the world – but for me, the starkness of monochrome is sort of a way of creating order out of chaos, even in my wardrobe or my personal space. It fosters a sense of harmony and continuity.

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The motifs in your art and photography vary wildly from sacred geometry to Twin Peaks to yokai – what would you say is the underlying theme in these inspirations? What can you tell us about your current obsessions and fascinations, and how they may be finding their way into something you are working on right now?

Almost all of my creative inspiration comes to me in half-sleep. I have a sleep disorder that keeps me in the hypnagogic and hypnapompic sleep stages much longer than most people (the “falling asleep” and “waking up” phases where you’re sort of dreaming, but still partially conscious). With that comes sleepwalking and hallucinations, but mostly a trance-like state that enables you to access the deep reaches of your subconscious, or other spiritual planes. So almost every night, I wake up with an idea or three. I write them down if I’m conscious enough. Sometimes I remember them in the morning, and sometimes they slip away.

Like last week, when I woke up with the words “ars moriendi” in my head – I couldn’t recall ever actually hearing that phrase, and I looked it up, and it roughly translates to “the art of dying.” Since I tend to work intuitively, sometimes my symbolism is very purposeful and sometimes it feels like a mystery even to me.

But I do have a preoccupation with atmosphere and mood, especially when it feels really primal, which is why I’m drawn to David Lynch, and “Butoh” Japanese performance art, and music by artists like Pharmakon. I think it’s very powerful when art is disturbing, but not in a cheap way, not in a way that relies on gore or shock value. It’s like strumming an instrument and finding a note that vibrates through your entire being. For me it all goes back to the junction of psychology and mysticism. Is it all brain chemistry; are we nothing more than sentient sacks of meat? Is it a means of accessing universal energies that we can’t fully process in the physical world? That’s the essential mystery and that’s what fascinates me.

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Earlier this year you had a piece in Sticks & Stones’ Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls – can you tell us a bit about the venue and the pieces that you chose (or created) for it? Is your work showing anywhere right now?

I actually haven’t shown my work very much at all. For a long time, I worked in oils, and then everything I created over a period of fifteen years or so was destroyed by mold after a flooding incident. Ultimately, I see that as a positive development because it forced me to detach myself from each piece as a finished product, so the emphasis is on the act of creating.

The Sticks & Stones’ show, which was a benefit for a local nonprofit called Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls, was the first time I put up any of my black and white drawings. I’d love to show that work again somewhere, or the drawings I’ve produced since then, but I’m also shifting focus a little bit to larger sculpture, photography, and film.

I’m also planning a collaborative show with my friend, Angela Thornton, who’s a knitwear designer and art director. We’re still in the early stages, but ultimately it will be an experiment in combining visual art and design with performance, so we’re excited about that.

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Another powerful project you are involved in is Ask Me About My Abortion, “a safe space for people to share their stories, and read about the experiences of others, with zero judgment, pressure, or bullshit.” Can I ask how the creation of this safe space came to be and why it is important to you? 

Ask Me About My Abortion came about because my best friend, Laura Slack, wanted to help anyone searching for information about abortion online find actual first-hand experiences, instead of religious propaganda. So many people we know have had abortions – straight, queer, religious people, atheists, people with female reproductive systems who don’t identify as female. It’s far more common than a lot of people realize, and the culture war in our society over this issue relies on a sense of shame and guilt to silence the voices of anyone who believes we should have agency over our own bodies and when or whether we become parents. It’s a passion project for her, and as a feminist it’s an important issue to me, too.

The controversy over attempts to defund Planned Parenthood has ignited similar projects recently, like #ShoutYourAbortion, which we think is great. We’re hoping that we can ultimately provide a searchable database full of a broad range of experiences from all sorts of people, whether they feel great about it or had difficulty. We’re not censoring any of the stories; we’re just not accepting any anti-choice perspectives. We want to reflect reality. So please, everyone, send us your stories!

Find Alice Rogers: Website // Instagram

(This article was originally posted at Dirge; the site is no longer active.)

