Yog-Sothoth, from The Haunter of the Dark
Yog-Sothoth, from The Haunter of the Dark

Originally published in on the Coilhouse blog on October 12th, 2010.

Discerning seekers of rare or obscure artists will eventually stumble upon John Coulthart’s Feuilleton at some point in their virtual journeys. An artist himself, and a blogger “of some repute”, his site is a veritable Holy Grail treasure collection of luminous paintings, ornate illustrations & woodcuts, and salty vintage photographs that run the gamut from fin de siecle European art magazines to antique occult bookplates to queer themed eye candy from a bygone era for which to titillate our salacious modern sensibilities. One with an interest in such things could literally lose hours perusing his archives. It is with the striking of a dazed and dreamy midnight hour, head filled with inspiration and amazing discoveries, that one realizes where the time has gone.

John is perhaps best known for his own striking and complex “genre-defying” artistry; working with various styles and media in his singular, chimeric aesthetic, he is a successful graphic designer for a variety of mediums including album covers, book covers comic books and graphic novels.

“As a comic artist John produced the Lord Horror series Reverbstorm with David Britton for Savoy Books, and received the dubious accolade of having an earlier Savoy title, Hard Core Horror 5, declared obscene in a British court of law. … His collection of HP Lovecraft adaptations and illustrations, The Haunter of the Dark and Other Grotesque Visions, was republished in 2006 by Creation Oneiros.

As a book designer and illustrator John continues to work for Savoy Books, and in 2003 designed the acclaimed Thackery T Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases edited by Jeff VanderMeer and Mark Roberts.

John’s work has been showcased via Rapid Eye, Critical Vision, Clive Barker’s A-Z of Horror, EsoTerra, CNN.com and the Channel 4 television series Banned in the UK.”

See below for our Q&A in which John discusses fleeting fascinations, enduring enthusiasms, how the mystical and macabre manifests itself in his projects, and the mercurial nature of design.

The Thackery T Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases
The Thackery T Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases

Both the mention in your website bio, and the description in your personal blog, Feuilleton, refers to your cataloging of “interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.” What might those encompass right now?

JOHN COULTHART : I watched Visconti’s film Ludwig (about King Ludwig II of Bavaria) recently and was following up that viewing with some web research into his eccentric life. I usually disapprove of monarchs, especially our own dismal royals, but Ludwig is a fascinating and ultimately tragic character. A few months ago I ordered a lot of out-of-print books by the French writer and illustrator Philippe Jullian who wrote one of my absolute cult books, Dreamers of Decadence, a major study of Symbolist painting first published in English in 1971. Jullian was also something of an eccentric who wrote a number of biographies and art books, produced many Ronald Searle-like illustrations and also penned a few novels. Both Ludwig II and Jullian were homosexual and queer culture is an abiding fascination, not least because much of it prior to the 1960s remains little-known or discussed.

I find I spend a lot of time at the moment trawling library sites for interesting pictures. Many of the world’s important libraries now have browsable archives which give access to rare books and magazines. The best of the discoveries recently was the magazine archive at Heidelberg University which has scans of the early issues of Jugend and the entire run of Pan, two German periodicals which did much to promulgate the Art Nouveau style.

Blogging has turned out to be useful for the way it makes you realise you were more interested in something than you previously suspected. When that happens it can provide an element which may feed back into your work. An example of this occurred when I started collecting pictures from different sources and eras; I hadn’t noticed before that the peacock as a symbol connects three areas of interest: medieval alchemy (where its feathers represent a process of iridescence), fin de siècle art, and poster art of the psychedelic era which recycled many 19th century motifs. That’s probably a good example of a passing enthusiasm turning into an obsession.

Dodgem Logic #4
Dodgem Logic #4
Psychedelic Wonderland
Psychedelic Wonderland

How often do these themes will their way into the projects that you are working on? Or do you try to “live in a bubble” while you are working on a piece? For example both your artwork for Alan Moore’s Dodgem Logic Issue #4 and 2010 Psychedelic Wonderland Calendar (which, by the way, I would love to see somehow expanded into a tarot deck) are possessed of a trippy, hallucinogenic brilliance – was that due in part to a “passing enthusiasm”, or just well, part of the specs for the project?

Well the peacocks were a good example of the enthusiasm affecting the work as I put a lot of peacocks on the Dodgem Logic cover. But generally it depends on the work at hand how much of your own interests feed it. As well as illustrative commissions I’m also employed a lot as a graphic designer and very often the brief for design projects is a strict one with no room required for deviation. In that case you just concentrate on working within the limits.

