With dark, classic imagery that hearkens back to some of your favorite science-fantasy Heavy Metal Magazine art, or the pulpy, cosmic horror-tinged style of a particularly lurid used bookstore H.P. Lovecraft paperback — you know, the one with the eyeball we all have on our shelf — Burke’s art feels both deceptively familiar and fabulously strange.
Although raised in a restrictive religious environment where this type of subject matter was off-limits, Burke speaks of a childhood-and-beyond love for the excitement and visceral energy of those 20th century fantasy illustrations, and taps into that sense of passion and intensity for the custom, commissioned works he produces for musicians and bands. Burke, who acknowledges that this older fantasy-style art is oftentimes relegated to the realm of schlock and kitsch, admits that while he brings his own tongue-in-cheek approach to his creations, he also attempts to give them a sense of beauty, grace, and mystery.
“…FANTASY AND DARK SUBJECT MATTER,” BURKE REMARKS, “CAN ACCESS OUR DEEP FEARS AND MOTIVATIONS, AS WELL AS PRESENT A SENSE OF MYSTERY OR UNKNOWN IN A WORLD WHERE THE UNKNOWN SEEMS TO BE EVER-SHRINKING.”
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, Adam Burke spent a great deal of time in the woods. As an adult he has come to find that is still where he prefers to be. A science nerd enthralled with plants, fungus, geology, and ecology, he believes that there is infinite inspiration in nature and natural processes.
This fascination with the myriad wonders of the natural world and the flora and fauna which inhabit within is expressed in the name of his website. According to Burke, Nightjars are birds in the genus Caprimulgus. They are beautiful, but seldom seen, mostly nocturnal birds that have gorgeous markings and a distinct flight pattern. His fascination is also glimpsed in his more personal works: dim-lit, moody landscapes of craggy cliffs and marshy bogs shrouded in mists, populated with woodland creatures and wanderers alike. All are seen through the vaporous veil of a haunting dream, perhaps an entirely different world, or another time.
Burke muses that this otherworldly quality stems from his tendency to be a daydreamer, and perhaps from a bit of a disconnect with the world of humans. Noting that, “I’m a humanist, and I think we’re capable of amazing things. I value my friends and family more than anything in life,” he then went on to say, “I think humankind’s presence in this world is increasingly destructive and meaningless. I use art as a form of escape; to create a place or feeling that I wish existed or where I wish I was.”
A musician himself, Burke reflects that as an adult, he started creating art again when he returned to playing music. After a period of time when his creativity was channeled into some more practical pursuits, his life began to fall apart in “some pretty major ways.” As a result, he found that his creativity, (his “art brain”), was much easier to access, and art and music became his comfort zone.
As to which medium he prefers–visual or sonic– he notes that while painting gives him the platform to explore his deepest interests and impulses, nothing compares to the thrill of playing music with people whom you love, to an audience who’s participating in that electrifying energy.
And so, Burke began playing music and making art for his band, Fellwoods. “I wanted to create nature-inspired fantasy pieces because we drew from ’60s/’70s psychedelic and heavy music, so I taught myself to paint,” Burke reveals. “Other bands saw the art I created for Fellwoods and started asking about commissioned work, so I just kept going with it. Now it’s my living.”
(This article was originally posted at Dirge; the site is no longer active.)
UK-based multidisciplinary artist and spooky doodler Lozzy Bones (Lauren Hellier) captures all manner of exquisitely deathly imagery in her stark, stylized monochromatic style. Taking inspiration from Victoriana, anatomical illustration, flora and fauna, and antique woodcuts, these illustrations–though morbid of subject matter and precise of blackened pen stroke–delight with a subtle, cheeky gallows humor.
A lover of the macabre with a penchant for the theatrical, Lozzy Bones has an infatuation with what she calls, “the aesthetic of older times when craftsmanship was valued and beauty was just a given.” If her works appear familiar to you, no doubt it is because you have peeped the design work she has created for many of Dirge’s favorite deathlings–among them the beautiful logo for Sarah Troop’s Death & The Maiden blog as well as the adorable fetal Cupid Skeleton for Carla Valentine’s Dead Meet site!
For more of this bloody talented lady’s wares, visit both her bigcartelshop, as well as her Instagram for the insanely beautiful brooches and jewelry she has created. Need to level up your creepy wardrobe? Maybe you would prefer to wear your anatomical heart specimen on your sleeve? Check out Lozzy Bones’ sinister swag over at Killstarfor an eerie ensemble to keep company with the skeletons in your closet.
(This article was originally posted at Dirge; the site is no longer active.)
Earlier we delved into diabolical female-fronted rock bands whose music, laced with references to arcane arts, pagan rituals, and Luciferian principles, conjure doom-laden dalliances with the dark one.
We explored the alchemical doom of Jex Thoth, the menacing spell woven by Lucifer, the progressive flute-driven Blood Ceremony, the folk psychedelia of Purson, and the acid-rock magic of Jess and the Ancient Ones. Naturally, these sirens’ songs planted a Satanic seed in our readers’ souls. A shadowy need was thus borne, and a great cry arose for more hellish sounds from the likes of these infernal female rockers.
We live to serve, dear reader. Whether you’ve a wicked desire for dramatic vocal pyrotechnics, subdued sylvan incantations, funerary sludge, or high energy headbanging hexcraft, the following sonic shamans and seers are some of the hexiest, witchiest, badass women of occult rock.
Front woman Christine Davis’ powerful vocals rasp and howl amidst no-frills, grandiose heavy metal firepower that pays enthusiastic sonic homage to those that came before.
Ides of Gemini
Ides of Gemini, a “dream doom” trio led by the spectral vocals of Sera Timms (also of Black Mare and the now defunct Black Math Horseman) serves up hazy, lo-fi, utterly crushing despair and desperation as sung by a moody choir of dark seraphim.
