I first became aware of Sara Deck’s artwork via her arresting and unsettling cover art imagery for Rue Morgue magazine’s Shirley Jackson tribute, and since then, I’ll admit, I haven’t been able to get her out of my head (please pardon the pun).
The more I pore through her work, heavily featuring iconic dark genre sirens and scream queens galore, the more I am cursing my lack of wall space and frantically scrabbling through my grimoires in an attempt to conjure forth extra rooms through the use of black arts. Are her depictions of your favorite spooky ladies worth selling your soul for, in order to have their haunting visages hanging in that shadowed parlour corner that appeared in a mysterious puff of smoke two minutes ago? I’d wager for fans of powerfully female-centric horror-related art, the answer is an unequivocal “OMG WHAT YES”.
Sara Deck is a visual artist residing in Ontario, Canada and who describes herself as a “Landscape aficionado, portraitist, Illustrator, dollmaker and painter of meats*” She also sculpts the most peculiar little dolls, which she notes in her bio on her site, “may or may not come to life at night while you are asleep.”
Delving into the arts was natural for Deck, as her father was a painter, and often would bring her along when he would do watercolor studies for later paintings. As a teen, she began working in acrylic and painting everything that she could get her hands on; when she ran out of canvas, she notes, her backpack, jean jacket and bicycle did not escape her brush! She also shares that she was very solitary and “into finding secluded places to read, sketch and paint,” and that it was around this time that her artistic passions became firmly rooted into her personality. Her art education continued at Sheridan College, where she majored in Editorial Illustration.
Sara Deck has always found dark imagery, literature and films extremely inspiring, and has a huge collection of horror films ranging from some the first ever made to many current creepy movies and television shows. “I think that the horror genre offers so much room for creativity,” Deck suggests, “I mean it’s not just ghosts and slasher films. Pretty much anything goes, from evil fairies to the cold stark abyss of space. It’s really a wide open platform of expression with only your imagination as its limit.”
It is within this expansive, imaginative genre where powerful female characters truly resonated with her. A huge fan of all of the ladies featured in classic horror films, Deck shares that she loves the glamour of the time mixed with the heart wrenching horror of their stories. A few of her all-time favorites? “…Val Lewton’s pictures,” Deck enthuses. “If you have not seen his work, and are interested in checking out some stellar leading ladies, I would highly recommend Cat People with Simone Simon and I Walked With a Zombie, featuring Francis Dee. I loved Candace Hilligoss in Carnival of Souls–her character’s vacant, numb demeanor while trying to re-assimilate into society after having survived a horrifying car crash that killed all of her friends–I won’t spoil the ending on that one! Also, The Legend of Hell House, with Pamela Franklin staring as the physical medium battling the dominant evil spirit of the Belasco House. This film has a scene where during a seance she manifests ectoplasm out of her fingers, much like you would see in a vintage Victorian spiritualist photo. There is also a particularly hilarious scene with a possessed cat (badly stuffed I’m afraid) that will make you laugh.”
Deck adds, as an afterthought, “I am also a big nerd for some of the more modern ladies in the genre. In the last few years I’ve been in love with Penny Dreadful‘s Vanessa Ives. I have forced so many friends to watch that show with me!”
Also a sculptor who draws sinister inspiration from the likes of Edgar Allan Poe to Spike and Drusilla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Deck notes that she loves making dolls and coming up with new characters to create. Though, she reflects, “I think I am more of a painter at heart. I’m always doing sketches and filling books with ideas for new pieces.”
*With regard to painting, and hearkening back to the bit in her bio where Deck mentions she is a “painter of meats”–if you were curious about that, and whether that is “meat” in the sense of humans, in their fleshly meat-suits? Or maybe still lifes with t-bones and lamb chops and fat-marbled filets? According to Deck, the answer “Both actually! I once did a whole series of still life paintings featuring raw bloody meat. I have since focused on painting people, which is another form of painting meat – so, it’s a bit of a cheeky bio description!”