The calendar came about after I’d spent a summer listening to the British end of the psychedelic music produced in the late 60s. Everyone knows Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit is based on the Alice books but so too were a large number of obscure UK songs from around the same time. There’s an enormous amount of Alice-derived illustration out there but I hadn’t seen anyone take quite this approach visually. When a story has been worked over so many times it becomes a challenge to do something distinctive with it, in illustration terms it’s like adapting Shakespeare for the stage. So in this case it was an enthusiasm for the music which became the key to doing something visually. I’m still intending on making the calendar pages into a poster series when I find the time.

The Dodgem Logic cover came along when Alan Moore asked me to do something psychedelic in style for their summer issue. Aside from that vague description I had free reign. Butterflies were the other theme there. If I’d have had more time I maybe would have put some peacock butterflies into the design as well.

There is undoubtedly a vein of the weird and fantastical that runs throughout all of your projects. I am thinking of the Lovecraftian inspired The Haunter of the Dark book in particular, but it seems that great deal of your book cover art falls into the fantasy/horror genre…and then, there is of course, the work that you have done with Alan Moore. Did you start out looking for these types of projects? Or did they just somehow find you? Where does this attraction to the bizarre and lurid stem from? Have you always felt an affinity to the outré and uncanny? Or have your preferences and your style evolved to keep up with what’s required from your art?

I’ve always been interested in the fantastical and grotesque so it’s inevitable this will manifest in the work I produce. It’s never been an indiscriminate interest, however, I always seem to have been very choosy and opinionated. This goes back to an early age. When I was 10 I was reading a lot of Victorian ghost stories in Puffin Books reprints and I quickly became used to a 19th century prose style. A year later I was reading through HG Wells collected short stories and The War of the Worlds. When I started picking up later science fiction novels many of them I found impossible to read on account of what I snootily perceived as poor writing. Arthur C Clarke was fine but many of his “classic” contemporaries I found shockingly bad. It was a relief to find the so-called New Wave sf writers who were trying to do something more with the medium than create futuristic engineering manuals. More than anything I seem to like hybrid works, anything that mixes genres or styles in an interesting or surprising manner. Borders are where new styles emerge and the most stimulating juxtapositions take place. Where these core interests come from I couldn’t possibly say; they’re obviously innate but not something shared by anyone else in my family.

My work often seems to evolve to a certain point then I switch course in a new direction, mostly when I feel I’ve explored one area thoroughly. I spent most of the 1990s doing a lot of very dense, very dark black-and-white line drawing, a lot of which is so extreme in terms of content it became very difficult to push any further. The recent psychedelic-oriented work goes in an opposite direction and it’s one I’m liable to continue for a while since I feel there’s more to be explored in that area. It’s not a case of rejecting one style for another, it’s more that these are equal poles of interest that just happen to be diametrically opposed. This mercurial approach is probably a bad idea when you’re trying to cultivate an audience, people tend to prefer that you do the same thing indefinitely.

The Haunter of the Dark
The Haunter of the Dark

Illustration and graphic arts appears to be your primary medium, although I understand you do some writing as well. Are there any areas of artistic expression in which you wish to dabble or to dive?

On the writing front, I have thirty or so films reviews and a couple of essays in ‘Horror!: 333 Films to Scare you to Death’ which Carlton Books are publishing this September. I’ve been writing stories and the beginnings of novels since I was a teenager, and much of that early work was done with greater seriousness than any of the drawing or painting I was doing at the time. The drawing and painting came to the fore when I started to get my work in print but if I didn’t have that additional creative outlet I would have concentrated fully on writing. I’ve gone back to writing fiction as a means of mapping out a new area of personal work which can evolve in several directions, including art and design.

This goes back ten years to when The Haunter of the Dark was published and I felt a line had been drawn (so to speak) under that phase of horror illustration. At the same time I’d finished the Lord Horror comic series I was creating with David Britton and wanted to start something original that was also completely my own. That intention has evolved into a long-term project which now comprises one-and-a-half novels and also an idea for a third book which will combine writing, graphic design and illustration in a manner that I’ve barely begun to consider for the moment. One of the inspirations for this was the Obscure Cities created by artist François Schuiten and writer Benoît Peeters, a multi-media creation which ranges across many books and comic strips (and which, I should note, remains criminally underrated in the English-speaking world). I’ve been crafting an imaginary world of my own where I can do anything I wanted in any medium. For the moment the written fiction is charting the territory, and I don’t want to illustrate this too much–the words are the illustration–but it’s a very open project into which anything I do in the future could easily be integrated. Few people are aware that all the blogging I’ve been doing for the past four years is (among other things) the R&D area of this project, the place where I can follow areas of interest and bookmark things which may feed into something later.

