The enigmatic artist known as Hidden Velvet seemed to appear on my radar overnight, and yet, whilst gazing at the somber elegance of her surreal collages, I feel that I have been carrying velvety fragments of her assemblages with me, tucked into the shadowy corners of my heart, for all of my life.

A floating cloud softly obscures the face of a cloaked woman whose dark mantle gives away to grey vapors. A soft, pale hand loosely grasps a rose while a both a butterfly perches on a fingertip and a snake slithers in the spaces between. Delicate vines of ivy mark the pages of a book that has opened to an illustration of an ominous figure emerging from its darkened interior. It is easy to become lost in these bittersweet contrasts of lightness and glooms, blooming, fluttering life and the stillness of death, and furtive dread juxtaposed against a serene sense of tranquility.

It is also easy, at least for me, to fall in love with an artist’s work and want to know everything about them. Everything! Sometimes though, I wonder– does a lack of mystery lessen the enjoyment for others who consider themselves equally passionate about these uncanny artists and the intimate worlds they create?  Keeping this in mind, I will share just a few select secrets about the Belgian artist known as Hidden Velvet.

A wistful dreamer and enthusiastic devotee of antique photographs, Hidden Velvet fell in love with the medium of collage through Instagram. The thought of transforming an image and giving it new life, a new story, was appealing–and, as it turned out, came quite effortlessly to her when she initially tried her hand at it. It was easy at first, she shared, but of course the more techniques and processes she learns, the more challenging and complicated it becomes! Hidden Velvet doesn’t mind the time involved though; she allows her mind to wander and roam as she works through each piece, and it’s always then, she confesses, when the magic happens.

“My ideas may come right before I sleep, when I’m between consciousness and unconsciousness…but that state might happen during the day too. Or sometimes it begins with a precise idea…”

But more often than not, she seeks to use her feelings and instincts, to be spontaneous. “If I try to think too much and force it, it doesn’t work,” she concludes.

Inspiration, muses Hidden Velvet, can visit in the form of a picture, a painting, a movie, a song. Notes the artist, “I work with music; it helps me to immerse myself in the story I’m about to tell. Music is very important, I often listen to soundtracks and classical music to create.” Some specific artistic influences include:  Tim Burton, David Lynch, Frida Kahlo, Egon Schiele, Leonora Carrington, Kay Sage, Edgar Allan Poe, Max Ernst, Camille Rose Garcia, Thomas Kuntz, Kathryn Polk, Lola Gil, Edward Gorey, John Kenn Mortensen, Aubrey Beardsley, Ryan Heshka, Jim McKenzie, Alessandro Sicioldr, Fernbeds, Adam Wallacavage, Yosiell Lorenzo, Rafael Silveira, Kris Kuksi, Alexis Diaz, Camille Claudel. “I’m an absolute fan of Vincent Price, Bela Lugosi, Eva Green and Tom Waits,” she adds, and continues, “I also find inspiration by reading tales and legends from around the world. The last books I found very inspiring were “Cinderella“, “Snow White” and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” illustrated by Camille Rose Garcia.”

A pensive dreamer with a fondness for solitude, Hidden Velvet spent a childhood in realms of her own making, reading books, writing stories and creating characters–but it never bothered her, being alone. What she does find troubling, though, is injustice and intolerance; “I have a real tenderness for lost souls, those who have had a tormented life, those who are “different” and judged because of it.” She earnestly observes as an afterthought, ” …so maybe that’s why there are melancholic characters in my world of dreams… I find it more interesting to tell a story with flawed characters. We live in an aseptic era, where we have to be so perfect…but we are not…and it’s ok.”

An elusive creature whose instagram hints at moths, dainty collars and porcelain dolls, vintage silhouettes, and silent film stills, but not overly much about the human behind the moody, melancholic art, I asked Hidden Velvet what she might like Haute Macabre readers to know about her. Quick to note that she is not consciously trying to be mysterious, but rather that we are living in an era where it has become normal to share everything about one’s life on social media. “I don’t judge it at all, it’s just something I don’t feel comfortable with, but you can definitely get to know me through my collages.”

“I can tell you this”, she sweetly divulges:

I’m Belgian, Italian, and Polish • I’m an only child • Simple things make me happy • I want to be amazed like a child as long as possible •  The book I cherish the most is “Les Contes de Charles Perrault”, it’s a very old book with no cover and beautiful illustrations, I have read it thousands and thousands of times • I like to have lots of books; I keep buying them even if I haven’t read the old ones • I’m a vinyl addict • I love biographies • I hate cult movie remakes • I adore vintage furniture and clothing • I wish I was a painter • When I was a child, we used to go to my nonno’s (grandfather) house on Sundays, we started eating at noon and finished at eight or nine. There was always room for a friend or a neighbor. My nonno was an excellent cook and the funniest person. He passed away in 1995 and I miss him everyday • I’d like to have an animal shelter • I have a cabinet of curiosities • When I’m hanging with my close friends, I sometimes discreetly put chocolate on my teeth and smile…

“My art comes from the heart and what makes me really happy about sharing it online is to read people’s interpretations. When you create, you put a lot of yourself into the art form and, when it resonates with someone out there, that’s the best feeling you could have as an artist.”

