In August of 2017, I am pretty sure that Kjersti Faret of Cat Coven and I were within 5 feet of each other at the Salem Night Market… but I was too shy to introduce myself. I had been an admirer of Kjersti’s weird feminist magics in the form of art prints, decor, and soft, drapey tee shirts for some time, and I would loved to have told her how happy her witchy, whimsical, sometimes medieval-inspired creatures make my heart feel whenever I peek in at her new work. There’s always an element of fierce, feral joyousness to her illustrations that turns any spooky, serious, goth expectations you might have of this kind of art right on its head. It’s delightfully surprising while at the same time exploring fascinating facets of art history, queerness, and the occult, resulting in such a unique blend of tender oddball darkness and wonder.
Needless to say, I love Kjersti’s art and perspective and am delighted that she has answered a few questions for us at Unquiet Things today. See below for our Q&A where we ruminate on art-witchery and exploring the unknown parts of one’s self, the urge to create delicious weirdness measured against the bitter pill of capitalism, and the magic of setting aside time for one’s self amidst a hectic hustle.
Your imagery focuses greatly on your heritage, your queer perspective, the occult, art history, feminism, and of course–cats! How do these ideas and attitudes and points of view meet in your art?
I’m struggling to answer this question because I don’t really know. They just are such a strong part of me that I automatically include them. As I accept my queerness more, it flows into the work. If I’m reading more fairytales or mythology, they’ll seep into my work as well. Whatever I’m currently meditating on in the back of my mind is what goes onto the paper. I suppose because I use a lot of my personal work to explore unknown sides of myself, it just naturally comes out and drifts into my commercial work as well.
You describe yourself as an “art witch”–which I LOVE. If it is something you are comfortable speaking on (as I realize practice can be a very private thing!) do you consider your art and the creation of it to be your main magical practice or do you do magical workings outside of your artistic practice? Is it all very much tied together for you, or are they separate things, with their own corresponding rituals and such?
Yes, they are very tied together. I do some things separate from art-making, but it’s like 90% art-making. It’s either very meditative or very frenzied, depending on the day. Creating art in a frenzied way means I sort of set up my “safe space” (like opening a circle, if you will) and free myself up mentally. I put on specific music and go into a trance-like state and let the mediums – whether it’s graphite, gouache, ink or whatever – do the talking for me.
A lot of times I don’t know exactly what I will create, and it comes out spontaneously. Like I mentioned previously, I like exploring the depths of my mind to find hidden gems I may not have known before. Other times, I have a clear image of what I want to make that just “pops” into my head and it’s trial and error until I have replicated it in the real world. After meditating a bit this usually happens. I’ve been doing a lot more guided meditations lately and I get very strong visualizations for new projects after doing this. Sometimes I will start creating right away, other times I let it sit for a few days and make sure it’s worth pursuing.
I have a tendency to get very excited by a new idea and then run out of steam halfway through. I’m learning patience and that I have a limited time to pursue projects, so I can only complete those which demand to be made. It feels like performing a ritual to set an intention. That’s how I treat certain artworks I do. I am taking this intangible thing and giving it physical form. The process of making the piece also helps me internalize the concepts and/or process uncomfortable emotions.
Speaking of rituals, do you have any–either magical or mundane– that you engage in to set the mood for creating?
I have to listen to very specific playlists to get in the right state of mind. I am trying to get my consciousness to hit that sweet spot between intentional yet open to spontaneity and chance. Right now it’s movie/TV show soundtracks, which can range from Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, How to Train your Dragon to Outlander (basically fantasy music is perfect for setting the vibe, or anything by Bear McCreary). Or it’s a playlist I made filled with nostalgic pop songs circa 2012, because that was a very significant year for me. Also working at night is a special time for creating. I don’t get to do it very often because I like to sleep, but I will push myself every now and then to stay awake and create sometime, from like 12 – 2 AM, because somehow the world is quieter and more magical then.
This is a very specific question, I hope you don’t mind! You recently(ish) shared a little papercut goddess over on Instagram, which I believe you made for yourself. First, I love to see when artists keep their own work …I mean, maybe that happens more often than I realize, and just no one talks about it! I read somewhere recently, an artist on TikTok I think, how they asserted that artists have NO obligation to sell their work to anyone, and I think that’s a powerful statement and also something that doesn’t get discussed often.
But that’s not even the point of my question, I am getting sidetracked! You mentioned that this personal piece was not one goddess in particular, but rather an amalgamation of several favorites. I’d love to hear about your favorite goddesses/deities and how they inform and inspire your creative practice and even your life, in general…!
Oof, okay. Loaded question! I’ve always made art for myself. I think that’s how we all start, us artists, we love drawing in our childhood and if it gets encouraged, then you either pursue it professionally because you want a “job you love” or you do it on the side, eventually lose time because life happens and you stop creating. If you chose the “job you love” path, then you either focus so much on hustling commercial work that there is creative burnout for other work, or your “personal work” gets mixed up into your commercial work, and you are selling every bit of yourself to scrape by.
Can you tell I’m bitter about capitalism? Anyway, yes, this is all related to your question because I feel a split between my “professional” work over at Cat Coven and my “personal” artwork, which is that goddess piece. I love constantly growing and experimenting, but that is not encouraged when doing product work because you want to establish a recognizable brand. And while I do have fun drawing the things I do for Cat Coven, it is not necessarily what I would spend my time making if I didn’t have bills. I’d probably make a hell of a lot more weird inaccessible, existential art that would get maybe 10 likes on instagram.
The past few years I’ve really tried to get back into having separate personal work that feels fulfilling in my soul. I’ve dedicated my life to art because it is the language through which I can express myself best and understand the world around me. The only way I could practice it every day was by incorporating it into my job. When I draw things for Cat Coven, I am always tweaking and learning my style and getting better at drawing skeletons, cats, etc, which I can then use in my Important Work.
That being said, I am also in the process of rebranding Cat Coven to align more with who I am now and what I enjoy now as a 28-year-old, since I feel like a very different person than when I was in college and began my business.