Filmmaking used to be an attraction and I have done a couple of things in that direction, mostly abstract stuff like a 45-minute accompaniment for one of Alan Moore’s readings in 2001. I have a friend who’s directed a feature-length documentary and a number of shorts and I’ve seen how difficult he finds it chasing finance all the time. One of the things I like about creating books is that they’re relatively cheap to produce and you consequently have far more control over the end result.

What are your ideal/dream/pie-in-the sky collaborations? What are some future projects coming up on the horizon that you are excited to be a part of?

One of the reasons I forced myself to address my own work again was because I’d grown tired of collaborations! I’ve been very fortunate to work with the people I have, and collaborations have the value of creating that synergy that William Burroughs and Brion Gysin called “the Third Mind”, something that’s beyond the work either of you might create on your own. But I felt I’d done rather a lot of that and needed to concentrate more fully on my own ideas. Just now I’ll be happy if I can finish the long and ambitious novel I’m writing which has been in progress for the past four years. I have an agent touting the first novel at the moment so I’m obviously keen to see that published.

Coming up there’s a lot of steampunk-related things due to appear. I’ve contributed to The Steampunk Bible, a big glossy guide which Selena Chambers and Jeff VanderMeer have put together for Abrams; I’m currently finishing the design for Steampunk Reloaded, a fiction anthology from Tachyon edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, and I also have some steampunk cover designs on the go. Further down the line there’s another VanderMeer project, The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, which I’ll be helping illustrate. I’m still on board for the guide to the occult arts which Alan Moore and Steve Moore (no relation) have been writing. And in the next month or so I’ll be doing another Alice calendar, based on Through the Looking-Glass this time. This last one I’m looking forward to a great deal.

John Coulthart
John Coulthart

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It’s difficult to recall now, with which facet of the incredible force of nature that is Karyn Crisis that I first became familiar. Was it her voice? Oscillating passionately between infernal hisses and howls and seraphic coos and incantations, her searing vocals are both unmistakable and unforgettable. Perhaps it was her art: once you’ve seen any of her original oil paintings, boldly and beautifully imbued with magick, empowerment, and ritual, you’re forever haunted by their fiercely transformative energies.  And as intensely spiritual as she is artistically inclined, Karyn is also a Shaman, Seeker, Witch, and Healer who is highly sought-after for classes, workshops, private readings, and public demonstrations.

Does it really matter, then, where I heard of her first? Nah, I’ve racked my brains and I’ve got no answer for that now. The important thing is that the universe, in its infinite wisdom, made me aware of her, and I’ve been fascinated by her many-layered presence in this world ever since. Isn’t it funny, the places that life takes you? Four years ago I was posting her eldritch imagery on my tumblr blog, and now I am beyond pleased to share with you our recent interview, here.

Karyn Crisis by Virginia Tieman, 2014

Haute Macabre: Shaman, Seeker, Witch, Healer–in addition to all of these things, you are a musician, an artist, and a writer as well– truly an interdisciplinary artist! Amongst all of these practices, with which do you feel that your true heart lies?

Karyn Crisis: Truly, all those forms of creative expression you mentioned “take turns” occupying various amounts of time and energy in my life. The central part of my life is my connection to the Spirit world. From this point of co-creative “meeting of the minds,” everything else radiates…and often according to plans that are not in my control! Having a “soul agreement” is what dictates the way energy ebbs and flows through my life. In order to be in alignment with this, I listen to the silence, and there…do I see a painting? Hear a song? Sense a workshop in-the -making? Research to be done? I listen and feel and then I follow the suggestion.

I don’t consider myself an artist or musician in the traditional sense. Most artists and musicians I know dedicate and devote much of their time to listening to music of others, researching equipment, practicing their gifts and talents, writing and recording songs…or sketching, sculpting, exploring new media, drawing, and painting. In contrast, I spend absolutely no time doing this “preparatory” part of these arts. I make art and music, but not regularly. I’m a channeler, but I don’t always get to choose which creative avenue I’ll be channeling through.

I constantly feel unprepared for what I’m doing if I think about it…and that’s the key: thinking is the limiting factor: feeling, sensing, and expressing are where the magic lies and unfolds.

