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

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

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

From the artist’s site:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What future projects are you planning?

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

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

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

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

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Here is the ChurchThis article was originally published at Haute Macabre in March of 2017.

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

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

Here is the Steeple

Of My Abandon

slouching of grace

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

Heretics

Lucifer's Landing

How_Hath_Thou_Fallen

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

Nicomi Nix Turner new work

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

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

 

Transmutation of the Fruit

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

Find Nicomi Nix Turner Website // Instagram // Twitter 

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Pleasures-of-the-Imagination-and-Single-Note

 Today at Haute Macabre I dive into the smutty, salacious glory that is Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Lupercalia collection. Whether you see these lurid delights as a dare, or as merely as a to-do list, and no matter how singular your tastes may be, there is all manner of delightful debauchery here to appeal to aficionados of arousing, amusing aromatic experiences from the smut peddlers at BPAL

Psssst…there’s an obscenely generous giveaway, as well <3

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Pulse

On Saturday I had the distinct honor to talk with with my good friend Gus for Story Corps about the Pulse tragedy in Orlando last June. We discuss grief, survivor’s guilt, intersectionality and death care, among other things.

Gus writes about it at Death In The Gay Den today, where you will find a link to the entire interview, I hope you’ll take a moment to listen.

I should also note that, although she doesn’t remember telling me this, my sister encouraged me several years ago to “do one thing every day that scares you”. I was freaking out so badly about this that I think it should count as three days worth of anxiety-inducing initiatives!

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Pam Grossman2

Perhaps you know of Pam Grossman because you are a fellow enthusiast of fantastical art and ardently admire her blog, Phantasmaphile wherein she curates incredible esoteric imagery. You may have stumbled across her prescient proclamation that 2013 was “The Year of The Witch” and felt energized and empowered at the long overdue celebration for this powerful feminine archetype. You may have heard her name in relation to the Occult Humanities Conference at NYU, or attended her numinous Language of the Birds show, an exhibition that traced over 100 years of occult art.  You may have been utterly entranced by her collaboration with Tin Can Forest, an illuminated manifesto titled What Is A Witch, or resonated with her sagacious writings for the Maiden and Mother issues of Sabat Magazine. Or perhaps you are fortunate enough to call this wise, magic woman a friend.

Or quite possibly you do not know Pam at all and it by quirk of fate that you have stumbled upon our interview with her today. It won’t take you long to become completely in awe of this luminous human, I assure you. Read on for our spirited discussion with this independent curator, writer, and lifelong student of magical practices for her thoughts on witchcraft and the occult as it relates to art, activism, and anger, and what it means to be a woman with power. In addition, we are beyond thrilled that Pam has shared with us her extraordinary “Ritual For The Rebirth Of A Republic”.

Top photo credit: Shannon Taggart

The Love Witch


Haute Macabre: You have very recently curated, along with creative cohorts, Janaka Stucky and Peter Bebergal, “Dead of Winter“, a series of magical movies which explore witchcraft and the occult in cinema. For those who were unable to grab their broomsticks and join you at this rare event, I’m wondering if you can share some brief highlights on the films you introduced, and what it was about the stories/characters/cinematic experience that made you think “aha, now this is something I have got to include!”

Pam Grossman: Curating this festival has been a dream come true. Between Janaka, Peter, Ned Hinkle (who heads up the Brattle), and myself, we came up with a towering list of favorite occult films that we felt excited to share. It was important to us that there was a good balance between witchcraft and ceremonial magick films, and that we covered a range of time periods and aesthetic sensibilities. Ned had the none-too-easy task of whittling down our list based first and foremost on logistics (i.e. which prints he could track down in time), and then he organized it into a beautifully cohesive arc, pairing films together that had interesting thematic links or, in some cases, counterpoints.

As to my specific input, most of my contributions explore the icon of the witch, albeit from several different angles. I included recent films like The Witch and The Love Witch, both of which approach the archetype from a decidedly 21st century – and I might argue consciously feminist – point-of-view (despite their stories taking place approximately 400 years apart). Their protagonists each experience a sort self-actualization of a sort, even if their final circumstances end up being somewhat ambiguous. Whereas films like Season of the Witch, Burn Witch Burn, and Bell, Book, and Candle are definite reflections of the social mores of their times. What unifies all of these films is that they each ask questions about what it means to be a female with power. Each of these witch stories has elements of danger and delight, and I think each represents the tension between those two poles in its own unique way.