Karyn Crisis’ Gospel of the Witches
Karyn Crisis’ voice –alternating between vicious, demonic growls and tender, angelic coos– is a sonic study in contrasts and is noted as being one of the most iconic in the extreme metal scene. This dynamic front-woman –a seeker, shaman, witch, and healer– blasts listeners with a bombastic atmosphere encapsulating both harmony and chaos, and songs which “twist and turn into darkness and then transmute into heartbreaking beauty and light.” To read more about the force of nature that is Karyn Crisis, check out my interview with her at Haute Macabre.
Mount Salem’s sound is one of soporific yet strangely groovy sludge. Tinged with an eerie edge of mounting hysteria from vocalist Emily Kopplin’s high, mournful voice, it coalesces to conjure some nightmarishly memorable jams.
Boasting an impassioned voice howling with harrowing desperation and spitting intensity, bayou banshee Mlny Parsonz of Atlanta’s Royal Thunder brings the bluesy, southern gothic, 1970s metal darkness.
Ruby The Hatchet
Ruby The Hatchet entices the listener to revel in compelling psych rock energy, thunderous melodies, and the sullen allure of Jillian Taylor’s voice. It’s a hypnotic, hallucinogenic, headbanging invitation and one I guarantee you can’t refuse.
Sabbath Assembly was originally formed to proselytize “psychic liberation rather than entrapment” as it related to a doomed apocalyptic cult: the obscure religious splinter group known as the Process Church of the Final Judgment. Since re-imagined and reinvented, and minus the freaky liturgical pieces, they’re still serving up a strangely potent chalice of searingly dark, unearthly sounds accompanied by Jamie Meyers’ poisonously unsettling vocals.
There’s hauntingly powerful imagery evoked in the doom-laden balladry of Salt Lake City’s SubRosa. Vocalist Rebecca Vernon intones gloomily on themes of sorrow, struggle, and death, while guitars thickly drone and violins moan along with a dreary elegance. Notes Vernon on the funereal subject matter: “We’re into the idea of unseen forces, the unseen world. We’ve always had big questions about the way things work and a natural suspicion of artifice… The reason death is probably a natural theme for us is because it is the opposite of artifice.”
(This article was originally posted at Dirge; the site is no longer active.)
On a day nearing the end of summer, during a violent late afternoon thunderstorm common to east coast FL that time of year, I took refuge in a dim corner of the library. I was 9 or 10 years of age at the time, and I had wandered away from the young adult section where I usually selected the books I would read for the week.
I distinctly recall finding a small, worn paperback nearly hidden between two rather bland tomes of adult literature; the cracked spine laced with embossed vines and thorns had caught my attention and I gingerly drew it forth for closer examination. The shadowy darkness of the tattered cover provided the backdrop for a beveled tower, back lit by the moon and away from which a pale faced and wan young woman fled, her ruffled peignoir trailing and tangling behind her.
Though my choice of reading material was never censored at home I instinctively felt that this mysterious book would prove to be not quite… wholesome – corrupt, even. That there was something inexplicably illicit contained in the tale told within. And with that, even before the first page was turned, before the first word was read – I had discovered a great literary love. I’ve long since forgotten the name of the book and the details of the story, but I will always remember how my heart pounded to see the sheer terror conveyed on that woman’s face and wonder breathlessly…what was she running away from?
Ghosts, phantoms and strange sinister spirits. Abandoned monasteries, isolated castles. Brooding, mysterious gentleman. Wild, turbulent love and bitter betrayals. Fearful family curses. Dreams, illusions, obsessions, murders.
This is just a small list from the top of my head of the themes I’ve since encountered in these gothic tales of romance and for all I remember, she could have been fleeing any number of them!
Sara over at My Love Haunted Heart is “crazy about vintage gothic romance”; she is a connoisseur and collector of lurid paperback novels and shares my passion for these torrid tales. When I found her blog with hundred of scans of bewitching, beguiling cover arts and detailed descriptions of the stories, I knew at once I would have to reach out and say hello. It is always intensely fascinating to run into someone who shares an obsession held dear to one’s heart – wouldn’t you agree?
Sara kindly agreed to answer some questions for After Dark in the Playing Fields which I have posted below, as I am sure many of our readers share a similar passion for these books. Included are several gorgeous scans of the books mentioned herein. Enjoy! And thank you Sara, for your time and indulgence.
Mlle Ghoul: As you’ve stated yourself, on your “about” page – these “small, usually unappealingly moldy smelling paperbacks” are a guilty pleasure for you. I imagine the same could be said for many people – why do you think that is, what is it about the Gothic romance that draws people in? Does the appeal have more to do with the bewitching covers, or the terrible deeds hinted at within?
Sara: True gothic romance is all about engaging the nightside of your brain, and the best gothics can’t help but fascinate. Who doesn’t like being frightened or love romance? So right there, having that blend of sexuality and suspense is irresistible – for me anyway.
And, certainly a good cover helps! Most of the gothics I write about come from the 60’s & 70’s when an explosion of mass produced paperback fiction hit the shelves, so I guess there was a lot of competition to attract readers. Many of these books are beautifully illustrated by some amazing artists. From the feedback I get on the blog, a lot of people collect these books for the covers.
On the other hand… writers such as Tania Modleski (Loving With A Vengeance, Mass Produced Fantasies For Women) and Joanna Russ (Somebody’s Trying to Kill Me and I Think It’s My Husband: The Modern Gothic), explore the appeal of gothics within the context of female paranoia and a woman’s ambivalent feelings towards marriage. Both cite Terry Carr, a former editor at Ace books, who is credited with explaining the popularity of these gothics as:
“The basic appeal… is to women who marry guys and then begin to discover that their husbands are strangers… so there’s a simultaneous attraction/repulsion, love/fear going on. Most of the “pure” Gothics tend to have a handsome, magnetic suitor or husband who may or may not be a lunatic and/or murderer…it remained for U.S. women to discover they were frightened of their husbands.”
I’m not so sure about this! I was hooked on gothics long before I even thought about getting married. But yeah, that love / fear combination is a pretty heady brew…
Tell me about how this fascination began?
Well I have always been interested in horror, the occult, witchcraft etc. Why? Who knows? My mum was a fan of historical / gothic romances penned by writers like Victoria Holt and Anya Seton and the first gothics I read were hers. I was lured in by the covers and by the shades of mystery and the occult that were alluded to in these works.