Anyway, the goddesses! My “gateway goddess” was Freyja. I made one or two artworks years ago that were about her. I was drawn to her first because of my Norwegian heritage. Recently I’ve been drawn to Inanna and Ishtar. I don’t remember how they first captured my interest, but here I am. The “goddess” piece you referenced was mainly inspired by her. There’s a bit of Lilith in there too. I suppose it’s not just goddesses, because I was also thinking of Medusa (hence the snake hair), but any mythological archetype really.
While of course, I am always interested to hear about the work of your art and why you do what you do, I am also keen to hear about your rituals of rest and relaxation. How do you replenish your creativity and feed your soul when you’re not working on Cat Coven projects? It should be noted that this question is inspired by the joyful Renfaire photos of you and your wife that you sometimes share on social media, back when we could do such things 🙂
Haha, I’m glad you think I relax! Just kidding, I do and I am definitely getting better at it. It’s something that’s been a long time in the making. I used to have terrible work/life boundaries, just sitting on my bed in my first apartment after college, sewing tiny embroideries until midnight to put on Etsy. The past few years I began to align myself with my wife’s working hours, who works a “normal” scheduled job, which makes it easier to say “ok it’s time to stop working, go do a hobby or cook dinner or spend time with her.”
I’m also trying to take longer “European” lunch breaks. I call them European lunch breaks because the idea really got in my head after I did a residency in France a few years ago. Lunch was two hours, usually with a bottle of wine or time for a little nap. I don’t do the wine obviously, but I am trying to take time to read or go outside after lunch and enjoy the present moment. Also leaving NYC recently has made me feel calmer, as there is no rush of the city to make me feel pressured to keep going and going. That was part of our reason to move, as my wife and I both realized we are being worn down by the hustle of city life.
And yes, we enjoy the Ren Faire, or really any excuse to get dressed up in costume. Another benefit of being out of the city is that I finally have the space (garage and driveway) to do DIY house projects like sanding and painting a big bookshelf, so I am enjoying relaxing while I do other handicrafts I never had access to before. Also I can take BATHS!!! (We only had a shower in our previous apartment). Baths have changed my life (Shout out to Witch Baby Soaps).
What are some of your biggest inspirations currently that are finding their way into your art and practice?
I’ve really fallen for the Surrealists recently, something I think I was resisting for a long time because the famous ones can feel a bit cliché (like Dali) or overly churned into products (like Kahlo, which makes me sad). But I do really love Kahlo, Remedios Varo, and Leonora Carrington. Tove Jansson is my number one always, not just because of her art but also because of how she lived her life. She is my queer icon I look up to the most. Because of my Norwegian heritage, I have a very nostalgic attachment to anything Scandinavian, and these artists always warm my heart: Nikolai Astrup, Edvard Munch, Elsa Beskow and Theodore Kittlesen. Medieval art is always a favorite. Also, woodcuts in general, because the linework that the medium produces is so raw and overwhelmingly human (specifically when Kathe Kollwitz uses it and other expressionists).
I just learned that you have a Patreon! Can you tell us about what goes on over there?
Yes! It is mostly behind-the-scenes work or first looks for both Cat Coven and personal work. Also sometimes ramblings on different themes that are present in my art. I’ll also be sharing my new studio space there soon – it feels very vulnerable to share, so I don’t feel comfortable posting it publicly on social media. Some tiers also have download and print color pages, calendar pages and discount codes for CatCoven.com 🙂
I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t obsessed with jewelry. Draped in my grandmother’s beads and baubles, I’d swan around the house, feeling fancy and beautiful, the queen of my daydreams and imaginary domain. My fantasies involved ornate treasure chests overflowing with glittering gems and gleaming jewels and I swore that one day, I would have one of my own.
I wish I still had a photo of it, but my favorite piece of “jewelry” was built from these colorful interlocking plastic blocks and spheres …I’m not sure if it was meant to be worn or just played with for hand-eye coordination type stuff, but I luxuriously delighted in imagining them as massive rubies and sapphires and emeralds…
Here’s another photo, instead. You get the idea!
When I first laid eyes upon the creations of Eternal Craft Designs, I was immediately transported back to a time when I dreamed in the lustrous language and scintillating brilliance of precious stones, a faceted and radiant light that set the landscape of my own strange and lonely little worlds aglow. I purchased for myself a strand of beads from their Poisons collection, and in its green glimmering reality, the flash of its colors and gorgeous tumbling heft, I held all of my childhood dreams in my hands.
It is pictured here in the disarray of my vanity in the lower right, artfully spilling out of a small Anna Sui container. And in the photo below that, entwined around my neck! The little-Sarah that still lives in my heart is utterly screaming with joy.
I recently chatted with Eternal Craft Designs about their unique, one-of-a-kind pieces, the stories and inspirations that go into the creations of these jewels, and the process of finding one’s voice through a maximalist aesthetic and the perpetually haunted aspects of one’s nature.
Tell me about the kind of jewelry that you create and who it is you envision wearing it.
Mostly I craft One of a kind beaded strands of various semi-precious stones and crystal beads. Some of them include vintage glass beads that I have collected over decades to adorn my dragon’s lair. (I’m convinced I was a crow in a previous life) I also make solid sterling silver tombstone keepsake pendants.
The type of person I envision wearing my jewelry loves to shimmer and sparkle in darkness. That person might be a little witchy, they might be a bit earthy, they might be into holistic and healing energies. Each strand is as unique as the individual who wears them. They’re hefty and have a good deal of texture and weight to them and I try to make them as sturdy as possible so that they will last through the centuries.
There’s a certain androgyny to some of the pieces, wearable by people on any level of the gender spectrum, particularly the tombstone pendants, which were originally designed as a commitment between lovers.
I get the sense that you love jewels and baubles as much or if not more than I do…I would love to learn what led you in the direction of making jewelry as opposed to draping yourself in it fabulously? (Which is also my move, by the way, hee!)
Oh, I drape myself in jewels and baubles! TRUST ME! One can ALWAYS count on me to show up at the holiday party with more shine than the Christmas tree!
