In August of 2017, I am pretty sure that Kjersti Faret of Cat Coven and I were within 5 feet of each other at the Salem Night Market… but I was too shy to introduce myself. I had been an admirer of Kjersti’s weird feminist magics in the form of art prints, decor, and soft, drapey tee shirts for some time, and I would loved to have told her how happy her witchy, whimsical, sometimes medieval-inspired creatures make my heart feel whenever I peek in at her new work. There’s always an element of fierce, feral joyousness to her illustrations that turns any spooky, serious, goth expectations you might have of this kind of art right on its head. It’s delightfully surprising while at the same time exploring fascinating facets of art history, queerness, and the occult, resulting in such a unique blend of tender oddball darkness and wonder.

Needless to say, I love Kjersti’s art and perspective and am delighted that she has answered a few questions for us at Unquiet Things today. See below for our Q&A where we ruminate on art-witchery and exploring the unknown parts of one’s self, the urge to create delicious weirdness measured against the bitter pill of capitalism, and the magic of setting aside time for one’s self amidst a hectic hustle.

Your imagery focuses greatly on your heritage, your queer perspective, the occult, art history, feminism, and of course–cats! How do these ideas and attitudes and points of view meet in your art?

I’m struggling to answer this question because I don’t really know. They just are such a strong part of me that I automatically include them. As I accept my queerness more, it flows into the work. If I’m reading more fairytales or mythology, they’ll seep into my work as well. Whatever I’m currently meditating on in the back of my mind is what goes onto the paper. I suppose because I use a lot of my personal work to explore unknown sides of myself, it just naturally comes out and drifts into my commercial work as well.

You describe yourself as an “art witch”–which I LOVE. If it is something you are comfortable speaking on (as I realize practice can be a very private thing!) do you consider your art and the creation of it to be your main magical practice or do you do magical workings outside of your artistic practice? Is it all very much tied together for you, or are they separate things, with their own corresponding rituals and such?

Yes, they are very tied together. I do some things separate from art-making, but it’s like 90% art-making. It’s either very meditative or very frenzied, depending on the day. Creating art in a frenzied way means I sort of set up my “safe space” (like opening a circle, if you will) and free myself up mentally. I put on specific music and go into a trance-like state and let the mediums – whether it’s graphite, gouache, ink or whatever – do the talking for me.

A lot of times I don’t know exactly what I will create, and it comes out spontaneously. Like I mentioned previously, I like exploring the depths of my mind to find hidden gems I may not have known before. Other times, I have a clear image of what I want to make that just “pops” into my head and it’s trial and error until I have replicated it in the real world. After meditating a bit this usually happens. I’ve been doing a lot more guided meditations lately and I get very strong visualizations for new projects after doing this. Sometimes I will start creating right away, other times I let it sit for a few days and make sure it’s worth pursuing.

I have a tendency to get very excited by a new idea and then run out of steam halfway through. I’m learning patience and that I have a limited time to pursue projects, so I can only complete those which demand to be made. It feels like performing a ritual to set an intention. That’s how I treat certain artworks I do. I am taking this intangible thing and giving it physical form. The process of making the piece also helps me internalize the concepts and/or process uncomfortable emotions.

Speaking of rituals, do you have any–either magical or mundane– that you engage in to set the mood for creating?

I have to listen to very specific playlists to get in the right state of mind. I am trying to get my consciousness to hit that sweet spot between intentional yet open to spontaneity and chance. Right now it’s movie/TV show soundtracks, which can range from Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, How to Train your Dragon to Outlander (basically fantasy music is perfect for setting the vibe, or anything by Bear McCreary). Or it’s a playlist I made filled with nostalgic pop songs circa 2012, because that was a very significant year for me. Also working at night is a special time for creating. I don’t get to do it very often because I like to sleep, but I will push myself every now and then to stay awake and create sometime, from like 12 – 2 AM, because somehow the world is quieter and more magical then.