Though I read a lot of horror as a teenager, I didn’t read much fiction of any kind in my twenties. I was more into music. But I still collected my gothics – in particular the Dark Shadows books by Marilyn Ross. I think it was something about the covers and the almost chaste, low key approach to ‘nameless terrors’ or ‘unmentionable evil.’ They hinted rather than screamed and as such left more room for my own imagination to play.
What are the top 5 titles you would recommend for someone interested in reading these books? Are there any so awful, so atrocious that you would caution against reading them? Feel free to include those as well!
The best gothic romance writers are the ones who obviously love the genre themselves, or at least aren’t afraid to embrace all the tropes that make gothics so special. In particular, I’d recommend:
Virginia Coffman’s Moura, Victoria Holt’s On the Night of the Seventh Moon, Mary Stewart’s The Ivy Tree, Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, and Rona Randall’sKnight’s Keep.
The gothic romances that became very popular in the 1960‘s -1970’s were churned out in the thousands. Because so many were produced to meet the demands of the readers at the time, publishers became a little ‘creative’ with using the word gothic and it can be a bit of pot luck what you get – though this can be part of the appeal of collecting and reading them nowadays.
So, for books that stretch the definition ‘gothic romance’ to breaking point but are nevertheless fantastically weird and wonderfully twisted, I’d recommend: Seed of Evil by Petrina Crawford, The Black Dog by Georgena Goff, A Woman Possessed by Christine Randell and any of the Dr Holton series by Charlotte Hunt.
What are some of your most loved novels in this tradition? Some of your favorite covers? Do you find the cover influences/sways your opinion at all?
The gothics I keep coming back to tend to be the classics – Wuthering Heights, Uncle Silas, Jane Eyre. Unfortunately most publishers tend to reprint these with fairly boring covers – one welcome exception being the Paperback Library Gothic series, who published quite a few classic gothics with some gorgeous cover art. Their reprint ofUncle Silas is one of my favourites; another cherished gothic of mine is my Classic Pan version of Wuthering Heights.
In the 60’s & 70’s, the archetypal gothic romance cover featured the beautiful young woman in a filmy nightgown running from a foreboding house with a single lit window. It’s a combination many fans of the genre love and no wonder, as some of the artwork is breathtaking – in particular the houses! Diamonds may well be a girl’s best friend but the real love affair in a gothic is between a woman and her house and the detailing that goes into some of these ‘gloom-ridden’ mansions is superb! Without a Grave by Poppy Nottingham (artist unknown) and The Bat by Mary Roberts Rinehart (Dell 1969, cover art Hector Garrido) are just two examples.
I’m also a big fan of graveyard settings – The Yesteryear Phantom by W.E.D Ross (artwork Robert Maguire) and The Love of Lucifer by Daoma Winston (artist unknown) are both gorgeous.
Trees are another subject that makes for great gothic artwork – check out Lodge Sinister by Dana Ross (cover Hector Garrido) and the spooky hidden tree in To Seek Where Shadows Are by Miriam Benedict (artist unknown).
I imagine it must be difficult to track down the illustrators responsible for creating the cover art, but do you have any favorite artists?
Unfortunately, many of the artists just aren’t credited on the covers so it can be very difficult finding out who the artwork is by. I have spent a lot of time squinting at book covers trying to match indecipherable signatures to some sort of name via various internet search engines. I am very lucky that a lot of people who know far more than I do about this subject contact me via my blog with information, for which I am eternally grateful!
Victor Kalin is one of my favourite artists, again for the beautiful attention to detail and gorgeous recreation of mood and atmosphere. His daughter emailed me a link to a site of his artwork over at https://victorkalin.shutterfly.com
It appears from your site that the stories you favor are from a certain period of time –60’s, 70’s, early 80’s? Do you read much in the way of early Gothic/Victorian Romantic Literature? Do you read any contemporary Gothic fiction? How would you say the genre has changed or evolved through the years to suit a modern audience?
I constantly read and reread Poe. Others might disagree but for me, gothic romance begins and ends with Poe. Vernon Lee (Violet Paget) is another treasured writer of mine. I’m also a big fan of Victorian ghost stories, Dickens and just about anything from any of the Bronte sisters.
The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole is widely ascribed as being the first gothic ever written and for anyone new to the genre, you could do a lot worse than start with this since it’s very short, wonderfully bonkers and I’m pretty sure you can download it for free over at Project Gutenburg.
The classic gothic romance of old usually featured an imperiled young woman, recently married or working as a governess somewhere in the middle of nowhere – far from family, completely at the mercy of her tall, dark and brooding husband or employer. This was very relevant in the days the early gothic romances were written, as it was not unusual for women to end up marrying virtual strangers, setting up home miles from family, socially isolated and financially vulnerable.
Modern gothics recreate this sense of isolation and vulnerability in a variety of ways. It helps if the protagonist is an orphan and many a gothic heroine shares this fate – (a fair few also end up married to their cousins, interestingly enough). It could be that she needs to recover from a broken relationship or bereavement and so accepts a job as secretary on an isolated estate somewhere. Or simply that she has travelled abroad on holiday to an unfamiliar place and has stumbled into the wrong kind of trouble.
A common theme for many modern gothics is the one where the heroine suddenly inherits a huge old house from a distant relative, or is invited to stay with family she never even knew she had. Of course, these unexpected windfalls come at a price! One of my favourites of this type is A Touch of the Witch, by June Wetherell, in which our leading lady wakes up in the middle of her first night in her new mansion, only to discover a black magic coven hosting an orgy in the basement!
As for anything written this side of the millennium, well, I don’t read much contemporary fiction so I can’t really comment. That’s not to say there aren’t some great books with elements of gothic romance being published – The Thirteenth Tale by Dianne Setterfield, The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry, The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly,Affinity by Sarah Waters and The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon are a few that spring to mind.
Map out your ideal story for me, (let’s say you were going to try your hand at it) – from the heroine, to the villain, to the setting, the plot, etc. What part does evil play in a gothic story? Is the supernatural needed or desirable to enhance it?