Krampus Art: Ancient Bad Guy, Modern Muse

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Krampus–the anthropomorphic goat-man-ghoul hybrid sent to terrorize delinquent children into holiday submission; that baddie from old Alpine folklore turned pop culture icon for the dark and disillusioned–that guy is a Yuletide favorite and truly a beast for the ages.

Hundreds of years ago, I have no doubt that kids were just as wretchedly bratty as they are today and required the threat of Krampus’s demonic birch rod beatings, or being stuffed in a wicker basket and dragged off to hell–and I suspect adults and parents thought it was hilarious then, too.

I daresay one hundred years from now our needs for such menacing admonitions and the humorous good times derived thereof will not have changed.

Though the necessity for Krampus’s particular brand of wintertime tough-lovin’ remains unchanged, his classic horned, cloven-hooved, Gene Simmons-tongued appearance may have altered over the years. A quick Google search returns countless antique, vintage, and old-timey imagery. But, as those clickbait-y, non-articles about our favourite 1980s child-star-turned-meth-addicts tease us–“what does he look like now?”

Below is a diverse collection of contemporary Krampus portraiture from today’s artists with a keen eye aimed toward the dark and twisty, with details both horrific and hysterical. Though these recent interpretations range in tone from colorful and surreal to shadowy and mystical, it’s clear that Krampus, that monstrous creature of Germanic lore, remains a classic muse.

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Chris Buzelli‘s fantastical landscapes are populated by all manner of mythological creatures; it only stands to reason that Krampus would make an appearance in these magical realms. Pictured here, we have the kidnapped and tortured children doing Krampus’ work for him in traveling to his fiery lair.
Pick up the pace kids, Krampus is getting hungry!

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The nocturnal woodlands of Andy Kehoe‘s paintings provides a suitably creepy background for a blackened and solitary Krampus, leering at us through the mists. If Krampus swats a naughty child in the forest and no one is around to hear, does Krampus care?

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Bizhan Khodabandeh‘s slick, stylized Krampus is a retinal burning treat and calls to mind an otherworldly, towering bit of folk-horror. Krampus from Dimension X, where it will not surprise you to learn that children also behave badly there.

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Chet Zar‘s unsettling imagery, reminiscent of decayed and diseased flesh, and which explores the darker recesses of the human consciousness, is the stuff of fevered nightmares. That jolly red hat with the jingle bell at the tip somehow makes this the most horrific Krampus of all.

Luke-Ramsey

Luke Ramsey’s complex, freehand line work Krampus calls to mind an infernally unsolvable maze. As your eyes follow these finely detailed, demonic doodles upward, you meet Krampus’ own gaze. You’re not sure but you think he looks bored; there’s a sense of ennui, of malaise here. But the crying children in his backpack tell another story, so you quickly drop your eyes and mind your own damn business.

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As with most of his work, Tom Bagshaw‘s Krampus is haunting and classically stunning. It’s also scary as hell. NOPE.

 

 

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Nicoletta Ceccoli‘s lush, fairytale art is the stuff of dreams. As in–this could, quite literally be something I’ve dreamed about: “So there was Krampus, right? But he was, like, wearing a …coral onesie? And sitting in a tiny chair? It was maybe in my grandmother’s house because I recognize that weird blue wallpaper?” Even the child here looks as though she may realize she is in a dream; there is a sense of struggle, but the urgency has passed and she is just waiting to inevitably wake up.

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Josh Agle–or SHAG–is well known for his quirky, retro, wildly colored art. With its mod sensibilities and strange sense of hip cocktail party time hedonism, the dark Yule-lord Krampus seems a peculiar subject for this artist to tackle–which for me, makes it one of my favorites featured here. I’d like this to be a peppy postcard that Krampus sends to concerned parents: “wish you were here”–or perhaps a calling card–“see you next year!

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I’ll confess a fondness for Ryan Heshka‘s surreal, pulp-inspired artwork full of tough broads in high heels, outlandish landscapes, and giant sci-fi monsters. In “Consenual Krampus,” we get a taste of some adult-themed Krampus business–and am I alone in wanting to see more of this sort of thing? Some Krampusrotica, if you will? No? Ok, I’ll be in my bunk.