I was particularly excited to get to see the newly restored 1970s Japanese X-rated animated film, Belladonna of Sadness, on the big screen. It is such a wild and gorgeous phantasmagoria, and it still manages to shock people, 40 years on. It’s based on Michelet’s book, La Sorcière, from 1862, and viewing it it feels like watching a pornographic version of the European witch hunts on psychedelics.

[above photo: Film still from The Love Witch]

Pam Grossman Coven


You have spoken before on how the witch remains a dynamic archetype with new facets that we are continuing to learn about and explore. In 2017 witches have emerged from the hedges and have taken to the streets; crowds of cloaks and capes were captured in arresting photos from back in January, witches out in full force, post-inauguation, using their power to protect and protest in a very public way. While I am not certain that this is a wholly new aspect of the archetype, can you speak to how it may be different than what we have seen previously, and what we can learn from the witch’s role as activist?

A lot of credit should go to W.I.T.C.H., the 2nd wave feminist activist group from the 1960s and 70s. They were a group of women who would dress up like witches and do public art protests and performance pieces, like hexing the New York Stock Exchange. Their actions were humorous and irreverent, and used the image of the witch to symbolize visible, marginal, powerful women.

I was very heartened to see a lot of witch-themed protest signage at the Women’s Marches, as well as a revival of W.I.T.C.H. springing up in Portland and other cities. Some of these women are using magical tropes in tongue-in-cheek ways, and some are being 100% literal. There are young feminist chicks sending stylized smoke signals, and there are serious pracitioners of Wicca and other Pagan paths who are both using similar language. But whether or not someone with a “Hex the Patriarchy!” sign is going to actually do a Trump binding spell at home is sort of beside the point for me. It’s about reclaiming the “nasty woman” moniker, and embracing alternative versions of femaleness which make space for us to be loud and sovereign and totally free. I think it all matters, and it all makes a difference.

[Photo credit: Laura Desmond]

Pam Grossman ritual

 

Pam Grossman’s Ritual For The Rebirth of a Republic


Ritual for the Rebirth of a Republic

You’ll need a candle, and any other sacred objects you wish.  I’ve been putting a small copy of the Constitution of my altar lately, next to images of deities who help me feel fortified and inspired, and special objects including jewelry which I’d like charged so I can carry the spell’s energy with me when I need it.

As you speak the following words, it’s all the better if you can face the appropriate direction before you utter each section:

Welcome, Air in the East, direction of new beginnings.  Thank you for blessing us as we recommit ourselves to the country, to the planet, and to our highest purpose.  Blessed be.

Welcome, Fire in the South, direction of passionate will.  Thank you for keeping us steadily fueled, so that our flames stay lit, and do not burn out. Blessed be.

Welcome, Water in the West, direction of dissolution.  Thank you for washing away all that is no longer serving us, so that we might flow forward and forge new pathways. Blessed be.

Welcome, Earth in the North, direction of green wisdom.  Thank you for teaching us that you are precious, that our bodies are precious, and both are abundant and enough. Blessed be.

Welcome, Ancestors of Below, direction of the sacred depths.  Thank you for helping us turn behind and within, so we may learn from the brave freedom fighters who came before us, and so we know that they dwell inside our selves. Blessed be.

Welcome, Guides of Above, direction of infinite possibilities.  Thank you for helping us look ahead and outside, so that we may follow your light of hope, and expand our own imaginations to dream up better ways of being. Blessed be.

Welcome, Sacred Center, direction of holy mysteries.  Thank you for showing us that in death there is life, that in life there is endless transformation, and that love is the most powerful magick of all. Blessed be.

The circle is cast.  We are between worlds.

Light the candle.

I light this candle to Libertas, Goddess of Freedom.

Oh Columbia, oh Marianne, oh Eleutheria, oh Artemis, or any other name of your liking, may you please keep your torch ignited, so that we may find illumination during this dark time.

May you help us lift up our most vulnerable, and shine light in the margins, so that we may not overlook our sisters and brothers who dwell in shadow.

Please help us find our fiercest and most unflagging strength, so that we may neither give up or give in during the long struggle ahead.

Thank you for helping us know that our bodies are sovereign and self-belonging, and that our genders, our sexualities, our physicalities, our skins, are each holy and whole exactly as they are.

Please let those who would seek domination, exploitation, or destruction of others and of our planet awaken swiftly to radical compassion or else to harmless obsolescence.

Thank you for reminding us that no one can save us but ourselves, and that we each have the responsibility of using our unique gifts to help usher in a new age of glory.