A historical gothic romance would require far too much research, so ‘my’ gothic would be set in the here and now. I like damaged heroines, people with a bit of a past, so perhaps she’s just come out of prison or is on the run from someone. In any event she’s ended up in an isolated town, under an assumed identity, with no family or friends to fall back on.
I live by the sea in a place rumoured to be riddled with underground tunnels used by smugglers. I like this idea. Lots of gothics use disused tunnels and mines for people to fall down and get lost in. So my gothic would be set somewhere by the sea. The seacoast also makes an ideal setting for stormy sea-swept clinches – with the added advantage of having some treacherous cliffs for people to hurl themselves off of when it all goes horribly wrong.
My heroine would need a job and so would end up working in The Big House on the Hill. The really old, really crumbly big house peopled by characters who are all just a little bit strange… I love horses and all things equestrian so perhaps she ends up working in the stables there or something. (Unlike the house, the stables would not be old and decrepit but state of the art – like many aristocrats, my master of the house would indulge his horses far better than he does his own family).
Many gothics employ two leading men in their stories – a villain, with whom the heroine initially falls in love but who is all wrong for her – and a hero, striding in at the last chapter to save both her heart and her soul. I’m not such a fan of this. I prefer exploring the dynamics within twisted, tortuous relationships so my leading man would be both hero / villain with his own dilemmas and choices to make.
My leading man owns the big crumbly house on the hill and is irresistibly handsome of course, but sad. His twin sister died a few months back from a mysterious wasting disease – caused by an ancient family curse. He keeps her body embalmed in an upstairs bedroom and spends an inordinate amount of time in there, grieving over her beautiful corpse. When he isn’t locked away in the bedroom with his dead sister, he’s researching dusty old grimoires, reciting unholy incantations during depraved rituals in the family mausoleum, desperately trying to invoke a demon with the power to bring the dead back to life.
Sure enough, my romantic leads can’t help but become attracted to each other, growing closer and closer with each new chapter. But, as the demonic forces gather and swell around this accursed place, strange events start happening. I like the idea of my heroine being plagued by nightmarish visions so maybe the ghost of the dead sister is becoming restless and is haunting her.
Anyway, as Halloween draws nearer, we learn the ultimate sacrifice is needed to bring the dead twin back to life. So… just how far can our heroine trust the man she has come to love?
I have no idea how it would end but I tend to prefer the not so happy endings.
Where are your favourite haunts for searching out these titles?
I can’t walk past a charity shop or second hand book store without going in and having a look. And I’m lucky to have quite a few near where I live!
Rainbow Books in Brighton is a regular of mine, though it’s not the best place if you’re at all OCD about neat rows of books! The horror and romances are stashed in big piles in the basement and the romance pile in particular gets in a terrible state! I nearly got locked in one night – but for a stack of books falling on top of me and making enough noise to wake the dead, the owner had thought everyone had left and was just about to shut up shop for the day…
Thanks again, Sara for taking the time to answer all of my nosy questions and for sharing your love of the paperback gothic romance novel with us! Be certain to check in at My Love Haunted Heart for more reviews and Sara’s flickr page as well for a great deal more beautiful cover scans!
As a human person who exists on this planet today, you no doubt have a love/hate relationship with that book of Faces and are logged in at all hours clicking through your friend’s feeds: avoiding spoilers, hurrying past your racist relatives and small town, small-minded high school acquaintances ignorant blather, and finally slowing your scroll to squee over the delightful antics of pandas frolicking in the season’s first snow and baby otters floating blissfully on their mother’s bellies. Give us all the animals! We’re even obsessed with that bizarro “water bear” micro-animal that resembles a friendly eight-legged butthole.
Man, humans are weird.
The vagaries of humanity’s strange predilections aside, if you’ve spent any time in a zoo or a farm or caring for animals, you are perhaps–for better or worse–acquainted with the pungent variety of scents associated with our beastly friends. But have you ever found yourself wishing to smell like one of your favorite critters? (Okay, okay, maybe we are back in weirdo territory again.)
Well, Victor Wong of Zoologist perfumes has, and is exactly the kind of weirdo and visionary that we love. A wild dreamer who has a boundless fascination with the animal kingdom and its idiosyncrasies, Victor works with award-winning perfumers to capture the manifold delights of the natural world in fragrance form, and has created a line of eau de parfums that are “unusual, beautiful, fun, and even shocking.” And, and I am thrilled to report, these scents do not even contain animal products! “We don’t want to harm animals so that we can smell good”, notes Victor. Awww!
I’ll get this one out of the way first, because I can already hear you tittering like a bunch of 13-year-olds. Beaver, heh heh heh, right? Grow up, dorks. With a base of castoreum (synthetic beaver musk) and notes of linden blossom, iris, earth, and smoke, this opens on an outdoorsy, woodland aquatic vibe that quickly becomes an acrid, animalic musk. Despite the subtly sweet powderiness that keeps it from venturing into “unpleasant” territory, it isactually a kind of funky, moist scent. It’s pretty skanky, but in a really interesting and strangely comforting way. Beaver was designed by Chris Bartlett who describes his creations as, “fragrances that some people will love, rather than perfumes everyone will like.” Fair enough!
Like its namesake, Rhinoceros is a massive fragrance which opens with an enormous blast of dry, boozy rum and tobacco. There’s leather here, as well as sage, and lavender–and it all makes for very interesting contrasts. The dark, raw, leatheriness and the lighter herbal aromatics both play off each other and then again come together to conjure the “heat shimmering on the still Savannah” as the product description suggests. The nose behind this fragrance is Paul Kiler and with Rhinoceros he has created something hugely remarkable.
Another fragrance created by Paul Kiler, Panda begins with an intense, dewy green accord and hints of peppery warmth that is soon followed by orange blossoms and lilies, and finally comes to rest at earthy roots and damp mosses. This is less the roly-poly panda himself and more a chronicle of his slow stroll as he journeys from mountain springs to bamboo groves, munching on stalks and leaves, and basically just living a very low-key, low-stress, serene Panda lifestyle. Much later there is the barest whiff of sandalwood; perhaps the last stop in his travels is a shadowy temple at sunset, to light a stick of incense and thank the gods for his good fortune.