Karyn Crisis at remains of Diana's Temple at Nemi

With regard to writing, I know you are currently working on your forthcoming book, Italy’s Witches and Medicine Woman— can you tell us a little bit about the book and the journey that led you to write it?

My book was an unexpected project! I suppose it began in 2009 when I lived in Italy for a period and stayed in a little house in the middle of olive fields. There was a spirit in the house who introduced herself to me as an Italian witch, and who began to teach me for two hours a day. I would write down things she told me, mostly about healing techniques, but also some things about Italy’s history and how to work with nature. Later, I would find out the things she told me were true. She became my daily spirit guide, you could say, coming with me when I returned to California. She pushed me to train as a Spiritualist Medium, which I thought at the time was odd. I assumed she’d teach me spells and rituals, which she did, but she seemed very unimpressed by them. I began to train under a licensed Spiritualist Medium associated with Lily Dale by charter, and I quickly learned how to gather evidential information from passed-on relatives, loved-ones, and friends of people still living on earth. This was a way to scientifically “prove” that life continues on after death of the physical body, and this is what my guide wanted.

Then, Goddesses began appearing to me in the same way spirit people like relatives did…and the Goddesses were telling me historical things about Italy that seemed odd to me: mixes of cultures and different types of groups of people doing healing and magic. I wrote it all down, and found out around the time that GOTW began recording that all this was also true. (My Italian husband went to visit his mother at this time in Italy, and they went to visit her family in Caserta. She revealed to him she’s from a lineage there, and she told him some of the things she learned of a magical nature, which incidentally I had been doing because I learned them from my Italian spirit guide). He bought me two books in Benevento that he and I ended up translating together…where I found all that I’d been shown by the Goddesses was historically true!

So this began a journey for me of historical recovery. I realized that we don’t need to feel “cut-off” from our personal lineages and histories when we can still communicate with our ancestors in the spirit world and re-learn our traditions before the church got to them and usurped the symbols and practices. This was just a personal passion at the start. However, it was a passion that got me up early in the day, devoting my early hours to researching…along with my spiritual “think tank group,” you could call them, who magically got materials and people and opportunities to come my way that added significantly to my research.

Then, it was time for me to return to Italy. I’d planned to just go live there for 3 months near Benevento, after meeting up with Carlo Napolitano, an author form Naples of one of the books that I received from Italy. Instead, I contacted a friend near Genoa who invited me to start my journey there because the Inquisition had in fact begun there…and then suddenly doors opened and people began to reach out to me: I interviewed 23 people this time, while I lived among locals in the mountains, took cures from Italian lineage healers on mountaintops (that aren’t even on the map), spent time in medieval villages having “il malocchio” (the evil eye) released from me with oil and water, learned from biodynamic herbalists, met local authors and museum directors and folklore experts and etymologists, got to touch 2,000 year old temples like Diana’s Temple at Nemi (and I buried peoples’ prayers there) as well as pre-pagan structures devoted to Goddesses, and I met with Paolo Portone, a Roman author who’s dedicated 30 years of his life to reclaiming Inquisition documents and writing about the true history of Italy’s witches (and is also the Science director of the new MES: Museum of Ethnohistorical Witchcraft in Triora). Author Carlo Napolitano took me to sacred sites where legend has it the Goddess physically manifested herself and which are nor protected by apotropaic magic, and more. I met with a secret group called “Benandanti,” and I met young witches and old, female and male. I really got to know some of Italy’s history and magic from the inside-out. I lived among locals instead of staying in hotels. I also learned a healing technique there that I’ve begun demonstrating at my book lectures and workshops. The book has become “Volume 1,” which means I’ll have to return to explore regions that I haven’t yet made it to, to be fair to Italy herself. I’ve already got invitations waiting…so I’m trying to get this book completed. In the meanwhile, I have started a newsletter to keep people informed of my progress, and I’m traveling around taking my lectures with video footage and photos to different states. The research focuses on the miraculous curing traditions of peasant women and their world, versus the idea of the “witch” that the church created.


Your last album, Salem’s Wounds, was released in 2015– Can you tell us about the experience of creating that album, and do you have plans to create/release more music?