And, OK, let’s say that your mystical wall-space petition to the dark ones didn’t quite pan out, but you are still longing for a piece of Sara Deck’s fantastical, haunting art. What to do? She must be part witch or part seer herself, and foresaw this dilemma, for she has created tiny, wearable pieces in the form of beautifully macabre lapel pins for which to adorn yourself! Surely you can make space for a Nevermore or Mystifying Oracle pin on your jacket? Miniature art magics! Problem solved.
To trace with the eye the sumptuous swells and ornate, swirling shadows of Jas Helena’s art is to be drawn into an evocative world of potent feminine mysticism. Appearing both demonic and divine (or, perhaps neither) against inky Byzantine backdrops, these saints and sirens, shamans and sorceresses beckon and beguile from the canvas; a tilt of an eyebrow or lift of a lip hinting at knowledge and portents beyond your mortal understanding…or maybe just admonishing one, with an intense and commanding glare, to STFU with their mansplaining nonsense. You don’t know what these women are thinking, and perhaps that is precisely the point.
“I love the concept of a strong, powerful, mysterious woman as a constant focal point in my work,” the artist shares, while also noting visually over-the-top baroque art and dark Goya-esque works as inspirations: “..finding a happy medium…that can both be feminine and soft, yet have a subtle, darker aesthetic is pretty much what I seek to do, and without a doubt Goya and artist of the Baroque-era figured out how to do that so flawlessly.”
Fascinated by the arts at a young age, Jas Helena obsessed over drawings and illustrations by the Old Masters without fully understanding what drew her to them, but, inspired by the excitement that these classic works sparked in her, she instinctively attempted to recreate what it was that so captured her fancy. Encouraged by positive feedback from friends and teachers, she practiced her art and nurtured her abilities through school and community college. In continually learning and honing her craft, it eventually coalesced into the haunting, highly ornamental style for which she is recognized today-a style that she feels finally reflects who she is and what she wants to put out into the world.
With a portfolio that also boasts work created for such occult rock and doom-laden metal acts as Funerary, Deaf Heaven, and Ides of Gemini, one gets the sense that Jas Helena has evolved into an artist who has glimpsed beyond the veil and become a conduit for the arcane visions and revelatory dreams she has witnessed. Her penchant for the dark and obscure and all its symbolism, she asserts, makes her art and this unearthly music a perfect match.
Regarding both the powerful priestesses she painstakingly composes on the page, as well as those who may be inspired as her work: in Sabat Magazine’s Spring/Summer 2016 Maiden issue, Jas Helena observes an increased interest in occult aesthetics in young women today, and that through Instagram and other social media, the aesthetic becomes more accessible. “I see a community of bold women growing from it,” she concludes, mentioning artists Annie Stegg and Nona Limmen in this spirit, “that becomes even more important in the art world where this dark aesthetic is still an uneven playing field, dominated by men.”
The Creeping Museum is the nonprofit creative vision and labor of love conceived between two friends and a grilled cheese sandwich in a North Portland laundromat in the spring of 2016. Their remarkable mission? To help artists and independent creators give back to their communities by turning their strange and unusual work into tiny pieces of affordable art in the form of collectible enamel pins– for which to support wonderfully worthy causes.
The Creeping Museum continues their mission of making the world a better place through kind hearts and spooky arts with the release of their most ambitious and highly anticipated collection to date: Beautiful Monsters. Inspired by the night creatures of Penny Dreadful, in support of the marginalized and forgotten, Beautiful Monsters is now available. Read more at Haute Macabre today.
Bonus! I was honored to have made a small contribution to The Creeping Museum’s Eviscerate The Patriarchy auction (proceeds to benefit the Joyful Heart Foundation); believe it or not, I actually knit these mitts up in about 6-7 hours!
Photo credit: B. Brandt / Styling: Maika Keuben
Bonus! Should you like to wish to swan about in a spookily elegant ensemble inspired by The Creeping Museum, Beautiful Monsters, and Penny Dreadful, see below. As always, click on the image to see a listing of items used.
