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For what feels like forever now, I have been in swoons and raptures over the misty, half-lit elegance of analog photographer Helena Aguilar Mayans’ stunning storybook landscapes and transportive, time-traveling portraits. I am very happy that, like in some wondrous, enchanting tale from a bygone era, the stars mystically aligned for us and I can finally share our interview–at least two years in the making!– with you today.

See below for our Q&A wherein Helena shares her passions and inspirations, her reverence for mystery and the passage of time, and of course, a gallery of her incredible works. Helena–thank you for your patience and perseverance, your kindness and candor, and for working with me on this and long as we have!

Find Helena Aguilar Mayans: Website // Instagram

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“Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.” is the quote used in your instagram bio. Can you talk about that philosophy as it relates to your art?

This is a quote by Junichiro Tanizaki, from his book “In Praise for Shadows”. It’s a very beautiful and poetic book and I always found it very inspiring. I had the chance to visit Japan lately and I could relate to everything he points on the book. It’s a book written in 1933 but I think it’s still very contemporary.

The book explores some concepts and ideas that usually in the occidental world have been understood in a very different way or not really appreciated.

I feel that in traditional Japanese culture time is understood differently and beauty is seen in many things, even in the most ordinary. The space they have for contemplation, ritual, and beauty is something that I love and I feel is not well valued in other cultures.

We are used to having everything immediately and I always felt against that, I think we should understand time in a very different way. I’ve been learning Urushi (Japanese traditional lacquer) and Kintsugi (ceramic repair with Urushi and metal dust) for 3 years now and it’s all about time and patience! It’s not only about the technique itself, but you also learn about other things. It really helps me to balance and to focus on my new photographic projects! I have a photoshoot in mind inspired by a passage of “In Praise of Shadows” and I cannot wait for it!

I also love the Japanese concept of “mono no aware” (sympathy for things) and the idea of patina, showing the time passing by, the texture, it’s somehow what I find in old and abandoned buildings and also in old garments. I love to see the time passing by all over these spaces and objects, for me it has a very special charm.

Tanizaki also speaks about the strange calm, darkness or shadows, can bring and the mystery they hold. I think a must for me is trying to get some mystery in my pictures, sometimes more subtle and sometimes more direct, but I think mystery needs to be there. Related to this I also love this quote by Einstein:

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”

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HAM insta 8 HAM insta7 I always feel an overwhelming sense of solitude when gazing upon the lone models in the shadowy environs in your photos. But not in a terribly melancholic way–I get the feeling that these characters are content to be lost in their own worlds, and there is no place they’d rather be. Can you speak to that?

I always pictured women being alone, either between wild landscapes or in abandoned environments, it has been something very inner, it happens very naturally it has been the way I have always seen my pictures. But I wouldn’t say these women are feeling lonely, I think they are just lost in their worlds, daydreaming or looking for a shelter, away from the modern world. It’s also how I feel about the world many times. It’s probably a bit about being an outsider. The idea of trying to live in a different way, out of what’s it’s considered standard.

These women are where they are because they want, they want to be out or explore. I always included the lone female character in my pictures and when I discovered the novels of the Brontës I could feel so related to it. The Brontës had been a very important influence for that. I’ve been very very inspired by the works and lives of them during the last years and something that I really like from them is the idea that they made some revolutionary heroines just by the fact that they went out walking.

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I’m stealing a quote from an interview you did with one of my favorite writers and appreciators of art, Jantine Zantbergen; you said that you view photography as “…a medium one can use in order to make fantasies more real.” Can you tell about the sort of fantasies you try to bring to life?

I always had a deep fascination for bygone eras and past artistic movements. Usually those the “fantasies” I try to recreate, I imagine characters from the Brontë novels or paintings by the symbolists, the decadents, the pre-raphaelites and I try to make these visions live through photography.

Trying to recreate all this through photography it’s a kind of way of making everything more real. It’s also the best way I know to evade myself and connect with these bygone eras and art movements that I am so fond of. The moment just before pressing the shooter, when I am in front of the scene and everything looks like I imagined I really feel transported, it feels like time works in a very different way.

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I also sense complex stories in your photography; each frame could be a chapter in a beautiful fairy tale. Can you talk about art as story-telling, the particular stories you are trying to tell, and where you draw your inspirations from?

Yes, I think photography it’s a strong medium for story telling, usually I go with an idea about what could be the story of the character I’m imagining and then during the photoshoot it just seems to appear in my head. I like the idea that with photography you hold the mystery and leave the story more open to the viewer rather than cinema. I like this, that with just a shot or a short series you are opening the door to a world, a period, an atmosphere, you give some details, some tricks, but the rest has to be imagined. I can take inspiration from many things, but usually, it comes from painting, literature, cinema or music.

Some constant inspirations are the decadents, the symbolists, the Pre-Raphaelites. and the aesthetic movement. I am currently being very very inspired by all the 1900s art and the “Fin de Siècle” concept. Powerful women and decadentism are my current vibes, along with Catalan “Modernistes” (Art Nouveau) painters too.

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The landscape in your photography is always so stunning, whether you have shot your models against the backdrop of a foggy half-lit meadow or the ominous face of a rocky cliff. Are all of these locations local to you? Can you tell us about the role that nature and these natural spaces play in your art?

I had the chance to grew up and live in Olot, a village that’s inside a Natural Park; it’s a volcanic area that makes the landscape surrounding me very unique. This is something that has always been related to my work. I wouldn’t do the pictures I do if I were living in Barcelona, for example.

The landscape here, it’s singular but also quite varied, from basalt cliffs to English countryside-looking meadows to faerie tale forests.

So most of the places that I picture on my work are nearby locations, sometimes there are also places I visited while traveling. Searching for the place it’s always an important step before a shoot takes place.

If I work on abandoned places I then usually travel around Europe for the locations. It can take months to locate the places but it’s always worth it. I love to explore such places and being able to use them as scenarios before they are gone forever. They really transport me and I can feel the past and history of them, it’s a very special feeling.

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You’ve been involved in some gorgeous collaborations with various designers and musicians! Can you tell us a little bit about some of them (Under The Pyramids–I adore Mathilde!–Hvnter Gvtherer, King Dude, etc.), and how they came to be?