This is a very specific question, I hope you don’t mind! You recently(ish) shared a little papercut goddess over on Instagram, which I believe you made for yourself. First, I love to see when artists keep their own work …I mean, maybe that happens more often than I realize, and just no one talks about it! I read somewhere recently, an artist on TikTok I think, how they asserted that artists have NO obligation to sell their work to anyone, and I think that’s a powerful statement and also something that doesn’t get discussed often.

But that’s not even the point of my question, I am getting sidetracked! You mentioned that this personal piece was not one goddess in particular, but rather an amalgamation of several favorites. I’d love to hear about your favorite goddesses/deities and how they inform and inspire your creative practice and even your life, in general…!

Oof, okay. Loaded question! I’ve always made art for myself. I think that’s how we all start, us artists, we love drawing in our childhood and if it gets encouraged, then you either pursue it professionally because you want a “job you love” or you do it on the side, eventually lose time because life happens and you stop creating. If you chose the “job you love” path, then you either focus so much on hustling commercial work that there is creative burnout for other work, or your “personal work” gets mixed up into your commercial work, and you are selling every bit of yourself to scrape by.

Can you tell I’m bitter about capitalism? Anyway, yes, this is all related to your question because I feel a split between my “professional” work over at Cat Coven and my “personal” artwork, which is that goddess piece. I love constantly growing and experimenting, but that is not encouraged when doing product work because you want to establish a recognizable brand. And while I do have fun drawing the things I do for Cat Coven, it is not necessarily what I would spend my time making if I didn’t have bills. I’d probably make a hell of a lot more weird inaccessible, existential art that would get maybe 10 likes on instagram.

The past few years I’ve really tried to get back into having separate personal work that feels fulfilling in my soul. I’ve dedicated my life to art because it is the language through which I can express myself best and understand the world around me. The only way I could practice it every day was by incorporating it into my job. When I draw things for Cat Coven, I am always tweaking and learning my style and getting better at drawing skeletons, cats, etc, which I can then use in my Important Work.

That being said, I am also in the process of rebranding Cat Coven to align more with who I am now and what I enjoy now as a 28-year-old, since I feel like a very different person than when I was in college and began my business.

Anyway, the goddesses! My “gateway goddess” was Freyja. I made one or two artworks years ago that were about her. I was drawn to her first because of my Norwegian heritage. Recently I’ve been drawn to Inanna and Ishtar. I don’t remember how they first captured my interest, but here I am. The “goddess” piece you referenced was mainly inspired by her. There’s a bit of Lilith in there too. I suppose it’s not just goddesses, because I was also thinking of Medusa (hence the snake hair), but any mythological archetype really.

While of course, I am always interested to hear about the work of your art and why you do what you do, I am also keen to hear about your rituals of rest and relaxation. How do you replenish your creativity and feed your soul when you’re not working on Cat Coven projects? It should be noted that this question is inspired by the joyful Renfaire photos of you and your wife that you sometimes share on social media, back when we could do such things 🙂

Haha, I’m glad you think I relax! Just kidding, I do and I am definitely getting better at it. It’s something that’s been a long time in the making. I used to have terrible work/life boundaries, just sitting on my bed in my first apartment after college, sewing tiny embroideries until midnight to put on Etsy. The past few years I began to align myself with my wife’s working hours, who works a “normal” scheduled job, which makes it easier to say “ok it’s time to stop working, go do a hobby or cook dinner or spend time with her.”

I’m also trying to take longer “European” lunch breaks. I call them European lunch breaks because the idea really got in my head after I did a residency in France a few years ago. Lunch was two hours, usually with a bottle of wine or time for a little nap. I don’t do the wine obviously, but I am trying to take time to read or go outside after lunch and enjoy the present moment. Also leaving NYC recently has made me feel calmer, as there is no rush of the city to make me feel pressured to keep going and going. That was part of our reason to move, as my wife and I both realized we are being worn down by the hustle of city life.

And yes, we enjoy the Ren Faire, or really any excuse to get dressed up in costume. Another benefit of being out of the city is that I finally have the space (garage and driveway) to do DIY house projects like sanding and painting a big bookshelf, so I am enjoying relaxing while I do other handicrafts I never had access to before. Also I can take BATHS!!! (We only had a shower in our previous apartment). Baths have changed my life (Shout out to Witch Baby Soaps).