And thank you for teaching us that liberty is love, love is liberty, and that the path of kindness, laughter, truth, and empathy will forever be chosen by the just and the good.

Thank you, Libertas, for your guidance and your blessings. May we all be worthy of wearing your crown.

Blessed be.

Keep the candle lit for as long as you are able. If you must leave it unattended, simply snuff out (don’t blow), and then relight at another time. Once candle has completely burned down, you may bury the remaining wax underground, or otherwise dispose of in the ritualized manner of your choosing.

When this is complete, reopen the circle of the spell. Simply repeat the call of 7 directions in the opposite order, saying Thank you, instead of Welcome, starting with the Center e.g. “Thank you, Sacred Center…”

Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again.

[Photo credit: Pam Grossman]

Pam Grossman

Photo credit: Shannon Taggart


I believe it was with regard to the learning and absorption of magical/spiritual studies versus the practical application of that knowledge that you remarked, in an interview in 2013, “…but if you’re not going to try and figure out how to be loving and of service in the day-to-day, I’m not interested”. I love that sentiment. 
I love how it cuts right through the etherous woo woo mysticism and gets right to the meaty heart of things, where the real work begins. In light of our current political climate and considering the frightening, violent, unstable atmosphere that we find ourselves in right now, what are some of your suggestions for integrating one’s magical practices into the service of the day to day? For keeping one’s self grounded and getting one’s hands dirty?

I know the word “self-care” is being skipped on the pond a lot these days, and it’s a bit of a smooshy word that some have an aversion to. But the concept is crucial. We need service and self-care in equal measure, because you can’t sustain any sort of resistance movement without taking time to recharge your batteries and be rooted in yourself. Spiritual practice is key for me to be able to stay focused on what is actually important, and to center myself – not only within my own mind and body, but within my place in this whole interdependent ecosystem we call home.

So many of us are currently grappling with how to stay engaged while not being completely overwhelmed or paralyzed. The bad news has been relentless. But checking out entirely is not a viable option for anyone who cares about this country or this planet as far as I’m concerned. We must figure out a way to keep ourselves strong and blazing, and then use that energy to take action. Channeling the force of the witch has been extremely fortifying for me in my life – and is now moreso than ever. I light candles on my altar, take salt baths to help me cleanse and ground, connect with my deities who remind me that I, too, am divine and brave. And I ask for help, guidance, protection. I give thanks for the many blessings I have in my life. And I try and touch into that timeless, sacred space that is within us and around us always.

But then I do the bodied work: calling my reps, donating money to causes I care about, marching, educating myself, sharing information I find to be useful for resistance. These spiritual practices help me remember that I have power to make change, right here and now in the material world.

Tin Can Forest


On the other side of that though, we are not all light and sharing and loving kindness and radical empathy all the time, and you’ve mentioned the importance of honoring all of our complexity and shadow and mess–I’d love to hear your thoughts on feeding and self-care of these shadow sides.

Anger is something that we’re not “supposed” to show – especially if we’re female. But I have been really fucking angry, and I think it’s important for us to let ourselves feel that and own that. The key is to not let it burn you from within. You’ve got to use it to illuminate the way forward.

And in my darkest moments I try to link with goddesses like Kali and Tlazolteotl. These are deities whose great gift is their darkness, their destruction, their filth. They turn pain and decay into creation and purity, but it’s a hell of a rough ride during the process. So I hope that what we’re experiencing now is what the alchemists referred to as the “nigredo” – the death that must occur when transmuting something base into gold.

[Illustration from What Is A Witch by Pam Grossman and Tin Can Forest]

Leonora Carrington


When I first found your blog, it was through a series of art-related Google searches, and in perusing the fantastical, esoteric imagery you share via Phantasmaphile, I realized I had not only uncovered a very special corner of the internet for occult visuals and creativity, but I also discovered a wonderful human with a passion for enchantments and word-witchery and all manner of otherworldly beauty. On a personal level, because all of these things delight and nourish my soul as well, can you tell us how art and poetry play a part in your magical practices?

Thank you for saying that. I started Phantasmaphile 11 years ago, because I loved magic and I loved art and culture, but I couldn’t find a place online that celebrated those places where the two rub up against each other and cause a spark. So I decided to create one myself.

I’ve been a voracious reader since I was very little, and I have also always loved to write and make art. At the same time, I’ve always been very attracted to magical ideas. It used to be that if I found that sweet spot where art and magic met, I thought it was this rare overlap that merited celebration. So the female surrealists like Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington were thrilling to encounter as a teen, because they seemed to be fluent in the same symbolic language that I was learning myself.