I will be always grateful for all these collaborations!

Working with Mathyld its always a dream, she puts all her heart in all her creations and you can sense that. She’s the sweetest and it’s always wonderful to work with her. We are hoping to do something together again soon! 🙂

I also cherish the collab I did for Hvnter Gvtherer, I think Laura’s work it’s very genuine and I did have a great time doing a photoshoot for her!

I think it’s a very nice way to support independent artists this way.

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HAM insta12I’m also very nosy when it comes to what is currently inspiring my favorite artists! Is there anything you’ve listened to, read, watched, or become aware of recently that’s sparking your creative flow?

A lot of art from the Fin de Siècle!! Now I am especially fond of Orazi and Georges de Feure. Fernand Khnopff’s art and also currently art nouveau Catalan artists like Ramon Casas or Santiago Rusiñol. The somewhat unknown and underrated Alexandre de Riquer has always been an inspiration too.

As for music, Alcest’s latest album, Nhor, and Sylvaine music are what I have been frequently listening to lately.

The poetry of Emily Brontë is always a huge inspiration and the illustrations of Selp @darkselp are always a beautiful inspiration too!

 

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

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26 Feb
2020

Jana Heidersdorf
Jana Heidersdorf

In 2017 I wrote a blog post titled “We have art in order not to die of the truth” where I shared how my love of art had a buoying effect on my heart during trying times. I always meant to go back and begin a regular series of sharing the recent pieces of artistry and creative marvels that I was ogling at the time, but somehow that never quite happened here at Unquiet Things.

At Haute Macabre, however…! Late last summer I began my Weekly Eyeball fodder column, and ok, maybe it’s not quite “weekly” — but “sometimes,” or “when I feel like it.” just doesn’t have the same ring, does it? So then, once every week or so I gather up those eyeball-thrilling arts that I’ve been digitally collecting and I share this special gallery of creations for the thrill of your eyeballs.

Of course, I am sure to always include the artist’s name and the title of the piece if they’ve noted it, as well as a link to their Instagram account, or their website, or where ever they may house their portfolio. I have been sharing these works sans commentary or additional info from me, as I don’t want to color anyone’s impressions of it, or overload one’s senses with too much data, or ruin the fun if you find an artist you love and want to do a little research and find out more about them on your own. Which I hope that folks will do!

At any rate, if you follow my various endeavors, you may already be aware of all this. But if not…now you know! Here’s a bit of a preview, below, of the various sorts of imagery you can expect to see in my Weekly Eyeball collections, and separate links to the past fourteen weeks of them over at Haute Macabre.

Have you discovered any new and wonderful artists lately? Please let me know in the comments!

Jakub Rozalski
Jakub Rozalski

Weekly Eyeball Fodder: Week One

 

Julia Malkova
Julia Malkova

Weekly Eyeball Fodder: Week Two

 

Syd Bee
Syd Bee

Weekly Eyeball Fodder: Week Three

 

Helena Aguilar Mayans
Helena Aguilar Mayans

Weekly Eyeball Fodder: Week Four

 

Naisa Gomez
Naisa Gomez

Weekly Eyeball Fodder: Week Five

 

blindthesun
blindthesun

Weekly Eyeball Fodder: Week Six

 

week 7 @jodiemuirart Jodie Muir
Jodie Muir

Weekly Eyeball Fodder: Week Seven

 

Féebrile
Féebrile

Weekly Eyeball Fodder: Week Eight

 

Amy Haslehurst
Amy Haslehurst

Weekly Eyeball Fodder: Week Nine

 

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Katie Eleanor

Weekly Eyeball Fodder: Week Ten

 

Martin Wittfooth
Martin Wittfooth

Weekly Eyeball Fodder: Week Eleven

 

Jason Mowry
Jason Mowry

Weekly Eyeball Fodder: Week Twelve

 

Maryann Held
Maryann Held

Weekly Eyeball Fodder: Week Thirteen

 

Nona Limmen
Nona Limmen

Weekly Eyeball Fodder: Week Fourteen

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I “met” Laurel as I “meet” many of my dear, good friends–online, geeking out over the stuff we are intensely passionate about. In our case, we wandered into each other’s orbits, over at the now-defunct sonic cosmos of 8tracks, constellations winking and shimmering excitedly in our shared tastes in music and art. This was in 2010 and I still recall the very mix that began our friendship–I went under a different internet handle at that time, and I was just on the cusp of becoming the ghoul next door that I am today– and in that initial encounter, Laurel introduced me to a strange and wonderful new-to-me artist (which I later wrote about!) and who remains a favorite today. Music and art. Two of the things that we continue to geek out over, nearly a decade later!

It was not a huge surprise to me then, that a few years later, Laurel opened her own art gallery! I was thrilled, amazed, and proud–but not a bit surprised. Laurel, an artist and designer herself, is a shrewd businessperson with a deep love of community and fostering connections, and believes in the vital importance of art and artists creating it.

And so, I am a heady combination of  pleased, excited, and thoroughly honored that Laurel has shared her thoughts at Unquiet Things today, in our monthly installment of Ten Things:
10 Things I’ve learned from Owning an Art Gallery

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Laurel Barickman is the Creative Director of the Austin, Texas based design agency Recspec, and for three years she’s also been the owner, operator, and curator of Recspec Gallery. She has put together over 20 shows for the gallery, working with local, national, and international artists across every type of medium, with a focus on uplifting new and unestablished artists – especially women artists, queer artists, and artists of color.

When I decided to start an art gallery a few years ago, I had no idea what I was doing. I was looking for a space to have an office and also meet with my clients for my design agency, and when I found the right space, it had – prior to me moving in – been a gallery. I had always had an interest in curation, and had been in shows myself, and there was definitely a far-away dream in the back of my mind to one day own a gallery, but I definitely didn’t think it was the time or that I was ready yet! But I decided to take the leap based on the community around me and the amazing artists that I know. It hasn’t been easy, and a year or so ago, we lost our location – and it took almost a full year for me to find a new one, a task at one point I thought was impossible because of the rising rents in Austin. But the biggest thing I noticed during that time that we were closed was how much I missed it, and how much I wanted to do it again.