What are some of your biggest inspirations currently that are finding their way into your art and practice?

I’ve really fallen for the Surrealists recently, something I think I was resisting for a long time because the famous ones can feel a bit cliché (like Dali) or overly churned into products (like Kahlo, which makes me sad). But I do really love Kahlo, Remedios Varo, and Leonora Carrington. Tove Jansson is my number one always, not just because of her art but also because of how she lived her life. She is my queer icon I look up to the most. Because of my Norwegian heritage, I have a very nostalgic attachment to anything Scandinavian, and these artists always warm my heart: Nikolai Astrup, Edvard Munch, Elsa Beskow and Theodore Kittlesen. Medieval art is always a favorite. Also, woodcuts in general, because the linework that the medium produces is so raw and overwhelmingly human (specifically when Kathe Kollwitz uses it and other expressionists).

I just learned that you have a Patreon! Can you tell us about what goes on over there?

Yes! It is mostly behind-the-scenes work or first looks for both Cat Coven and personal work. Also sometimes ramblings on different themes that are present in my art. I’ll also be sharing my new studio space there soon – it feels very vulnerable to share, so I don’t feel comfortable posting it publicly on social media. Some tiers also have download and print color pages, calendar pages and discount codes for CatCoven.com 🙂

Find Kjersti: Cat Coven shop // Kjersti Faret portfolio // Instagram // Patreon

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INSTAGRAM GIVEAWAY ALERT

Hello, new friends and followers! You may have ended up on my blog because I wrote something funny once. Or an interview you enjoyed! Or maybe you followed me over from my Tumblr, where I’ve been sharing imagery that fascinates me since 2009 (WOW) or from TikTok where I share perfume reviews. Where ever you came from–hello!

But did you know I am also the author of The Art of the Occult: A Visual Sourcebook For The Modern Mystic? I imagine everyone else is groaning at this point, you already know this. Thanks for sticking around!)

The Art of the Occult is a feast for your curious eyeballs and seeking heart, a gallery of eclectic art inspired by spiritual beliefs, magical techniques, and otherworldly experiences. Featuring leaders of artistic movements, contemporary icons, the marginalized and the little known – – The Art of the Occult was written and curated to both inspire and delight, and is a book for all fans of magic, mysticism, and the mysterious.

If you would like to win a signed copy of The Art of the Occult, please leave a comment *on the Instagram post* and make sure you’re following my account over there. You don’t have to tag a friend, although if you have a friend who might be interested, please feel free!

If you want to bypass all of this, and just purchase a copy, well I certainly won’t stop you. Here is a link for signed copies, and The Art of the Occult is available in most bookstores, and places that you find books. You can even request it from your library – as a matter of fact I highly suggest that you do!

TWO WINNERS will be chosen and contacted on Friday, July 16th!

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In April 2021, The Art of the Occult was six magical, mystical months old! I didn’t get too excited about it though, because a whole gaggle of shipments had gotten lost in the astral plane and I didn’t have any gorgeous books on hand at the time to wave around in front of your faces…but LOOK what has finally appeared on my doorstep!

And now HEY LOOK AT THAT! I have a PayPal link on my blog now, where, if you are in the US, you can buy a signed copy of The Art of the Occult  Now we don’t have to conduct covert deals through clandestine DMs! I am a professional! Alas, friends abroad who would like to buy a signed copy of The Art of the Occult from me, we must still resort to cloak-and-dagger communiqués. I have limited quantities at the moment, but I hopefully should be stocked up again soon, so please feel free to order bunches of books and make me a rich weirdo!

Reminder! Did you know that, in celebration of The Art of the Occult, the aromatic adepts at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab summoned forth a rare opulence of fragrances inspired by a handful of arcane masterpieces within its pages?