Those who admire the art of Hidden Velvet should stay tuned, as she has plans to open a shop with limited editions, in the near future. In the meantime, for updates and new work, find Hidden Velvet: Behance // instagram // facebook

This article was first published on Haute Macabre on June 13, 2017.

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1 Jun
2017

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A long, long time ago, I had a livejournal account. As a matter of fact, I had several. I was always moving around, and purging and deleting and recreating myself. Mostly because I was living with a despot, an utter bastard of a human being who could not bear the fact that I had connections beyond the tenuous and yet tyrannical connection that he had with me. I had few friends beyond those I developed online, and I would be damned if he ruined that.

Thusly, a new livejournal name every three months or so (and again, my apologies to those who had a hard time keeping up with me.) Before all that, though, in the early days of LJ, I became somewhat friends with a certain LJ user. You know what I mean by “somewhat friends”; you thought they were really cool, so you friended them, and then eventually they friended you back and every once in a while you’d comment on each other’s posts but you never exchanged email addresses or AIM account info, so you probably weren’t really good friends, right?

This person, we will call her A.–and I am refraining from using real names or even online usernames or monikers, the reasons for which I will explain shortly*– was an artistic sort, and i loved seeing the creations she chose to share, and the evolution of her work. I enjoyed reading about the new techniques that she employed, and the snippets of whimsical, surreal poetry and prose that would sometimes accompany a new piece. I rejoiced with her when her work was commissioned as cover art for a work of speculative fiction/fantasy. I looked forward to every time something she posted in my feed…until one day, after noting a prolonged absence on her part, I realized her journal had been purged and her site had been taken down.

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I grieved in a quiet sort of, hopefully non-creepy way. I barely knew a thing about this person, and we certainly weren’t true friends, but I found myself strangely bereft not knowing where she was or what was going on with her. Every few years I half-heartedly peek around the internet to see what turns up; one year, through a blog I thought belonged to her partner at the time, I briefly saw her appear under a new username. I found that same username listed in a popular fragrance forum which I lurk about frequently. I reached out to the user and never received a response. A few years after that, while searching for her older user name, I saw that she commented frequently on a certain blog over a decade ago.  It appeared that the blogger and she were on friendly terms and seemed to be personally acquainted, and what excited me is that the blog had been consistently updated and was current. I found the blogger on twitter and contacted him. He wrote back to me! He knew who I was looking for, and thought she was well and said that he would pass my information on.

I never heard back.

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I should learn a lesson from this, I imagine. Some people don’t want to be found. Perhaps some people don’t want to be found by me. Or, at least they don’t want to be found by revenants from their past, good, bad, or otherwise. And so I stopped searching, and poking, and peering and prying. My intentions were good, but I don’t wish to hurt anyone. I don’t wish to be a reminder of a life someone has tried to leave behind…I mean, I think I understand that almost better than anyone. And so I am not linking to anything I have found, or referring to this person by any of the names I know them by–that’s not fair, and who knows, it might even be dangerous for them. I don’t know their circumstances, do I?

But I do hope they are well, and that they are happy, and that they continue to create. I’m afraid for her, and for many artists, I suppose, that once they disappear, their work might too. And I thought it was so beautiful, and that she had so much potential, and it nearly breaks my heart to think that one day there will be no evidence of it. That it will be as if it, and she, never existed.

If you read this one day, A.,you’re probably going to be weirded out.  Our exchanges were so brief… the only one I actually even remember is our mutual complaint of over-sized SUVs in the tiny parking spaces of small apartment complexes. Why do I care so much? Why do I care at all? I think maybe you were (are?) a sensitive soul and I that you will understand, even if I can’t articulate it. Are you still creating? I hope so. Be well, where ever you are.

This is me letting go.

(But I wanted to have a record of some sort, of your fantastical works, just in case. I hope you are okay with that. )

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*though I have refrained from using names, etc., I have left the watermark on the art, because I think it’s kind of rude to mess around with that stuff.

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This article was originally posted at Haute Macabre in April of 2017.

As a child, and even today, I am utterly transfixed when confronted by ornate wallpaper patterns. I often find myself stopping mid-sentence, entranced, when tracing the intricate imagery with my eye, delighted by surprising things which begin to emerge from the whorls and swirls of the repeating motifs. I always thought it would be a hoot to try and sketch the things I saw contained within those marbled, mottled microcosms, but in the end I never do. Though, artists, I do wish you would steal that idea and make a collaborative coffee table book with your results. I’d be your first customer!

The wallpapered visions of my childhood, in the late 70s through early 80s, were pretty trippy, and sometimes gave me nightmares (I was a weird, impressionable kid, and I suspect I experience pareidolia), but you know what? For all of my histrionics and delayed bedtimes, at least I can say that they never poisoned me.

Unfortunate souls purportedly poisoned by arsenical wallpapers in the mid-to-late 1800s, however, would no doubt beg to differ.