Instead of removing one piece of jewelry before I leave the house, I add one.
I used to make little elastic bracelets for friends and include them with the wrappings of a prezzie. Then they would break or were promptly lost. I had a dear friend who was so creative and talented at everything, including making jewelry. She was trying to encourage me and help me find my crafty jewelry voice, and unfortunately passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly some years ago. The night before we were supposed to get together to play with jewelry) I inherited some tools and materials from her but couldn’t really do anything with a lot of it for a very long time. In a way, I feel like I finally figured out what I needed to be doing with all of the things she gave me.
I look at your work and how you talk about it and it makes me think of the idea of jewelry as story-telling. What are the stories that haunt you and inspire your creativity when making a new piece of jewelry? What else do you count among your inspirations and influences?
I have a lifetime of things that inspire me; music, literature, art. Let’s get the obvious influence out of the way; our beloved Bloodmilk Jewels. When their Mourning Beads and Ritual Strands launched, my vision became clear, and I was able to focus. Of course, I had no intention to copy them. I’m not a professional jewelry maker first of all, so it wouldn’t be possible. Secondly, BMJ fans are fiercely loyal, and I’d never want to provoke the ire of their followers. Jen and Jess and so lovely and so kind, I could never….
With the first BMJ strand I purchased, Bookstore Cat, I was blown away at how delicate and tiny and perfect it was! I felt more comfortable that what I had in mind was something quite different and that may or may not appeal to the same person.
I decided one thing that could impart into my jewelry was my vast music knowledge. I always have a song in my head & sometimes I can connect that with a strand of beads. I have a great catalog of music to draw from; thousands of CDs, and records that I have collected while working as a radio/club dj, then retail, and finally establishing myself as an inventory manager and buyer for some of the largest record stores in the country. (Remember Record Stores?)
I am perpetually haunted. The biggest flaw in my character is that I find it difficult to move on. I tend to hold on to the darkness in my life for far too long.
I try to use the ritual of cleansing the crystals and stones once I have completed a strand so that whatever darkness I may be enveloped in does not pass on, if that makes sense. I’m also no purist. I pick and choose elements that satisfy my visual aesthetic. I’m a novice when it comes to these fabulous crystal powers and don’t ever claim to be anything more. I’m sure there are experts out there that could quibble and cringe at how I write about or arrange things, but the powers and energies that can be drawn are entirely second to the sparkle and shine for me. These pretty shiny things are only here to make you feel pretty and shiny. My intentions are my own, get out of it what you want.
As far as “storytelling” goes…Thank you, but I dunno….I don’t consider myself much of a writer – it’s a struggle for me, and a lot of times I find myself paraphrasing and re-wording what I have come across in research through various mediums. The research itself becomes inspiring and I find I am learning a lot just by digging around some of my dusty old books and clicking through links. I always have a few completed pieces sitting around that I haven’t posted because I can’t quite find the story to go along with them.
What are your favorite materials to use and can you share what it is about them that speaks to you?
Everything is grounded and anchored in black; onyx, tourmaline, obsidian, etc…these stones are said to attract, envelope, deflect negativity. Almost every piece features flashy rainbow moonstone and/or labradorite, which nearly makes me fall over. Using scarabs from vintage bracelets as connectors sets my pieces apart. Infinity has been a consistent symbol in my life for a very long time, so I use infinity connectors often as well. Going back to Bloodmilk for inspiration, I think it’s how they utilize the connector as focal points, one never has to worry or bother with the clasp getting facing front. I like that a lot and I’m trying to include that feature in my own way.
What are you doing when you are not making these beautiful beaded strands? I’m always interested in the interests of the people who interest me!
Obsessing over my cats, ravens, crows and praying mantids in my garden. After leaving the music business in 2015, I dabbled around trying to figure out what to do with myself. I managed pre-recorded music inventory (CDs) on a national and international scale, handled multi-million-dollar budgets, coordinated high-profile media events, and more.
When I left music, it was the precise moment where ageism and sexism left me fighting to get back into the workforce. I found that my particular skill set could be quite useful to my life partner’s business in make-up fx. I work with him on film projects both on and off-set and handle a lot of the administrative work; scheduling, maintaining supplies, (I love a good excel spreadsheet), acting as a liaison with production, and so on. Covid has completely changed how films are made, there is a lot more admin work to be done by any Head of Department. My goal is to help free his time up to focus more on creative design, direction, and application. It’s a lot of fun and nowhere near as stressful as dealing with Amazon as a client! No one asks where I hope to be in 5 years, what my plans are with the company and they don’t care that I’m female and an adult! Everyone is working on one project to completion and everyone has the same immediate goals. (It’s kind of refreshing, really).
Next up in this very informal series of interviews with the contemporary artists whose work I was generously allowed to include in The Art of the Occult is Gina Litherland.
Active in the visual arts since the mid-1970s, exploring photography, performance, drawing, and painting, Gina Litherland studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and her paintings, drawings, and articles have been published worldwide in journals and periodicals. Her essay on the connections between creative activity and the natural world, “Imagination & Wilderness,” appears in Surrealist Women: An International Anthology (University of Texas Press).
Enthralled with folktales, myths, and literature since childhood, these themes have served as an important source of inspiration in her work. Children’s games, old theater forms such as puppetry and opera, traditional British folk ballads, divination, superstitions, the human/animal boundary, and the natural world wherein the mundane commingles with the magical to coalesce into the richly detailed visions, fables, and dreams on her canvas.
I am so pleased to share with you my recent interview with this generous-hearted, delightful artist, wherein we chat about tea and divination, fairytales and curious women, and the endless and fantastical inspiration to be found in nature
In “Tea Leaf Reading”, the painting that you kindly allowed inclusion of in The Art of the Occult, we are treated to the divinatory dramatics of a session of tasseomancy wherein two figures contemplate the portents in a teacup, while various animals look on in interest, or flit overhead, perhaps in alarm! Can you tell us about your own interest in/history with/or practice of various divinatory techniques and rituals? And while we’re spilling the tea, what’s your favorite brew to have on hand–either while working on your art, or just relaxing with a cuppa?