Davide Tiso wrote the music for Salem’s Wounds and all the songs prior to this album that we experimented with for over 5 years. He’s a prolific composer, but I move much more slowly. During that time, his musical style became more emotional, and my vocal style softened, and my vision (atmosphere I wanted to convey, lyrics, storytelling) became focused on the magic that I learned in Italy and the continued spiritual experiences I was having related to Italy. Basically, all my parts of the album (visual concepts, lyrics, vocals) were channeled while I was jogging alone at 5am in the forest, or at the ocean under the stars, and even during mundane train rides to work. It was a wild time, full of synchronicities, psychic phenomena, and myths come to life! This period was also when my Italian research and recovery of ancient history began, so aspects of this research were woven into the album whose songs were charged with energy from these historical spiritual practices. Yes, there are plans for more, but as to when…see my first answer :)

Karyn Crisis Fear painting

Your artwork is so incredibly powerful, and packs a tremendous emotional wallop–I can look at the faces of the beings you create and I am sure I can feel in my bones their fury and their fear and their wonder and awe. I have to wonder about the experience of painting these pieces and the emotional work that goes into them?

Well thank you so much! It’s really wonderful to know you connect with them in an emotional way. It’s true I make art for my own emotional expression and also for devotional reasons, and I really pour my inner world into them… but I feel like art isn’t truly alive if it’s not finding a way to connect with people…or at least the eyes of others!

Karyn Crisis Calling In The Four Quarters

Also, as relates to your artistic process, on your blog I read that your paintings are given to you in image form, clairvoyantly, complete and with details and colors–that’s very interesting! Was that just for that particular series on mediumship or is this how it works for you all the time? Can you tell us a little more about how you work with these clairvoyant images?

After I lived in Tuscany, life took another radical shift. My husband rented me a painting studio and gave me time to just paint. I was working on portraiture, painstakingly, and I wasn’t really enjoying it. One afternoon he took me to linch and said “You don’t really look happy painting. What do you want to paint really? What if you really painted what you wanted to ?” Those questions made our lunch an existential one, because I realized it was true at that time I wasn’t feeling I was painting what I wanted.

Until then, my paintings really came with inspiration rather than a decision to paint. For example, I went from not painting for 10 years to painting an entire series of large scale paintings in 2006. I’d just paint when the visions were there when I received inspiration. But when I’d try to make a daily effort to paint, it was different, and the process felt less magical and more technical. That’s not a bad thing at all, I had wanted to improve my technique in the first place so I could paint in a different way, but I was unable to make a lot of technical improvements, and the search for that left me feeling creatively uninspired.

So I thought about what my husband had said and I asked my daily spirit guide to work with me on my paintings, and I devoted them at that moment to expressing shamanism, witchery, and healing and magic. I decided to make each one count-no wasted canvases or efforts.

But I didn’t think I could do this alone, so I asked my guide to help me. We began to work together: the best way I can describe it is I’d receive a “flash” of an image, in my style, but already complete with colors and details. It was as if she was sending me a polaroid snapshot of a painting already finished. I didn’t have to do any re-arranging. Next, I’d have to figure out how to get it on the canvas to look the way it did in the “flash” impression I’d see. I can reference that flash in my mind’s eye at any time. It doesn’t fade until the painting is completed. Many of the things in the paintings I see in the “flashes” are above my technical skill level. So, when we first began to work this way, my guide said “just keep painting, we’ll work out the rest,” referring to her and my other guides who help me paint. I just have to make some physical effort, and then I go into a light trance of sensations, colors, and feelings, and it’s as if the paintings paint themselves. I think all artists of every type feel this to some extent when they are feeling inspired…I do it intentionally each time.

Karyn Crisis photo by Letizia Moreno 2015

It seems like you throw your entire being, everything that you are, into every project you undertake. Where does this tremendous drive come from? And when you are not creating (I’m assuming you take breaks!) how do you relax and recover?

Life is very short. I’ve already died once. While naturally a hermit, I’ve been pushing myself to explore more, and with exploration comes this drive to share what I’ve discovered. I’m a passionate researcher. But research, for me, is not just about information, it’s about getting to know what’s behind the research through the unfoldment process of experiences. I’ve come to learn my life is all about experiences (rather than to settle down)…and the older I get, the more I have to have a backpack ready-to-go attitude to follow those experiences and journeys..and I move back and forth from mountain paths to city jobs, back in and out…physical world, spirit world, ancient world, modern world. Part of me always prefers to hide away, and part of me is being pushed to explore! Whenever I notice I’m falling out of love with life, I try to fall back in love with it, which is not always easy. Passionate exploration gets me there.