So here are a few things I’ve learned in the process. I hope that it might help any budding gallerists out there!

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“Nude in Red” by RF Alvarez

You will buy a lot of art.

As I’ve told my husband any time I announce that I’m buying ANOTHER piece of artwork, in order to sell art, you have to drink the kool-aid and buy art yourself. A gallerist who doesn’t buy art (which I doubt exists) doesn’t really understand the consumer-art relationship, which is so essential to be able to sell art in the first place. Understanding the other side of that relationship is important – what people are looking for, what price-points work for them, why they connect with certain pieces over others, what mediums are most popular, etc. If we don’t believe in the value of art, supporting artists, and buying art, how can we expect anyone else to?

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“Charis” by Christa Blackwood

Supporting your artists is the most important thing.

My main job as a gallery owner is to make sure that my artists are taken care of, supported, and have everything they need to fulfill their vision of their show at my gallery. Galleries take a split of every sale, and it is important to earn that split through our actions that support the artist. I handle all of the marketing for the show, getting the gallery space ready for their work, installing, lighting, I assist with pricing if they need it, photographing all of the works and getting them online for non-local sales, getting sponsorships and setting up our opening and closing events, and more. It’s a huge amount of work to put on a show, and it’s important to me that the artist only has to worry about creating the work. We take care of the rest, which is how it should be. I also encourage collaborations, and if an artist has a vision for creating something special for the show, I do what I can to make it happen.

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Community is essential.

Without the attendees to our shows and visitors to our gallery, we would not exist. Building the community that we have took time, but without knowing that I had a dedicated audience who would show up for our openings and be supportive of what we do, I would not have felt confident opening a new location. I’m so appreciative of this community, and try to foster and continue to build it through talking to everyone who comes through the door, asking how they heard about us, thanking them for their interest, and building a connection. I am not the type of gallerist who barely acknowledges a visitor, I am right there to answer any questions or give any information they may need. As a natural introvert, it can be difficult to put myself out there in this way and spend hours talking to so many people, but I feel like it’s been a huge contributor to building the community we now have.

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“Ten o’clock” by Eva Claycomb

It doesn’t always have to make sense.

When we had our first ever show, I came up with a name for it – loosely based on a film quote, maybe? Just a saying I liked? It was The Eyes Have It — and I remember telling a few people about it and them telling me it didn’t really make any sense. I went with my gut and it was an amazing first show, that I left to my artists as an ambiguous theme that really paid off in the end. Art is weird. It often doesn’t make sense. Trust your ideas, your taste, and your artists. Magic will blossom from the strange ideas you may have.

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“Sugar Smell” by Joanne Leah

Selling art is hard.

This is something that anyone who wants to start an art gallery won’t want to hear, but it’s true. Art – while it feels vital to many of us – at the end of the day, is a non-essential, and a luxury. Convincing someone that they should spend X 100’s of dollars on a piece of art for their walls is a challenge, and requires the right circumstances. There has to be a connection for the buyer, there has to be money involved, and you have to make it as easy and no pressure as possible. Sometimes I haven’t sold a single piece from a show that took months to prepare. Sometimes I’ve sold X 1000 plus dollar pieces. It’s a complete unknown, and very hard to predict. For that reason, I try to make sure I have a lot of different price points represented in the gallery and our shop at all times so that everyone can afford something, even if it is just a small enamel pin. Buying art is a privilege, and some people just aren’t able to. Making it as accessible to as wide of a range of folks as possible is important to me, and helps with sales in the end.

Lee Noble
Lee Noble

Grants help.

While I didn’t start my journey owning an art gallery with getting grants — I’ve realized that if there are some available to you, through your city, state, or country — its important to try to take advantage of those resources. It is a huge amount of work to do grant-writing, but as I said above, it’s hard to sell art. Money is needed to own and operate a gallery, so finding some help, even if it’s not a huge amount, can help immensely.

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“Unlikely Growth” by Kevin Munoz and Graham Franciose 

Develop relationships with buyers.

Remember the people who bought pieces, and remember what they bought. Maybe you’ll have another show and you’ll think “Oh, I bet so-and-so would love this.” Reach out to them personally, say hi, invite them by. They might not buy another piece, but they might.

Tell Me When It Rains - Annalise Gratovich
“Tell Me When It Rains” by Annalise Gratovich

Support other galleries.

Much like buying art, if you don’t go to other gallery’s shows, how can you expect them to come to yours? It all ties back into the community, and it’s important to show up and foster that network with other galleries. I’ve never felt in competition with the other galleries in my city because we all do different things. I try to remember what their openings are so I can tell people about them and create those conduits between us. And often I know that they, in turn, do the same for me.

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“Flowerskull” by Mike Combs

It doesn’t hurt to ask.

I’ve been so lucky to show some incredible artists in my gallery — from Australia, to New York, to California — some with such big followings that it seemed silly to even ask. But I did, and they said yes. All you can do is ask, be confident, and make it easy. They’ll either ignore you or say no if they aren’t interested (which has definitely happened to me), or they will say yes and you’ll get to show your community an artist they probably never expected to see.

Twin Insight - Lesley Nowlin Blessing
“Twin Insight” by Lesley Nowlin Blessing

Art is important. And so are the curators.

It may seem obvious, but my biggest take away from starting a gallery, is that art IS important, collecting it in a space that is accessible to all kinds of people is important, and even if someone cannot buy a piece, just being able to show them that work, connect them with an artist, foster those connections, and hopefully help financially support artists in the process is important. It’s a ton of work. It’s hard to make money. But it is worth it.

Thank you for reading, and for any budding gallerists out there, if you have any questions feel free to reach out. [email protected]
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This interview was originally posted at Haute Macabre on January 17, 2020

Embroidery is not for the impatient. Those tiny stitches, painstaking and precise, individually add up to a practice and a pastime that quite literally passes a lot of time. I tried it myself nearly a decade ago, and it took me all day–probably 6 hours total–just to stitch seven words.

Web weaving textile artist Lyla Mori of Moonflesh is well acquainted with this deliberate, decelerated passage of time, and observes it as a vital piece of the slow, ritualistic process comprising the stitches of her embroidered still-life tableaux. These thread-veined creatures and ghostly botanicals, embellished with precious found objects, are ideas and dreams transformed into something tangible through Lyla’s unhurried handiwork and are imbued with measured intent & the most patient of magics.