The Ars Inspiratio collection is comprised of five artful scents corresponding to five mystical artworks; these pairings serve as anointed access points to all manner of fabulous occult inspiration– perfumed pathways to unknown realms for extraordinary seekers and dreamers and magic-makers. If you’re curious about these fantastical fragrances but would like to know more about them first, you are in luck! I have reviewed them over on Haute Macabre and Tom and Galen reviewed them as well, over on the Lab’s 15 Minutes of ‘Fume youtube channel.

Alchemy: Alchemia, 2016. Gatya Kelly

And a final mention, I have rounded up all of the interviews I have done thus with artists whose works appear in The Art of the Occult. …and allow me to again express how deeply thankful I am to the artists, who, over the years, have taken the time to answer my questions and share their insights with me. I am so grateful for all of the creators who have spared a moment or two to discuss their works and practices with me. It’s always humbling and gratifying to have an artist that you admire take your queries seriously and share thoughtful, candid responses with you–so many, many thanks to the artists listed below, as well as every creator who has given me the time of day over the past decade! I am grateful for all that you do and share with the world, and I thank you for allowing me to be part of it sometimes!

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@alexeckmanlawn // Alex Eckman Lawn

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.

 

@debishapirophotography // Debi Shapiro

 

@katescottstudio // Kate Scott

 

Nocturnal Still Life with Snake Eating a Frog by @jared_joslin // Jared Joslin

 

The Wakening by @thebillmayer // Bill Mayer

 

@forestnoir // Alyssa T.

 

The Poem by @olafhajek // Olaf Hajek

 

@kreettakreetta // Kreetta Järvenpää

 

DARK SPRING by @welderwings

 

@liquidnight // Maika

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Still Life with a Large Array of Flowers in a Glass Vase on a Stone Pedestal

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.

All images via Museo del Prado.

Basket of Flowers

 

Vase of Flowers

 

Vase of Flowers

 

Garland of Flowers with a Landscape

 

Vase of Flowers

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Alchemy: Alchemia, 2016

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.

The Magnolia Bride, 2018

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.

RAPTURE, 2019

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.

PAPILLON, 2019

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.

Pear Valentina, 2018

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.

Hydrangeas and biscuit barrel, 2018

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.

SEDUCTION, 2019

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.

 

RADIANCE, 2019

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.

Alchemy: Arcana, 2016

 

Alchemy: The Apothecary, 2016

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.

Find Gatya Kelly: website // Instagram // Facebook

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“Night Garden” by @karilise // Kari-lise Alexander

Today at Unquiet Things, a gallery of art that has lately captured my imagination. I initially began sharing this “eyeball fodder” in my Instagram stories as a daily practice, a ritualof art therapy for myself, back in 2019 or so. From there, I gathered these collections into a weekly series that I shared on the haute macabre blog, though we all know it was never actually a weekly occurrence. And I thank you for never calling me out on that! I just couldn’t think of a better name for it.

Going forward, these galleries of visual phantasmagoria and fantastical ocular flotsam can be seen on my personal blog, and with the more fitting honest title.  Whether for you art is a source of fascination and inspiration, or therapy and healing, or any combination of modes of self-expression and self-awareness, I hope you’ll be surprised and delighted anew each time you peek in on Intermittent Eyeball Fodder .

 

“Constellation” by @mheldillustration // Maryann Held

 

@melissamonroeart // Melissa Monroe

 

@beverlysalas // Beverly Salas

 

“The beginning is always today” by @douni_hou // Dongni Hou

 

@ysok125 // Yoshioka

 

“Vanelea Carlisis” by @steevensalvat // Steeven Salvat

 

@devilsclaws // Izabella Wolf

 

“Wild Nectar” @stephenmackey_artist // Stephen Mackey

 

“Water Reflection” by @welderwings // Welder Wings

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Sometime in 2020, I came to the realization that I wanted more color in my life. This could have been a pandemic-prompted compulsion, or maybe the middle-aged yearnings of an individual recalling some beloved jewel-toned fairy tale illustrations of their childhood, but whatever it was, I was feeling done with my #allblackeverything phase (although I reserve the right to step right back into it whenever the urge strikes me!)