Oh! And of course you’d love to know how to wear some Krampus-centric artwork? I anticipated that you would and put together a casual and not at all over-the-top ensemble for you. Click through the image to find a list of all the goodies.

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(This article was originally posted at Dirge; the site is no longer active.)

 

New Crimson Peak Poster Art & Giveaway From Sara Deck

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Are you a fan of Sara Deck‘s gorgeously spooky, spine-tingling artwork? Are you also a fan of Guillermo del Toro’s deliciously gothic confection, Crimson Peak? Well then, do we have a treat for you over at Haute Macabre today.

Interested in learning more about the artist and her dark, haunted inspirations? I had the privilege of interviewing Sara last year–peek here for some spooky insights

Beatriz Martin Vidal: Between Dreams and Reality

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(originally published on the Coilhouse blog, September 22, 2010)

A young girl in a scarlet hoodied romper stares gravely up into the heavily furred, ferociously fanged face of a black wolf.  A lesser creature might be shamed by the child’s frank gaze – her features set earnestly, courageously, eyes alight with curiosity, and perhaps, even compassion.

Is the wolf to be deterred by this sweet faced thing, obviously unafraid?  Will it stray from it’s monstrously predictable fairytale course?  No, it is not. Will not.  Cannot — after all, that is what it wolves do, isn’t it?

And before you can blink it has swallowed the girl whole.

But, wait…

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See our little heroine, pale and grim. Watch her crawling through the gaping, bloodied hole she has snipped with her flashing silver scissors and her small, clever hands right through the thing’s engorged belly, its tough hide. See her gaze in the last panel; her no longer-quite-innocent, yet still entirely cherubic countenance is now  impatient, determined, pissed off:  “Wolf, I will fuck your shit up”, it declares.

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Beatriz Martin Vidal’s modern interpretation of the oft-told tale of The Little Red Riding Hood  –with it’s evocative art and unexpected outcome– is a marvelous example of the slightly magical, mythical places she creates for the young people who populate them.  Never cutesy or twee, her subjects instead reveal the beauty and bravery and curiosity of children, and their effortless interaction with the world.

Originally from Valladolid, “a medium size town in the middle-north of Spain” Ms. Martin Vidal chose a career after high school “which didn’t fit her at all” – Law –  and though she stuck with it for some time, she eventually continued on to the University of Salamanca to study art, which is what she maintains that she had wanted to do from the beginning.  Of her time at the University and influences found therein and elsewhere, she says:

“I think the five years in University gave me a very valuable knowledge about art history, among other things. A lot of my influences come from 19th century painting, I think. I keep going back to old masters when I’m trying to find my own path, to Viennese secession, Renaissance drawings, Golden Age illustrators. It’s not I’m not interested in contemporary art of illustration as spectator, but, when it comes to making images, that’s the path I feel attracted to. Anyway, inspiration comes from everywhere.  Sometimes things so unrelated to my work that I feel I’m the only one who can see the relationship.”

For an artist, the pairing of children and fairytale themes would seem to go hand in hand.  When asked what it is that draws her to these subjects, she remarked:

“…Of course, there’s a practical reason for it, as picture books, and most of the illustrated books belong to the children/young readers field. But, the truth is that I find children a very interesting subject for my work. Children live halfway between reality and dreams which inspires me a lot.  They’re funny. If you observe children in a park, they’re doing a lot of things more than the adults. They’re living little stories, running, jumping, talking to themselves. I find their relationship with myths and tales is very natural, very essential… I think almost all my work talks about a flexible reality. A place where you can mold the world …which doesn’t mean it’s going to be a wonderful world, as humans have fears as well as bravery and sadness as well as happiness. ”

Ms. Martin Vidal is currently preparing a picture book, a story by Gustavo Martin Garzo, about children and wolves for El Jinete Azul. As for what’s next:

“…. I’m going to work in another picture book of my own about fairy tales. I love to do my own books, but it’s hard to find the time for it. For the beginning of next year I’ll do a story about a girl and a pixie for Oxford University Press, and a novel for El Jinete Azul. I think my Little Red Riding Hood is going to be published in Australia, so in some months there’ll be an English edition.  Lately I’m trying to focus on my own picture books. That’s the thing that makes happy the most and I think that it deserves the risk [of making them first with no pressure or external limits and then trying to find the right publisher for them.]”