My interest in divination started when I was in high school and bought my first tarot deck. I went to our local bookstore in Gary, a tiny place called “The Book Nook” and bought the Swiss Tarot, the only one they carried. If you’re familiar with that deck it’s an old design and many of the images have a dark, foreboding quality. I really like it, but the Devil card in that deck is absolutely terrifying. I dabbled with it a bit, got a little spooked by it, and put it aside. I hadn’t really studied the Tarot, I was just fooling around with it.
Some years later I picked up my first I Ching, which interested me greatly and I’ve used that consistently over the years. I also began studying the Tarot more deeply and occasionally did readings for other people. The images intrigued me. I was also very interested in astrology and studied that, and did charts for people. I got a reading around that time from an astrologer who told me that art would be the central focus of my life and that it was imperative that I use my creativity. I already sort of knew this, but at the time it was a great encouragement to me. She also said that my painting would take the place of the tarot for me. That was interesting, because I never fully connected with the imagery of any of the tarot decks that I found. I eventually came to the conclusion that I would have to create my own. I started one about 5 years ago and I’m hoping to finish it in another 5 years or so. I want to do all 78 cards so the Major Arcana and Minor Arcana are illustrated and that’s a lot of work! Beyond that I think all sorts of divination methods are interesting, like palmistry, bird augury, tea leaf reading, etc.
My favorite tea? I drink tea all day and I love black tea, green tea, mint tea, and there’s also a tangerine/orange tea with rose hips that I drink every day. I have lemon balm growing completely out of control in back of the house, and I can pick it fresh in the summer and blend it with mint. It’s wonderful, especially when it’s fresh like that. Lemon balm is excellent for lifting the spirits, too, and Nicholas Culpepper wrote that it made the mind “happy and bright!”
I’ve seen mention of a handful of your favorite artists–Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, Hilma af Klint, and Vali Myers, to name a few. Can you tell me what it is about these artist’s work or vision that speaks to you so profoundly? Is there a common thread that you find particularly compelling?
Leonora Carrington’s work has an airy luminosity to it, and references to Celtic mythology and magic which fascinate me. Remedios Varo’s work is also magical and hermetic. Both of these artists obviously studied early Renaissance painting, something I’m also inspired by, and used it in a very personal way. Vali’s work feels very Intimate, like looking in someone’s diary. Hilma af Klint’s work has an elegant, glowing balance. What they all share is working from their inner vision and being wholly committed to it. That is always the kind of work that interests me.
You speak of how in every myth and folktale, there is a pivotal scene in which an encounter occurs, pushing the hero/heroine into an unknown world in which they have to learn to navigate. What are some of your most beloved fairy tales, mythic stories, poems, or parables, in which such a shift occurs? Can you speak to how you may have interpreted that scene or characters through the strokes of your paintbrush?
One of my favorites is Little Red Riding Hood. It’s so basic and perfect and the image of the little girl facing the wolf is an iconographic image that’s understood universally. It’s also what I call one of the “anti-curiosity stories”, the warning being “don’t stray from the path”. Like Bluebeard’s bride being warned not to open that one door, or Pandora being told not to open the box, it’s the old warning to women not to be curious. They are all basic rehashings of Eve in the garden speaking to the serpent and eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. I find it all fascinating. The encounter leads to a revelation of some sort, maybe terrible, maybe wonderful. Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast are also two of my favorite fairy tales because they involve a human female encountering an animal.
A recurring theme in my work is penetrating the wall that separates humans from other animals. Part of what the myth of the Garden of Eden is about to me is that our fall occurred when we recognized that we were different from animals, we felt the shame of being naked. That’s when we lost paradise and why we have this longing to repair the rift between humanity and nature, but we struggle against it, too. We want to be superior and we’re not.
When I depict these scenes I’m showing them through a lens of female experience. A woman or girl is having this moment of discovery that will lead her to some new understanding. This discovery is sensory, imaginative, and psychic. It is not interested in control but in learning from the encounter.
…And as we often see ourselves in the stories we are most drawn to, I am curious as to how much of yourself do you see emerging forth on the canvas as you share these stories through your personal lens and the medium of your art?
From the time I started reading these stories when I was little, I related them to my own experience completely. I loved the thought of Little Red Riding Hood bravely straying from that path in the woods, in the way that I loved to explore the wooded areas near the house I grew up in. It felt mysterious and dangerous. And now, when I’m painting these scenes the situations still feel fresh to me, that feeling of awe and discovery that I feel when I’m walking through the woods or when I’m painting.
I did a painting called The Unknown Room that shows a woman about to open a door with a key. I had a dream that I was at the door of my old house from my childhood. The door in the dream looked just like the one in the painting, like a weathered, medieval door with a wonderful texture. When I opened it, I entered a beautiful room of glass filled with glittering bottles. That moment at the door, when I was deciding to go in, reminded me of the Bluebeard story. When Bluebeard warns his wife not to open that door, and then she does as soon as he leaves, that moment at the door is the most suspenseful in all of literature! She opens it and sees all of the murdered wives that came before her, the most ghastly sight. The discovery, as horrid as it was, saved her life. The discovery can be wonderful or horrific. Often these encounter stories have multiple levels of meaning for me, the original meaning layered with my own experience. The fact that they take a long time for me to paint, usually a few months, gives me lots of time to think about the meaning.
I see the term “Midwest surrealism” used in many descriptions of your work; though I suppose I could conjure for myself some imagery of what that might mean, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it for folks who may not be familiar.
There was a group of wonderful artists working in Wisconsin and Chicago, starting in the 1940s, who were strongly influenced by the European Surrealists. Some of them were Gertrude Abercrombie, Sylvia Fein, Marshall Glasier, Dudley Huppler, Karl Priebe, Julia Thecla, and John Wilde. If you looked at their work and compared it to the European Surrealists, there’s nothing particularly Midwestern about it. It’s a category created by art historians and critics because they like to label things. If you are an artist and stay in the Midwest, the tag of regionalism always follows you around. I personally love the Midwest and feel fiercely loyal to my Midwestern roots, so it’s fine with me.