But the longer I’ve been involved with this material, the more I realize that art and magic may in fact be one and the same. That individual creativity with intention is perhaps the most potent spellcraft we have. It is personal and emotional, it comes from the realm of mystery, it makes the invisible visible, and it causes real transformation for both the viewer and the maker.

[“The Giantess”, Leonora Carrington]

What is a Witch


A fantastic example of the sublime magics afoot at the intersection of art and poetry and witchcraft is your collaboration with artists Tin Can Forest, What Is A Witch. Described as an “illuminated incantation, a crystalline invocation, a lovingly-crafted celebration of the world’s most magical icon,” your wild, witty, utterly transformative book engages and enchants a reader like nothing I have ever encountered. Can you tell us how this marvelous manifesto came to be?

Definitely a case of stars aligning. Tin Can Forest (who are Pat Shewchuk and Marek Colek, a wife and husband collaborative art duo from Canada) reached out to me because they were fans of my blog, and they sent me some of their comics. I fell head over heels with their work, and posted about them on my blog. And at that point, I’d been doing a lot of writing and presenting about witches, and I felt called to write something that celebrated her many aspects and gifts in a lyrical way. I should also say that I am a huge comics fan, and one of my dreams has been to work in that medium somehow. So short story long, I asked them if they’d be interested in working on something together. And I am still over the moon that they said yes!

We met shortly after that when they were in town for Brooklyn Comic Arts fest in November of 2015, and hit it off. And thank goodness, really, because we had already agreed to do this. But from there on out it was very much a trust exercise. I wrote the text for it and sent it off to them, and luckily they seemed to really connect to it. And then they squirreled themselves away for a few months in Victoria to make the art for it. We had very little input in each other’s processes. But I think it’s safe to say that all three of us couldn’t be happier with the results. I was very overcome when I saw the utterly splendid pictures they put to my words. It exceeded my hopes.

[Cover Art from What Is A Witch by Pam Grossman and Tin Can Forest]

Brujas and Familiars, Rebecca Artemesia

“Brujas and Familiars”, Rebecca Artemesia

Art–whether visual, or music, or the written word–can heal or inspire or spark a raging fire in us, which is very much a kind of magic itself, as you mentioned previously. In this vein, I’d love to hear about the artful magics, the books, or poetry, albums or movies, etc., that have bespelled you lately.

Absolutely. There is so much I could list here, so for the sake of brevity and sanity, I’ll just list a few things which have been enchanting me lately.

Books:

  • Diane di Prima’s La Loba poems. I’ve loved this book since I was young, but have felt drawn to revisit it to get in touch with my inner she-wolf. Very necessary in these times.
  • Janaka Stucky’s early book of poems, The World Will Deny It For You, which he just gifted me with this past weekend. His writing is ecstatic and erotic and harsh and succulent.
  • I just reread two of my favorite childhood books, Roald Dahl’s Matilda and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time. Good reminders that magic and smarts can triumph over evil.
  • Pema Chodron’s books offer deep anchoring during trying times, and her book Living Beautifully was a lifeline for me right after the election.
  • I read David Mitchell’s first book, Ghostwritten, and it floored me. The chapter about the Holy Mountain in particular is just exquisite.
  • And I just finished Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, which is a gorgeous and challenging meditation on love, gender, and creativity.
  • Lastly, I am anxiously awaiting all of the Leonora Carrington short story collections coming out later this year, as well a book of Remedios Varo’s writings. It makes me giddy to think of them.

Films:

  • In addition to the ones I mentioned above, I really loved The Duke of Burgundy
  • Embrace of the Serpent
  • Moonlight
  • Moana
  • And I am still crazy for Museum Hours, even though it’s been a while since I first watched it. I think about it all the time though: it’s such a testament to the idea of the museum as a temple or palace for the soul.

Music:

There are too many to even begin to list fine art-wise, so I’ll just quickly say Winona Regan, Rebecca Artemisa, Daria Tessler, Andrea Joyce Heimer, and Paula Duró have been really ringing my bell lately. I’m all about unapologetic exuberance, especially lately.

And lastly–do you have any upcoming events or speaking engagements that you would like folks to be aware of, or any further magical projects or writings that we can look forward to?

I keep saying I’m going to stop taking on short-term projects so I can focus on the book that I’m trying to finally write. But then wonderful opportunities like the occult film fest come up, and they’re too good to turn down!