I never again attempted embroidery, but through a few collaborative commissions (featured above, and immediately below) Lyla has brilliantly captured and brought to life a handful of my own shadowy ideas and spectral dreams. I can’t help but admire these visions anew each time I catch sight of them on my walls; so many dainty, diminutive stitches, the results of which cast a hushed and bewitching spell on the viewer–a feat which is made that much more impressive when you have an awareness of and firsthand experience with (even if it’s just a day’s worth!) of the toil and trouble that goes into this type of craft.

I had so many questions for Lyla about her Moonflesh embroidery, which she has set aside her needle and thimbles for a moment and generously lent her cushion-hearted occasion to respond. See below and learn more about the human behind these darkly expressive offerings, and the countless eternities spent with each stitch in the practice of this timeless craft.

How did you start embroidering? What initially captured your imagination about textile art?

Lyla Mori: Embroidery came to me at a time when I felt incredibly lost in the world. I had just moved to a new state that I had only visited once before. I worked a minimum wage job that left me feeling completely depleted and unfulfilled. I felt lonely the vast majority of the time due to having no friends in the area. One of the few solaces I had was creating art — mainly drawing in pencil and ink, or painting.

Even in trying to actively recollect now, I can’t remember what specifically drew me to embroidery. Why embroidery, and not some other fibre art, or jewelry-making, or sculpting? I’m not sure, but I think a part of me felt intrinsically drawn to it. I never meant for it to become a business for me as it is now — it was just a way for me to relieve stress and channel creativity in my free time. What really inspired me about this art form was its capability to hold the intention of the creator. I remember the very first piece I ever created was a protection sigil, actually. I wanted something to hang up on the wall to protect my home, but I never imagined that the slow process of bringing the piece into tangible space would feel like performing a spell or ritual!

What were some of your early inspirations? And do these themes and motifs continue to show up in your work today or have they changed/evolved over time?

Once I started seriously practicing embroidery, the motifs and imagery that I like to explore had pretty much been set in stone — mainly mythology and folklore, witchcraft, herbalism, creatures of all forms, tarot, Victoriana, spiritualism, etc. In the beginning, I created a LOT of moths. They were a spirit and creature that brought a lot of joy and comfort to me at the time, so my work reflected that. In the past few months, I’ve been conjuring up many a snake. As is often the case with human nature, I find my interests in these specific subjects ebb and flow — something will take the forefront of my mind for a long while, and then fade away – only to revisit me again in the future.

I also find it interesting that the subject matter that people request to be commissioned often reflects what inspires me at the time. Because of this, I find that I hardly ever have to turn down a request! I truly believe that the imagery I desire to manifest is met by the right person who is looking for just that thing — we find each other at the right time and the pieces click into place.

Tell me about the materials that you work with (beads, keys, crystals) and what significance their inclusion lends to the piece.

I knew pretty early on in my journey with embroidery that I wanted my pieces to include objects that hold meaning for me. I love crystals and learning about their specific correspondences, power, and historical uses. I’m fond of the idea of the subject matter and the crystals collaborating on summoning a certain desired energy — whether that be bringing about protection, love, prosperity, magic, etc. Antique keys were a later inclusion into my work. I started collecting them mainly as a devotional practice to the goddess Hekate.

Eventually, an idea struck me — either directly from Her, or Spirit, or the Universe, etc. — to incorporate them into my pieces. I search for antique keys in my journeys and adventures to antique shops and flea markets. I’m pretty picky about the ones I choose. I often have to wade through bowls and buckets of keys, some too modern, some far too rusty, to find one or two that feel right. Once they come home with me, they live on my personal altar until I feel like it’s time to create something. I find that this slow, ritualistic process imbues each embroidery piece with a particularly sacred energy. Beading is a pretty common component in all kinds of embroidery, but I like to include it because I’m an actual magpie and like all things sparkly and shiny. It’s lovely when I come across antique beads that were made before a time when the factory process was more streamlined — so each bead is slightly different from the next. I think it provides a certain kind of magic and whimsy to my work.

Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?

I always have to have a cup of tea or some other beverage, with a candle burning close by before I start embroidering. I also have to be in the right mindset to embroider. I stop embroidering if I feel overly tired, drained, or sad — I take the intention that I put into my pieces seriously, which means that it sometimes takes even longer to get a piece completed! However, I feel that this keeps the process clear and genuine.

My process is a little different when working on a commission, but when I make the pieces I personally desire to create, I always start with research. I like to read about the subject matter online, or go digging through the books I have at my disposal. I study references and determine how the subject can best be created with thread, as it’s different from working with pencil and paper and translating what you see directly. I usually make a few different versions of a specific design, then pick a favorite, transfer it onto fabric, and then the actual embroidery part begins!

Taking into account my Libra sun and rising (and Libra’s association with Venus), I have a great desire to be surrounded by beauty! I’m surrounded by plants growing tendrils up the walls, crystals of all shapes and sizes, olde objects, book stacks assembled haphazardly, art filling the walls, etc. My studio holds my workspace and my personal altar. The two inform each other, which I think is pretty appropriate with how I create my art.

Did you undertake formal training in college or within the industry, or did you find your ways into embroidery via a different route?

I am definitely self-taught in regards to embroidery. Frequently I get asked about what stitch I used for this or that, and I often have to respond that I honestly don’t know. I know there are places that people can formally study embroidery (like the Royal School of Needlework in the UK – how fancy does that sound!) and I’m sure the people who study there would scoff at my methods and techniques, haha! I wouldn’t mind, as I know that some of my techniques must be strange and round-about. But I think there’s a charm and a unique quality in pieces created by artists that are self-taught, and I hope my work has some of that.

How would you describe your work and artistry within the world of embroidery and craft?

Because of my penchant for things that seem dark and scary to others, I feel like a bit of an outlier in the world of embroidery! I often feel inundated with photos of embroidery pieces emblazoned with trendy words and cheesy, tongue-in-cheek phrases, surrounded by a smattering of bright florals. Don’t get me wrong, there’s certainly a place for that sort of thing, just as I believe there’s a small place for my art – spooky/dark/macabre as it might seem.