I spied the lovely luminous work of jeweler Alexis Berger at just the right time, then! Don’t you love these cosmic winks from the universe? Beautifully crafted, translucent beads with finishes reminiscent of Art Nouveau and the Belle Epoch, Alexis’ work is utterly imbued with her unique creative vision and I am so thrilled that she has agreed to answer some of my nosy questions. See below wherein Alexis shares all about her love affair with hot glass and her “sparkly glowing fire-melty” life’s dreams of working with this most sumptuous material.

As someone with enthusiasm for the arts but with a marked lack of talent or skill in that area, I am always interested in how my favorite artists got started. When did you know that this was what you wanted to do with your life? How did you know what medium was the one you were interested in working in? Do you dabble in other mediums? Where did it all begin, and when did “your art” coalesce for you? 

 I came from a very artistic family, both sides of my family were involved in architecture, design, and craftsmanship. My father is an architect. My mother is a craftswoman and worked as a professional seamstress for quite a few years, now she enjoys restoring antique sewing machines.

My paternal grandfather was a painter, musician, and photographer and my grandmother was a professional dancer. My maternal grandfather was also an architect and my maternal grandmother was also a fantastic craftswoman.

I was introduced to drawing and handicraft from a very early age, and from the minute I figured out how to make my hands do what I wanted, I used arts and crafts as an escape, I had a hard time in school so I felt like I wanted to escape a lot. When I announced that I wanted to go to art-school and around age 6? it was met with the hearty joy of parents excited that their kid is going into the family business. I was aware, very early on, that if I wanted to be a SERIOUS artist I needed to learn to draw from life so I was very focused on keeping a sketchbook and drawing ALL the time, that was me being a serious art-school wannabe, but I always did crafts for fun on the side. I loved embroidery, basketry ceramics, and of course making jewelry out of everything I could get my hands on. It was also at this time that I started collecting beads, or rather more accurately, adding to the collection that my mom started and I stole from. But because that was so much “FUN” I didn’t take it seriously, also I didn’t think I could put it into a portfolio to get into a SERIOUS art school.

This is a story of how I mistook my calling as a hobby for years, always learning other skills but coming back to jewelry.

I eventually got into an art magnet high school (Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of The Arts) which was great for me. They are very rigorous about training you to get into a good art-college and you’re around other artsy-fartsy kids who you learn as much from as the teachers. They helped me put a portfolio together which got me into RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) and there I decided to major in Industrial Design (ID) which is designing everything you interact with that gets produced: toys, toothbrushes, cell phones…  I still at this point thought, “I need to go get a JOB” and this would major would be good to teach me how to be a serious DESIGNER! Even though that’s not where I ended up, ID was a great thing to major in because it taught me how to think about things in 3D and how to use lots of different materials. I learned about metals and welding as well as woodworking and plastics.

Ironically I never learned how to use glass while I was at RISD, glass was in a whole different department and location on campus and was notoriously difficult to get access to, so I never touched it there. I actually learned about glass for the first time while I was teaching weaving at an arts-camp called Buck’s Rock. They had a world-class glass blowing facility there and that’s where I first saw glass beads being made. I didn’t know anything about how to work with hot-glass and I was transfixed. It was like falling in love, all I wanted to do was make BEADS! I used basically every scrap of time off I had that summer to practice making them at the facilities there and when that summer ended I was completely seduced, from that point on, I was melting glass every chance I got.

When I went back to school at RISD in the fall. I got into trouble for using the metal shop soldering torches for lampworking and over the next summer, I made sparkly sharp messes in my grandparents’ back yard as I melted broken Heineken bottles and Bombay sapphire gin bottles. (which makes excellent blue glass with red copper streaks if you’re interested). My family was very forgiving… but to be fair, I never burned anybody’s house down, just toasted my own fingers a fair amount.

Glass was all I could think about, I had sparkly glowing fire-melty dreams at night and all I wanted to do was Lampwork all day, but I still didn’t quite have the confidence that I could be a glass-artist. I was still on track to become an industrial designer, but I was quickly falling out of love with the slicker-than-snot-super-hyper-masculine look that the department seemed to be pushing and that so many products in the industry seemed to have. Think: tennis shoes, gillette razors, cars, and even air fresheners.