See below for for more wonderful examples of Beatriz Martin Vidal’s work, including selections from her Carmilla, Tarot, and Russian Tales series.  Visit Beatriz for updates and to view her complete portfolio.

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CANTANKEROUS

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Wow. What a day. A not at all good day. These fabulously cantankerous pins from Wormwood & Rue, however, are very, very good, and arrived just in time to tell you about my current feels.

Looming Spectres, Lurking Shades: The Art of Becky Munich

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(Back in 2016 I got to interview my favorite artist in all the world, and dear sweet friend, Becky Munich. I am re-posting the feature today because I love it just that much.)

It’s the rare well-dressed, bloody-faced siren that causes my jaw to drop to the floor and exclaim, breathlessly: “I want to wear what that vengeful ghost is wearing!”

Becky Munich’s gruesome muses, both beautiful and grotesque, evoke that very reaction– and more. On the surface these sinister, ethereal wraiths simultaneously menace and beguile, but in a strange and playful twist, there’s sly and creepy-clever mischief to be found in the details. Whether it’s a lone eyeball spinning lazily in a bare skull, a duo of ghouls gossiping idly, or a grim-faced Medusa in a party hat looking both threatening and eager for the fun to begin, one gets the feeling that Munich takes her spooky business quite seriously whilst winking at us playfully at the same time.

I recently spoke with Becky Munich about her passion for the femme fatale, the beautiful and the monstrous, and being kissed by darkness. See below for our interview with this enigmatic artist and stroll with us for awhile amongst the shadows, with Becky Munich’s looming spectres and lurking shades.

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Has art always been a passion? Tell us a little bit about your artistic background.

Becky Munich: Art has always been a part of my life, even at a very young age. I hoarded my coloring books, hating to share with other children who would wear down my crayons to nubs. My mom worked at an office, and I still remember my excitement when she would bring me interoffice envelopes filled with pristine letter-sized Xerox paper. I was like a troll with gold, keeping this paper boon to myself. I would even steal my teenage aunts’ Bambú rolling papers to doodle on, much to their annoyance, ha!

By the time I entered seventh grade, I knew I had to attend the High School of Art and Design. I had an art teacher who helped me develop my portfolio, and I was accepted into the program. If anything, my high school years exploded my brain: visiting museums, galleries, seeing art house films. Growing up in New York was the best education to go in hand with what I was learning formally. It was natural that my next step would be to attend college in my home state as well. I’m incredibly fortunate to have been so passionate and focused at an early age to pursue art and live in an environment that fed this goal!

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Your work heavily features the monstrous feminine; ghosts, demons, and all manner of she-devils seduce and threaten us from the page, sometimes, I think, simultaneously! It’s clear that you have a love for horror and strange, unearthly beauty; I would love to hear about your influences in this vein, and how they inform your work.

Both my parents worked full-time jobs, so my extended family would babysit me during the day. I was surrounded by the women in my family, all of different ages, attitudes, both scary and loving in their own ways. I was free to read and watch whatever I wanted, as long as I didn’t get into too much trouble. I was told the strangest stories as a kid: about a babysitter so vain the children in her care all died, women who were dragons, dragon-women kidnapping princesses to lure the knights they were ruthlessly in love with, cautionary tales about bargaining with the devil. Added to this, one aunt would let my cousin and I pick any movie to watch after school from the local video rental place. I would pick the goriest, scariest, or most fantastical VHS box I could find. This is how I saw In the Company of WolvesExcaliburThe Wicker Man, etc.

I was allowed to stay up late on the weekends and would watch any Hammer films showing. I would then go to the library looking for books in this vein: mythology, horror, sci-fi, fantasy. My mom even bought me my first comic books! What I learned from consuming all of this is that I found the femme fatales–the woman wronged, the witch, the beauty hiding the monster within–to resonate with me. Here was my muse, she who is kissed by the darkness and more than what she seems.