What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?

I’m currently (/always) inspired by tattered old books, mysterious doorways, portals in nature, creatures sharing our plane of existence and creatures that only live in dreamscapes. I’m inspired by my talented artist friends and their creativity, passion, and work ethic. I’m inspired by women surrealists, my first loves: Leonora Carrington, Frida Kahlo, Remedios Varo. I’m inspired by the works of black femme writers and poets: Octavia Butler, N.K. Jemisin, Lucille Clifton. I’m inspired by the yokai of Japanese mythology and the prophetesses, seers, and sybils of Greek lore. I’m inspired by images of ancient relics and artifacts from across the world, and I’m inspired by the way the land I live on can still seem so alive underneath a thick blanket of ice and snow. I’m eternally inspired by this gracious, wondrous community that I’ve somehow found myself to become a part of!

What would be your dream commission?

I would love to create something HUGE, like a tapestry! Something that I can work on over the course of several months… I truly desire it but I simultaneously know that it would test my fortitude and composure like nothing else, haha! I believe the opportunity will come to me sometime in the future when the right benefactor comes around!

What’s something a lot of people don’t know about embroidering?

That it takes a damn long time! A lot of people are aware that it takes a ‘somewhat foggy, indistinguishable amount of time that probably requires a lot more patience than they care to put in’, but it’s hard to get a good grasp of it until you’re embroidering yourself. Even to this day it still surprises me. Sometimes while I’m working, I look down at the piece in my hands and realize that what I’ve spent the entire day embroidering is not even the length of my finger!

I think it’s a good lesson in valuing the time a person puts into their craft. Artists and art in general are wholly necessary to the health of humankind,  yet it often goes underappreciated and undervalued. This is exacerbated tenfold when it comes to fibre arts, due to the fact they have been historically thought of as woman’s work. This fact just amplifies my love and passion for embroidery, and is a big driving force in why I desire to continue honing and tending to my craft.

Bonus! The Moonflesh shop update, “Wintertide Creatures” is scheduled for January 24! Lyla shares, “I’m forever captivated by creatures with wintery white cloaks — pale furs and feathers that help them go unseen in this cold time of year. There will be three pieces in this collection: a white barn owl, a white raven variant of my Clairvoyant design, & a white elk (major Emperor vibes)”

Find Lyla Mori / Moonflesh: shop // instagram // patreon

 

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Gennady Spirin, from The White Cat.
Gennady Spirin, from The White Cat.

“Take my coat, boys. I see something I’d like to puke on.”

 

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Reverend George Liddell Johnston – The Alphabet Illustrated, 1875

When you’re an infernal demon eternally stoking the fires of the pit, but you also like pretty dresses.

 

Jules Joseph Lefebvre, "Judith” (1892)
Jules Joseph Lefebvre, “Judith” (1892)

“GOD I CAN’T EVEN LOOK AT YOU RIGHT NOW.”

 

Cat Workshop AB Frost
AB Frost

Girl scout working toward cat badge.

 

Papal Ass of Rome; originally a woodcut, probably by Lucas Cranach the Elder
Papal Ass of Rome; originally a woodcut, probably by Lucas Cranach the Elder

When you got dressed in the dark and left the house in a hurry and later realize you’ve got a hoof on one foot and claws on the other. You’ve also got a dude’s face tucked into your butt.

 

The Queen was in the Parlour, Eating Bread and Honey by Valentine Cameron Prinsep
The Queen was in the Parlour, Eating Bread and Honey by Valentine Cameron Prinsep

Me, a Taurus, donning my swishiest velvet robes to steal into my own pantry and eat bread at 3a.m.

 

Friedrich Schroeder-Sonnenstern (German, 1892-1982)
Friedrich Schroeder-Sonnenstern (German, 1892-1982) The Mower, 1953

Some days you’re a swan-footed, phallus-eared screamer running straight for the kaleidoscopic, chomping maw of death and some days you’re the deranged skellington with a propeller sticking out of one of your butts and viewmaster reels for feet, chasing that other guy.

 

Anna Bakhareva
Anna Bakhareva

Cauliflowers but make it fashion.

 

image from The Book of Nature Myths by Florence Holbrook, 1902.
image from The Book of Nature Myths by Florence Holbrook, 1902.

“Florida Things.”

 

Robert Maguire
Robert Maguire

Witnesses would all agree the chair was a no-good piece of shit and had it coming.

 

rudolf sieber lonati
rudolf sieber lonati

tfw you meet up a with a friend you haven’t seen in awhile and life’s not been good to them and they’re looking pretty rough, so you dim the harsh fluorescent lamps and conjure some warm candlelight because you’re a good friend and hoo boy they’re hard to look at

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18 Oct
2019

Anton Babushkin
Photo by Anton Babushkin

Two photos I am going to make a tradition of sharing and re-sharing and sharing again, every year. Because every year, around this time, without fail, they make the rounds everydamnwhere. And no one ever includes the photographers. And you know that makes me angry! See also: traditions borne of extreme annoyance.

Photo no. 1 is from “the dark series” by Anton Babushkin

Photo no. 2 is “Forever Autumn,” a collaboration between photographer Stephen Maycock and model Jen Brook.

Stephen Maycock and Jen Brook
Photo by Stephen Maycock

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3 Sep
2019

81mEFcNf0fLThis “discovery” feels a bit like one of those pieces of information I’d already researched and mentally filed away, and then, at some point in time, scrubbed all memory of the occurrence. Today when I unearthed the artist responsible for one of my favorite childhood book covers, I thrilled to the revelation for maybe three seconds before thinking…but… wait…don’t I already know this? After some thought, I’m pretty sure I had already found this once before and then promptly forgot it. Old news, I guess. But still pretty neat!

For posterity’s sake then, I am noting that the cover art for Richard Peck’s Ghost I Have Been was created by sci-fi and fantasy artist Rowena Morrill. You know, for when I inevitably forget this all over again.

Here’s a fantastic facebook gallery of her works, which no doubt contains a cover or two that you will recognize: there’s cover art for magazines such as Weird Tales, Creepy, And Heavy Metal, along with accompanying cover illustrations for books by beloved genre favorites such as Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K.Le Guin, Madeline L’Engle, Robert McCammon, Piers Anthony, and even a few H.P. Lovecraft collections! And then there’s this one with a cape-wearing baby-faced leather daddy Hitler riding a motorbike. Yikes. They can’t all be winners.