I don’t have a regular social life. My idea of being social, currently, is to pick a city I want to visit and find a way to teach a class or a workshop there . In the past, my way of being social was to go on tour, or present my art in a gallery show. I’m a nomad and I don’t belong anywhere other than inside experiences, and I’m always happy to meet people there, in the experience. Time is important to me: time on earth is a rare commodity, so I want, I demand to spend it doing something that has meaning to me. Relaxing and recovering is important, because I push myself so hard and also because I spend a good amount of time in the spirit world. So, for me, there’s also plenty of quiet time, where I go for walks or into nature or I just find some quiet place to sit outside and do nothing but just receive. I recharge myself with meditations and gemstones. I need to keep myself as a clear channel, so I can hear the quietest whisper of inspiration in the noisiest of environments.

I live largely like a nun, devoting my time to my work and connecting with the spirit world privately and then plugging into interesting jobs, teaching classes publicly. This wasn’t really my choice, but it’s where my life has moved me to with the advent of Gospel Of The Witches and Italian research.

I dont sleep a lot, but I sleep well.

Quiet mornings alone in nature are very important to me, even if the only nature I have accessible is an outdoor breeze and sky view while drinking espresso.

I listen to my body: I know when I’m not taking good care of myself physically, and this affects my mind and my clarity. Depending on what I’m working with or dealing with in spirit world, there may be minerals that go missing from my body and I haveto find ways of replenishing them energetically and physically.

Karyn Crisis

Do you have any upcoming workshops/lectures/appearances/exhibits that you might like our readers to know about?

I just returned from NY, having given “Italy’s Witches and Medicine Women” lecture part II with a demonstration of a healing technique I learned in the south of Italy. I’m currently planning another trip back to NY (Brooklyn and Cornwall) in late September, with my sights set on Portland, Massachusetts, and Oakland too. Please keep an eye on my website and sign up for my newsletter for coming events: www.karyncrisisheals.com.

Find Karyn Crisis: website // instagram // facebook // twitter // blog

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Today at Haute Macabre I’m pleased to review Solstice Scents’ Spring 2017 collection, whose refreshing vernal fragrances were a lovely change of pace during the hellscape that is July in Florida.

Are you a fan of bracing cocktails, lemony gourmands, Appalachian meadow Bambis,  or watercolor florals & haunted breezes? Or perhaps the idea of the eerie olfactory equivalent of this image below piques your interest? In that case, you may want to avail yourself of some of these lovely spring scents before they are sold out!

Film still from Jean Rollin's Les Démoniaques
Film still from Jean Rollin’s Les Démoniaques


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Truth be told, I’ve been dying to get an interview with this incredible, avant-garde designer since around this time last year, so I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to share that I recently had the genuine pleasure of catching up on the splendid creations and extraordinary adventures of the eternally hustling & bustling Ashley Rose for a feature today at Haute Macabre!

And, as a special peek for Haute Macabre readers, Ashley Rose has shared a generous glimpse of imagery from the forthcoming show, “My Dearest Dust”(which I will be attending! Eeeeek!)

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(originally published on the Coilhouse blog, June 30th, 2011)

“I paint my demons. I paint nightmares. To get rid of them. I paint my fears. I paint my sorrow. To deal with them.” – Mia Mäkilä

Mia Mäkilä, a self-taught artist who lives and works in Sweden, describes her art as “horror pop surrealism” or “dark lowbrow” and further illustrates: “Picture Pippi Longstocking and Swedish movie director Ingmar Bergman having a love child. That’s me.”

Her work consists of digital paintings and vintage photographs manipulated and distorted to produce nightmarish mixed media portraits. The creations borne of Mäkilä’s artistic process are both uncomfortably horrific and unaccountably humorous– demonic entities lurk in the form of gash-mouthed, leering Victorian families staring from within a tintype void. Fire-breathing/ennui-stricken and dandified gentlemen ejaculate from the precarious heights of a Parisian rooftop. All manner of flaming Boschian hells overflow with cavorting fish and flamingos and God knows what else.


Can all the world’s fears and sorrows, splashed and splattered in fiendish form on canvas, truly be this ghastly, this wretched, this… funny? Equally terrifying to contemplate: what malignant spirits might we coax to the surface, were we to make art conjured from similar soul-sourcing? Coilhouse’s recent interview with Mäkilä yields candid anecdotes about her own process; by examining the evidence of her painted demons, perhaps we can discern how to have a little fun exorcising our own.


You describe your art as “dark lowbrow” and refer to a “dark lowbrow movement”. Please tell us about that.