Ok, so I don’t want to embarrass you, but on Facebook you shared a drawing you had created when you were four years old and it was so much fun to see that colorful little relic from your formative years! Obviously a great deal has changed and evolved over time since that artistic offering from toddler-you… but maybe not everything…! To my eye, you seem to work in a very similar color palette today! Those deep, rich, beautifully earthy shades can still be seen to great effect in your current work (I actually see so many of them in Tea Leaf Reading!) Can you speak to the use of color in your work?
That’s funny, because I recently found that early drawing that I did and one of the reasons I posted it was that I did really think that it was unmistakably my work. I think your observation about the colors is great. What I noticed was that I made sure each hand had five fingers, the clothes were kind of detailed and fancy, and I still love that sort of detail. One of the things I love about drawing and painting is that the personal stamp is so unavoidable. That brain-to-hand communication, the kind of line a person uses, for example, are as unique and personal as a fingerprint or a signature. I love the pure tactility of painting. And yes, I do gravitate toward earth colors and jewel tones. I also like to layer color, which oil paint does so beautifully, and use glazes so one color shows through another.
You sometimes use a “decalcomania” technique by stamping various colors onto the panel and letting the textural forms suggest images, through which a narrative forms. You have noted that this can be a very satisfying way to work, and often the most revelatory– with a world emerging out of nowhere. In this time of isolation and COVID, we haven’t been seeing much of the world at all over the course of the past year. I’d love to live vicariously through the worlds you are creating! Can you tell us please about the worlds you’ve been most excited to have seen revealed to you on your canvas of late?
When the pandemic first hit, honestly, I was stunned. I spent a lot of time staring out the window and watching the birds at the feeders. I kept a notebook and mostly drew funny cartoons of myself having no energy and watching the busy, industrious little birds and squirrels outside. Then I started thinking about one of my favorite writers, Shirley Jackson, and her book, We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It’s been one of my favorite books for a long time. One day, my husband, Hal, said to me, “I would have chosen different library books if I knew this was going to happen.” It reminded me of an almost identical line at the beginning of Castle that comes from Merricat about their own library books, chosen right before she and her sister, Constance, completely sequester themselves from the world. I decided this would be a good time to pay tribute to that novel.
So I did my Portrait of Mary Katherine Blackwood, for Shirley Jackson. Merricat stands in the middle of a wooded area with her cat, Jonas, neatly folded into her arms safely tucked into her own feral, magical world. Around this time I also did a cooking painting, with two women making a big harvest stew with a variety of animals assisting them in the kitchen. I’ve become obsessed with cooking during the pandemic, and enjoy figuring out what to cook next. Now I’m working on a painting of harpies and another one of a woman standing in an incandescent garden at night. These two paintings were just begun very recently and I think they both radiate a kind of eerie light in the darkness. Now that we’re coming into 2021, I’m trying to be hopeful in the midst of all of the chaos of the world.
Do you have a particular process you use when entering into your work? What gets you in the mood to create? Any rituals or practices?
I always start my day by feeding the birds and squirrels. After breakfast, I have a cup of coffee or tea, then I light some incense, and put some music on before I begin. I do this without fail every morning.
You have an essay in the collection Surrealist Women, titled “Imagination and Wilderness” stating that “The imagination is a wilderness — liberating, ecstatic, waiting to grow and fly and howl.” I’m still trying to track down a copy of the book because it sounds absolutely marvelous! And my own imagination is set wonderfully alight/aflight by your words in this vein as I consider this impact of the natural world on the human psyche and creativity. Can you tell us a bit more about that statement and perhaps also about the influence of the natural world upon your own work?
One of the ideas that I was trying to get across in that essay is that our psyches need wild spaces and wild life in very deep complex ways. Nature is endlessly creative and fantastic. It’s an imaginative entity in itself, and everybody needs it, not just the animals that live in these spaces. Nothing stimulates the imagination like sitting in nature, looking at the way a bird’s nest is made, or the intricate symmetry of flowers.
I was also thinking about the similarity between taking a walk in the woods, looking at the forest floor, noticing little things like plant debris, lichen, small animals hiding here and there; the similarity between that and painting, dabbing paint on a panel and seeing forms, having textures suggest other forms, the associations that come into the mind if you can be receptive to these suggestions. Nature is constantly creating and extinguishing life forms in the same way that unconscious thoughts rise and vanish in our minds. Being receptive to passing unconscious thoughts are what the surrealists meant by pure psychic automatism.
Civilization has treated nature like a commodity, and by doing this, we’re not only creating a very unhealthy environment, we’re killing off a part of our minds and turning ourselves into automatons. Human beings are much too arrogant and lacking in respect for wilderness. If you turn to wilderness with an attitude of receptivity and respect, if always gives something precious back to you. I love the myth of the Norns, the three women who took care of the tree, Yggdrasil, from the Poetic Edda. Yggdrasil was the tree of the world, the center of the universe, and the Norns were three wise women that nurtured the tree, watered it, and tended it. I find that incredibly beautiful, the idea that just tending to a tree and nurturing it can have an effect on the universe. I think it’s true.
Have you ever realized that you “knew” someone before you, well, actually knew them? Such was the case for me with artist Carrie Ann Baade, whose work “Artemis” (above) I was wonderfully privileged to include in the “Higher Beings” chapter of The Art of the Occult...and I own a stunning, real-life print of the same work perching, propped up against a bookcase, while we find the perfect space for it on our walls.
Though I was vaguely familiar with the artist’s work from seeing it over the years, perhaps posted on Tumblr or Pinterest–perhaps I’d even posted it on Tumblr or Pinterest!–and I became intimately familiar with it while doing research for the book…I only realized much, much later and after becoming friendly with Carrie Ann Baade herself…that I’d actually shared her work in the form of a portrait of Pam Grossman on my own blog here at Unquiet Things! Somehow I hadn’t connected the art with the artist, which makes me feel profoundly silly, and yet it was a sort of wonderfully electrifying jolt from the universe when I finally put two and two together. Listen, no one ever accused me of being the smartest in the room, okay?