Long regarded as a waste product from mining and commonly known as a poisonous substance, arsenic nonetheless had myriad uses in the Victorian household: in food and food colorings with which one ate and entertained, in lady’s soaps and cosmetics applied to one’s person; in the dresses, hats, and stockings that one wore on a daily basis and special occasions; in the painted toys one’s children delightedly played with (and probably put in their mouths, because, children); and not to mention the handy powder used to rid one’s home of vermin…or to rid one’s self of a few pesky relative or two– hence the nickname “inheritance powder”.
And, of course, for interior design.

In 1775 Swedish chemist Carl Scheele developed the vivid green pigment known as Scheele’s green, made from the compound copper arsenite; the depth of color and superb pigmentation made it highly sought after for clothing and interior manufacturers–perfect for domestic décor and to color the florid opulence of the paper hangings that were so desired during this period.

Floral motifs, arabesque designs, and trompe l’oeil illusions, as well as panoramic landscapes, were the distinctive style of the French designers, whom the British admired for their air of elegance and luxury. The tide was to shift, however, in favor of the British, whose skilled block-printing and imaginative and innovative designs were considered so fashionable that the French employed spies to discover the secrets of the papiers d’Angleterre. Who knew the world of wallpaper manufacture and design was so thrilling? I can almost imagine these creators as contestants on a reality television show…except…there is of course, a deadly twist.

During this time, England and many European countries produced wallpaper laced with arsenic. And while several of them were relatively quick to recognize the problem and ban such products—this was not the case for England. Even as the products’ hazards started to become a hot-button topic in drawing rooms and gentleman’s clubs, many people actually pooh-poohed these warnings as fear-mongering, as they still believed that these design items somehow differed from purposely toxic arsenic items. It would be several years and many campaigning committees, committed lobbyists, shocking headlines, satirical cartoons, and even a sensationalist novel before opinions were to change.

Over in the US, chemist Robert Kedzie included examples of wallpaper poisoning in his “Poisonous Papers” essay for the Michigan State Board of Health, and as part of a campaign to alert the public to the dangers of arsenical wallpapers, Kedzie collected wallpaper samples from stores in Detroit, Lansing, and Jackson, and hand them trimmed into 100 books, which he distributed to libraries throughout Michigan. Titled Shadows From The Walls Of Death, the books were remarkably effective means of publicizing the dangers of arsenic in wallpaper.

William Morris, an artist and designer associated with both the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts movement, designed some of the most iconic wallpapers of the era (and, incidentally, was the son of the man whose company was the largest arsenic producer in the country).
Like many of his contemporaries, most of Morris’s well-known early designs contained arsenic-based colors and like most Victorians he seems to have experienced a disconnect as it relates to the poisonous arsenic that made the headlines and that which he used in his design pigments for the beautification of people’s homes.  Morris summarily dismissed health concerns about arsenic-based pigments in wallpapers. A letter written by Morris to his dye manufacturer in 1885 states, “a greater folly is hardly possible to imagine: the doctors were bitten by witch fever.”

No problem here, Morris assures us, nothing to see, carry on! A strange and rather blasé attitude from someone thought to be an environmentalist and champion of worker rights and safety provisions.

Nonetheless, Morris & Co. bowed to pressure and removed arsenic from its wallpapers voluntarily in 1880. While in other countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Austria and Italy, it was the development of regulatory measures and legislation prohibiting the use of poisons and other harmful substances, the wallpapers in Britain began to be marketed as arsenic-free “entirely as a result of British demand, rather than by any action of the British government.” As general opinion turned against the companies that used arsenic in their wallpaper colors, “the people of Britain used the power of their pocketbooks to make the presence of arsenic in wallpapers obsolete, and as a result, their homes no longer held a fatal secret.”

I’ve been ruminating on the captivating and dangerously beautiful Victorian wallpaper facsimiles in Lucinda Hawksley’s Bitten By Witch Fever for a few months now, and wouldn’t you know– as soon as I sat down to start writing something about it in the last few weeks, not one, but two articles about the very same thing appeared on my radar.  It would seem that this toxic topic holds a macabre fascination for us, even today.

And as usual, such interests are cyclical; back in 2003 Andy Meharg of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland published a piece regarding a chemical analysis performed on an early example of the ‘Trellis’ pattern wallpaper. The Trellis pattern is believed to be Morris’s first wallpaper and was produced from 1864 onwards. In damp rooms, it is believed, fungi living on the wallpaper paste turned the arsenic salts into highly toxic trimethylarsine and sickened people. Reports Meharg: “I analysed the green pigment by energy-dispersive analysis and showed unequivocally that the coloration was caused by a copper arsenic salt.” Interestingly, enough, two years later in 2005,  a Royal Society of Chemistry published an article titled “The toxicity of trimethylarsine: an urban myth” and in attempting to read it, I’ll admit, it’s a bit over my head, but my point is that it would seem to be an enduring obsession.

Let us for now then, gaze at these exquisite plates and wallpaper tiles from the relative safety of our computer screens, or from the pages of Hawksley’s stunning compilation, without fear of “internal irritations”, paralysis, and other mysterious illnesses.

