This interview has been a long time coming! I initially met the Century Guild gang way back in July of 2019 –in a visit to Los Angeles detailed here over at Haute Macabre– when I traveled out west to hang out at that summer’s Oddities Market. Among a teeming throng of dark-hearted weirdos crammed together in a subterranean goth disco chamber (it wasn’t really, but that’s how it looks in my memory!) and an incredibly mind-boggling array of artisans and vendors, I somehow found myself making my way back to the beautiful oasis of the Century Guild booth, adorned and embellished with gorgeous Nouveau and Symbolist works, and which felt like a balm to my senses in the midst of a midnight maelstrom.
We had the loveliest chat, I purchased a gorgeously ominous Syphilis print, and promises were made on my part to feature them in an interview, as I was so absolutely fascinated by what this gallery/museum/archive is doing with the artwork they share through the books and prints they offer.
…and to sum up, two years later, here we are! Better late than never, right? I think so, anyway. See our Q&A below wherein we chat, about the contemporary relevance of 19th-century aesthetics and ideals, becoming more sensitive to the world around us through the myriad feelings that art arouses in us, and the importance of art in our quest for spiritual connection in a universe so vast, ageless, and unknowable.
Who/what is Century Guild and what is your aim? As part of that, your mission references creating “a bridge of understanding between the aesthetics and ideals of the late 19th century and the present.” Can you elaborate on that for those of us who may not be familiar with those aesthetics/ideals, and can you speak to their contemporary relevance?
Century Guild was founded in 1999 as an art gallery specializing in works from 1880-1920, with a focus on Art Nouveau, Symbolist Art and German Expressionism, and over the last 20 years we have expanded into a museum, archive, and publishing company. We began publishing books as a way to share the artworks in our collection with a wider audience and to foster an understanding of how the aesthetics and ideals from that time period are reflected in our society today. For example, every part of the contemporary art world has been influenced by the work of Alphonse Mucha, and we want to show our audience how and why that happened. Art Nouveau was based on the idea that Nature provides a powerful inspiration for aesthetics, and Symbolist and Expressionist Art were based on an idea that I think is well articulated in a quote from The Little Prince, “what is essential is invisible to the eye”. As it relates to these art movements, it’s the idea that suggesting something through dreamlike or nightmarish visuals is more powerful than a perfectly accurate representation.
What draws you to the particular style of art that Century Guild resurrects/represents in terms of Art Nouveau and Symbolist artworks? What is it that you hope people will learn or take away from these works?
For me, the artworks act as a doorway into awareness about ideas larger than the world I inhabit on a daily basis, especially the idea of being connected to Nature and to History: that people a thousand or a hundred years ago felt and thought very much, if not exactly, the same things that we do today. My hope is that by sharing these works we help others walk through that doorway. When people become sensitive to art that reflects an internal landscape, they look at other people and animals and recognize that they experience joy and suffering just as we do, and recognize how important it is to connect with society in a meaningful way.
I love how (in a 2012 interview) you compare the manifesto for the Art Nouveau movement to a treatment for 1999 Wachowski movie The Matrix; I think contemporary cultural examples like that really bring concepts into such sharp relief for people who are just realizing their initial interest in a style of art. I’m curious if, in the ensuing years since you made that comparison, there are any other moments in modern cinema that have the same feel/appeal for you?
That quote is referring to the inception of the Art Nouveau movement- artists at the time were certain that the manifestation of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-19th century meant that humanity was doomed to be completely disconnected from Nature, all because of something as seemingly innocuous today as a factory that was built on the outskirts of their small town, or something equally marginal when compared to today’s technological overlap. They were limited in the scope of their vision by the time period and had no idea how far it would go. Other modern creations that have the same sort of impact on me have been more forward-looking; the Invisibles graphic novels by Grant Morrison stand out as one example, and I think that the Wachowskis adaptation of Cloud Atlas did the same- they remind us that our understanding of humanity and Nature is even larger than we comprehend, and that we’re constantly on the precipice of some form of larger understanding. Which of course hearkens back to other schools of thought adjacent to the Art Nouveau movement; nothing is new, but just a spiral that moves upward and outward.