Look, I’ll be honest with you. I started doing these How To Wear posts for two reasons: one, because I think the majority How To Wear blog posts and magazine articles are pretty dumb. I mean, most competent people with a little bit of imagination can figure out how to wear a pair of jeans or a bomber jacket, right? So, I thought, hey, why not how to wear something ridiculous or obscure or okay, for the most part, how to wear something related to one of my weird interests. How to wear tarot decks, how to wear your favorite poem, what to wear upon greeting death, that sort of thing.
But there was also another reason. A way dumber reason: I have spent, like 2/3 of the last 8 years over on polyvore (edited to add: RIP Polyvore) and no way, no how, is all that time going to waste. I created a lot of stuff! Well, “created”. You know what I mean. So these silly How To Wear posts on Unquiet Things are a way to both showcase those creations and make me feel better about my minor obsession with a major internet time suck.
In this How To Wear installment, we are looking to your (my) favorite artists and their gorgeous creations, for wardrobe inspiration. One could explore this in a very literal sense: for example intricate swirled pen and ink line work echoed in an elaborately embellished art deco frock paired with laser-cut filigree leather shoes. Or perhaps more figuratively… the slinky folds of an artfully constructed little black dress evoking the sensual thrill of an erotic three-panel black and white comic.
See below for several ensembles inspired by paintings, photographs, illustrations and woodcuts, artists both contemporary and from bygone eras. And because Polyvore, sadly, no longer exists, I’m afraid I can no longer link to all of the items pictured. Use your imagination and substitute where necessary!
There must be something exceptionally splendid and special in the air right now (or could it simply be that we are now in the month of October– the most wonderful time of the year?) My beloved friends are really outdoing themselves with regard to their current creative ventures and artistic endeavors, and I wanted to take a moment to spotlight, (for all of my twelve readers, haha) some of the remarkable things that are available right now from these dazzlingly brilliant visionaries. See below for an array of outstanding projects and collaborations resulting in needful things of the most enticing and uncanny sort.
Munich Art Studio and Casketglass Art have teamed up to celebrate a month of haunted days by releasing an extremely limited set of art prints inspired by the mystery and magic of Halloween. An intimate experience, only 20 print sets are available for purchase and will not be re-released, and in honor of the joyously macabre traditions of the Halloween season, each order is shipped with additional ghoulish treats for you to keep or share with others.
For the scented tapophile: in what will be an on-going collection, the new Haute Macabre + Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab collaboration is launching with two new fragrances, Burying Point and St. Louis #1. Made exclusively for Haute Macabre by master perfumer Elizabeth Barrial, the collection is based on favorite cemeteries around the world; the first installment features St. Louis #1 (drooping Spanish moss and crumbling marble, sweet olive blossom, 13-year aged black patchouli, and offerings of Bay Rum, Florida water, and tobacco), located in New Orleans, and Burying Point (damp clusters of brown patchouli, dried maple leaves, black sage, spikenard, and curled, misshapen mandrake roots), the oldest cemetery in Salem.
Friends who have visited our house and wondered at the ghostly chamber music and dark, dreamy sounds we sometimes haunt you with? It’s Meredith Yayanos‘ eerily beautiful music from The Parlour Trick’s Blessed Unrest album …and right now you can get the digital version on bandcamp for a mere $6.66–OR!–you can pre-order the vinyl repress (which you should do, because it will sell out in the blink of an eye!)
Visit Haute Macabre to read the introduction to the bloodmilk Book Club for this season, with Sonya Vatomsky’s “Salt Is For Curing” as the current selection. Also included in the post are two special giveaways: one, a chance to win a copy of Sonya’s book, and a second, a chance to win a jewel from the bloodmilk shop. The giveaway runs until November 1st, so there is still plenty of time.
As you know, we sold out of the Occult Activity Book Volume Two even faster than anticipated! Neither this volume or the previous will ever be re-printed or re-created, so if you missed out on the opportunity to purchase this rare tome full of fantastical arts and word witchery, you will never again have another chance. HOWEVER! Don’t summon the demons to do your freaky time travel bidding just yet! Our friends at Haute Macabre are giving away one deluxe edition of The Occult Activity Book Volume Two, which includes the book and all the goodies. If you missed out on this exceedingly special project and are hovering at cusp of committing dire and dangerous magical crimes to acquire one for yourself, why not enter the giveaway instead?