 

And OF COURSE, we also need to fixate on How To Wear Arsenical Wallpapers! How might a contemporary quaintrelle incorporate the look of this luxuriously poisonous pigment into one’s wardrobe? Inspired by the elegant floral motifs and arabesque patterns of William Morris’ toxic wallpaper designs, I have assembled an assortment of ensembles for which to conjure couture fatale feels.

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"Brother’s Keeper” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography
“Brother’s Keeper” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography

(Originally published on the Coilhouse Magazine blog, May 5, 2011. If Carisa’s name sounds familiar to you ’round these parts, then you have an excellent memory, friend! I have previously written about Carisa and her Wormwood & Rue creations here and here. )

Carisa Swenson of Goblinfruit Studio creates curious critters who seem to have wandered quietly out of a child’s fable of forest creatures, gleaming-eyed and grinning from beneath be-fanged overbites. Yet for all their grimacing, there is no sense of malice, no reason to fear this peculiar lot; look closer and you will find something profoundly endearing, familiar, and gentle about this oddball cast of creatures. Though they are semi-feral fairytale beasties from a dark wood, one gets the feeling from their earnest, even kindly expressions that they, just like anyone, are yearning for a happily ever after.

From the artist’s site:

Carisa Swenson’s passion for creating curious creatures springs from many sources—a love of Greek mythology and Ray Harryhausen’s creations when she was a child, an appreciative eye for Henson Workshop in her teens, to the weird and wonderful films of Jan Svankmajer and The Brothers Quay in her twenties. But when Carisa studied with world-renowned doll artist Wendy Froud, the final die was cast: posable dolls would forever own her soul and trouble her nights, stirring her with a fervor that could only be quelled by stitching and sculpting her dreams into reality.

“Since 2006 Carisa’s work has been featured in several exhibitions and publications, including the Melbourne Fringe Festival, NYU’s acclaimed annual “Small Works Show”, Art Doll Quarterly, and Spectrum 17.

We recently caught up with Carisa for a bit of a Q&A; see below the cut for more concerning the Curious Creatures and Aberrant Animals of Goblinfruit Studio.

“Otto” ©Goblinfruit Studio
“Otto” ©Goblinfruit Studio

In your bio, you mention that you’ve been creating dolls since 2006, after taking a stop motion animation class – had you always been interested in dolls and posable creatures, and this led you to taking that fateful class, or was this a fortunate fluke from which a consuming passion was born? Further, I understand that you’ve studied with artist Wendy Froud, which sounds amazing… can you tell us about that?

My fascination with stop-motion, automatons, and fantastical creatures took root when I first set eyes upon Ray Harryhausen’s work in Clash of the Titans, and even more importantly, the Sinbad series (the statue of Kali awakening and wielding six swords will forever stay with me). Action figures had always been a huge part of my playtime as a child, but I had little interest in dolls (with the exception of a much-loved Holly Hobbie rag doll) and a tendency to gravitate towards stuffed animals. Oddly enough, my desire to learn more about stop-motion ended up sparking a desire to create dolls. Before then, I concentrated on illustrating, mostly for fantasy card games and children’s books, but sculpted tiny creatures on the side as a hobby.

Several years ago, when I finally decided to take a stop-motion class, I had that “aha!” moment while working on a model for class. Sculpting and creating a posable model enchanted me and I found it much more engaging than my past experience with illustration. The idea of being able to hold a piece of art in your hands and essentially breathe life in it through touch and interaction appealed to me. Once of the best reactions I witnessed to one of my dolls was at a gallery show—when a young child and her mother went to leave, the girl insisted on saying goodbye to it.

Studying with Wendy Froud was truly wonderful. One of the movies she worked on, The Dark Crystal, was a substantial influence on my work so I was fortunate enough to not only meet her, but learn from her as well. Passionate about her art, Wendy’s desire to teach others is an inspiration in itself.

“Skinbunny” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography
“Skinbunny” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography
©Goblinfruit Studio
©Goblinfruit Studio

Your creations not only have an uncanny whimsy to them, a grotesque charm, but when viewing these creations, one gets a sense that they each have a fantastical story, a unique tale to tell. How do you go about imbuing these moppets with such life and character? Is there any particular story about any one of them that you can share?

Like many children, I was fascinated by animals, and spent many hours scribbling out both creatures natural and fantastical. Our four-legged and feathered brethren inspire me in ways sculpting or drawing humans cannot, and allow me to effortlessly imbue my dolls with depth and feelings. My process of sculpting starts with a vague notion of what a doll will look like, or sometimes what their personality will be. However, the dolls often suggest to me what they want to be as I sculpt— often switching gender, species or disposition halfway through their creation. As somewhat of an introvert, my attraction to the trickster mythos seeps into many of my characters.

Generally, my dolls have snippets of a back-story…the rest is up to the viewer. For instance, there’s George…who is somewhat temperamental and destructive, ripping the heads off his playthings; or Edgar, whose peculiar shape was the result of his rabbit mother having a sordid one-night affair with a bonobo. Tara carries around her semi-absorbed twin brother on the back of her head, and Alphonse and Otto Snerk are part of the troupe of pernicious goblins who sought to entrance the sisters of Christina Rossetti’s poem with their tempting goblin fruit.