This is a lush, vivacious offering from nose Shelley Waddington. Brimming with a kaleidoscope of opulent fruits and honeyed florals, it calls to mind a tea party in a bright spring garden; effervescent personalities flit and flirt, while poetic dalliances occur amongst the softly blooming lilac and sweetly musky honeysuckle. Delicate nectars and sweet ambrosia is served, and later that night you dream of the sunlight glimmering through the season’s fleeting apple and plum blossoms.
Designed by award-winning perfumer Dr. Ellen Covey, Bat is undeniably, the strangest, most wonderfully unique perfume you will ever smell. Opening with a nearly overwhelming note of damp, primordial earth both vegetal and mineral in execution, this immediately conjures inky caverns and pitch-black, damp limestone caves. The scent then morphs into something I can only describe as “night air and velvet darkness”; I cannot say how she has done this, I only know that it is the very essence of the vast, temperate midnight sky, the glowing moon high overhead. At this point it becomes something quite different, and–quite possibly–even more beautiful. Soft fruits, delicate musks, and resins lay at the heart of this enigmatic scent and combine to create a fragrance that lightly circles around the wearer to surprise them with a mysterious sweetness at the most surprising times. According to Dr. Covey who has spent a great deal of time researching and studying bats, with this quality the scent has succeeded pretty well in doing what she envisioned.
Full size 60ml bottles with charming illustrations by Daisy Chan can be purchased at Zoologist.com for $125, while generously sized 2.5ml spray samples can be had for $6 a piece. A sampler set, containing all five scents, is available for $25.
(This article was originally posted at Dirge; the site is no longer active.)
Once upon a time, dead and often festering mice were ground into paste and used for toothaches. Hemmorhoids were treated with hot irons. Trepanning and bloodletting were common practices. And surgery? You may as well write out your last will and testament and kiss your children goodbye because chances were that you weren’t coming out of that brutal, bloody business alive.
Thank god for modern medicine, yeah? We’ve made such advances! …Or have we?
Upon having a section of her leg removed as treatment for a rare and aggressive form of cancer, Cleveland-based artist Arabella Proffer began researching medical history and the treatments and techniques of centuries past, where it appeared the “cure” for her particular ailment had changed little. What she came to realize, though, is that the trauma she was enduring was nothing compared to those savage, superstitious old-timey remedies; “You could have been rich, important, or beautiful,” she says, “but if sick, you would still receive brutal or worthless treatment.”
Thus inspired, she began a series of surreal portraits exploring those gruesome curative practices of the past. Drawing upon her signature style with influences of punk rock, gothic divas, religious icons, and the decadence and decline of European aristocracy, “Ephemeral Antidotes” chronicles her subject’s afflictions alongside the horrors of traditional medieval “cures.”
In the following interview Arabella Proffer candidly speaks with us about her background and inspirations, as well as her illness and the fearless fascinations it inspired in her confessional body of work.
Tell us a little about your artistic background – What were your first inclinations that you had a strong creative instinct and how did you nurture that?
The story goes that when I was two years old I drew an eye with a landscape in the pupil. So it was kind of decided for me by my family that I was going to be an artist. I think it was their worst fear I’d grow up to become an accountant!
I was enrolled in classes early, but I didn’t really nurture it–in fact, I kind of gave up on it for a while. But even the times I tried to fight it, I realized art was the only thing I was good at. Going to art school in Los Angeles was decided upon already by the time I was 12. I also had a strong interest in film, so I did that, but came back around to painting when I moved to Laguna Beach at 16. In that town the “art scene” was a Wyland meets Thomas Kinkade nightmare! I had to do something! I actually got censored at a few galleries and at my high school because of the punk rock nudes I was painting. My boyfriend at the time got me my first uncensored show at Koo’s Art House in Santa Ana, and shortly after that I attended Art Center College of Design and then CalArts where I was in the art department, but mostly doing experimental film and animation.
I didn’t start painting in oils until I was maybe 23. I feel like there’s still so much to learn with it. But I never thought I’d be a gallery artist or doing what I do now; working in the film industry had been my primary goal for many years.
Your works might be described as Mannerist meets Pop Surrealism–what would you add to that for folks unfamiliar with your art? And what are some of your influences and inspirations in that vein?
I think a few others have called it magic realism and neorealism, but Tamara de Lempicka and Christian Schad were huge influences to be sure, as well as the early 20th century work in my parents’ art collection. They also collected contemporary Ukrainian and Russian art, and David Miretsky was a big influence mainly due to the sheer size and presence of his work in our home. I would actually call him a Pop Surrealist with that slight Christian Schad thing going on; his was the first art opening I ever attended when I was five years old in New York. He now owns two of my paintings and I’m still floored by that.
You’re also an author, as wonderfully evidenced by the stories and histories accompanying your National Portrait Gallery of Kessa series, documenting the lives of a fictional empire of punks, goths, and nobility behaving badly. I’ve been peeking in at the writings on your blog and finding it humorous, insightful, and a fascinating glimpse into the life and goings-on of an artist. Though, I imagine, your true heart lies with the art you create, what can you tell us about your background in writing and working with words as opposed to painting?
My parents ran a Russian literature publishing company, my dad was a writer, and my mom is a writer. They both juggled between serious academic biographies and secretly wrote pulp or regency romance novels on the side! Growing up I met a lot of famous authors, but to be honest I really didn’t like reading. At least not until later, and then only historical or biographical accounts of aristocrats and silly café society people.
I don’t know why but I have an aversion to fiction–which is funny since my husband is a fiction writer and I’ll edit his first drafts (really mean comments too, red pen and all). And to this day I have never read a single book that either of my parents have written. Probably should get on that. I used to make illustrated books as a kid with a weak story to tie images together, but that was all. I did okay in writing workshops and the classes I took in college, but the book I wrote came easy because it was short biographies I could pull out of my ass and it was about what I had already painted.