Rowena_Morrill_Ghosts_I_Have_Been

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sliplead6

I initially grew to love digital collage artist Robin Isely’s work in 2017 and in my ensuing obsession, I reached out to them for an interview. Unfortunately, In the time that passed, their Tumblr-hosted site was heavily censored, their URL was hacked, and now the entirety of it has vanished. With their permission, I published the piece anyway at Haute Macabre, so that I may share a bit more about the enigmatic artist and their works. Somewhere along the way, I decided to ditch the traditional Q&A format in lieu of the artist’s thoughts and comments themselves, so that they might be unfiltered through the veil of my own perceptions.

Also upon reflection, my questions might have been a little over-the-top.

An Obscurum Of Secrets: The Lost Art Of Robin Isely

I had, for a time, sadly shelved the idea of a feature on digital collage artist Robin Isely, aka sliplead. I first mentioned this artist in my 2017 Needful Things roundup and I was immensely thrilled at the opportunity to connect with them for an interview, but unfortunately, their gorgeous Tumblr-hosted gallery–an obscurum of secrets, elusive of precise description; a sensualist’s delight of surreal grotesqueries–had vanished into the ether in late 2018. This was due, in part, to Tumblr’s ridiculous censorship nonsense at that time, and– if that wasn’t bad enough– the artist’s URL had been hacked by some porny bots and their whole virtual salon of loveliness was eventually deleted.

Understandably heartsick at the loss of their body of work, as of today, they still have not found a new space on the internet for their creative portfolio. This left me with a dilemma, and I was hesitant to proceed; I generally try to be pretty scrupulous when it comes to sharing website/store/social media details regarding the artists I write about; but regrettably in this instance I would not have anywhere at all to direct those readers who may have been keen to learn more about this artist and see more of their work.

However. Blog content across all platforms runs rampant with imagery shared out of context, sans artist credit or relevant source data (and no, I’m sorry, but “sourced from Pinterest” does not count!) I guess it must be hard to believe that artists as creative beings actually exist, right? You’d think most artistic content springs fully formed from the dashboards of microblogging “content creators.”  In addition to this particularly annoying form of artist erasure, many sites (I’m looking at you, Tumblr, Facebook, and Instagram) practice a puritanical form of censorship under the guise of “community standards”–especially when it comes to those wily and dangerous nipples on female-presenting subjects. Here today, gone tomorrow– sorry about your content, artists! Shoulda kept them titties covered! It’s absurd and infuriating and I hate it. This is in part what happened when Robin Isely’s work started to disappear.

Digital Archivist, Digital Curator, and Art Consultant Samantha Levin shared with me, “As Tumblr and other sites disappear or change over time, we’re looking at losing our history,” and I can’t even begin to tell you how distressing and urgent this notion feels to me (see my lamentations concerning the great Polyvore disappearance of 2018, for one example of this type of occurrence.) With this realization, it is more important than ever that we bolster and keep alive this conversation and the push-back surrounding these types of censorship, the lazy lack of artist sourcing and citing, and the responsibility of giving credit where credit is due.

…and so I concluded that regardless of whether or not Robin Isely has an online gallery for their work right now, it is of paramount importance to me to share both their work and their story, right here. While there is still a place for it, and a person who cares to tell it, and people interested in witnessing it and learning more.

As someone who writes about people and their artistic practices and processes, I probably ask a lot of dumb questions. But occasionally I get lucky and hit on some really good ones! And I’m always gratified when the recipient of my queries takes the time to provide me with some thoughtful answers. That’s not always the case, though, and I won’t lie to you–every once in a while I get a bit of a dud in terms of maybe one-word or canned responses. Is that unprofessional to admit? Well, maybe. But it happens and that’s the truth and I guess you’re not supposed to take it personally (but I do, because how else are you supposed to take things?) Also, I’m sorry, between this gripe and the tumblr thing, it’s become a bit of the old airing of grievances, whoops.

In a rare and unforeseen circumstance, though, the subject of my questions might not really answer anything I’ve asked them at all! Which is a little confounding! But in certain wonderful instances, what they’ve chosen to share instead serves to open a door to a completely different way of thinking about the artist and their work. Such is the case with Robin Isely, this dear human and extraordinarily imaginative creator whom, true, I don’t know very well, and yet of whom I have grown incredibly fond– and this fondness, I don’t mind sharing, lends an extra layer of tenderness to how I view their art.

In any case, I am ditching my questions and eschewing the traditional Q&A format to share with you Robin’s words, as they shared them with me.

Describing themselves a “something of a hermit, a completely unsocialized beast,” Robin wrote to me that they dropped out of art school to spend a life riding and training horses and dogs. Making art seemed stifling, they thought; they wanted to make something beautiful with other minds, animal minds. “It’s a more experiential, physical art form– dancing, if you will,” they divulged. Upon reaching a point in their career where they became physically incapable of working with and caring for animals, it was then that they were given the tools to access a new chapter in their life’s story, a portal to entirely new worlds:  an iPad!

Regarding their discovery and creation of digital art, and its strange and surprising similarities to a former life, they reveal: “I use a simple app and I much enjoy the feeling of my finger sliding across the glass; there’s a place on a horse’s mouth, you slide your finger there and they relax–and so it is with me.”

I had asked a convoluted question about themes involving frames and thresholds, pertaining to the notion of navigating between worlds in her art. In one sense, Robin candidly demurred to go there:

“You were asking about thresholds and frames, and that’s the thing with words, don’t you think? They force you to put a frame around an idea and leave out all the other possibilities. I must confess I like the idea of the pictures having the freedom to evoke any and all interpretations…after all, I do believe we see the world as we are.”

But they went on to illuminate most beautifully :

“The thing about art and thresholds is important…you have to cross over to that mind-place that forgets the names of things; remember Alice in the forest with no names? Of course, you have to surrender yourself, completely. It’s the being there and sometimes you come back with something of a bit of that place’s shine. That’s what you respond to in art, music, dance, really everything worthwhile: the resonance of the experience of that state of being.”