“Tara & Timmy” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography
“Tara & Timmy” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography
“Tara & Timmy” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography
“Tara & Timmy” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography

Much of my inspiration comes directly from nature itself. My fascination with the natural world and its beauty provides a constant source of wonder and solace. Birds and creatures of the forest all work their way into my creations, in addition to the influence of fairytales and classical mythology. Empty, decaying buildings, rooms and houses stir my imagination with their dusty pasts or potential futures.

Beyond the natural world, other influences for my art stem from the likes of independent video games, which, besides the initial desired interactivity, are a rich source of art and music. (Some of my favorites include Machinarium by Amanita Design, The Path by Tale of Tales, and more recently, Superbrothers’ Sword and Sorcery.)

Some other sources that provide continual inspiration for me are horror movies of the sixties and seventies, stop-motion masters The Brothers Quay, Kihachiro Kawamoto and contemporary doll artists such as Virginie Ropars and Anita Collins. Movies like Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, The Cell (Eiko Ishioka’s breathtaking costumes are truly awe-inspiring), Fantastic Planet (which I discovered through The Cell), and Jeunet and Caro’s The City of Lost Children and Delicatessen have also served as artistic inspiration in the past.

Of course, music plays an important role while I’m working in my studio, helping me conjure that space in which to begin creating. Movie and video game soundtracks, ambient and pagan/spook folk albums have been getting quite a bit of airtime as of late, but I have my moments when I need to listen to some Prodigy, Ministry or Metallica.

Swinebalg by Carisa Swenson ©Goblinfruit Studio
Swinebalg by Carisa Swenson ©Goblinfruit Studio
The Plague Doctor by EC Steiner
The Plague Doctor by EC Steiner

Tell us about ARS SOMNIUM, your project with King Unicorn (Eric Steiner). I understand this is a collaboration built upon a concept dredged from the “most fertile playground for artists” – dreams and nightmares. Sharing dreams for artistic translation sounds like an intimate endeavor in which comfort zones are bound to be breached! [Edit: EC Steiner now creates under the moniker Casketglass]

When Eric approached me last year about a possible collaboration, I agreed without hesitation— our style couldn’t be more different, and it would be a compelling experiment to see where this would take our unique artistic vision. Concepts were passed back and forth until we hit upon the idea of sharing descriptions of the numerous denizens that wander, shuffle and glide through our dreamscapes. Once we pass off descriptions, we then actualize each other’s dream inhabitants in our own individual style. Given the subject matter, it could potentially be discomforting…but this has not proven to be the case. Seeing one’s dream (or nightmare) being through another person’s eyes is fascinating and unexpected. The energy within this project is fantastic, and I’m looking forward to working with Eric on more dolls in the near future.

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“Jester” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography

What future projects are you planning?

Ars Somnium is an ongoing collaboration, so you can expect to see another creation for the project this year, with the next piece straying far from what usually emerges from my studio.

Currently I’m creating several dolls for upcoming gallery shows, but the one self-indulgent project in the works, which I’ve just begun, is a 52-card deck featuring my rabbit dolls. Eighteen new dolls will be created with the suits reflecting the various personalities within my creations. This will most likely take up a good part of my time throughout the rest of 2011 and early 2012.

Find Carisa: Website // Instagram // Facebook // Twitter

“Cornelius” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by by Thomas Gotsch
“Cornelius” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by by Thomas Gotsch

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Nicomi Nix Turner, The Nihilist and the Gods

This article was originally published at Haute Macabre in March of 2017.

Each time I see fresh work from the hand of Nicomi Nix Turner, I feel I am plunged headlong into the lost and forgotten pages of an adventuring biologist’s or botanist’s journal, recovered from former expeditions into secret realms. Human and flora, fungi and bone, beetle and animal are examined in delicate, unflinching detail, and are at turns both lush and fiercely throbbing with life, and ripe and rank with death and decay.

Nicomi Nix Turner, Under The Pressures

In her body of work, what I’ve begun to think of as this imaginary diary, Turner captures a “…cacophony of silent movement and erratic soliloquies”, documenting the writhings and witherings of those that inhabit this realm, and which illustrates the sublime wonder and splendid terrors of such a place– and the irresistible desire, against all better judgement, to return, again and again.

 

Nicomi Nix Turner, The Slouching of Grace
Nicomi Nix Turner, The Hours of the Deluded

 

Sometimes, though, when I encounter Nicomi Nix Turner’s work I am struck by the unmistakable realization that what I am glimpsing is not an artist’s rendering of some mythological environment separate and apart from our own, but rather our world, exactly as it is, portrayed by an artist who observes and understands the underlying spirituality and divine connections that run through it all. Creation and destruction and renewal interpreted in exquisite strokes of graphite and charcoal, and elevating natural processes and biological phenomena to resemble a dreamy, otherworldly sort of magic…but which are in fact rooted in nature and occurring all around us, all of the time… and very much of the world we live in.