One of my jobs was to write artist bios for a fancy art gallery in L.A., so maybe this was how it began? I didn’t know if they were any good until people at shows thought they were real and I started getting emails from amateur historians asking me where I got my information on these “historical characters.” Fortunately, writing has been way easier than painting! In fact, all the artwork bios for my medical history series were written in a single day.
In 2010 you were diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer and subsequently experienced a botched surgery and suffered stage 3 kidney failure as a result. These occurrences had a huge impact on your art and inspired your Ephemeral Antidotes series and, I believe, your Biomorphic Garden Party series. Can you talk about your experience and how it transformed from the art you had been making into these newer series?
Sure, the cancer is called liposarcoma, and unfortunately the only famous poster child we have is the former crack-smoking mayor of Toronto. The series began when I did research into seeing the old ways of how it was treated, and I came to find out it hadn’t changed in centuries: amputation of the leg. I didn’t have a full amputation because it was caught in time, but I’ll never be able to run or do stairs normal, and I still need a cane on occasion.
Chemo doesn’t work on that type of cancer so I had a boatload of radiation which in turn fractured my bone, so I now have a titanium rod and other hardware inside. I can’t run or do other movements, but I can kick someone in the balls really hard now! I started the series as a way to be kind of like, “hey it could be worse, because treatment for the black plague sure looks like it sucked!” and that led me to the Dittrick Museum of Medical History here in Cleveland for research and to attend lectures. I was mostly focused on the eras between Medieval through the Regency–when things got only slightly more civilized. That first show was appropriately held at Loved to Death in San Francisco. As a result, medical humanities has become my hobby and I’ve met a whole community of cool people through it who are maybe a little into the morbid and macabre but are also historians and scientists.
Something is always going wrong with my health even in this wonder age of medicine, and I’m always thinking about what will be considered stupid and barbaric in the future. I believe chemo will be seen as a horror and the same goes for a lot of prescription drugs we have today. The kidney failure was a prime example of how modern medicine and robotic surgery isn’t always great; it was from a botched lady-parts surgery related to the cancer, and it nearly killed me. I actually finished painting for my second medical-themed solo show in Cleveland while I was recovering from it. The final two pieces, the veiled women I think, look very different from the rest of the series because that was when I finally broke down and couldn’t continue. Still, I attended the reception with my giant catheter bag in my purse–and everyone thought my purse was a Chanel–so that was pretty funny!
If anything, the ongoing experience has turned me into a bit of a nihilist. I don’t believe anything happens for a reason anymore, it just happens. I’ve never been afraid of death and was always fascinated by it, so the only beneficial thing that has come of it all is that I’m not scared of a damn thing anymore. Oh, and I have a handicapped parking sticker for getting awesome parking spots!
“What the patient says is truth might not be what the body reveals as the truth.” You wrote this regarding the importance of images for both medical professionals and patients. What truths are showing up in your art right now? And listening to your body the way that I am sure that you do now, what do you divine from them?
Oh God, I kind of don’t want to know! Luckily I’ve been doing nothing but commissions for the last year, so I’m hoping there is no correlation! Except painting a lot of cats; cats are awesome. That’s the truth.
What is life like in your workspace/studio? Do you have any routines or rituals that put you in the mood to create?
I share a studio in an old Templar car factory with my best friend, but I haven’t really used it since I went through two major surgeries last year. I use it for meetings and to varnish art these days but by spring I should be more active there. I kind of miss the routine of keeping “office hours” and the light with the huge factory windows. I work from home now and overlook Lake Erie, and I’m surrounded by a combination of medical books and fashion or art books. I’m on a second shift schedule so I don’t get going until about 3 p.m. Watching Judge Judy is usually my background noise because I love her! But I also have certain albums on loop: The Church, Priest = Aura; The Black Ryder, Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride; and the Velvet Tinmine compilation for the fun glam singles.
I might be a full-time artist but I’m also a Cleveland housewife, so there’s a lot of vacuuming of cat hair and blasting Sisters of Mercy while I re-line my shelves with scented drawer liners. The truth is that I am supremely lazy about my art if I have no deadline; I read about artists who say they spend 8-10 hours a day painting and I just can’t get down with that. Five hours is about all I can do before I need a cocktail, and I’m also not a typical introvert studio artist. I go out a lot and travel and socialize and see lectures and movies and bands. This is partly because I have spent so much time confined to bed against my will, and when I see people who just want to stay home and watch Netflix, it drives me crazy. I’ve done that for months at a time because I literally couldn’t use the bathroom without help, so I’ve had a lifetime’s worth of canceled social plans and staying home dorking around on the internet.
What’s the point of making work if you aren’t living a real life in-between? Do you have any first-hand experiences with anything? The first step is leaving the house!
What do you do enjoy doing when you’re not creating?
There’s a crazy stack of books I’m slowly getting through: currently it’s the Marlene Dietrich biography her daughter wrote and it’s quite nasty! Next is an English translation of The Eight Paradises by Princess Bibesco that I spent a stupid amount on tracking down at auction. I try to travel as much as I can; New Orleans is where I go most often but Dublin is my other favorite. I also am a teaching artist at the Cleveland Museum of Art and part of a program that promotes observational skills using the collection to medical students and medical professionals. It’s still a new thing but so far it has been really interesting and I get to do a crash course in learning about certain works.
Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
I’ll be in a group show at the Crystal Palace in Aspen, Colorado called “Female Gaze” curated by Max Kauffman, that opens February 4. Aside from that I want to continue with more of the “Ephemeral Antidotes” series; I’m not done with it and I have piles of notes and ideas for more subjects to paint. I’m a deadline-driven person, so without one I’m all over the place and my laziness comes in waves. One day I’m doing a commission or an experimental piece, the next I’m doing commercial illustration work.
Flipping through Swedish artist Johanna Öst’s vibrant, fanciful illustrations is akin to curling up with a beloved book of favorite fairy tales and finding them now populated with B-movie dames, monsters from the pulpiest retro sci-fi magazines, and ghostly apparitions from other dimensions. Folk tales meets Weird Tales, if you will.