AND, a few upcoming things that you need to keep an eye out for!
Morbid Fantasies is a richly illustrated reader’s guide to Gothic literature, guiding fans both old and new over the ever-changing face of this most ghoulish of genres. In its pages, scholar Jack Shear covers the history, key themes, and major books in the Gothic movement from its inception through the current day. It’s a love letter to this often misunderstood and under-appreciated form of entertainment, hand-bound and designed by Tenebrous Kate with featured illustrations by Dana Glover, Becky Munich, and Carisa Swenson. I hear this may be available as soon as next weekend, so be sure to check over at hereticalsexts.com to grab a copy for yourself!
California sprawls across a multitude of landscapes and has amassed a history full of the strange and unusual. There are secrets in the desert. Secrets in the cities. Strange and unusual happenings in the odd, dark places of the coastal state.
Strange California is 26 tales of strangeness, lavishly illustrated, that will pull you into another world, a world where migrant girls stand up to witches who live in orange groves, where trickster magpies try to steal souls from Russian sisters in the early days of Fort Bragg, where water is both currency and predator, and Gold Rush-era ghosts wander the streets of San Francisco alongside panther ladies.
This past month has seen a slow shift into a less hectic pace and has presented me with more time to focus on things I have been neglecting. The past year has been so busy, especially the earlier part of the summer, and so it was easy to ignore things piling up…as in literal, actual piles and stacks of things that just kept growing and slowly taking over the entire house.
I spent the greater portion of August getting these things sorted and settled. Stacks of books were dismantled and properly shelved. Art was hung on walls, makeup and brushes were given a home, and jewelry is now untangled and on display. It’s about time.
Currently I am obsessing, just a bit, over okinomiyaki…which, if you don’t know what that is, it’s basically (as far as I can tell) just a savory Japanese pancake. I think it usually always contains cabbage, but from there you can probably add whatever you like: shrimp, pork belly, chicken, sausage, squid…whatever. Or maybe shredded carrots and lots of green onions, if you don’t want to add any meat.
I see some people refer to it as “Japanese pizza”, but maybe that’s because it seems a bit like junk food? Or maybe because it’s a flat disk-like food with lots of toppings? Who knows! Anyway, here’s a basic recipe for it, and it’s fairly easy to make. You mix a bunch of stuff together, fry it, throw some other stuff on top, and serve it. Here’s a shopping list for the items that might present more of a challenge to locate, if you wanted to make it for dinner tonight: okonomiyaki kit // dashi // bonito flakes // kewpie mayo // okonomiyaki sauce
How did this okonomiyaki obsession begin? Well, I blame it on Wakakozake, an anime I started watching last year. Shown in 2 minute episodes, it follows Murasaki Wakago, a 26 year old woman, who likes to go out to dinner or for a snack and a drink, every night after work. Somehow, they took that concept and turned it into a half an hour live action show (or maybe the animated short came second? I’m actually not sure.)
On the surface, it’s not very complex: our main character picks a restaurant or a bar, she orders something and eats it, musing on its delicious qualities all the while. Sort of like a food blog, I guess, but much less pretentious. Wakago can be silly and is a bit of a day-dreamer, and there’s such a lovely lack of artifice in her observations. Also, I loved what this reviewer had to say about it, and after reading this, I really did start to think about the many layers of Wakakgo’s reflections and interactions. And although, as the reviewer notes, the show barely scratches the surface of this way of thinking. It’s fascinating.
“I think one of the best things about this series is how it both introduces and scratches the surface of a side of Japanese thinking and approaching food that is very specific and methodical, yes, but even that touches on something that is very characteristic of traditional cultural aesthetic values in Japan – there is not only a right way to prepare food, but to eat food, and to evaluate, criticise and appreciate what is placed in front of one.”
Sometimes I will prepare dinner, and depending what sort of mood we are in, we will either have our meal at the dining room table, or sit in front of the tv and watch something. Lately, my response to the question of “what shall we watch?” is “I want to watch the lady eat!”