So other than that, I have an essay about the crone archetype in the next issue of Sabat magazine, an introduction essay that I wrote for Taisia Kitaiskaia and Katy Horan’s beauteous Literary Witches book coming out in October, and quite possibly an exhibition that I’ll be co-curating in the fall which I’m hashing out details for now. And then my friend Jesse Bransford and I have to start planning the 3rd Occult Humanities Conference at NYU as well. So lots cooking in the cauldron to be sure.

Find Pam Grossman: Website // Phantasmaphile // Twitter // Instagram

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harrycrosby
Harry Crosby and unidentified woman, Four Arts Ball, Paris

Yet it was precisely in his character … to invest all his loyalty and energy in magic: at first the approved magic of established religion; later the witchwork of poetry and sun worship; finally the black mass of violence” -Geoffrey Wolf, Author of Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby

Harry Crosby – self indulgent socialite, tortured poet, wealthy mystic …. a playboy who lived his life with reckless abandon – was a man both adored and reviled. He has been described by some as “a representative figure of the so-called Lost Generation”, the bohemian 1920s.

A godson of J.P. Morgan Jr., Harry was a Harvard graduate and a decorated war veteran, who had left school to become an ambulance driver in France with his upper-crust chums during World War I. He ended up with the Croix de Guerre for valor and, after a few frustrating years back in Boston, fled to Paris for the rest of his short life. Married in 1922 to Mary Phelps Jacob, known as “Caresse”, they lived the “ultimate Bohemian lives as poets, artists, and patrons in Paris in the 1920’s. To every adventure their answer was always ‘yes’.” Harry once sent a telegram from Paris to his father, the quintessential sober, patriarch, which read, “Please sell $10,000 worth in stock. We intend to live a mad and extravagant life.”

While living and writing in Paris Harry Crosby founded The Black Sun Press, one of the “finest small presses of the twentieth century”.   In 1924, the Crosbys went public with their first book. The following year, they each published their first collections of verse. Harry commissioned Alastair – a “spectacularly camp” German creator of beautifully decadent and Gothic fantasies – to illustrate his second collection, Red Skeletons.  Soon they were issuing works by other writers, including Poe, James, Wilde, Joyce and D. H. Lawrence.

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Color plate from Red Skeletons, by artist Alastair

On December 10, 1929, Harry was found in bed with a .25 caliber bullet hole in his right temple next to his mistress, the newly married Josephine Bigelow who had a matching hole in her left temple, in an apparent suicide pact. Harry’s toenails were painted red and strange symbols were tattooed between his shoulder blades and on the soles of his feet. A lover of dark mysteries to the last, he left no suicide note. London’s Daily Mirror speculated on psychological motives, while New York’s Daily News blamed poetry and passion: “Death itself had been the motive, others speculated, just as aspiring poet Harry’s life had been his greatest artwork.”

We recently caught up with Erik Rodgers, founder of String and a Can Productions, and director of The Black Sun: The Life and Death of Harry Crosby, who provides his own insight into Harry Crosby’s strange, short life and speaks to what makes the man such a fascinating study.

How did you come to decide Harry Crosby might make good material for a play – what it was about him or his life that inspired you, or what aspect of him you were hoping to shed more light on? How did you come across him to begin with?

Erik Rodgers: I actually came upon Caresse first, while developing a project on Salvador Dalí.  [My business partner] was intrigued by the idea of such an accomplished and independent female from that era, and started researching her life.   Of course as soon as she began reading about Caresse, she discovered Harry as well.  Their story captured her imagination, and she began relating to me some of the details as she read them. We both felt there was something vital and overlooked in their story, something that had been obscured by all the scandal and negative criticism.

Over the next few months, I sat down with Geoffrey Wolff’s incredibly well researched biography, as well as several works on Caresse.  Time and again, I was struck by the incredible amount of negativity, dismissiveness and judgement that surrounded Harry and Caresse.  Even Mr. Wolff felt it necessary to defend and explain away his decision to dignify Harry with the full biographical treatment.   I felt disappointed by the apologia of an afterward he wrote for the nyrb edition.  After all, from our contemporary vantage point, considering the near century of work and popular culture that has followed, Harry hardly seems shocking…

I didn’t immediately resolve to write about Harry, but he stayed in my mind for some time.  Still a bit of an enigma, I felt the vital pulse of his life, his work, but had yet to find a context for it.  It was several months later, when encouraged by Devin and some friends to develop a project for us all to work on, that the idea of the play struck.

