April’s installment of eyeball fodder is brimming with beauteous botanicals, a gallery of fabulous, fantastical florals to thrill and delight! Both art and flowers are forever a balm for my soul, and to this end, I have gathered a splendid bouquet of blooms and blossoms to admire and inspire, below.
From the languorous Grecian statues to the pensive waters & harp strings & the poetry, to the strange depths and unexpected magic in these surface-level-mundane & mediocre ensembles, I really love everything about the Celine Women Winter 21 collection.
I know some of you more entrenched & knowledgeable fashionistas are probably going to give me all the reasons this collection sucks and that’s okay. I don’t know anything about anything but I do know what I like, and all the technical fashion jargon and talk of vision and expertise and execution can’t change how my heart felt when I saw that cozy turtleneck with that sequined skirt, or that cardigan and spangly dress! I love that so much. Mundane + magical. Basic + bewitching. Conventional and commonplace + charming and captivating. Why not? That’s what I see here, anyway.
Ok, so I don’t know who even wants or needs this, or what possessed me to create this, but I have put all of the reviews that I have written over the past 6-7 years for limited edition, seasonal scents from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab into a sort of janky PDF (I’m not a publisher or a designer, ok?!) for your downloading and perusal and so on. I have written reviews going much further back than that; they are scattered between the BPAL forums and places like MakeupAlley, but I didn’t start assessing my thoughts and writing them up to share in a serious way until about 2014-2015 or so, and those and the reviews going forward are the ones I am happiest with.
This is really not a super-edited affair, so it’s possible you’ll see some spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. And it’s an ongoing project, so no doubt it will change and grow over time. Right now, for example, I am sampling the Lupercalia 2021 collection, so it’s not recorded in there yet, but it may be included when you check in next.
I don’t think it’s possible to capture an egg salad sandwich in an attractive pose but the Japanese milk bread and accompanying egg salad recipe from Chef John made for an incredible tamago sando. It’s never gonna be in Vogue or whatever but I’m here to eat, not sell magazines.
While I actually like egg salad, I have a tough time eating it and not thinking of the decaying egg salad sandwich that Fry bought from a toilet vending machine in Futurama, whenever I eat one. It’s such a dilemma. Keep the space parasites that are making me the most amazing and best version of myself? Or get rid of the worms taking up residence in my body?
Sigh. 6am is too early to be thinking. Or eating egg salad, probably.
Anyway, this dough was such a joy to work with. It was so plush and luxurious! I couldn’t stop fondling it! Ok, stop being weird, Sarah. Also: loaf of milk bread? Or corgi butt? It’s hard to tell, right?
I can’t immediately seem to find a great deal of information on Baroque period painter of moody floral still-life masterpieces, Juan de Arellano… other than he painted flowers because he wasn’t so great at painting figures, and also the flower paintings paid more. Seems to have lived pragmatically, if nothing else can be said!
So rather than make a whole bunch of stuff up to meet some arbitrary word count, we’ll leave it at that. The guy painted some gorgeous ghost-haunted flowers (or that’s what I see, anyway) and that’s good enough for me! Below are some of my favorites from amongst his œuvre.
When I was conducting image research for The Art of the Occult, I quite by accident stumbled upon the sumptuous, spectacular still-life botanical drama of Gatya Kelly’s oil paintings. And if there’s anything I love to rest my gaze upon more than artworks infused with mystical, magical imagery …it’s a painterly depiction of a beautiful flower!
Perusing this artist’s lush, gorgeous portfolio of blooms and blossoms was such a balm for my eyes when they needed a quiet rest during that period of time, but as luck and wily circumstance would have it, I soon fell upon an imaginative series of her works incorporating and exploring alchemical themes, and, A-HA! Epiphanies were had, connections were made, and, as it turns out, such discoveries were meant to be…and if you have peeked inside the pages of The Art of the Occult, you will no doubt recognize the featured image of this post as painted by none other than Gatya Kelly, herself.
I could not let the opportunity pass to nose about and ask some questions, and so in the following interview, artist Gatya Kelly and I chat about the personal nature of her work, the influence and thrilling inspiration of light and color on canvas, and how every flower is beauty, sex, and death, all furled up into one perfumed package.