Nope, I’m not creepy or anything.
Some more one-word reviews for you on films I have recently watched:
I just finished Jeff Vandermeer’s extraordinary Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Acceptance, & Authority), and now I’m at a bit of a loss and I don’t know what to do with myself–the perils of reading something so wondrous that you just don’t think anything else can measure up! The books tell of the mysterious, dangerous wilderness of Area X and the humans exploring it: several decades ago, an inexplicable environmental change occurred and a large swath of land and sea was sealed behind an invisible and largely impenetrable barrier. “Inside it, nature shifted. It grew wild and pristine, dense and fertile—improbably pure, as though nature had said “Enough!” and reclaimed itself.” It’s an uncanny, and genuinely surprising read that haunted me for days and probably will continue to do so for a long time to come. With this series The New Yorker refers to Vandermeer as The Weird Thoreau, and …yeah, I totally see that.
Also read, to some degree of enjoyment or another:
Currently smelling: the few offerings from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s The Art of the Unicorn collection. I have not yet made much headway, but I can tell you that De Vos’ Unicorn (sugared peony and rose-tinted vanilla with mallow, white musk, lavender buds, and a touch of apricot) smells like a brothel run by a flock of scrumptious marshmallow peeps. But like, peeps if…they weren’t purchased stale and on sale after Easter, but rather if some enterprising, over-achiever foodie made a bespoke, hand-crafted batch of peeps. After a few hours, the scent softens becomes very much like my beloved but sadly discontinued Antique Lace, so it is definitely going to be hoarded away.
Incidentally, did you know that the collective noun for unicorns is a “fondle” of unicorns? Well, according to Wondermark it is. I’d like to add that it’s no doubt a “glittering fondle of unicorns.”
This interview was initially published at Haute Macabre in September of 2016.
The discovery of Darla Teagarden’s mixed media photography and conceptual self-portraiture was a thoroughly unexpected pleasure and a bit of a revelation to me when I initially became introduced to her work a few years back.
First, I suppose, because the image I chanced upon was a portrait of a friend, Angeliska Polachek–small world!–and secondly, although I knew my friend to be quite beautiful, Darla had transformed her into an otherworldly enchantress, a shimmering, splendid, utterly sublime creature. I’m not even the slightest bit embarrassed to admit that this was the very same way I pictured her, when I conjured the lovely Angeliska’s reflection in the mirror of my imagination!
As a fantasist who doesn’t quite always see things as they are, I view our world through a splinter of glass in my eye, a feverish vision of of circumstances and scenarios, slightly distorted and different. Darla Teagarden’s surreal photographic narratives, which walk that delicate line between fable and reality, resonated very deeply with this dreamer in me.
For the richly detailed imagery that comprises the highly atmospheric vignettes that she photographs, Darla draws on an intriguingly varied background consisting of experiences as a stylist, model, production designer, vintage clothes buyer and cabaret dancer. Through these myriad lenses, her projects are deeply imbued with fragile secrets and intense emotion, and I’ll confess, I have been following her subsequent work quite closely since the beauty of that first tremulous photo captured my heart.
Read further for this extraordinary artist’s insights and inspirations regarding her creations, as shared with Haute Macabre.
Haute Macabre: You provide the viewer with a narrative through photography; it shares a story, tells a tale. While I understand that you don’t wish to convey utter reality, I would also hesitate to call your work fiction or fable. Would you say that your photos then inhabit the space in between? And why do you think that space is such fertile ground for your work? We all sort of live between fable and reality, anyway. There’s that side of us which walks into a misty forest, let’s say, and in an instant we make the moment richer in relation to our own experience. Connecting our inner lives to day-to-day situations is a way we can better understand ourselves. Cinema has allowed us new emotional access, and photography is related. I guess what I’m saying is, photography helps me understand myself and my issues.
…and as a visual story-teller, what are the kinds of stories you like best to share? I love sharing symbolic insight and abstraction. I’ve always maintained that when I go into a concept it has to be succinct, like a poem. I love the challenge of being succinct while conveying something that could, if given the opportunity, fill a an entire film. I guess I like stories about survival most. We are all going to die, yet we still have to make choices.