Carrie Ann Baade is a contemporary painter whose work quotes from, interacts with, and deeply relates to art history. Linking the power of historical masterworks with her own experience as a contemporary artist, she is a reverent scavenger salvaging lost aesthetics in an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable and piece together the sublime.
See below for our interview wherein we chat about the origins of her Dr. Frankensteinian technique, the mythic energies that she is compelled to “hyper-incarnate”, and how we can heal and grow and create profoundly intimate relationships with ourselves through art.
…and can I just say how deeply thankful that I am to the artists over the years who have taken the time to answer my questions and share their insights with me? In reading this interview over again, I was moved to tears and I am so grateful for all of the creators who have spared a moment or two to discuss their works and practices with me.
…aaaaand speaking of artists sharing their works with me, the artwork featured immediately below, “Dominions”, is a brand new piece from Carrie Ann Baade, an astonishing vision that Unquiet Things readers can get a first, ecstatic glimpse at.
Unquiet Things: I love the densely layered aspect of your work, how it contains this surreal stratum of personal biography and allegory and history. Moreover, you’ve stated in the past that you think of yourself as a kind of “Dr. Frankenstein attempting to piece together the sublime.” What a fabulous notion of these interconnected many-layered puzzles pieces of myth and meaning! I’d be very interested to hear about not just the process itself, but where along the way of your artistic journey did this technique coalesce into an artform that felt somehow, uniquely “you.”
Carrie Ann Baade: In graduate school, I had one of those breakdowns that were indistinguishable from the breakthrough. I got out my scissors, cut up my artbooks and made collages of the paintings. However, figuring out what to do from there was a process. It required lots of trial and error to make this work. Anytime we do something new, it takes time to process what we are doing. Maybe I am still in the process of comprehending what cutting up and making new things means or does. It’s synergistic, it’s mad scientist, it’s conjuring; it’s also a bit like a tarot reading. But also, art is about seeking and making inquiries. If I truly solved or understood anything completely about what I was doing, I would likely quit doing it. The chase is towards mystery and this process allows it.
By allowing chance into my process, it allows the pieces to talk back to me and say things through a message detectable amid the potent symbols. I stoke my container of cut ups images like a fire. What it yields is often untranscendent and then after more play, it will yield a composition for a painting when I need ten. It’s a mystical process for me. With the world of symbols comes meaning and storytelling. The images wish to speak. As much as I want to speak through them, very often they are speaking through me.
I am intuitive and I find the safest place to exercise my gifts is through art. Art can take it. Why? Because although intuition can be irrational in day-to-day life, it is highly functional in art. I do find this process works best when I have a question…like “what happened to female genius” and the answer the images returns shocked me to my core. It’s a radical submission into a process of dialog with the world of symbols that results in my painting.
I believe I read that you were raised in Colorado, you studied in Chicago (and Italy) and now you live in Florida. Many varied locales and landscapes! I am wondering what role, if any, does environment play in your artistic endeavors? I ask this as a Floridian myself–in our sultry, sweltering semi-tropical climate, for 9 months out of the year I don’t even want to move, let alone create anything!
Strangely, I have found where I am informs what I am making. I have painted in Florence, Valencia, Poland, and London… as well as, Florida. I think different places have different energies. Different houses do. The location seeps in. And then the paintings themselves are pretty demanding… I once had painting insist on being put outside in the moonlight for it to absorb. I had another painting that wanted to be left alone to cook in the 100-degree sun. I listen to the work and it tells me all kinds of things.
As a professor, you have read a fair amount and taught art history, so no doubt you have considerable knowledge of mythology, religious symbolism, stories of creation–I’m curious about some of your favorite stories to tell. Or if not “favorite”, perhaps most compelling, or urgent. The myths and narratives that for whatever reason, you return to again, and again?
I am an advocate for serpents; they are present in all creation myths in the form of snakes or dragons. I am curious about these perhaps being conscious wavelengths? Serpents move through symbolic representations of the goddess, genius, Medusa. Perhaps they represent the presence of the archetypes themselves. What is a snake but a wavelength with eyes? All of these have been and continue to be significant for me over the past 25 plus years.
When I align myself with a myth like Medusa, there is usually an act of embodiment, I become an alter ego. This energy through embodiment or hyper-incarnating, as I like to call it, results in a painted image. It allows me a small glimpse into being more or different than I am. The Medusa myth has also allowed me to work through rape, victim shaming, anger, and processing feelings of being abject or monstrous. It’s a way to learn and potentially process experience. Once I work with a myth or narrative for a while, I will shed it and move on, to work to develop another aspect of myself in a new form. Perhaps this is no more than an actor taking on a new role but that too is a way to unlock and explore our human potential and get some breathing room in our identity. I was reading a book on transpersonal psychology last year and the author described research as “soul work”. I like that. I hope that is what I am doing.
Again, referencing that Dr. Frankenstein quote about “piecing together the sublime”, how do you experience the connection between spirituality and creativity?
When I am a making, it starts by doing time. This is sometimes going through the motions. Yet, when the flow state hits, this is what I call going from “fraud to gawd.” Every night I die and every night I am reborn through the creative act and working in the studio. When I start, I am lower than dirt and this never seems to get any easier. After a period of struggle, I am let inside the greater mystery of connection as I make. A feeling that one could assign to ego, or as I believe, that there is a oneness that permits exquisite technical and conceptual acts. For me, I humbly assign the better work to a greater genius or insert your definition of god. I am a decent painter but when I am truly connected it’s more like something moves through me. Whatever it is, it is a natural high that is very addictive. I struggle to get back there and then the process is worthwhile… but man, I would not wish the low on anyone. Who wants to be separate from that sense of creative flow?