S. Elizabeth: You remark in your artist statement that, “What I try to do is to explore myself in terms of paint. It’s personal.” I LOVE THAT. “It’s personal.” There’s just something so thrilling about an artist you admire coming right out of the gate, making no bones about it, stating that as an absolute. And because your art is so personal, I don’t want to put words in your mouth. To get us started, how would you describe your style?
Gatya Kelly: It’s my natural style – it’s the way the paint comes off the brush when I don’t think about it. I have painted all my life, although there have been gaps of decades when I haven’t picked up a tube of paint. Part of the reason it took me a long while to get serious about my art is that I have been so resistant to painting this way – because representational art is uncool and still life is really a bit embarrassing. I tried experimenting with all sorts of other techniques and approaches, searching for a way to override my natural tendencies. In other words, trying to paint like someone else. I had to get over that to be able to put the work out there.
Many people think my style is photographic or hyper-realist because they only ever see the images on social media. But most of the works are quite large and if you get up close you will see the brushwork is loose. Get really close and it’s practically abstract. Still, part of my personal struggle is to reign myself in, to keep the marks fresh and not get lost in the minutiae.
What influences and inspiration do you draw from in your daily art practice? What, if anything, do you consider to be your greatest source of inspiration?
My practice is influenced by my circumstances. I travel and move house a lot. My studio space might be the corner of a dark room or the whole floor of a disused butter factory. Right now I am in lockdown on Corfu Greece painting in a bedroom. Parts of the studio setup are cobbled together with fishing line, driftwood, and smooth round stones from the beach. Sounds romantic, doesn’t it?
Still life works for me because wherever I am there will be something to relate to and use in a composition. Out walking, a flower or rock or seed will catch my eye and I’ll bring it back to the workspace. It won’t necessarily become a painting but it might spark an enquiry. This happened with weeds when Covid began in the UK. They were so delicate and lovely in the fields, yet they seemed to reflect the uneasy uncertainty of the times.
The light is an influence too, and that is reflected in the painting. In Australia, the light is quite harsh and bright. In Europe, especially in winter, it’s softer and the colours are more subtle. So the work will have a flavour of a place. I guess my greatest source of inspiration is always what’s right in front of me and the way I’m feeling about it. I try to follow my intuition and not analyse the situation too closely.
Much of your work features vivid florals and fruits. I’ve read your statement that you’re not literally painting those objects, but rather, “the emotions they create … balance, truth, serenity.” I suppose my question then becomes, what is it about blooms and blossoms and fruiting things that are so compelling, that evoke these feelings in you?
Not just in me, in everybody. I think an attraction to the natural world is hardwired into our DNA and it has been a fascinating part of the still life journey to observe this through viewers’ reactions. Before the mind kicks in with judgments about whether it’s good or bad, whether you like it or not and so on, there’s this primitive, uncontrollable response of Yum or Ahh. That’s the response I am interested in working with, seeing how far I can push it. We seem to have a universal deep-rooted attraction to certain things, regardless of our gender, age or background. That’s really fascinating because it demonstrates our basic common human connection.
Maybe this is a silly question, but I would love to know! Is gardening a part of your artistry? Do you grow the beautiful peonies and other flowers in your still life painting?
There are no silly questions! I used to garden, mainly fruit and veg, but not at the moment. One day. Mostly I pick blooms from friends’ gardens, sometimes I nick them from over a fence or knock on a stranger’s door, and very very rarely I buy them from a florist, but I don’t much like doing that because it feels a bit impersonal. And I need lots to choose from to get the right shapes and sizes in the compositions.
I just read the most fascinating essay about floral motifs in art in which the author posits, “…what is stunning about the flowers is that, though they are not us, there is something about them that we recognize in us.” I’m curious as to your thoughts on this, what is there of the flower that you recognize in yourself? Here is a link to the essay, if you would like to read it! http://www.cerisepress.com/04/10/the-flower-artist/view-all
A beautiful essay with so many rich ideas. I think this relates back to what I said earlier about the hardwiring and the connectedness of living things. There’s no escaping or denying it no matter how many layers we build around ourselves. What do I recognise personally? It always comes back to the same thing, mortality. This is the allure of the vanitas genre of paintings too. In a flower there is youth, beauty, fragility, vulnerability, sexuality and death all contained in one scented package. It’s the ephemeral nature of flowers that I find irresistible, almost tragic.
