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(This article was originally posted at Dirge; the site is no longer active.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