In Johanna’s portfolio one will spot swamp girls and jungle queens, moth ladies, spider women and mermaids. A closer look reveals sorceresses and witches, warriors and seductresses. Whether they’re haunting some poor jerk senseless, blasting their enemies with laser guns, or just chilling with their coven of devastatingly gorgeous cronies, one thing’s for sure: these are some tough broads who truck in badassery, and if you don’t watch your step, they will fuck your shit up.
A painter, sculptor, and a costumer with a sublimely extravagant aesthetic, Johanna keeps especially busy. We are thrilled that she took the time to talk with us about her art and her love for the brash characters and outlandish creatures that she paints.
Has art always been a passion? When is your earliest memory of creating such things and how did it lead to the path you now find yourself on? I’ve read that you are not really a social creature as far as classroom settings are concerned–how do you think that affected your artistic training, such as it was?
Yes definitely, it’s probably the most important part of my life, and it always has been. I don’t have any specific early memories of creating since I’ve simply been doing it all the time since my first baby doodles.
Making art for a living was never a conscious decision when I was younger, just something I’ve always fallen back on. I never thought of it as a valid option or a “real job,” and I very much still struggle with that, but now it’s my dream to keep this my profession for as long as I can.
I don’t really have any formal art training. I have learned from constant drawing and from studying books and other people’s art. I did try going to an art class for a year when I was about 18, but for personal reasons I don’t think I was around enough to actually learn anything, which is a shame. Having had some formal art training would have probably been good for me, I’m definitely lacking in the technical areas.
You’re always into something! If it’s not your amazing illustrations, you are creating dolls and figures, or costumes. What fuels your creative drive?
I have far too many ideas than I will ever have the time and energy to make. I think I’m very lucky to never had experienced artist’s block or anything like that. I constantly have at least three big half-finished projects lying around the flat annoying my boyfriend, not counting all the paintings I’m working on.
I don’t know what fuels it really, but I’m constantly inspired by things I see and hear about, adding to the unending list in the back of my head of things I’d like to make.
From the moment I laid eyes on your work I’ve been fascinated by the fairy tale meets pulpy B-movie world that you conjure: full of glamour and danger and lush, dreamy mythical scenes. Can you speak to your influences in this regard?
Thank you so much! Myths, folklore, and fairy tales of all sorts are some of the things that influence me the most, and I love mysteries, horror, and the supernatural. These things have probably inspired the majority of the narratives in my pictures.
Visually I am indeed very much inspired by pulp illustrations and B-movies, but also fairy tale illustrations and surrealists and symbolism.
Another aspect of your art that has always struck me as interesting is your focus on the tough broad, the dangerous dame, the bad girl. What is it that appeals to you about this archetype?
I have been fascinated by this type of woman since I was a small child. I guess she represents everything I would like to be, unafraid, independent, and not bothered by what anyone else might think, especially since in many ways I’m rather the opposite. Bad girls also tend to be over-the-top glamorous and unashamedly sexual with no concern for those loathsome concepts of “good taste” and “class.”
It’s obvious that you have a keen interest in fashion that spans several eras; one can see that your inspirations run the gamut from burlesque and pin-up beauties to crimped, edgy punk influence, to Marie Antoinette’s dreamy-rococo-confectionary fluf, to traditional motifs found in Swedish folk costumery. From where does this interest stem and how does it work its way into your art?
Painting a picture, making a sculpture or putting together an outfit and putting makeup on my face are just different aspects of my interest in everything visual and creative. Since I draw a lot of people I obviously also draw a lot of clothes and style, and I’ve been making or altering clothes for myself since I started picking my own outfits.
Recently I’ve also ventured into making some clothes and accessories to sell. I made a small collection of completely recycled, hand-sewn, and hand-painted tops last year, and I’ve started making different types of pins.
From murky swamps to outer space, crystal castles in the clouds to stairways descending into eerie darkness–the scenery in your works holds as much of a key to the mysterious images you present as do the characters who populate them. Do you build the piece around the background or the characters, which comes first?
It makes me very happy to hear that since I think I’m rather crap at backgrounds. I have made a conscious effort to get better at them during the last few years though, challenging myself to focus more on the scenery and add more detail even if it seems daunting.
Most of the time the characters definitely come first, but it depends on my initial idea. My pictures usually start as a sort mini-narrative in my brain, and most often the characters are the important part, but sometimes it can be the scenery. I think you can usually tell from looking at them!
Many of your works also focus on frightening, violent legends and folklore–The Geast of Gévaudan, for example, or Spring Heeled Jack. Others feature ghosts and mythological monsters, some familiar, some I suspect, entirely made up! I’d love to hear about some of your favorite tales in this regard–the ghost stories and creatures from legends that keep you awake at night and haunt you.
My favourite unexplained mysterious creatures are definitely the two you mentioned. Spring Heeled Jack possibly being my absolute favourite because he’s such an outlandish creature. The fact that the sightings were in plain sight in urban areas and Jack is such a brash character yet never found or explained, makes it especially fascinating. Another favourite tale of a similar type is the devil’s footprints in Cornwall; look it up! It’s such an eerie occurrence even if it could have a rational explanation.
Swedish and Nordic folklore of course has a special place in my heart since it’s what I’ve grown up with, but there are too many fantastic stories to pick favourites.
Tell us about your creative space. What is life like in your studio? Do you set aside a specific time to create or is your muse on full-time? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or have a movie on in the background or do you prefer silence as you create?
Oh I wish I had a studio! I live in a small flat so there’s no room for that. I usually work in the sofa or by the kitchen table. I try to be disciplined and work at specific times but I’m not always great at it. And of course I do lots of creating in my “free” time as well.
Most often I watch movies at the same time as I’m working, but I listen to audio books as well. I’m a bit picky with the readers, though. There was a period a couple of years ago when I listened to every Agatha Christie audio book read by Hugh Fraser I could find. They were perfect listening to while painting. At the moment I’m listening to Irish Fairy and Folk Tales by W.B. Yeats, and I think I’m going to look up some classic ghost stories next.