I believe that you paint predominantly in oils; have you worked in other mediums besides oil? If so, why have you chosen oil to be your primary medium?
I have dabbled in other mediums but for me it can only be oil. I did my first oil painting when I was 10 years old and fell in love. The smell, the texture, the slow drying times, the history, the pigments, I adore it all. I think it’s the romance with the paint itself that excites me every morning I walk into the studio. Just looking at the tubes is heavenly.
As someone who is just now starting to appreciate colors again (I had a 25 year-long “all black everything” phase!) I am struck by the luminous hues on your canvas. I think your use of color is absolutely breathtaking. Do you have a favorite shade to work with or a color palette to work within?
Colour is so important and I give it a lot of attention. It drives me crazy sometimes. Just the slightest shift in one area can change the way a whole painting looks. And of course the colours look different under different lighting, which can be frustrating. I try to work under controlled artificial daylight to keep some consistency whenever I’m at the easel but it’s not always possible.
I tend to plan the colour palette out before I start and try to keep the colours in a fairly limited range as far as possible. The luminous quality is one I particularly want to achieve. It’s not brightness or high chroma. I don’t really know what it is, but I know it’s there when the painting has presence. One minute it’s all a bit flat and uninteresting and then suddenly it’s as if a being has inhabited the canvas. Thrilling. Also I want the painting to still look good in very low light levels, say in a darkened room. It should glow in the gloom. I’ve had a longish affair with red and play with blue contrasts. I do like neutrals though and I can’t stand green, which is why you see so many dead leaves from me.
Your paintings, full of beautiful objects paying tribute to the natural world, are, you share, “an invitation to step back and reconnect with who we are.” In “Alchemy Alchemia” which you graciously permitted use of in The Art of the Occult, we observe a still-life tableaux, glowing with otherworldly incandescence and which evokes a mysterious branch of philosophy. This mystical/metaphysical setting and series seems a bit of a departure from the more earthly/terrestrial tone of your other works, and I am wondering what it was that you yourself connected/reconnected with when creating these beautiful, alchemically-inspired paintings?
The Alchemy works emerged after a month-long artist residency in an Australian gold rush ghost town. In the 1800s the area was thriving but today the population is around 70. I had a month to myself in an old house that once belonged to a famous artist and really started to feel the history of the place – the hopes and aspirations, the pain and failure, the relentless searching for the mysterious, immutable material that is gold. I got quite lost in this contemplative realm of the imagination.
On my daily walks I found objects to use in the compositions. Kangaroo skulls, fragments of ceramics, various vessels. The bottle in Alchemia is an old ink bottle I found half-buried at the back of the house, still with dried-out chunks of ink inside. I felt a sense of lineage to the old artist when I dug it up, and back to the gold miners too. I think it’s very valuable to take yourself away from your known environment and to look with fresh perspectives. I would like to continue exploring the metaphysical theme. It’s a bottomless pool of inspiration that resonates with me.
By popular request and by that I mean two or three people asked me about it, I thought I might show you the current state of my BPAL collection. If you’re not familiar with BPAL, I am referring to the indie perfume house of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, beloved purveyors of stinks and sundries to all of us dark dreamers and weirdos. My hope is that if you’re not already obsessed with the brilliant creations that the Lab puts into the world, you’ll feel the stirrings of one beginning, by the end of this video.
I was a little hesitant about filming a video like this, it seems sort of all braggy and boastful and “behold my stuff!” but that’s what most of my videos are, so this isn’t really all that different, is it? And anyway, I don’t know about you, but I love getting peeks into people’s collections, seeing all of their beautiful, precious things, and hearing about what all of their favorites are, and why they love them! So I hope that you will take this in the spirit which it is intended, which is basically to say: here’s just another thing I love! Maybe you love this thing, too! Let’s connect and bond over our shared interests!