Mia Mäkilä: I think I’ve gone from horror art and more of a gothic style, to a more pinkish lowbrow style with cuteness/horror rather than the gothic elements, and I feel more at home with the lowbrow artists than the gothic ones. I don’t listen to Marilyn Manson or slice my wrists when I feel bad, and I certainly do not paint my lips with black lipstick. I love life and I celebrate it everyday, so my mind isn’t as dark as my paintings. I enjoy music from the ’80s, classical music and don’t watch any splatter horror movies; I love Ingmar Bergman, Hitchcock, David Lynch, John Waters and cute romantic comedies from the ’80s, like “The Breakfast Club”, so I’m not that dark minded after all.

But I love that mix of dark and cute, sad and happy, and the juxtaposition of the ugly and the beautiful. I am darker than a “regular” artist might be, but I am too light for the horror genre, so I am in between – just between a toyish and light style of lowbrow (pop-surrealism) and dark horror/gothic style.


You mention that the horror in your art is your way of processing difficult themes such as “fear, angst, madness, rage and sorrow “, and you list Ingmar Bergman, David Lynch, Tim Burton as influences for their dark drama and symbolic inner worlds. But you’ve also said that you use a lot of humor to do this, and seem to enjoy making “… demons [have] fun on the canvas”. I am curious to hear about your inspirations and influences in this vein. What makes you laugh, what are your amusements– and how does that translate into the exquisite grotesqueries you create?

I am very amused by the unexpected. It could be funny pictures I’ve found on the Internet of a very fat naked woman with a bottle stuffed in her ass . I mean, who takes such pictures, who’s that woman, what was the actual situation like and how on earth did it get on the Internet? That’s very funny, I think. I collect such pictures, and I post them on my blog as well, just to show people how funny reality can be.

An at the same time, it’s disgusting and sad. I mean, a bottle in a fat lady’s ass is quite disgusting and sad but still very funny. I like that mix of emotions. I don’t like funny pictures that are staged or faked, I like the coincidental humor, when you have no control over the situation and it just accidentally becomes funny– like a joke made by the cosmos. I use stuff like that in my collages; my paper cutouts become jokes of scary and disgusting combinations, just like the strange images I find on the Internet.


I read somewhere that you said – “I don’t believe in artist as moneymakers, but as magicians.” Do you mean magicians as in purveyors of trickery and illusions? Or perhaps in a more occult, esoteric sense? Both? Neither? I’d love to hear additional thoughts on that.

What I meant by that was, I don’t believe you can pinpoint what “art” really is, it’s when the artist has made an illusion that people can be fooled by. Just like a movie is an illusion of something real, art can be an illusion of something real or unreal. It’s very interesting, really. Art doesn’t need to feel real, but when you have made a really good piece of work, you give it life and it becomes this real and authentic world of it’s own.

Upcoming projects? Collaborations? Shows?

I’m working right now on a new collection of both paintings and digital collages and I have some projects and future show that I’m keeping a secret for now…




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The enigmatic artist known as Hidden Velvet seemed to appear on my radar overnight, and yet, whilst gazing at the somber elegance of her surreal collages, I feel that I have been carrying velvety fragments of her assemblages with me, tucked into the shadowy corners of my heart, for all of my life.

A floating cloud softly obscures the face of a cloaked woman whose dark mantle gives away to grey vapors. A soft, pale hand loosely grasps a rose while a both a butterfly perches on a fingertip and a snake slithers in the spaces between. Delicate vines of ivy mark the pages of a book that has opened to an illustration of an ominous figure emerging from its darkened interior. It is easy to become lost in these bittersweet contrasts of lightness and glooms, blooming, fluttering life and the stillness of death, and furtive dread juxtaposed against a serene sense of tranquility.

It is also easy, at least for me, to fall in love with an artist’s work and want to know everything about them. Everything! Sometimes though, I wonder– does a lack of mystery lessen the enjoyment for others who consider themselves equally passionate about these uncanny artists and the intimate worlds they create?  Keeping this in mind, I will share just a few select secrets about the Belgian artist known as Hidden Velvet.

A wistful dreamer and enthusiastic devotee of antique photographs, Hidden Velvet fell in love with the medium of collage through Instagram. The thought of transforming an image and giving it new life, a new story, was appealing–and, as it turned out, came quite effortlessly to her when she initially tried her hand at it. It was easy at first, she shared, but of course the more techniques and processes she learns, the more challenging and complicated it becomes! Hidden Velvet doesn’t mind the time involved though; she allows her mind to wander and roam as she works through each piece, and it’s always then, she confesses, when the magic happens.

“My ideas may come right before I sleep, when I’m between consciousness and unconsciousness…but that state might happen during the day too. Or sometimes it begins with a precise idea…”

But more often than not, she seeks to use her feelings and instincts, to be spontaneous. “If I try to think too much and force it, it doesn’t work,” she concludes.