As an artist with many years of personal practice and experience, as a teacher who guides and encourages your students, what is a piece of advice you might give to someone, a friend perhaps, who has experienced a life-long artistic itch, a powerful inclination…maybe they feel deeply, they have big ideas…but they don’t know how “to art.” They don’t even know where to start! And I don’t even mean making a living with their art. Just starting something for the fun of it! I just mean…what do you do if you feel like you’ve got art in your blood but you’re afraid to bleed?
By all means! You don’t want to die with the music still in you! Let it out! I think we all need to art in all its multifarious forms. This is how we heal, how we express ourselves, how we learn about ourselves, and how we grow. Set aside designated space in which to make! Give yourself the gift of time! Be detached from the results. No one prepares us for how much self-confidence to do what we love. Give yourself permission!
One should always be learning something new. This is the process of being a life-long learner. Embrace the cultivation of new interests and experiences! A healthy mind is curious and interested.
I am writing a book now and I never wanted to be an author, but somehow I got book pregnant. I have a book bun in the oven. A book requires a dedicated focus but it’s made of micro acts… not on focusing on the whole big final project but on bite sized recollections: by making myself write three pages a day. This and giving myself permission not to be worried about the outcome are letting this happen. Publishing is not the goal at this time …this act is just for me. I need to write about my life and my work in a dedicated and cohesive way. I don’t want to ask permission or care who is alive that it might impact, I just need to let it flow. It’s the most dangerous and wonderful thing I have done in our newfound captivity. I nearly made myself vomit from confessions and realization; I had no idea how visceral this experience would be.
No therapist I could pay could do what I am doing for myself. It’s a gift of time. It’s a reflection on my life that will hopefully yield the fruit of self-understanding. I find this a scary, yet magical experience. I am most turned on to create by author Helene Cixous, who says:
Woman must write herself: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies – for the same reasons, by the same law, with the same fatal goal. Woman must put herself into the text – as into the world and into history – by her own movement.
In short, we all need to create deeper more intimate relationships with ourselves to be alive and art is a way to do that. I encourage you to move into that feeling of comfortability… learning happens when we get outside of our comfort zone.
Do you have a particular process you use when entering into your work? What gets you in the mood to create? Any rituals or practices?
It’s not easy to go into the studio every day. But because a studio practice must happen every day to be a professional artist, it’s kinder to flow and not to force this act. It’s best to try to seduce myself.
For this reason, I am a total romantic in the studio. I need to be focused by candles… I ritualistically put on perfume to transport me. I generally only paint at night. Knowing the world being asleep makes me feel like I am alone and undistracted from my work. I desire to in my own world with my paintings. It’s a lovemaking.
In our chats, you mentioned a ladies’ tea that you used to participate in. Why do you think that sense of community for artists/creators is so important? Given the isolated nature of 2020, what, if anything, are you doing to conjure community for yourself right now?
The tea I refer is the Salon de Femme or as I refer to it “the Ladies Surreal Tea Party.” This a group of artists that I founded with Tina Imel in 2007. The founding members include: Lori Field, Pam Grossman, and Madeline Von Foerster. We met annually in New York City until 2014 and then I had a couple with dear friends in Paris. The event was simple, bring a female artist friend to tea and we all hung out and talked shop. Once we invited boys which was fine, but really it was about girl power support and love in the artworld. This resulted in events at Cynthia Von Buhler’s, a private tour of a gallery, an exhibit in Brooklyn, a couple of national curation projects, lots of networking, and lifelong friendships. The motivation was that while we had met online, we wanted to meet in person. Some of our guests included Julie Heffernan and Allison Sommers. I think I was always inviting lesser known artists that I thought could use help. What this did do, is it gave me a mission to meet living artists in person. Studio visit reveal so much and they help inform me as a teacher.
After a long dormancy, I will be hosting a tea again before the holidays. Our inaugural zoom tea will allow us to be all over the world, with some of us living in Europe and the U.S. We need our sisters now more than ever. We need connection, understanding, and support. Art is not just paint and ideas, it is community and belonging. We are constructing culture.
That I have any friends at all is something that constantly surprises me, and sometimes when I think I’ve missed an opportunity at friendship, that deeply saddens me.
I met G.A. Alexanderbriefly on a side-trip to Seattle, a branching-off from a trip to Portland, that I took a few years ago, in order to spend some time with friends. G.A. Alexander was the partner of one of these friends (a human whom you are all very familiar with, poet and writer Sonya Vatomsky, whom I have interviewed previously!) and I maybe said two words to him at the time. I met him again on a trip back to Seattle and was deeply privileged see him and Sonya get married…and again maybe only spoke a handful of words to him. I am very shy and I did my best!
As I know we share similar enthusiams–a love for the horror genre, and what I broadly think of as “goth musics”– I have kinda low-key, stalkery been following his projects with great interest over the last four years or so. As a musician and writer, G.A. Alexander has played in the bands Golden Gardens, The Vera Violets and Push Button Press, and is the writer of Kickstarter comics success Keepsakes, along with short stories published by Eerie River Publishing and Nocturnal Sirens Publishing. His new project, OBSO/LETE, is over on Kickstarter right now, and I am very much looking forward to these dystopian tales of terror.
In the meantime, I thought it might be fun to ask him a few questions about this forthcoming effort, and his inspirations/enduring influences, as well as wrangling some recommendations from him to share with all of you!
See below for our chat on all things horror from the grimy and lo-fi, the the elevated and possibly “too beautiful” and be sure to check out OBSO/LETE on Kickstarter!
Unquiet Things: I’ve written previously about how much I thoroughly enjoyed your first comic, Keepsakes. It had that sort of retro-anthology vibe, with stylized imagery recounting horrific yarns, that took me back to the feeling of reading copies of Eerie and Creepy magazine when I was way too young to understand them. And maybe, too, my more recent memory of watching Tales From The Crypt and wishing I had seen it when I was younger! Your new project, OBSO/LETE, which I understand to be cyberpunk body horror set in a collapsing future, sees a very different direction and vision! Can you tell us what OBSO/LETE is about? What should readers know prior to diving in?