You currently work with contemporary artists such as Gail Potocki. What drew you to her work? What do you look for in such collaborations with living artists, or is this an unusual circumstance?
I met Gail back in the days before social media, on a bulletin board called ArtMagick. She would always reply if someone posted a question about Symbolist artists, and when we started chatting we discovered that we lived just a few miles from each other! Gail had mentioned that she was a painter, and when she showed me her work I was floored. Gail was the first artist I had met whose paintings could stand up in the environment created by the fantastic turn of the century artworks in the gallery, in fact, it actually eclipsed everything else in the room! The only other artist who I’ve had that specific experience with is Dave McKean. I love when an artist’s work connects with me in the manner of these earlier movements but takes the ideologies into a modern place. For example, later this year we’re stretching our aesthetic boundaries into more Modern and Folk territories with a book of contemporary art that I’m very excited about, titled Temple of Medusa.
I believe Century Guild’s most recent project/release was Le Pater, a series of mystical illustrations exploring occult themes; images about which the artist, Alphonse Mucha, described to a New York reporter as “the thing I have put my soul into.” This sounds like an incredibly heady viewing experience! Is there anything you might like to share about the project?
(And to backtrack, what is it about the manifesto for the Art Nouveau movement, this connection between art and nature and spirituality, that appeals to you on a personal level? And what is for you, a prime example of this manifesto and connection reflected in a piece of art?)
What appeals to me is the eternal quest of understanding what our larger spiritual universe is and how we fit into it, and a powerful example of this connection is explored in Alphonse Mucha’s Le Pater.
The hardcover that was published in 2019 is a massive tome; I designed it specifically to look like a book you’d see in an archaic library. The book presents Mucha’s Le Pater in its entirety and gives an introduction to mysticism and an overview of magickal ideas in aesthetic form. It examines occult thinking in art from Albrecht Dürer through the Salon de la Rose+Croix, and provides information that allows the reader to decipher the complicated symbolism in Mucha’s Le Pater artworks. Mucha was a devout Mason and student of mystical thinking, and his Le Pater artworks present a very modern, androgynous depiction of God that was celebrated in some quarters and censored in others. The complete artworks in Le Pater were impossible to see outside of museums before we published our book in 2019, so we’re really excited about the Kickstarter project we have going right now to publish the expanded paperback edition. Le Pater is one of the most important artworks of any era, and I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone with an interest in beautiful art or the occult.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: this question was originally posed in the beginning months of the pandemic]
I’m almost afraid to ask this question of anyone right now, considering the global pandemic we’ve all been experiencing, but is there anything coming up that we can look forward to from Century Guild? Any ideas percolating for future releases on the horizon, perhaps, when the world rights itself?
The expanded paperback edition of Le Pater: Alphonse Mucha’s Symbolist Masterpiece and the Lineage of Mysticism is the most important thing that we are doing in 2021- we all agreed that as the world rights itself there is nothing more important we can do as an institution than put artwork and ideas out into the world that foster communication and connectedness. The Century Guild motto is “Think and Read”, which is based on an emblem that Mucha created for the back cover of Le Pater. If people do those two things, the first fervently and the second meaningfully, the world can’t help but be a better place.
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 🙂
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!
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 havea 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.
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!
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.
I can’t immediately seem to find a great deal of information on Baroque period painter of moody floral still-life masterpieces, Juan de Arellano… other than he painted flowers because he wasn’t so great at painting figures, and also the flower paintings paid more. Seems to have lived pragmatically, if nothing else can be said!
So rather than make a whole bunch of stuff up to meet some arbitrary word count, we’ll leave it at that. The guy painted some gorgeous ghost-haunted flowers (or that’s what I see, anyway) and that’s good enough for me! Below are some of my favorites from amongst his œuvre.
When I was conducting image research for The Art of the Occult, I quite by accident stumbled upon the sumptuous, spectacular still-life botanical drama of Gatya Kelly’s oil paintings. And if there’s anything I love to rest my gaze upon more than artworks infused with mystical, magical imagery …it’s a painterly depiction of a beautiful flower!