 

Nicomi Nix Turner, Heretics

 

Nicomi Nix Turner, How Hath Thou Fallen

Yipping, snarling hounds thrash and contort and snap at butterflies, serene of wing and seemingly suspended in midair. A wounded young man gazes raptly skyward, his expression both tortured and beatific, as tears trace a slow course down his waxen cheeks and blood droplets collect in the shadow of a collarbone. One thing I always come back to, when assessing my reactions to Turner’s various works, is that I’ve never before encountered an artist who encapsulates motion–and stillness– so richly, and so beautifully in their art.

Nicomi Nix Turner, The Division

Turner shared with Haute Macabre that a series of events in 2016 caused her to begin to explore themes of “depravity, isolation, division, defeat and betrayal” in her work, and is currently in the process of creating a new series incorporating these motifs for her upcoming show at Last Rites Gallery. She continues, referencing these subjects as it relates to her evolving artistic process and the recent rekindling of her passion for creating:

“Last year, I discovered something that reignited my excitement with creating – allowing spontaneity to take place in the works I so earnestly strove to attain purity in. An impulsive brushstroke of wax,  erratic movements of charcoal, the possibility of damage- these unabashed moments of honesty are starting to evolve my process and works.”

 

Nicomi Nix Turner, Glossolalia

The Dying Thought opens July 8th at Last Rites Gallery NY

Find Nicomi Nix Turner Website // Instagram // Twitter 

 

If you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?

 

 

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ARTSLike many of my dear friends, I have been consoling myself with art lately, nearly drowning myself in it. Well, maybe just the opposite, really. Between the terror of our current administration and my own personal traumas and tragedies, art has been the life vessel that’s saved me from going under. I can always breathe easier and hope for better things when I look at something beautiful. It keeps me safe. And sane. Or at least the illusion of these things. And I’ll take that. Sometimes it’s the best we’ve got.

I don’t know precisely when it was that art became such a crucial part of my life; I’m certainly not an artist…although it does run in the family, somewhat. My grandmother on my father’s side was a concert violinist, my father is an artist, and one of my uncles is an architect. But all of that talent passed me by, I’m afraid. Except, perhaps, the enthusiasm for and appreciation of such things–I’ll confess to an overabundance of that!  I wish, though, that I had at least gone to school for art history or criticism or theory or something like that, so that I could make intelligent appreciative comments and engage in discussions without looking like an idiot, but ah, well. Maybe in another life.

For right now, though, I’d love to share with you some of the illustrations and paintings and photography which has lately been relieving, reviving and rescuing me–and the incredible humans who have brought these visions to life. I am so grateful every day that there are dreamers and stargazers and worldmakers who create these marvelous things that make my existence just a tiny bit more bearable.

Tell me, what’s keeping you afloat right now, and propelling you forward?

Three of Swords, Caitlin McCarthy

Three of Swords, Caitlin McCarthy

Rose, Ellen Rogers

Rose, Ellen Rogers

Miss Meatface

Night Jar Illustration (Adam Burke)

Night Jar Illustration (Adam Burke)

Munich Art Studio (Becky Munich)

Munich Art Studio (Becky Munich)

moonworship

the moon and her women, Sarah Goodreau

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 Untamed series, Jaime Erin Johnson

Vesper, Darla Teagarden

VESPER, Darla Teagarden

Lizz Lopez

Lizz Lopez

Fox Familiar Mask, Camille Chew

Fox Familar Mask, Camille Chew

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Keevan and Kieran, Goblinfruit Studio

Ivonne Carley

Ivonne Carley

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Calling In the Four Quarters, Karyn Crisis

I am no bird II, Helena Aguilar Mayans

I am no bird II, Helena Aguilar Mayans

Athena, Jessica Joslin

Athena, Jessica Joslin

Abigail Larson

Abigail Larson

Jas Helena

Jas Helena

Lupe Vasconcelos

Lupe Vasconcelos

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This article was originally published at Haute Macabre in September of 2017.

One might experience a peculiar frisson of nostalgia while gazing at the wistful, winsome subjects of artist Amy Earle’s earlier works. Reminiscent of the illustrated plates in a mysterious storybook, dusty and hidden far back in grandmother’s closet and tucked the soft folds of a moth-eaten antique quilt; a discovery stumbled upon one rainy afternoon while the adults were occupied and a naughty grand-daughter was perhaps hiding from nap time. Little fingers gently pluck open the frayed cover and begin to flip through the fragile pages, brittle with age.

A wisp of a line begins a whimsical tale and soon the forgotten moppet is captivated by sketches of charming, doll-like subjects in seemingly innocent, frolicsome scenarios. Yet, in more closely studying the subtle nuances of their trembling expressions, the shadowy textures, and dreary shades of their environs, the small child may sense an atmosphere of foreboding and palpable sadness–and with a puzzled brow, softly let the book slip shut, and tuck it away. It will later haunt their dreams well into adulthood.