About their childhood and early life, Robin disclosed the following:

“I was an only child and lived in books. I memorized the Alice poems and was wont to recite them at inappropriate times. I absorbed the language and spoke like a proper Victorian child. Obviously, I had few friends of the human variety. My mother fed me a diet of Vogue magazines and Aldous Huxley. As a teen, I was quite prepared for the sixties in San Francisco and enjoyed dressing in thrift store velvet gowns and dancing at the Avalon Ballroom. I’ve shared a life with horses and dogs that a king would envy. Many nights have found me passionately debating the meaning of Meaning with the man who became my life partner. I lived a life and can highly recommend the experience to all of your readers.”

“So, for me,” Robin expresses in continuance to a previous thought, “the pictures are a memoir, a spiritual practice, and a way to quiet the tiresome narrative voice in my head. I was never afraid on a horse and if I can cross over to that place with the art-making, there is no fear there either. Most of all, as a child, I admired Alice’s bravery confronting the absurd, scary world she found herself in. If my pictures had any power at all, I would wish some of her courage to come through in them, to the viewer.”

And finally, a prescient and poignant conclusion to our communiqué:

I do not post the pictures beyond tumblr but I know they have wandered off on their own adventures. Perhaps one day I will find a more permanent home to provide them with.

I’d like to think that Robin Isely’s incredible art has a home here at Haute Macabre for a time and that there are those amongst you who wish to gather it all as close to your heart as I do, while we can. Continue scrolling for some of my personal favorites, and Robin, we wish you all the very best in your continued journey.

 

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

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seance feature

Mixed media artist Rebecca Reeves’ work is intricate and enthralling, delicately wrought with thin black thread and fraught with powerful, piercing themes of family and loss. Some pieces work to contain and preserve their contents–poignant heirlooms or other meaningful objects– while others encapsulate their interior in a suffocating struggle of sorrow and grief.

More recently, these pieces instead of items obsessively enveloped, incorporates the idea of mirrors and portals, a connection with another world, and–unlike her cocooned works of familial preservation and protection–embraces the notion that we must not allow the spirits of the deceased to become trapped within.

I own one of Rebecca Reeves works, it sits on a shelf in my office and quietly watches me work every day. A sweet, eerie-eyed porcelain doll head atop an antique milk glass jar, to resemble a flower festooned with softly glimmering petals and leaves, each one painstakingly hand-beaded. It is a rare treasure.

And what treasure, too, the opportunity to delve deeper into these works of grace and grief and better get to know the sensitive soul who created them! See below for an interview with artist Rebecca Reeves.

rreeves_pickingupthepiecesbrooch

Unquiet Things: In repeated viewings of your work I am struck how you have taken a thing as vast and fathomless and amorphous as grief and fashioned it into a tiny, tangible keepsake to treasure. You have bound it snugly in thread, embellished it with glass beads, pinned it in place like a rare specimen and protected it under glass. Here, you seem to say. This is the enormity of your staggering grief made small, manageable, secure. It is fragile and delicate. Your grief is not only a thing you can face, but it is a thing to be cherished and preserved.

Now…this is just what I see when I gaze upon your work, of course; I am bringing the weight of my own grief and experiences with loss to the table. But you didn’t make your work for me. Your pieces are intensely personal works inspired by overwhelming emotions experienced when you attempt to live around your grief. And to an extent, we all grieve alone, and our experiences reflect that. What did I get right, in my initial assessment (if anything)? Where do I lose the thread? How are your personal experiences with grief manifested in your creations?

Rebecca Reeves: Thank you for interpreting my work perfectly and for connecting with it on a personal level. When my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, we were also caring for my grandmother who had vascular dementia and my grandfather’s debilitating, nerve damage from shingles. We all had our roles and worked as a team. As my dad’s cancer metastasized to his brain, tough decisions had to be made for the safety and care of everyone. Within one year and four months, we lost three of our dearest loved ones. There wasn’t a moment to grieve, as one died, another person needed our full attention. After nearly three years, those life-ending decisions both haunt me and bring comfort. It’s a never-ending personal battle of emotional highs and lows, reassurance and self-doubt. Grief surrounds my every day life. I’m now finding that I struggle to live in the moment and see the bright side of things. My art is my outlet.

Working small is the ultimate way to gain control over something that is uncontrollable. Incorporating fiber-related materials into my work reminds me of my family and all of the good memories. Ever since the beginning of my college education, I have channeled loss and grief into my art. My loved ones are my entire world. They gave everything to me and in return, I give everything to them. So it was only a natural progression to create work about the love I have for them. My work comes straight from my heart and more times than not, my emotions get the best of me while working on pieces.

rreeves_seance

Your art incorporates “fiber-related processes” and your “obsessive qualities”; can you expand upon those ideas and how they are embodied in your work? And perhaps how they may have evolved over time, as your grief may ebb or flow, as your different inspirations shift or unfold?

For as long as I can remember, I have been an obsessive person. When I was little, I found comfort in pouring my wooden puzzles together and completing them all at once. I had a Tupperware container with compartments that I would organize and reorganize beads according to size, color, or favorites. When I was 8 or 9 years old, I hung shelves up in my closet in order to organize my toys/games. They didn’t last long since I had no knowledge about drywall anchors. But, it was when I was 10 years old that my life forever changed. My paternal grandfather passed away. It was a life-changing experience because I wished him away. My fascination with death and the need to control the uncontrollable has altered my life and given me comfort.

My grandfather was one of many painters in my family and I once considered this as my medium, but it was the women in my life that influenced my fiber-related processes. From crocheting, knitting, darning, beadwork, and sewing – it was inevitable that fiber took its hold on me.

rreeves_gatheringmyghosts

One of my favorite pieces is Gathering My Ghosts, which was, I believe, created with the idea of connecting to your ancestors on the other side–” mini portals for time traveling.” Can you share how this idea came about and how it all came together?

I can’t remember exactly when the piece began and how far along cancer had its grips on my dad. When I was creating the piece, loss was already setting in and I was thinking about how I could communicate with my ancestors – the ones I love and the ones I’ve never met. I was thinking about the occult during this time. Not practicing, but mulling over the idea of the black mirror; thinking about how my family would cover the mirrors in black cloth during funerary visitations as a superstition. The use of black-colored threads in my obsessive wrapping process is directly attributed to those darkened mirrors.