Everyone wanted to make products that looked fast and angry and maybe wanted to lay eggs in your brain. I also began to look at the kind of life I would have as an industrial designer if I started working at a company…

-I would start as computer-monkey fiddling in a 3D modeling program

-taking direction from a senior designer

-I would be in an office

-I wouldn’t be using my hands to make anything much

-and worst of all I wouldn’t get to be in charge of the designs I worked on…at least not until I had worked my way up to being a senior designer which could take years.

…and ultimately, I didn’t get the tight little shiver of pleasure from looking at a well-designed toothbrush that some of my fellow students seemed to.

But a beautiful pair of earrings? ohhhhh!

Finally, in my senior year, I got to have a chat with one of the teachers and I asked, “Do I have to go work for Bic Pens or Clorox or Hasbro when I graduate?…OR can I go into business for myself? Is that something I can even do?”

And she answered like she was letting me in on a secret. “YES” that one conversation was the permission I needed to begin scheming on how to eventually make jewelry full time.

An engraving depicting a woman blowing a glass bubble to form the basis of an artificial pearl. Dated 19th century.

For those who may not know (me, for one) what exactly is lampwork glass? (And is that the same thing as “flamework”? I think I have seen your work referred to as both?) And what are the rewards and challenges of working with lampwork glass?

That’s right, flamework and lampwork are interchangeable terms. The “lamp” in lampwork refers to the fact that the heat source for this type of craft used to be done on oil lamps that would be stoked with a bellows blowing fresh air across the flame to heat it up enough to melt glass.

The process is melting rods of different colored glass in a torch (much like a bunsen burner) and manipulating the molten glass with different tools and techniques to create different shapes. Layering different colors will give you lots of different patterns and effects but you’d be amazed what you can do with just using gravity and an old ex-ato knife.

The rewards of working with glass are numerous but at the top of the list I’d say it’s immediacy. It takes years to make things perfectly (one of glass’ drawbacks is that it’s HARD and takes lots of practice) but when you sit down to work, you sculpt the piece all in one sitting, and it’s essentially finished. It will need to cool in the kiln but when it comes out it’s all shiny and bright and if you’re lucky, it’s just how you imagined it. If you’re casting something there are so many steps involved in producing and finishing your work. But lampworked glass is created in its final material and form and all the colors and shapes are right there for you to dig into.

While lampworking, it’s very easy to be seduced into covering everything you produce with detail rather than letting the material speak for itself, it’s a balance between showing off virtuoso technique and actually allowing the natural beauty of the glass to shine. There is a temptation to show skill rather than beauty. Metal and gem jewelry is all about using the color and optical qualities of the stone with the metals acting as structure and a “canvas” for the gems. I try to use that sensibility with my work, contrasting optic and reflective components with structural supporting ones. Glass is such an inherently beautiful material that working with it becomes a game to allow somebody to see that beauty in all its aspects without being distracted by too much sensory input all at once. I think this objective is true for many craftspeople who are working with sumptuous materials. 

You’ve mentioned that glass as a material, allows you to “paint with light and color in three dimensions, which is critical to making the natural motifs that inspire my art”. Can you share a bit about those natural motifs and why they speak to you?  

Nature is the best teacher when it comes to making a design that works, for lots of my work I try to make something that looks like it could have been plucked off a tree or picked up on the beach. Or imitates human anatomy, there is something so thrilling about capturing lifelike qualities in art.

 Other than hot glass, what are your favorite materials to work with and why?

As I mentioned before I LOVE fiber-arts and I still incorporate a bit of that into some of my jewelry, I make crochet silk necklaces for many of my pendants. I especially love crochet and embroidery. I’ve been enjoying crocheting lace on my clothes during the pandemic. It’s so soothing and repetitive, you can let yourself go into a trance while binge-watching Star Trek.