Perusing this artist’s lush, gorgeous portfolio of blooms and blossoms was such a balm for my eyes when they needed a quiet rest during that period of time, but as luck and wily circumstance would have it, I soon fell upon an imaginative series of her works incorporating and exploring alchemical themes, and, A-HA! Epiphanies were had, connections were made, and, as it turns out, such discoveries were meant to be…and if you have peeked inside the pages of The Art of the Occult, you will no doubt recognize the featured image of this post as painted by none other than Gatya Kelly, herself.
I could not let the opportunity pass to nose about and ask some questions, and so in the following interview, artist Gatya Kelly and I chat about the personal nature of her work, the influence and thrilling inspiration of light and color on canvas, and how every flower is beauty, sex, and death, all furled up into one perfumed package.
S. Elizabeth: You remark in your artist statement that, “What I try to do is to explore myself in terms of paint. It’s personal.” I LOVE THAT. “It’s personal.” There’s just something so thrilling about an artist you admire coming right out of the gate, making no bones about it, stating that as an absolute. And because your art is so personal, I don’t want to put words in your mouth. To get us started, how would you describe your style?
Gatya Kelly: It’s my natural style – it’s the way the paint comes off the brush when I don’t think about it. I have painted all my life, although there have been gaps of decades when I haven’t picked up a tube of paint. Part of the reason it took me a long while to get serious about my art is that I have been so resistant to painting this way – because representational art is uncool and still life is really a bit embarrassing. I tried experimenting with all sorts of other techniques and approaches, searching for a way to override my natural tendencies. In other words, trying to paint like someone else. I had to get over that to be able to put the work out there.
Many people think my style is photographic or hyper-realist because they only ever see the images on social media. But most of the works are quite large and if you get up close you will see the brushwork is loose. Get really close and it’s practically abstract. Still, part of my personal struggle is to reign myself in, to keep the marks fresh and not get lost in the minutiae.
What influences and inspiration do you draw from in your daily art practice? What, if anything, do you consider to be your greatest source of inspiration?
My practice is influenced by my circumstances. I travel and move house a lot. My studio space might be the corner of a dark room or the whole floor of a disused butter factory. Right now I am in lockdown on Corfu Greece painting in a bedroom. Parts of the studio setup are cobbled together with fishing line, driftwood, and smooth round stones from the beach. Sounds romantic, doesn’t it?
Still life works for me because wherever I am there will be something to relate to and use in a composition. Out walking, a flower or rock or seed will catch my eye and I’ll bring it back to the workspace. It won’t necessarily become a painting but it might spark an enquiry. This happened with weeds when Covid began in the UK. They were so delicate and lovely in the fields, yet they seemed to reflect the uneasy uncertainty of the times.
The light is an influence too, and that is reflected in the painting. In Australia, the light is quite harsh and bright. In Europe, especially in winter, it’s softer and the colours are more subtle. So the work will have a flavour of a place. I guess my greatest source of inspiration is always what’s right in front of me and the way I’m feeling about it. I try to follow my intuition and not analyse the situation too closely.
Much of your work features vivid florals and fruits. I’ve read your statement that you’re not literally painting those objects, but rather, “the emotions they create … balance, truth, serenity.” I suppose my question then becomes, what is it about blooms and blossoms and fruiting things that are so compelling, that evoke these feelings in you?
Not just in me, in everybody. I think an attraction to the natural world is hardwired into our DNA and it has been a fascinating part of the still life journey to observe this through viewers’ reactions. Before the mind kicks in with judgments about whether it’s good or bad, whether you like it or not and so on, there’s this primitive, uncontrollable response of Yum or Ahh. That’s the response I am interested in working with, seeing how far I can push it. We seem to have a universal deep-rooted attraction to certain things, regardless of our gender, age or background. That’s really fascinating because it demonstrates our basic common human connection.
Maybe this is a silly question, but I would love to know! Is gardening a part of your artistry? Do you grow the beautiful peonies and other flowers in your still life painting?