Another worry I had is that people may expect someone putting together this sort of content to be an expert in the thing they are sharing. Or, I worry that you think that I THINK I am an expert! Both scenarios trouble me a little bit. First, I am no expert in this or anything else, really. I am just a human person who likes to smell nice. And secondly, I think it’s really important to remember that you don’t have to be an expert guru virtuoso wizard with regard to a thing in order to appreciate a thing. I wrote further about this last month.
Now, back to Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. I discovered them back in November of 2004 and I guess it’s sort of odd to remember it down to the month, but I was having a really rough go of things at that time, so the one bright spot in the midst of that quagmire of misery is certainly going to be memorable for me. I had just found the website makeup alley, and I had fallen down the rabbit hole of fragrance reviews on the site.
It was at this time that I stumbled upon a review for a scent called “Snake Oil” sold by a mysterious, thrillingly dangerous sounding company, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. Penned by a user calling herself “shriekingviolet”, she described it as “exotic and unfamiliar, evoking images of bazaars in far-off locales”. So fascinated was I by the description, I read further her reviews for the intriguingly named “Chimera”, “Haunted” and “Hellcat”, growing more and more exhilarated with every fragrant word I devoured.
I raced over to the website, my excitement reaching feverish levels as I read about the company: “Inspired by a vast range of influences, from the passion and decadence of the Fin de Siècle movement to the ghastliest of Lovecraftian monstrosities, we specialize in eliciting emotional responses through perfume and creating unique, masterfully molded scent environments that capture legends and folklore, poetry, and the stuff of dreams and nightmares.”
I didn’t know there were people making these kinds of scents! I grew up in a household filled with, among other things, ouija boards, meditation circles, tarot cards, and astrologers, I was raised on books of mythology and folklore, fairytales and fables. In my early teen years I became obsessed by ghost stories and horror movies, and at the time of my discovery, I was in my mid-20s and the sole employee at an occult bookstore of surrounded by rare tomes of magic, antique grimoires, and volume upon volume of every sort of esoteric, arcane subject matter that you could possibly imagine. From what I was reading in these fragrance reviews, there was a person out there creating perfumes inspired by all of these things–the things I loved best! To be honest, I was smitten before I’d even perused the entirety of the website or placed my first order.
Peruse the BPAL website and you will find collections devoted to myths and folk tales, beloved books and cinema (Dark Crystal and Only Lovers Left Alive? Yes please!), RPG tropes, poison gardens, female positive comics and graphic novels – if there is a weird or obscure interest favored by dark-minded, romantic souls, no doubt you will find a fragrance dedicated to it here.
BPAL fragrances are oil blends, which may take some getting used to if you’ve only ever used alcohol-based perfumes. All of their products are hand-blended in house, and with only a few exceptions all of the scents are vegan – and there is absolutely no animal testing.
In addition to their general catalog scents–the fragrances that are stocked all year long–they have seasonal limited releases fragrances. I’ve been collecting both for many years now, and as you can tell, I’ve got a bit of an accumulation…so it’s probably going to be tough to narrow it down to ten favorites to talk about, but I’m going to try my best!
☨ Owl Moon is a collaboration between BPAL and jeweler of surrealist psychic armor, Bloodmilk. A scent steeped in mythology and magic, Owl Moon opens with the blackest, earthiest patchouli and calls to mind cool, moist soil at the base of a pine tree through which all of the busy little night creatures slither and crawl, the pale, ghostly light of the moon glinting off their scales and wings. A yellow-eyed owl, perched overhead, meditates briefly before silently embarking on his nightly hunt; the sour, screechy scent of his nest, littered with rodent bones and pellets, serves as a warning nearby. This is the fragrance of potent night magics, rich and ripe with darkness and feral mysticism. The sharpness of the patchouli streaked with high-pitched honey combine to form an aura that is both graceful and grotesque, sacred and profane. It dries down to a spellbinding, narcotic musk
☨ The limited edition Schwarzermond, which I believe translates from the German to mean “black moon”–which makes sense as it was one of their monthly Lunacy offerings from several years ago. This is the 2006 version, but they have restocked a few times over the years, with 2011 behind the most recent. Brimming with notes that feel like a warped and wicked tripping of the tongue when you attempt to pronounce them, it’s a heavy, velvety, and vaguely menacing fragrance, woven throughout with brooding resins and dark, lurking patchouli. It smells a bit predatory and poisonous, but in the very best way.
