I initially grew to love digital collage artist Robin Isely’s work in 2017 and in my ensuing obsession, I reached out to them for an interview. Unfortunately, In the time that passed, their Tumblr-hosted site was heavily censored, their URL was hacked, and now the entirety of it has vanished. With their permission, I published the piece anyway at Haute Macabre, so that I may share a bit more about the enigmatic artist and their works. Somewhere along the way, I decided to ditch the traditional Q&A format in lieu of the artist’s thoughts and comments themselves, so that they might be unfiltered through the veil of my own perceptions.
Also upon reflection, my questions might have been a little over-the-top.
An Obscurum Of Secrets: The Lost Art Of Robin Isely
I had, for a time, sadly shelved the idea of a feature on digital collage artist Robin Isely, aka sliplead. I first mentioned this artist in my 2017 Needful Things roundup and I was immensely thrilled at the opportunity to connect with them for an interview, but unfortunately, their gorgeous Tumblr-hosted gallery–an obscurum of secrets, elusive of precise description; a sensualist’s delight of surreal grotesqueries–had vanished into the ether in late 2018. This was due, in part, to Tumblr’s ridiculous censorship nonsense at that time, and– if that wasn’t bad enough– the artist’s URL had been hacked by some porny bots and their whole virtual salon of loveliness was eventually deleted.
Understandably heartsick at the loss of their body of work, as of today, they still have not found a new space on the internet for their creative portfolio. This left me with a dilemma, and I was hesitant to proceed; I generally try to be pretty scrupulous when it comes to sharing website/store/social media details regarding the artists I write about; but regrettably in this instance I would not have anywhere at all to direct those readers who may have been keen to learn more about this artist and see more of their work.
However. Blog content across all platforms runs rampant with imagery shared out of context, sans artist credit or relevant source data (and no, I’m sorry, but “sourced from Pinterest” does not count!) I guess it must be hard to believe that artists as creative beings actually exist, right? You’d think most artistic content springs fully formed from the dashboards of microblogging “content creators.” In addition to this particularly annoying form of artist erasure, many sites (I’m looking at you, Tumblr, Facebook, and Instagram) practice a puritanical form of censorship under the guise of “community standards”–especially when it comes to those wily and dangerous nipples on female-presenting subjects. Here today, gone tomorrow– sorry about your content, artists! Shoulda kept them titties covered! It’s absurd and infuriating and I hate it. This is in part what happened when Robin Isely’s work started to disappear.
Digital Archivist, Digital Curator, and Art Consultant Samantha Levin shared with me, “As Tumblr and other sites disappear or change over time, we’re looking at losing our history,” and I can’t even begin to tell you how distressing and urgent this notion feels to me (see my lamentations concerning the great Polyvore disappearance of 2018, for one example of this type of occurrence.) With this realization, it is more important than ever that we bolster and keep alive this conversation and the push-back surrounding these types of censorship, the lazy lack of artist sourcing and citing, and the responsibility of giving credit where credit is due.
…and so I concluded that regardless of whether or not Robin Isely has an online gallery for their work right now, it is of paramount importance to me to share both their work and their story, right here. While there is still a place for it, and a person who cares to tell it, and people interested in witnessing it and learning more.
As someone who writes about people and their artistic practices and processes, I probably ask a lot of dumb questions. But occasionally I get lucky and hit on some really good ones! And I’m always gratified when the recipient of my queries takes the time to provide me with some thoughtful answers. That’s not always the case, though, and I won’t lie to you–every once in a while I get a bit of a dud in terms of maybe one-word or canned responses. Is that unprofessional to admit? Well, maybe. But it happens and that’s the truth and I guess you’re not supposed to take it personally (but I do, because how else are you supposed to take things?) Also, I’m sorry, between this gripe and the tumblr thing, it’s become a bit of the old airing of grievances, whoops.