Inspiration, muses Hidden Velvet, can visit in the form of a picture, a painting, a movie, a song. Notes the artist, “I work with music; it helps me to immerse myself in the story I’m about to tell. Music is very important, I often listen to soundtracks and classical music to create.” Some specific artistic influences include:  Tim Burton, David Lynch, Frida Kahlo, Egon Schiele, Leonora Carrington, Kay Sage, Edgar Allan Poe, Max Ernst, Camille Rose Garcia, Thomas Kuntz, Kathryn Polk, Lola Gil, Edward Gorey, John Kenn Mortensen, Aubrey Beardsley, Ryan Heshka, Jim McKenzie, Alessandro Sicioldr, Fernbeds, Adam Wallacavage, Yosiell Lorenzo, Rafael Silveira, Kris Kuksi, Alexis Diaz, Camille Claudel. “I’m an absolute fan of Vincent Price, Bela Lugosi, Eva Green and Tom Waits,” she adds, and continues, “I also find inspiration by reading tales and legends from around the world. The last books I found very inspiring were “Cinderella“, “Snow White” and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” illustrated by Camille Rose Garcia.”

A pensive dreamer with a fondness for solitude, Hidden Velvet spent a childhood in realms of her own making, reading books, writing stories and creating characters–but it never bothered her, being alone. What she does find troubling, though, is injustice and intolerance; “I have a real tenderness for lost souls, those who have had a tormented life, those who are “different” and judged because of it.” She earnestly observes as an afterthought, ” …so maybe that’s why there are melancholic characters in my world of dreams… I find it more interesting to tell a story with flawed characters. We live in an aseptic era, where we have to be so perfect…but we are not…and it’s ok.”

An elusive creature whose instagram hints at moths, dainty collars and porcelain dolls, vintage silhouettes, and silent film stills, but not overly much about the human behind the moody, melancholic art, I asked Hidden Velvet what she might like Haute Macabre readers to know about her. Quick to note that she is not consciously trying to be mysterious, but rather that we are living in an era where it has become normal to share everything about one’s life on social media. “I don’t judge it at all, it’s just something I don’t feel comfortable with, but you can definitely get to know me through my collages.”

“I can tell you this”, she sweetly divulges:

I’m Belgian, Italian, and Polish • I’m an only child • Simple things make me happy • I want to be amazed like a child as long as possible •  The book I cherish the most is “Les Contes de Charles Perrault”, it’s a very old book with no cover and beautiful illustrations, I have read it thousands and thousands of times • I like to have lots of books; I keep buying them even if I haven’t read the old ones • I’m a vinyl addict • I love biographies • I hate cult movie remakes • I adore vintage furniture and clothing • I wish I was a painter • When I was a child, we used to go to my nonno’s (grandfather) house on Sundays, we started eating at noon and finished at eight or nine. There was always room for a friend or a neighbor. My nonno was an excellent cook and the funniest person. He passed away in 1995 and I miss him everyday • I’d like to have an animal shelter • I have a cabinet of curiosities • When I’m hanging with my close friends, I sometimes discreetly put chocolate on my teeth and smile…

“My art comes from the heart and what makes me really happy about sharing it online is to read people’s interpretations. When you create, you put a lot of yourself into the art form and, when it resonates with someone out there, that’s the best feeling you could have as an artist.”

Those who admire the art of Hidden Velvet should stay tuned, as she has plans to open a shop with limited editions, in the near future. In the meantime, for updates and new work, find Hidden Velvet: Behance // instagram // facebook

This article was first published on Haute Macabre on June 13, 2017.

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Aha! So, I guess I tricked you. There’s fripperies here, to be sure, but it’s all my old frips that I’m trying to get rid of! Yes, like every other person on the planet, I too, have opened a wee depop store. Inside you will find mysterious baubles and supernatural face paints and fancy stinks and witchy clothes with which to garb your naked bod!

Also, I’d like to point out, that as a person who often wears L or XL garments, on these “sell your old stuff” sites, there’s always a marked dearth of those sizes in coveted brands like, oh, say, blackmilk or Deandri. Secret: you’ll find them in my shop!

And who knows, your purchases may fund my next edition of Friday Fripperies! (As an FYI, and if you didn’t know…for the most part, like maybe 75% of the time if not more, I try to only feature here items that I have purchased for myself and that I can vouch for. )

Are you over on depop? Comment with your shop in the comments and I will be sure to check yours out as well! In the meantime, be sure to follow mlleghoul on depop for updates!

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