There are no silly questions! I used to garden, mainly fruit and veg, but not at the moment. One day. Mostly I pick blooms from friends’ gardens, sometimes I nick them from over a fence or knock on a stranger’s door, and very very rarely I buy them from a florist, but I don’t much like doing that because it feels a bit impersonal. And I need lots to choose from to get the right shapes and sizes in the compositions.
I just read the most fascinating essay about floral motifs in art in which the author posits, “…what is stunning about the flowers is that, though they are not us, there is something about them that we recognize in us.” I’m curious as to your thoughts on this, what is there of the flower that you recognize in yourself? Here is a link to the essay, if you would like to read it! http://www.cerisepress.com/04/10/the-flower-artist/view-all
A beautiful essay with so many rich ideas. I think this relates back to what I said earlier about the hardwiring and the connectedness of living things. There’s no escaping or denying it no matter how many layers we build around ourselves. What do I recognise personally? It always comes back to the same thing, mortality. This is the allure of the vanitas genre of paintings too. In a flower there is youth, beauty, fragility, vulnerability, sexuality and death all contained in one scented package. It’s the ephemeral nature of flowers that I find irresistible, almost tragic.
I believe that you paint predominantly in oils; have you worked in other mediums besides oil? If so, why have you chosen oil to be your primary medium?
I have dabbled in other mediums but for me it can only be oil. I did my first oil painting when I was 10 years old and fell in love. The smell, the texture, the slow drying times, the history, the pigments, I adore it all. I think it’s the romance with the paint itself that excites me every morning I walk into the studio. Just looking at the tubes is heavenly.
As someone who is just now starting to appreciate colors again (I had a 25 year-long “all black everything” phase!) I am struck by the luminous hues on your canvas. I think your use of color is absolutely breathtaking. Do you have a favorite shade to work with or a color palette to work within?
Colour is so important and I give it a lot of attention. It drives me crazy sometimes. Just the slightest shift in one area can change the way a whole painting looks. And of course the colours look different under different lighting, which can be frustrating. I try to work under controlled artificial daylight to keep some consistency whenever I’m at the easel but it’s not always possible.
I tend to plan the colour palette out before I start and try to keep the colours in a fairly limited range as far as possible. The luminous quality is one I particularly want to achieve. It’s not brightness or high chroma. I don’t really know what it is, but I know it’s there when the painting has presence. One minute it’s all a bit flat and uninteresting and then suddenly it’s as if a being has inhabited the canvas. Thrilling. Also I want the painting to still look good in very low light levels, say in a darkened room. It should glow in the gloom. I’ve had a longish affair with red and play with blue contrasts. I do like neutrals though and I can’t stand green, which is why you see so many dead leaves from me.
Your paintings, full of beautiful objects paying tribute to the natural world, are, you share, “an invitation to step back and reconnect with who we are.” In “Alchemy Alchemia” which you graciously permitted use of in The Art of the Occult, we observe a still-life tableaux, glowing with otherworldly incandescence and which evokes a mysterious branch of philosophy. This mystical/metaphysical setting and series seems a bit of a departure from the more earthly/terrestrial tone of your other works, and I am wondering what it was that you yourself connected/reconnected with when creating these beautiful, alchemically-inspired paintings?
The Alchemy works emerged after a month-long artist residency in an Australian gold rush ghost town. In the 1800s the area was thriving but today the population is around 70. I had a month to myself in an old house that once belonged to a famous artist and really started to feel the history of the place – the hopes and aspirations, the pain and failure, the relentless searching for the mysterious, immutable material that is gold. I got quite lost in this contemplative realm of the imagination.
On my daily walks I found objects to use in the compositions. Kangaroo skulls, fragments of ceramics, various vessels. The bottle in Alchemia is an old ink bottle I found half-buried at the back of the house, still with dried-out chunks of ink inside. I felt a sense of lineage to the old artist when I dug it up, and back to the gold miners too. I think it’s very valuable to take yourself away from your known environment and to look with fresh perspectives. I would like to continue exploring the metaphysical theme. It’s a bottomless pool of inspiration that resonates with me.
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 .