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I also get the feeling–just from a tilt of the eye or a playful curve of the lip, or well, a spooky witch in a tiny hat–that they/you are having a bit of fun with us? I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

Oh, yes, anytime I can I want to imbue my ladies with a sense that they are in on the joke or plan, and you’ll never guess what it is. No matter in what physical state you see them, they are not victims of the darkness they inhabit. Even if they seem passive, I want the viewer to be uncomfortable, and question the nature of the scenario. I often aim for a disturbed and dangerous quality, to hint at a backstory that isn’t fully explained. Here is where there can be a bit of an interactive quality to the illustrations, giving room for the viewer to ponder on what has happened, and come up with their own stories. All of this feeds into the life of the drawing, gives it more power.

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Your ghastly ladies are usually gowned in dark, elegant clothing–they’re very fashionable creatures! Can you talk about how fashion influences your art and from where you draw your inspirations?

I have always loved fashion, and originally intended to study to be a fashion illustrator. I would even draw clothes as a kid, so my mom would take pity and take me shopping for the outfits I imagined. By the age of eight or nine, I was aware of Oscar de la Renta, Halston, and Yves Saint Laurent. This was due in part to my mom bringing home fashion magazines (like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar) watching shows like Dynasty (where fashion often took center stage), and reading trashy paperbacks by Jackie Collins, because, again, I had complete freedom to consume all types of entertainment.

By the time I entered college, I had more income and access to buy foreign fashion mags. Clothing and accessories are the armor for my dark ladies, and secretly manifest my desire for the haute couture fashion that my wallet can’t afford. To this day, my reference file is filled with photos of beautiful fashion editorials, and the muses in my head go “shopping.” Seeing photos of Helmut Lang and Alexander McQueen’s fineries set fire to my hand to start drawing. Also, the clothes and accessories help to suggest more of the backstory of my dark damsels.

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Oftentimes the subjects in your illustrations and paintings are bleeding, whether from the eyes or or nose or mouth–can you speak to the significance of blood in your art?

I’m probably going to come across as a cliché, but to be completely honest, I was traumatized when I started menstruating. Puberty hit me early, and I had my first period when I was a ten-year-old. I felt like my body betrayed me; I didn’t know what the hell was going on. Also, bleeding when I lost my virginity and the discomfort associated with the act the first time (though I was warned), was a milestone. In some ways I’m trying to make peace with all the blood loss, reclaim it for myself and what it means to me personally.

There’s so much symbolism and power to the red stuff that I want to use it as a sign of strength. Add to this mix the fact that I was raised Catholic, and it heightens this all to include ritual and otherworldly flavors. Exposed blood for my women is a show of power and the threat of a weapon. It could be your salvation or death. They are fountains overflowing with life and destruction. Even when my ladies are dismembered, opened, or parts severed, I want the viewer to be wary, and wonder if that is her blood, or someone else’s we can’t see in the picture?

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Tell us about your creative space. What is life like in your studio? Do you set aside a specific time to create or is your muse on full-time? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence as you create?

Since I live in New York in a small apartment, my dining room table doubles as my work space. My entire apartment is basically my studio. I’m surrounded by the works of other artists I admire, stacks of books, animal bones, all matter of knick knacks, and my cat. I work a full-time gig as a graphic designer in publishing, so I make it a point to fit art time in at night and on the weekends. I always carry a sketchbook in my bag, so I can draw during my long commute home, or when inspiration strikes. There are often times when an idea is “marinating” in the back of my brain all day till I can get home to work. There’s always music, regardless if I’m designing or illustrating. Music is essential and puts me in a creative meditative state. On my regular playlist you’ll find the soundtrack to Blade Runner, Jacaszek “Dare-gale,” and newer albums like Sexwitch.

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I know that you have recently designed some posters for Spectacle Theatre and have contributed to several of Heretical Sexts publications — where can one see more of your work? 

I use Instagram as my gallery for all the personal artwork; my professional portfolio that is more design-centric is over on behance. I’ll post to Twitter as well, and share other artist’s work there too! Also, I’ve recently opened a big cartel online store to sell prints. I’m hoping to do more Spectacle Theater posters when they’re done with the renovations in early 2016. I had so much fun designing some recent film posters. They sell those on their Etsy shop.