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image via String and a Can Productions, artist Egon Scheile

How did you find the process to be for this particular medium, translating Harry’s life/works into material for the stage? Are there any other projects you have in mind for Harry Crosby?

By limiting the play to three characters, Harry, Caresse, and Josephine, and using the stage as more of an abstract space, I set out to let the characters observe, confront and relive specific moments across time and space. It was a way, I felt, to do more than relate their story, or explore Harry’s personal mythos. It was a way to deconstruct, unlock, and hopefully reclaim them back into our collective consciousness.

I began reading Harry’s work in earnest once I resolved to write the play, including his diaries Shadows of the Sun. This era was a specialty of mine back in college (Lawrence, Hemingway, Joyce et al) and I was surprised that I hadn’t really encountered Harry’s work before. I found that the more I read, the more powerful … Harry’s vision became. It is indeed difficult to sum up Harry’s work by sharing a poem or a line here or there. There is a cumulative effect to the work, something remarked upon in Eliot’s essay on Harry. As a result, I used a lot of Harry’s own work as source material, crafting scenes from poems or diary entries. I did this not only to keep true to the story, but also to hopefully let Harry’s vision unfold over the length of the play. It was important to me to let them be taken on their own terms, by their own ambitions and their own vision. In many ways, to me that was what Harry’s life was about.

[…]In writing the play, however, I also wanted to wrestle with the very human aspect of their lives as well– the volatility of Harry, the toll that took on Caresse, the anguish in Josephine that found some answer in Harry’s elaborate mythos. Harry and Caresse’s own depictions of their lives are always a little unsatisfying to our modern sensibilities in that they don’t submit to easy psychological types. Questions linger about who they were, even after you’d heard all the juicy details. How much did the war or Harry’s Dad play into his tumultuous behavior? Were Caresse’s attempts to leave sincere? Was she a bit relieved at his final passing? Who pulled the trigger first, Harry or Josephine? How did that fateful meeting transpire, exactly? These are some of the mysteries that propel the story.

On a personal note, this last October, I had the pleasure of visiting the Athenaeum in Boston and arranging a viewing some of the original Black Sun Books. The experience was striking in two ways in particular. I was struck with the strange power of viewing such rare texts that had been made with such care. From the gold wrapping of Transit of Venus, to the uncut folio pages of Torchbearers, it was as if you were viewing something sacred. In an era of mass printing, it’s hard to imagine the power such handcrafted books can have. The other thing that struck me in viewing the books was a feeling of direct connection with Harry and Caresse, something I had strived for through the research and the writing. This reaffirmed my convictions about them that underlined the play, and reinforced for me the importance of their story.

I have also just completed composing a series of music inspired by Harry’s work and the play. You’ve heard some of the temp tracks on the page for the play, but I’ve now completed the cycle and am looking to make a live recording of it all.

In addition to the original site for the play, there’s also a larger effort underway to commemorate and honor the legacy of Harry and Caresse. Info on the nascent Black Sun Theatre Foundation can be found here.

Harry Crosby’s Black Sun was originally published at Coilhouse on March 16, 2010.

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Stacked

 : Over at Haute Macabre you can peek to see what Samantha, Erin, Maika, Sonya and I have been reading over the past 28 days! While I thrilled to every word of one of the books I read, the other piqued my ire frequently. Curious as to my thoughts? Visit Haute Macabre to read more! And be sure to tell me what you’ve been reading, in the comments.
{image: Bill Crisafi for BloodMilk Exquisite Corpse “The Comfort of Dust”.}

AuralFixation

…and also, while we’re at it, Haute Macabre rolled out my favorite new feature this evening, in which we all blather on about the sounds we currently have on heavy rotation:

 Aural Fixation.

{art provided by Becky Munich}

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Creepy-cookbooks1

Grim Gastronomy, Creepy Cuisine: A Macabre Cookbook Collection

At Haute Macabre this week, I talk about some very important things: my cookbook collection. Let no one say that I don’t have my priorities straight!

TL;DR The cookbooks listed in this article are: Feeding Hannibal: A Connoisseur’s CookbookDamn Fine Cherry Pie: And Other Recipes from TV’s Twin PeaksDeath Warmed Over: Funeral Food, Rituals, and Customs from Around the WorldThe Decadent Cookbook: Recipes of Obsession and ExcessDeath & Co. Classic Modern CocktailsChas Addams Half-Baked CookbookThe Dark Shadows CookbookSon of the Martini Cookbook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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VEIL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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