In a rare and unforeseen circumstance, though, the subject of my questions might not really answer anything I’ve asked them at all! Which is a little confounding! But in certain wonderful instances, what they’ve chosen to share instead serves to open a door to a completely different way of thinking about the artist and their work. Such is the case with Robin Isely, this dear human and extraordinarily imaginative creator whom, true, I don’t know very well, and yet of whom I have grown incredibly fond– and this fondness, I don’t mind sharing, lends an extra layer of tenderness to how I view their art.
In any case, I am ditching my questions and eschewing the traditional Q&A format to share with you Robin’s words, as they shared them with me.
Describing themselves a “something of a hermit, a completely unsocialized beast,” Robin wrote to me that they dropped out of art school to spend a life riding and training horses and dogs. Making art seemed stifling, they thought; they wanted to make something beautiful with other minds, animal minds. “It’s a more experiential, physical art form– dancing, if you will,” they divulged. Upon reaching a point in their career where they became physically incapable of working with and caring for animals, it was then that they were given the tools to access a new chapter in their life’s story, a portal to entirely new worlds: an iPad!
Regarding their discovery and creation of digital art, and its strange and surprising similarities to a former life, they reveal: “I use a simple app and I much enjoy the feeling of my finger sliding across the glass; there’s a place on a horse’s mouth, you slide your finger there and they relax–and so it is with me.”
I had asked a convoluted question about themes involving frames and thresholds, pertaining to the notion of navigating between worlds in her art. In one sense, Robin candidly demurred to go there:
“You were asking about thresholds and frames, and that’s the thing with words, don’t you think? They force you to put a frame around an idea and leave out all the other possibilities. I must confess I like the idea of the pictures having the freedom to evoke any and all interpretations…after all, I do believe we see the world as we are.”
But they went on to illuminate most beautifully :
“The thing about art and thresholds is important…you have to cross over to that mind-place that forgets the names of things; remember Alice in the forest with no names? Of course, you have to surrender yourself, completely. It’s the being there and sometimes you come back with something of a bit of that place’s shine. That’s what you respond to in art, music, dance, really everything worthwhile: the resonance of the experience of that state of being.”
About their childhood and early life, Robin disclosed the following:
“I was an only child and lived in books. I memorized the Alice poems and was wont to recite them at inappropriate times. I absorbed the language and spoke like a proper Victorian child. Obviously, I had few friends of the human variety. My mother fed me a diet of Vogue magazines and Aldous Huxley. As a teen, I was quite prepared for the sixties in San Francisco and enjoyed dressing in thrift store velvet gowns and dancing at the Avalon Ballroom. I’ve shared a life with horses and dogs that a king would envy. Many nights have found me passionately debating the meaning of Meaning with the man who became my life partner. I lived a life and can highly recommend the experience to all of your readers.”
“So, for me,” Robin expresses in continuance to a previous thought, “the pictures are a memoir, a spiritual practice, and a way to quiet the tiresome narrative voice in my head. I was never afraid on a horse and if I can cross over to that place with the art-making, there is no fear there either. Most of all, as a child, I admired Alice’s bravery confronting the absurd, scary world she found herself in. If my pictures had any power at all, I would wish some of her courage to come through in them, to the viewer.”
And finally, a prescient and poignant conclusion to our communiqué:
I do not post the pictures beyond tumblr but I know they have wandered off on their own adventures. Perhaps one day I will find a more permanent home to provide them with.
I’d like to think that Robin Isely’s incredible art has a home here at Haute Macabre for a time and that there are those amongst you who wish to gather it all as close to your heart as I do, while we can. Continue scrolling for some of my personal favorites, and Robin, we wish you all the very best in your continued journey.
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Inspired by magic, myth and folklore, Bye Bye Banshee is Jezebel Jones’ musical project exploring death and grieving from a feminine perspective, and I was beyond thrilled that she took the time to chat with me and share both her vision and music with Haute Macabre readers!