Where can we see your work right now? Are you involved in any current or future projects or collaborations that you can tell us about?
Me and my artist friends Liselotte Eriksson and Naomi Nowak are planning a big joint exhibition in Stockholm in March, and I’m working on some new things for that. I’l be releasing a new pin soon, and I was just contacted about possibly making a really exciting fanzine featuring illustrations to classic horror literature.
West Coast-based artist Caitlin McCarthy illustrates pale, spectral beauties, languid of limb and with milky, blind eyes belying the secrets and mystical knowledge they possess. Visions of dark, dreamy romanticism, these sibyls and seers gaze impassively at the viewer, their delicate bones and bloodless visages hinting at a bygone era of melancholy and loss, and of mysteries glimpsed from beyond the veil.
Though among her inspirations she’s noted a fascination with otherworldly pursuits–the occult, fairy tales, uncanny oddities, etc.–and this clearly includes a fondness for Victorian aesthetic and Gothic sensibilities, there are also whispers of the natural world to be found in McCarthy’s work. The quartz crystals, lush flora, and thorny crowns paired with and adorning these spellbinding enchantresses suggest more than a few earthly adorations, as well.
Caitlin graciously gave of her time for a brief Q&A; read more and learn of this artist’s love for the odd and the unusual and how the mystical and macabre manifests itself in her work.
Has art always been a passion for you? Can you tell us how you got started on this creative path and how it has lead to the work you are producing today?
I’ve always felt a pull to create, and I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. I loved that art gave me the magical ability to transport my imaginary world into something physical and real. I kept drawing through childhood and into my adult life. Eventually I became tired of working at a coffee shop and decided to go to art school. I graduated a few years ago with a BFA in studio art and was lucky enough to get a job in a creative field. I’ve been blessed to have family, friends, and teachers in my life that have supported and encouraged me to continue creating and find my own artistic voice.
Your Tumblr blog and your Etsy site both mention that you find beauty in the odd and the unusual. Has it always been this way for you? When did you notice this curious appreciation and what forms did it take for you?
I would say I have always been drawn to magic, the unexplained, and the mysterious. When I was younger it was an attraction to fantasy, and as I got a bit older I began veering towards a darker aesthetic. As a teenager, I developed a love for dark music, black clothing, vampire novels, and cemetery walks. I like to think my taste and style have evolved, but I suppose I never really outgrew any of it. Things that are considered spooky or macabre inspire me. Perhaps it’s the idea that surrounding yourself with reminders of death will lessen the fear of it, or maybe it’s simply the aesthetic I find myself naturally drawn toward. I do my best to fill my life with the odd and the darkly beautiful and I channel this into my art, my style, my travels, and my home.
Your work appears mainly colorless, rendered in black and white, perhaps some shades of grey and the occasionally pale blushing pink background. The effect is delicate, nuanced–almost elegantly anemic. Can you speak to the muted tones and lack of color in your work?
In college I worked primarily in watercolor. After school I began working in comics and training as a colorist. I spent my days working on the computer, staring at screens glowing with vibrant colors. I have found my personal art began naturally drifting in an opposite direction. Drawing with graphite has become a bit therapeutic for me. I enjoy the act of using my hands to create something. After I’ve completed a drawing, sometimes I’ll add faint tones of color to match the personality of the piece. Other times, the piece just seems complete, so I’ll let it be. Color can be a very powerful tool, but I find that the lack of it can be as well. I use contrast, texture, and line to create the moods I wish to evoke with a piece. Absence of color lends itself well to creating the melancholy, eerie, or mystic atmosphere that I am trying to summon in my work.
Your portfolio is peppered with priestesses, seers, and witches; mystical females as well as an obvious interest in the occult feature heavily in your works. I would love to hear about your influences in this vein, and how they inform your art.
The occult is a pathway into exploring the paranormal, the unknown, and hidden secrets. I often draw the women I wish to be or that I admire. These are often strong women with magic in their eyes, ladies who are tapping into, channeling, or manipulating things we can’t even begin to understand. Instead of being passive, they are mastering and shaping the world around them. I find the idea of controlling what is believed to be uncontrollable both comforting and terrifying.
Can you give us a tour of your workspace? What sorts of objects do you surround yourself with ? What rituals do you use to put yourself in the mood to work?
My home is my shrine and my safe space. I do my best to surround myself with inspiration and things I love. I collect antiques, mourning memorabilia, taxidermy, old photographs, and religious paraphernalia. My walls are covered in work created by artists I admire, and I have more books than I have shelf space, or time to read. I do nearly all of my drawing at night when I’m home alone. I’ll settle in with a cup of tea or a glass of wine on my couch, and snuggle up with my two dogs. I like to turn on a favorite film or music, and the colder and stormier it is outside, the better.
Other than your Etsy shop, where can we find your work?
You can also find me on Instagram @CaitlinMcCarthyArt. I have found Instagram to be a very inspiring and supportive place for artists. I like to share photos of what I am currently working on, glimpses into my home and life, as well as information on sales and such. I’m also extremely fond of Pinterest. I find myself pinning inspirations nearly every day. It’s my virtual bulletin board, and if you’re interested in a peek inside of my head, it’s the place to go.
Step into the role of prophetess or seer for a moment, if you can. What do you predict for 2016 in terms of your art?
I had a lot of personal life-changing events last year and I’m curious to see how those will seep into my art. I really am hoping to challenge myself throughout 2016. I’d like to push myself to sketch more, and to share more on social media. I too often get caught up in thinking things aren’t good enough, and that is so toxic. I’d also love to participate in some group art shows. I think it is such an amazing way to meet and connect with other artists. Unfortunately, I am not able to predict the future, but I am excited to see what it may bring.
(This article was originally posted at Dirge; the site is no longer active.)
One of my favorite pieces from Morph Knitwear is the huge, open knit Shapeshifter shawl. (And come to think of it, I probably should add that to my winter uniform!) Curious as to how one might style this wooly behemoth? I’ve a few suggestions for you, below. As always, click on the image to find more details on the items within each ensemble.