 

 You seem to have a thing for EYES! As I mentioned to you in a previous conversation, I shared on my Tumblr page (haha, yes, I still use Tumblr!) a photograph that you had posted to your Instagram of your weeping eye brooches, and that Tumblr post is now at 14K likes/reblogs and growing– obviously, this is a symbol that speaks to other folks as well! Whether it’s the symbolic tears of the mourning eye or an apotropaic talisman to ward off evil, the eye is a powerful and enduring emblem. I’d love to hear about its personal meaning for you. 

Yes! Thanks, I’ve been thinking about that for a while, it’s really striking to me how many people are feeling a connection to weeping eyes right now. I think about the last time jewelry with a weeping eye motif was really popular and that was around the Georgian and Victorian era, death and mourning were so present in people’s daily lives and that’s where we are again. We as a society are going through a huge mass-death event and are feeling the appalling consequences of living under a government that couldn’t be bothered to help us. There is so much loss to feel and process, as well as joy and relief as hope sprouts back up to meet us. All of this emotion makes crying eyes feel like the right motif for the moment. I know it did for me.

Part of the job of art is to help us process our feelings and express ourselves, and wearing jewelry is a very potent act of self-expression. Wearing a weeping eye is unmistakable in its message, there is pain here, there is beauty here, and I’m here to feel it.

 What does a typical day in your studio look like?

What a fun question!

I get to my studio at the crack of noon most days (I’m not an early bird) and the first order of business is to go open the kiln from the day before. It’s like Christmas every time, I pull out the treasures and turn the kiln on to heat up,(it goes to about 1000 degrees) while this is happening I go make myself a HUGE pot of tea which I will chug continuously throughout the day, I usually spend a few minutes photographing the stuff I made the day before (while the light is still good) then it’s time to light the torch and melt that glass!

 I believe I read that you also have a love for music? And cooking! Tell me more! Who are some of your favorite musicians right now? Do you have an all-time favorite album? What is a meal that you’ve cooked lately that you were particularly excited about? Or a favorite go-to comfort meal? If you can’t tell, music and food are two subjects very dear to my heart 🙂

I take after my Grandmother in that I love dancing, before the pandemic I loved ballroom and partner dancing of all kinds, I miss the music I would listen to then, blues, and zydeco music would be what I would hear live most often. But music to listen to while I work is a totally different game. Right now I’d recommend the album Deluge by Anura, it came out recently and it absolutely put my head in the right space to make good stuff. You can get it on Bandcamp from the label “Already Dead Tapes” Highly recommended. It’s a perfect relaxing but invigorating get-work-done album.

As for FOOD! Well, I am a lucky girl indeed because although I’m an OK cook I married a Genius Chef. My husband is an amazing cook who is always inventing and teaching himself how to make new things, he has made sourdough from scratch, pickles, pizza oh boy! But I think the thing he made that’s my favorite as well as being really creative was he made spiced fried chicken with a “breading” made from almond-flour and sesame seeds which just about knocked my socks off.

This is all to say, do I have a passion for cooking? Yes! It just happens to be my husband’s cooking.


Is there a particular bead and/or jewelry artist you admire or who you consider a role model? And/or if you were to draw attention to a favorite designer or artist, who would it be and why?

I am constantly amazed and inspired by my dear friend Anandamyi Arnold who makes incredible floral/fruit sculptures and surprise balls out of crepe paper, they are often so life-like that they are confused about the real thing if you’re interested, I’d check out her Instagram page under the handle @lynxandtelescope

She was definitely a role model for me as she has been making sculptures full-time professionally for years and was a fantastic example to me of how to “make it” and set up your life to work as a full-time artist in the Bay Area.

 

 Is there anything else that you might like Unquiet Things readers to know about your work?

I’d say that I would want people to know that I’m so grateful I get to do what I love for a living and part of why that’s possible is people like you who have made it their passion to curate and proselytize about things that move you and others around you.

So thank you, and thank you to all the people who have read this, I hope you got something out of it. Perhaps you feel inspired to pick up that craft project you’ve been thinking about doing, that would make me very happy to think somebody might go make something because they read this. 😀

Find Alexis Berger: Website // Etsy // Instagram

 

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