In a recent music roundup, I briefly mentioned that Bye Bye Banshee’s Deathfolk Magic was in constant rotation in my home and described its sound thusly:
“…is the ghostly melody, hushed and humming softly, ominously, as your rocker creaks a rickety midnight lullaby on the rotted wooden floorboards of a ramshackle cabin. Sleepless at the swamp’s edge, you rock, slowly, steadily on, shrouded in darkness, a shotgun slung across your lap. A loon’s mournful, wavering cry almost obscures a slithering rustle through the tall grass just beyond the crumbling front porch steps, and imagining cold, reptilian eyes, pitiless and patient, watching your vigil this night, you shudder, a moan trapped low in your throat. I’m not sure that’s exactly what Jezebel Jones was singing about, I mean it probably wasn’t… but her haunted, husky warble is so hypnotic and evocative you’ll forgive me for letting my imagination run away with me.”
I didn’t expect that my fleeting but fanciful take on the album would generate such spirited interest and such a grand flurry of questions, but in light of curiosity piqued and excitement aroused, I thought it only fair that we take a deeper dive into both the haunting music and its enduring themes, and better get to know the gifted musician responsible for its creation.
See below for a thoughtful, revealing, and deliciously life-affirming chat with Jezebel Jones, an eclectic songwriter who mixes americana, jazz, classical and rock to create genre-defying music that is unique, emotive and socially conscious. Bye Bye Banshee is her musical project exploring death and grieving from a feminine perspective. It seeks to undo some of the fear associated with dying and to acknowledge death’s purpose and place in our lives. Inspired by magic, myth and folklore, Bye Bye Banshee employs a unique blend of styles to create a musical memento mori, a remembrance that life is fleeting and the mysteries of death will embrace us all.
And should you require a sonic companion for our interview, Jezebel Jones and Bye Bye Banshee have generously shared an exclusive Deathfolk Magic download link for Haute Macabre readers!
Haute Macabre: Please tell us about the name and concept of your musical project, Bye Bye Banshee.
Jezebel Jones: The concept started to come together about five years ago when I was living in Texas, but the seeds were planted earlier, when I lost my house (and nearly my life) in a fire back in 2010. The experience forced me to wake up….and I started writing a song or two about death. But the new music seemed to have a life of its own and so I created a side project of all death-themed songs because that’s what was inspiring me at the time. Death is a muse, I guess. The Bye Bye Banshee name itself emerged from my subconscious. I’d been researching Irish banshee folklore and I’m a sucker for alliteration and sing-songy repetition, so…
Your music is crafted with “myth, magic, and folklore”–I’d love to hear about your inspirations in this vein, where they began, how they took hold, and how they’ve informed your worldview and songwriting?
When I was younger, I was very afraid of death due to the link between death and the devil, a link that was created by many sermons of damnation, “scary” end-of-times propaganda films, even the Bible itself. Since I’m no longer an evangelical Christian, I wanted to explore other folklore and myths and see if I could discover a new way to look at death that was less fear-based and more inclusive. Living in south Texas kicked off my intensive research phase – I began learning and participating in different cultural approaches to death, including the beautiful customs around the Mexican holiday, Día de los Muertos. Often song lyrics just flow out of me–like magic–but those seeds are planted during research, physical experience and reflection. I feel transformed by the process of writing and performing this music; I hope people will feel comforted and transformed by listening to it.
I often check the tags on places like last.fm to see how a certain musician is classified (and I’ll admit, the weirder and lengthier the tag, the more excited I get!) I know that some reviewers and listeners might tag you as #americana, #folk, or #truedetective (!!) How might you classify your music? Gimme some hashtags!
Great but difficult question! Hmmm…maybe…. #psychfolkrock #playthisatmyfuneral #weirdmusicforweirdpeople #creepybeautifulsongs #dirgeAF
Your latest album, Deathfolk Magic, boasts an incredible cover. Just absolutely lovely, the colors, the sense of place and atmosphere, and that gorgeous dress! What can you share about that photoshoot, about that day, about the feelings you were attempting to evoke with that imagery?