☨ Dana O’Shee is reminiscent of rice pudding with a soft pour of cream on top, and/or perhaps a honeyed milk custard, and stir in some sugared marizpan… but imagine dreamy spoonfuls of all of this while a faint incense lingers in the air. Or, perhaps, envision an unlit cone of sugared milk custard incense! It sounds delicious, but don’t eat it! Tempted though ye may be.
☨ Danube is a beloved scent that is, for me, more about memory than the actual fragrance itself. It is a deep blue aquatic scent – but not salty, ozone-y, beachy aquatic, nor is it murky, swampy aquatic. Like a cold swimming pool on a hot day (maybe if you were adding grapefruit to your pool instead of chlorine) with every blue flower imaginable floating on top of it. Imagine being 6 years old and holding your breath and submerging yourself in a swimming pool, then slo-o-o-wly sinking to the bottom. The water is chilled, you feel like the only person in the world and everything is totally silent. Imagine peering up and seeing the sun streaming down into the water, between all of the blue petals. It’s calm and soothing and serene and is an absolutely a must for hot, sticky weather and for people who haven’t got a swimming pool.
☨ Thanatopsis is a meditation upon death inspired by William Cullen Bryant’s poem, and a deep, solemn earthen scent containing pine, juniper and musk. A green-ness so lush and concentrated that it is nearly a syrup, growing in mysterious realms alongside venerable woods and breathless darkness.
☨ I adore the summer scent of sweet musky floral orange blossom, so Bergamot, orange blossom and vetiver was destined for greatness long before I held the small amber bottle in my hands. The vetiver adds a bitter earthiness that binds the shimmering honeyed blossoms and tells a long forgotten story of how you sobbed your broken heart into an orange grove at midnight; you gathered the dirt and tears and blossoms and clouds that floated across the moon and hid them all in the pages of an old diary because you were young and sad and then you burned the whole thing for incense as a middle-aged woman and thought wow that was a good choice even though it felt scary and sad at the time
☨ Cottonmouth from the Carnavale Diabolique collection is a blend of the sugared incense of the Lb’s signature Snake oil combined with somber, waxy spring lilies brightened by the soft, honeyed green of fresh linden blossoms. I’ve not referenced any comparisons to previous formulations until this point but feel compelled to note that it is with Cottonmouth I sense the most notable difference. The 2006 Cottonmouth had a distinct linen/fresh laundry vibe that, when combined with Snake Oil, smelled like Bath & Body Works’ Fresh Cotton Blossom (sadly discontinued) had an affair with a super potent head shop. The result of this odd union was 2006 Cottonmouth, which summoned an apparition of the babeliest, most badass all-black-everything coven-gang leader, but who is also super approachable and cool and would respond to your comments on Instagram and you would have a total “senpai noticed me!” moment about it. All this to say: while they are two completely different creatures, both Cottonmouths are worth seeking out.
☨ Altarpiece no.1 A brightness as glimpsed through shadow, a keyhole’s view of the sun. Small and still as a single candle’s flame against the immense dark; as vast and total as annihilation’s afterglow. This is a scent that proves to me, more than anything, how much I have to learn about fragrance and perfume, how little I know. I can only speak of this in terms of fractured, fragmented imagery, the slivers and splinters of a dream. “It’s beyond everything,” is a phrase I just read in a (totally unrelated) book, and that’s how I feel about this gorgeously evocative offering: a bright, dry citrus haloed by amber’s translucent sweetness, bound by the spiced warmth of dragon’s blood and fixed in a state of permanent darkness by the heady, heavy imprint of where oud once was.