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Can you share any upcoming projects?

I’m really fortunate to be working on some fantastic projects currently, that will carry over into early 2016! I’ll be contributing, with other artists, a few illustrations for an upcoming Heretical Sexts publication on the history and significance of gothic literature . I’m also collaborating on a T-shirt design with the band, Sabbath Assembly, that should be available for their spring 2016 tour. In between these gigs and my full-time job, I’m also collaborating on an Occult Activity Book, because who doesn’t enjoy a mad lib that might also summon a demon?

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(This article was originally posted at Dirge; the site is no longer active. I have edited to include current, up-to-date links.)

 

Currently {October 2017}

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It makes me very grumbly that Halloween is not an official holiday and that I actually have to preoccupy myself between the hours of 9-5 on this day with things that have nothing whatsoever to do with ghosts or monsters or candy. Who can we complain to about this?

Being old farts, my partner and I are forgoing spooky soirées (not that we’ve been invited to any tonight, come to think of it) and staying home to pass out treats, carve up pumpkins, and watch Monster Squad. Maybe drink some whiskey. I might not even wait until the last kid has rung the doorbell! We’ll see what kind of night it is.

skellington
hat

Speaking of soirées! I was actually invited to a Halloween party a few weeks ago, and I am shock–shocked!– to tell you that I had a fine time. I actually had fun. What! How can this be? Honestly, parties are pretty awful for me; I get anxious about a lot of things, but nothing sends me into panic attack mode faster than the thought of celebratory social interaction. I think what made this an okay experience is that I knew the hostess and had been to her home a number of times, I already knew most of the attendees in some capacity, and, well, I went with a date. Actually three! My sister, brother-in-law and partner were all there. Come to think of it, there was actually nothing to be nervous about. Huh. My costume, in case you couldn’t tell, was a skeletonwitch. Oh, what, you thought I was a panda? Are you blind or something? Unfortunately, this fabulous hat arrived after the event, but that’s fine. I’ll wear it while I’m watching Monster Squad and drunkenly carving children. Pumpkins, I mean. I’m not drinking already or anything.

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candles

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Though we’ve had some glorious weather these past few days with lower temperatures that lend to layers and cloaks and tights and cardigans, the beginning of October was pretty wretched, as this time of year tends to be. I felt sorry for myself and bought an obscene amount of autumnal candles, spooky records, and a number of haunting reads. Also some “trock or treat” socks from Korea.

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A few additions to the gallery over the past month: a lovely petite bat lady from Lady Weird and this wondrously elegant Martyred for Love sculpture by Carisa Swenson of Goblinfruit Studio

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altar2
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Knits finished in the past month: all patterns by Caitlin Ffrench. A thick, cozy shawl {Mabon} from her Wheel book, and two smaller altar pieces, each finished in a day.

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Earlier in the month I spent the weekend with my best good friend in Orlando, who is moving out of state. I can’t believe she’s leaving, but we’ve been through this before. 15 or so years ago, I was the one who was leaving…and everything ended up being just fine. So, although I will miss her, I know this will just be a new phase in the adventure that is our weird and wonderful friendship. Anyway, she fixed the most amazing breakfast for me, during the course of our visit. Basically a toads in a hole slash avocado toast mashup. It may now be one of my top five favorite breakfasts.
Let me tell you about my other favorite breakfasts lately: rice with a little butter and soy sauce, topped with a runny fried egg and furikake; a “fake bagel”, which is basically a low calorie english muffin toasted and spread with laughing cow cheese, ripe tomato slices, red onion, and Trader Joe’s Everything But The Bagel seasoning, and salmon jerky. For real! Salmon jerky is amazing. Do you, like me, hate sweet breakfast offerings? Cereal, yogurt, most breakfast bars, etc.? Gah, they’re just the worst.

What are you up to this Halloween? Tricks? Treats? Napping with your cats and favorite monsters? That sounds pretty great, actually.

Monster as Metaphor: John Allison, Webcomics Genius

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(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.

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*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.

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