Awww, thank-you. Sure, first of all, I have to give props to my photographer friend Lars Kommienezuspadt. He’s just an incredible artist and loves–and gets–my music. We were going for a very earth-goddess vibe for the shoot. He came up with the perfect location, a long-abandoned munitions factory in rural Minnesota; we both brought props including my favorite animal skull and his adorable tarantula–she was a rock star! It was cold and rainy the day of the shoot and we decided to just go for it–I’m glad we did because the sky was moody and perfect. The vintage silk chiffon dress was an amazing find at a Seattle thrift store years before–I think I paid less than $15 for it–can you believe that? I’ve always had thrift store magic…
And of course Deathfolk Magic is more than just a beautiful album cover; it includes four eerie elegies examining death from a feminine, pagan perspective: “If I Die In My Dreams,” “Bye Bye Banshee,” “Psychopomps,” and “Skull Rattles”. These songs explore ideas ranging from our fear of death being linked to our fear of the Devil, to an expression of gratitude to spirit guides surrounding and comforting dying persons as they transition into the land of the dead, and a celebration of natural burial as our final gift to the earth. How do your beliefs, feminist, pagan, or otherwise, aid, or assist or even inspire you in writing/singing about themes generally considered melancholy, mysterious, or morbid (which is a term I personally hate to use but I know that lots of people might view these subjects in such a way!)
Wow–grappling with this a bit. My beliefs aren’t rigid anymore, though I find myself drawn to paganism and Wiccan ritual. I’m agnostic I guess (don’t believe in a deity, per se), but open to exploring our spiritual connections, including our connection to the earth and other animals. It saddens me that in much of the Western world, people avoid having conversations about death because we’ve been raised to fear it. Avoidance doesn’t change the fact that we are all going to die; addressing mortality in a healthy way reduces pain and suffering and can encourage us to live more fully. Bye Bye Banshee uses primarily female characters to tell these stories because I believe in the power of women to change our world. As a side note, I’ve always been a “morbid” child and was obsessed with murder mysteries, the supernatural and mortality for as long as I can remember. This project brought me back to some of my childhood interests.
Bye Bye Banshee participates in–and supports–the Death Positive movement. Can you tell us what death positivity means to you and your craft?
I think death positivity means addressing mortality in a healthy manner. For some, this may mean educating yourself on death and grief, asserting your rights by creating a will or health care directive, and/or simply by promoting conversations about end of life with friends and loved ones. For me personally, the exploration that went into the writing process freed me from some of my former beliefs and opened up my mind to other possibilities. I hope the music will make listeners FEEL something…whether it’s a feeling of fright (“If I Die in My Dreams”), peacefulness (“Psychopomps”) or surrender (“Skull Rattles”); there was a lot of emphasis on capturing emotions during the recording process.
If someone wanted to do some “further reading” regarding the idea and issues covered in Deathfolk Magic –both general and specific–what books/films/music/art/? might you point them toward?
If someone is interested in the overall topic, a good place to start might be the Order of the Good Death website or checking out Caitlin Doughty’s books or Ask-a-Mortician videos on YouTube. If you’re more interested in the folklore–and/or social justice–aspect, I’d recommend following death positive activist Sarah Chavez on Twitter or Instagram. Finally, if you’re seriously interested in banshee folklore, I’d recommend tracking down the book, The Banshee by Patricia Lysaght. It’s pretty scholarly but is full of facts and stories of the Irish death messenger.
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects? Appearances? Tour dates? What’s next for Jezebel Jones and Bye Bye Banshee?
Well, I just moved to Nashville recently, so I’ve been busy trying to get settled here. But I’m writing a lot of new music, too, mostly for my main project (Jezebel Jones). This new music is rebellious, female-focused and powerful…while it’s still heavily influenced by bluegrass, country and blues, it’s definitely more rock and roll. I have most of the songs written for the upcoming record, which I’ll be recording sometime this year. The plan is to hit the road this summer/fall to support the new album, including dates in Europe for both Jezebel Jones and Bye Bye Banshee. For the latter, I’ve put together a theatre-style show format that includes 12 songs woven together by spoken word pieces. Looking forward to 2019!
Find Jezebel Jones and Bye Bye Banshee: Website // Facebook // Instagram // Twitter