☨ Circe Individiosa, inspired by the work of John William Waterhouse and also in the Ars Inspiratio collection is a scent that for me, is inseparable from the painting itself. The colors in this mythic scene are so lush and beautiful that they defy description. I have always thought that tipping dish of poison, the shade of crushed emeralds and mantis wings, must be the precise color of our heart’s blood when we are in the venomous throes of enraged, envious desire.Circe Indiviosa captures the scent of exercising one’s powers…one’s divinity…in murky and dangerous and exhilarating ways. It’s such a gorgeous fragrance, mossy and musky with a subtly bitter treacle, and vaguely electric in the way that euphoria resulting from ill-advised behavior makes you feel. Sort of like WHEEEEEEEEE OH SHIT WHOOPS.
☨ In Night When To All Colors Into Black Are Cast
-I feel like I am typecasting myself, especially since I thought I was slowly coming out of my all-black-everything phase (but don’t worry, it wasn’t just a phase in my heart) but honestly, this is the me-est thing I have ever smelled in my life.
-If there was such thing as:
– “sad dried flowers from my mom’s funeral, marking a page in a ghost story” musk
– “when I have to get up to pee at midnight and I divine phantom shapes from in the shadows of the shower curtain” musk
– “reading poetry by candlelight at 5am because I perversely read early in the morning and not late at night” musk
– “ordering a lucid dreaming blend from Etsy and drinking it, not realizing that the seller and I got our wires crossed and she made potpourri—not tea— and I stupidly brewed up and DRANK potpourri” musk
-All of the me-ness of me, all of my weirdness and sadness, and strange inner darkness, but also so much joy for beauty and friends and the lovely things in the world, this too.
-Somehow found a way into this bottle.
-And it smells like me.
Leave a comment on the video to be entered into the giveaway and while you don’t have to subscribe to my channel, it would be a nice gesture! One winner will be contacted in a week’s time to receive ten BPAL scents from my collection, chosen at my discretion.
For those who asked, marbled top is the brand Scotch & Soda brand purchased from Anthropologie, the earrings are from Haus of Sparrow, and the lippie is Strange Creature from Rituel de Fille (though unfortunately, I think it is long sold out.)
A gathering of death-related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From heart-rending to gut-splitting (sometimes you gotta laugh, you know?) from informative to insightful to sometimes just downright weird and creepy, here’s a snippet of recent items that have been reported on or journaled about with regard to death, dying, and matters of mortality.
I am very much a creature of habit, a quality that colors my everyday living and which also extends to my seasonal practices. Every year on the vernal equinox, I always try to wake up with the dawn, leave the windows open for the breeze, and engage in a handful of activities:
☀ Plant a seed of some sort
☀ Find some divinatory direction with a spring spread
☀ A small spring cleaning (nothing too overwhelming!) Maybe magical or mundane!
☀ Make an eggy cheesy quiche with loads of spring vegetables.
☀ Make a little How To Wear The Spring Equinox ensemble (see here and here for some past ideas)
Today I woke up late and it’s raining, so I missed the sunrise and the windows are shut against the damp breeze. It’s been a long week and I don’t want to cook or clean! I kinda just want to curl up on the sofa and read (I am finally reading The Secret History and it’s SO GOOD!)
But in the spirit of doing the one thing from my list that I have done without fail every spring equinox for the past decade, here is 2021’s How To Wear ensemble, full of blossoms, bunnies, butterflies, and budding, breezy spring magics. I don’t wear any pastels nowadays, but I always include bunches of them in these outfits. To indulge my inner child, I guess. Baby Sarah loved those tender, opalescent hues of lavender and seafoam, shell pink and powder blue!
This is maybe the vainest thing, ever. But. HELLO FROM ME AND MY NO LONGER SNAGGLEDY TEEFS.
I had braces for five years when I was a teenager because my teeth were so bad. And then I fucked everything up when I didn’t wear my retainer, so they got even worse. I was SO self-conscious about my mouth and my teeth and my smile for YEARS. So when I had the means to fix it, I decided to go for it. Because of the pandemic, it felt like I had Invisalign for approximately 5 million years, but they finally came off today. I had to pay out of pocket. If I’m being totally honest with you, that’s what I used the advance from The Art of the Occult for.
Did I harness the power of the mystical arts for purposes of vanity? Maybe so!
Do teeth need to be perfect, or straight for a smile or a person to be beautiful? Absolutely not, I don’t believe that at all. But did fixing my janky mouth make me feel better? You bet your muffins it did. No regerts.