I do remember finishing the piece and gathering up the details for a large show that I was curating titled, “More Beyond”. My dad was on steroids and looking great on the outside. My parents attended the show and we had the best time. They were so proud. The piece stood in a glorious spot as you walked through the gallery entrance. The piece was also exhibited in a chance-of-a-lifetime show alongside 150 Victorian hairwork pieces at the Kemerer Museum a few months later. “Gathering My Ghosts” now resides in a loving home with a dear friend who also suffered the loss of a parent.

rreeves_inaseaofgrief

In a previous interview, about both you and your husband’s interest in collection Post Mortem photography, you stated, “We respect the artistic expression of death”; I am curious as to what other mediums or forms of artistic expression extends with regard to your collection (or perhaps things you might be interested in collecting.)

Over the 30 years together, we have the typical collections: Victorian mourning jewelry and hairworks, religious items, funerary pieces, post mortem photography, and human bones. Within my personal collection, I have antique silver and beaded purses, porcelain doll legs and fire king ware. We have always been avid antique collectors, doing the circuit of shops and markets. I’ve learned all I know about antiques from generations of my family. Our home is filled with our loved ones’ items. I refer to it as a living museum of my family’s heirlooms. There’s something about touching an object that was once loved by a family member. I like to believe there’s an energy that continues on within.

I’ve inherited an extensive collection of antique glass bottles, tins, books dating back to my great-grandparents, vintage postcards and honeycomb Valentine’s Day cards as well as my great-grandfather’s Independent Order of Odd Fellows memorabilia, just to name a few. We’ve come to the point in our collecting where something really has to strike hard for us to buy more. We question, “How will this piece inspire our art and music?” rather than just expanding a collection.

rreeves_gardenofgrief

In 2018, your Garden of Grief collection was exhibited and sold through the Creeping Museum (whom I love dearly, I think they do such good work!) How was your experience with that? Can you share anything about that particular collection and how that collaboration was born?

The moment I met Alyssa, she found a special place in my heart. When I was introduced to her tiny museum, I knew right then that I had to be a part of what she created. The night of the opening was so memorable and she made me feel special. The series came from a memory of my great-grandmother’s art. When I was little, I remember a beaded bouquet of flowers that she made on her kitchen windowsill. She was an incredibly talented potter, painter, bead artisan and everything in between. From this memory, I began researching and creating beaded flowers with a lot of trial and error. The title to the series came naturally from my heart. As difficult as it was to part with them, I wanted to incorporate some of my dad’s milk glass collection into the series. They then became the foundation for the sculptures.

To give your poor hands a break from all the obsessive stitching, intricate beading and tiny wire wrapping that you do for your art, what sort of things do you get up to in your spare time when you are not creating?

Well, you would think I would try and relax my hands and elbows, but no. There just isn’t enough time to get it all done. My brain never stops and our house to-do list posted on the refrigerator just gets longer and longer. I have the most patient husband and he goes with the flow on all of my crazy ideas. He has banned me, though, from renting any more heavy equipment due to my obsession with moving boulders.

One of my favorite things equivalent to creating art is home design/décor and organizing. I love to rearrange the furniture placement and I specifically designed our home with limited interior walls just for this reason. I adore structure magazines and thank my grandmother for this appreciation. She and I shared subscriptions for decades, earmarking our favorite pages and then discussing how we would incorporate them into our homes. My heart grows heavy when I look at them today without her. My family is everything and taking care of them is first priority. Enjoying a night out to dinner with my love at our favorite haunt or just sitting next to each other in our chairs, watching comedies over and over brings me joy. Spending time with my mom, either working on going through our loved ones’ possessions, having lunch at our favorite teahouse or just simply talking about the daily happenings. Time spent together no matter what we do is precious.

rreeves_untilthen

Are there any gallery shows or exhibits where we may see your work right now, or perhaps further into 2019?

Currently, I am working on a few new pieces that will be exhibiting in two different shows at Gristle Gallery in Brooklyn this year. At the same time, I’m in the beginning stages of a new piece for an upcoming show at Arch Enemy Arts Gallery in August. I’m thrilled to announce that “Slipping Below,” the two-woman exhibition with Danielle Schlunegger-Warner, is now traveling to the West Coast to Ghost Gallery in September. Also, I’ll be vending at a few different venues this year including the upcoming Oddities Market in Chicago, where I received my graduate degree. I’m excited to see the city again.

Can you share any projects that are percolating, or ideas that are coalescing for the upcoming year?

I’m working on the gathering stages for a ghosted sea captain series. It is a continuation of the work that is dedicated to my dad and his service in the Navy. There isn’t a planned venue as of yet, but I have been mind-sketching this series since the close of the “Slipping Below” exhibition at the end of last year. New wearable pieces and tiny originals, incorporating beaded flowers and porcelain hands are brewing for a couple of the upcoming markets this year. When grief and anxieties get the best of me, I find that my greatest distraction is collecting materials and working out ideas in my mind. It helps me justify that I’m still being productive during emotionally hard times.

Find Rebecca Reeves: website // instagram // shop

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7 Jun
2019

moonflesh

Long for the love of fragrance and flowers, more recently enamored with the charms of our eight-legged friends– any variation on this trio of fascinations combines to create such a profound artistic treat for me! Such were my musings when I contacted Lyla of Moon Flesh to inquire as to her interest in recreating, in elegance and embroidery, an other-needled variation on a similar piece of art acquired two years ago this August from Black Veil Tattoo.

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I love my work from the brothers Murray so much–they translated the idea so exquisitely, so perfectly–but as it’s on the back of my neck I obviously can’t spend a lot of time looking at it.  I thought it might be lovely to have another artist’s take on the concept for a version that I don’t have to spin my head around like an owl or demon-possessed body, to see and appreciate. Thank you, Lyla, for making this happen!

Now… what manner or medium of this mania will follow? Graphite? An oil painting? Water color? Papercut? Photo recreation? Hm….!
What beautiful genius shall I connect with in the oncoming months, to create the next addition of this beloved theme?

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