This is my story, and I still have that picture book these many years later. When I became aware of Amy Earle’s work in 2008 or so, I was struck by an immediate, adoring fascination, tinged with a quiet devastation–and, in later examining these observations, I made the connection to my beloved childhood book of strange origins, and wondered at this reaction of both giddy enchantment and vague unease as it related to the delicate young girls in her work.

Existing in the perpetual other world of autumn daydream, skirting the periphery of childhood, the young girls’ amusements are both “playful and sinister” and, I believe, presciently belie a murkier narrative hinting at life’s crueler nature (as some of the best childhood games are wont to do!) As a viewer, when I realized this, it became clear to me: my conclusion, for what it’s worth, is that the lurking menace is the looming threat of adulthood and all its dreadful trappings.

It is with this realization that I breathe a small sigh of relief in viewing Earles’ more recent work. The shadowy, mostly monochromatic palette is ever present, but the subjects themselves seem different to me. They are still slight, delicate creatures, but they’ve matured, bodily, from young girls to young women, and the atmosphere is charged with a different sort of tension now.

They carry broomsticks and wands, keys, mirrors, and satchels; they emit lightning from their fingertips, and divine with blindfolds, scissors, and string.  I like to imagine their childhood games have prepared them, and now they’ve fortified and protected themselves with magics, charms, and totems. Forewarned is forearmed, and these are empowered young women with agency, autonomy, and an awareness that they are in control of their own fates.

We caught up with Amy recently, and regarding the evolution of her work, she has noted, “…my work is evolving in the sense that the shapes are not as constricted, the concepts are not as obscured. I’m finding it easier to express what I want to express. I’ve made a lot of monochromatic gouache paintings on paper which perfectly encapsulated my state of mind in recent years and I’m still interested in making those because they are still relevant. But I’m also interested in building structures, painting in color with oils. I’m finding shapes and textures in other mediums more enticing lately.”

“People should grow. My personal life has evolved in the past couple of years; my artwork had to follow.”

 

This expert daydreamer also shares that her current reveries are centered mostly on the vague land she has built for an upcoming show at Stranger Factory in early November. These realms are occupied by “sentient plants, people (how they change with time and their fragility) and inanimate objects that become inhabited by concepts/spirits.”

Earles remarks that most of her inspirations and influences are connected to older things; antique objects and various histories, stacks of vintage magazines.  In addition she reveals that she is always enamored “by language (archaic words in particular); certain words or phrases can inspire whole universes. I’m inspired by hair, unusual toys and dolls, old photographs, historical documentaries, vintage celestial imagery, dreams and the unexplainable psychic phenomena that I have encountered all of my life.”

Amy Earles’ works are featured several upcoming shows in 2017: Winter Flock at The Convent Philly which opens February 10th; Moments in Monochrome at Nucleus Portland opening March 25th; and the previously mentioned show at Stranger Factory opening on November 3rd.

Find Amy Earles elsewhere: Website // Etsy // Instagram // Tumblr

 

 

 

 

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A Decadent Parade of Outrageous Fancies: Alastair

(Originally published on the Coilhouse Magazine blog, May 11, 2010.)

Who is Alastair”,  mused J. Lewis May in 1936. “No one knows; not even – it is hinted – Alastair himself.”

An artist, composer, dancer, mime, poet, singer and translator, Alastair was a fascinating and elusive personality, and perhaps best known as a gifted illustrator of the fin-de-siecle period.

Bad Counsel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Officially born of German nobility in 1887 to the family of Von Voigt, and later mysteriously acquiring the title of Baron, Hans Henning Voigt was an enigma. He claimed to be a changeling…the spawn of an illegitimate union between a hot headed Bavarian prince and a pretty Irish lass (and many of his relations later accepted this explanation of his origins). To his delight, “he was referred to as German by English writers, as English by German writers, and as Hungarian by French writers.”

Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray

A collector of characters, Alastair had a great gift for friendship despite his bizarre and capricious persona, theatrical behaviors, and perpetual unhappiness. Among those in his inner circle were Harry and Caresse Crosby; Harry, having heard of Alastair, believed him to be “the embodiment of all his fantasies, a creator of the most outrageous fancies”, and hastened to meet with him. Many years later Caresse recalled of the first visit, “He lived in a sort of Fall of usher House, you know, with bleak, hideous trees drooping around the doors and the windows…” They were ushered into a room where there was a black piano with a single candle lit, and “…soon Alastair himself appeared in the doorway in a white satin suit; he bowed, did a flying split and slid across the polished floor to stop at my feet, where he looked up and said, ‘Ah, Mrs. Crosby!’”

Campaspe
Campaspe from the Blind Bow-Boy

Although clearly influenced by the sinister, serpentine style of Aubrey Beardsley, with echoes of the deliciously unhinged work of Harry Clarke, and a bit of the occult grotesquery of Austin Osman Spare’s art – Alastair’s perversely decadent illustrations are wholly, unmistakably, his own. His strangely attractive beings, with alternately tortured, anguished or menacing countenances, ornately and elegantly attired, skulked and cavorted amongst all manner of plays, novels and short stories. Oscar Wilde’s Salome, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher (1928 edition), and Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Chloderlos de Laclos are just a few examples of works that contained examples of Alastair’s menagerie of fever dream fantasies.