I have enjoyed reading about your perspective on failure. Fail big and often, you seem to say–don’t be a giant, fragile weenie, just go out there and do the thing! I’d love to hear about your inspirations and influences in terms of Doers of Things and Fabulous Failures. I have always surrounded myself with people who seemed to care less about the perceived consequences of failure and more about the need ‘to do’. The need to do should outweigh fear or else you’re going to be paralyzed. Of course, this is a goal and not always the case, but I try to accept possibility either way before I try something new. When I first began doing my photo projects, I knew I would suck. I did, and the proof is floating forever in the ethers of the web. However, I knew I had something to say. I knew I had to do something that made me less miserable, something that could alleviate injury… and, If i get better at it along the way, great. My inspirations have always been friends who need, not want, to express themselves because, I need it too. I guess it’s a tribe.
“Altars” was a collection of self portraits about living with mental illness, inspired both by your own life as well as the lives of friends and family members. Was your intent to educate or advocate, or perhaps to confront and work through some of your own struggles? I would like to say my intention was to educate and advocate, but in the end, it was really just therapy for me. Yet, by coming from a singular place, it becomes broad and easily shared. It feels good when someone says, oh! I know this ! It’s a feeling of unity.
Mr. Goff, Guru of Grief, is a series that appears to be dealing with themes of mourning and loss. Can you speak to how this series came about, and who Mr. Goff is to you? That series was in two parts, Mr. Goff and The Lamentation of Mrs. Fly. ( one of him alone and one with both of us).Mr. Goff is among the very few people I’d known in my youth, which is a big deal for me because I’ve lost so many friends to drugs, suicide, AIDS, mental illness, and the pure need to distance myself for survival. Anyway, he and I share the love and experience of one person named Nick Bohn- a visionary young man who died from a drug overdose after years of severe, poorly treated schizophrenia. He got me to move to New York were he was working with Kembra Pfahler, Little Annie and other like New York artists as a filmmaker. His life was frightening and chaotic but amazing, and inspired me to grab my own piece of New York. Mr. Goff and I reconnected recently and I felt to need to be with him in a piece of art to mourn Nick, but to also celebrate our survival in a simple visual poem. It’s in the shape of a fable but it’s all about mourning people who are gone , people who shaped you. Friendship.
And most recently, your Noble Creatures series, can you tell about that? Noble creatures is about being misunderstood. For whatever reason I find it difficult to express what I’m about and what I need from people in real life. I just suck at it, but I keep trying nevertheless. These creatures are saying, “give me a chance or leave me alone.” It’s just a simple nod to people doing their best to be who they are without beating themselves up to fit somebody else’s ideas. I don’t mean to be precious–I am saying with a certain amount of humor, I’m pretty OK with myself these days, “Here’s my wings, here’s my many eyes, here’s my shell, my burdens, my dangerous bits… deal.”
Much of your work, though certainly abstract and surreal, is considered self portraiture. I’m curious as to where you see such your art as it relates to the “selfie society” that we’re thought of as living in today? It’s the same in that the ‘selfie generation” is merely looking back at themselves to see themselves and hope others see them too. I am here! See me! But, there are rather significant differences in self portraiture, generally. Conceptual self portraitures are deliberate stories in relation to space that may or may not require the focus to be on the performer. My body and those of my collaborators are catalysts for story telling. I don’t require my ‘image’ to be the story but that of the environment created around the body. Selfies say, ”see me, I’m REAL !” Conceptual portraiture says, ”Feel this ghost”.
Any fantastical ideas percolating that may manifest soon? Any future projects on the horizon? I want to explore the idea of being saved. We’ve all been saved and maybe even saved somebody. I like the idea that we have the capacity to save someone, from death, from despair, from going down the wrong path, from being blind, loneliness, obscurity, from illness, others, from ourselves. I like how vulnerable we really are. I love that, even with all the casual cynicism, we are still unreasonable romantics.
Thank you kindly, Darla, for giving your time to answer our questions.
See more of Darla Teagarden’s work on her website or follow her on Instagram for news and updates.