Alastair retired in relative obscurity, and there were few to mourn his death in Munich in 1969. A dazzling, melancholy character of his own creation, he was a man of rare and unique tastes, and perhaps a mystery right to the end; but mostly, one would surmise – a man, who, “was as he was because he could not be otherwise.”

The Artist At Home
The Artist At Home

 

Herodias
Herodias

 

Night
Night, pencil drawing, The City of Night

 

Usher
Usher and Madeline, pencil illustration, The Fall of the House of Usher

 

Eleanora
Eleanora Duse, portrait

 

Casati
Marchesa Luisa Casati

 

Our Lady of Pain
Our Lady of Pain

 

Queen of Night
The Queen of Night, from The Magic Flute

 

The Death of Salome

 

Chamber Music

 

Salome and a Guard

 

Droles
Drôles de gens que ces gens-là

All images included in this post are from: Alastair: Illustrator of Decadence (1979) by Victor Arwas, and scanned from my copy of the book.

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VEIL

This article was originally posted at Haute Macabre on January 31, 2017.

Whilst traversing the dense, darkened thickets of  Tin Can Forest‘s midnight woodlands, one may become disoriented by the bizarre, bestial, visions they encounter: shadowy, hircine cabals solemnly roaming about in ornate, traditional dress; nocturnal gatherings wherein witches, demons, and villagers skulk and cavort with all manner of talking beasts; families taking tea with raccoons and suffering the philosophical ramblings of an oddly articulate house cat.

The vivid imagery of these tangled tales and illustrated texts tugs at the memory, recalling vague, dreamy bedtime stories read to a younger you, still too green to understand the metaphors and allegories, yet on the verge of glimmering a deeper truth– for these darker narratives trigger memories more ancestral and arcane, reviving fears and beliefs borne in the blood, not learned during a child’s storytime.

In Tin Can Forest’s We Are Going To Be Musicians In Bremen, a cock-sure rooster declares, “I am prepared to accept that what you are telling me is true,” and by the time one is thoroughly ensconced in the shifting, ectoplasmic threads of these stories, one has learned that there is no other choice but to make that acceptance as well. These are truths– fantastical, terrifying–that we have forgotten, but which have always lurked in the corners of our subconscious, awaiting a revelatory awakening once more. Tin Can Forest’s lovingly crafted illuminated manuscripts are a stunning (though, on many levels, utterly mystifying) vehicle for these fluid truths and lost mythologies.

Tackling “ancient narratives from the perspective of the shadows,” Tin Can Forest is the collaborative duo comprised of Pat Shewchuk and Marek Colek, Canadian artists based in Toronto Ontario who create sequential art, film and books.

Illustrated with moody, fog-saturated colors in Tin Can Forest’s distinctive style, and drawing inspiration from the forests of Canada, Slavic art, and occult folklore, each of their offerings is presented in a beautifully lush, full-color beautiful comics format, every page interwoven with secretive symbolism, esoteric emblems, and magical motifs.

Like poetry, or half-remembered dreams, or writing poems about half-remembered dreams while under the influence of something strong and strange, these fables meander and twist, a miscellany of deep folklore and nonsensical cautionary tales, and populated by an nightmarish menagerie of creatures, spirits, and familiars.

Amongst Tin Can Forest’s offerings you will find a number of surreal and enigmatic tales :

Cabbage in A Nutshell, “…the first installment of an anthropological mystery set in a bygone future as told from the vantage point of an occulttastically informed super-future.”

Wax Cross which debuted at the 2012 Toronto Comic Arts Festival, is “an alchemical folk-tale set in the twilight of the modern age, when the moon has devoured the sun, the mechanical ocean has evaporated into silence, and the decaying corpse of electric current sleeps eternally in a casket of orange lichen.”

We Are Going To Bremen To Be Musicians, a collaboration with accordionist and novelist Geoff Berner, is of a” dark, strange German folk tale about four animals running away from their masters to become town musicians in the city of Bremen.”

Baba Yaga and the Wolf  is, in true representation of oral tradition,  a story told to a young woman by her great mother, who “…lived in a time when the wilderness was everywhere, vampires roamed the treetops, and devils traded opium and vodka for human souls by the roadside.” Baba Yaga and the Wolf tells the story of Katerina and the journey she takes to the edge of the Underworld and its gatekeeper, Baba Yaga, in order to save her husband Ivan from a terrible fate.

What Is A Witch, written in collaboration with Pam Grossman, is parts storybook, grimoire, and comic book,  and is “an illuminated incantation, a crystalline invocation, a lovingly-crafted celebration of the world’s most magical icon.”  The book’s lyrical language of night-song and half-rhymes, when given voice (and it absolutely must be read aloud), becomes a wild, witty, wondrous invocation, threaded throughout with fanciful visions, whimsical allegory, and magical truths.

Find Tin Can Forest: website // facebook //  Tumblr

 

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