G.A. Alexander: Thanks for noticing that about Keepsakes! A lot of people brought up the Tales from the Crypt similarities, but I was also a fan of things like Creepy, Eerie, House of Mystery and other horror books that were either active or were enjoying a period of extensive reprinting when I was a kid.
OBSO/LETE is definitely a different beast altogether from Keepsakes. The book is set in an alternate future where technology (especially anything using networking) was severely restricted for the average person by the American government from the 1990s-onward. In the meantime, however, development for things such as medical research and the military have experienced no hindrance at all. Due to the stunted development of technology and the way society developed, the power grids in the large MegaCities that have sprung up have become overburdened to the point of near-collapse, and so different districts have started experiencing rolling blackouts which have come to be known by the population as “Cold Spots”.
The first issue of the book tells the story of Sandra and Juliette, two bartenders working in District 4, an extremely blue-collar part of a large, un-named MegaCity. As their neighborhood is hit by Cold Spot after Cold Spot, they begin to notice that things may not quite be what they seem: the constant power fluctuations in the city seem to have ignited something buried deep below the city. Things that appear to be neither completely human, nor machine are now lurking in the shadows of the city, waiting for their opportunity to strike.
Could you share where the idea for OBSO/LETE came from, and what inspired you to tell this type of story? And what ‘type’ of story would you say this is?
OBSO/LETE’s main influences came from a few different sources: I noticed a lot of modern cyberpunk media had adopted a sort of “neon palm tree” sort of aesthetic, which eventually became a bit too ubiquitous to be fun for me, and so I really wanted to make something that could be considered “Cyberpunk” under its original idea of “high tech, low life”, but could be dirtier, nastier and grimier. Aside from that, a lot of the inspiration came from the movies Tetsuo The Iron Man and Hardware, the comic books Akira and BLAME! and the box art and aesthetic of 90’s FMV computer games like Under a Killing Moon and Phantasmagoria 2 along with 90’s cable television shows like The Hunger, Max Headroom and Highlander.
The story’s genesis came from mis-remembering a scene from Hellraiser III. After re-watching it and quickly realizing my memory had distorted it into something else entirely, that then turned into the inciting incident in OBSO/LETE (and which you can read on the Kickstarter campaign). From there, pieces started falling into place. The rolling blackout concept was something I had been thinking about for a few years after reading about how certain countries had actually implemented it.
The premise of technology being hampered for regular people but completely unhindered by any restriction for the military came from living through Y2K while also working in an office park directly next door to a military contractor.
I’ve got a fair amount of techo-skepticism in me and some very distinct worries about the growing alienation we’re experiencing due to social media and other technological things that past few decades have inserted into our lives, but I’m also very well-aware of how these things have absolutely improved certain peoples’ lives and how much of a net-benefit they can be. I wanted to tell a story that explored what the world would (possibly?) be like without some of these things. I didn’t want to come into that story with a pre-conceived black-or-white “Technology Bad/Technology Good” perspective at all, but I really wanted to think about and depict how I believe human interaction and the world may develop without mass-media communication as we currently know it.
Also, I wanted to take that world and put monsters in it.
You’ve got some stories on the popular horror r/nosleep subreddit and you’re a musician/songwriter(?) as well. As a writer of all sorts of interesting things, I’m curious as to who you consider your biggest writing influences?
I’ve come to writing very late in life, having done most of my creative work as a musician and songwriter. I’m very influenced by who I grew up reading, including people like Billy Martin (who wrote under the name Poppy Z. Brite), Clive Barker, Stephen King, Brad Meltzer, William Gibson, Caitlin Kiernan, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison and many others.
The writers who really “clicked” for me as an adult, and who kinda pushed me into a mode where I not only felt “I can do this” but also “I need to do this because they’re so good and I have to catch up!” are Thomas Ligotti, Nicole Cushing, Kathe Koja and Matthew M. Bartlett. I would recommend anyone with a taste for left-of-center horror with a VERY distinct sense of setting (which is a thing I find really appeals to me) check out any and all of those authors.
And in terms of horror cinema, if you had to narrow a list down to two or three films that shaped your view/appreciation of the genre, or that you recall as particularly profound, what would they be? (and why, if you’re feeling expansive!) Is there anything going on with horror right now that you find inspiring?
A lot of the horror movies over the last two or three years that have been connecting with me have been somewhat low-budget affairs. On the micro-budget end, Nigel Bach’s Bad Ben series has been an absolute delight to watch, as you get to see a filmmaker find his voice and his “style” as he goes. I really enjoyed Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor, as well, which utilized a ton of practical makeup effects, which I REALLY enjoy.
Historically speaking, my favorite horror movies would have to be Hellraiser, Halloween and The Thing. These are obviously fairly pedestrian takes, but I struggle to think of stronger and scarier works. I’m a big fan of Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-On The Grudge, as well, and I think it’s an unfairly overlooked classic.
I feel a lot of modern horror can be sabotaged by how modern technology had granted us access to beautiful cinematography. The modern “elevated horror” subgenre has put out SO many great movies, but most of them have failed to connect with me and on reflection, I think it’s because so many of them are TOO beautiful to look at. Having been raised in the VHS era, I think there’s something with film grain and tracking static that my brain associates with “scary”.
You and your wife and cat just made an international move during a pandemic! Well done! I know that was challenging to say the least, and that whole process almost seems like a horror story in and of itself. I’m always interested in how one’s geography shapes one’s fears and inspirations in that vein. Can you speak to how aspects of place and environment, and perhaps even culture, find their way into your writing?
That’s an interesting question, and one that I think I’m just starting to grapple with. Having grown up and spent most of my life in the USA, how does or should my writing change now that I’m, for all intents and purposes, a British Writer?
A lot of my previous stories are set in and around North East Pennsylvania, which I only spent a couple of years living, in my 20s, but left a very specific impression on me. How long can I go on writing about America, while not living there, and have my stories feel grounded in reality? How long should I immerse myself in the UK’s culture and places and idiosyncrasies before I can safely write a British Horror story? It’s odd because on one hand, I have these very specific experiences and memories and on the other hand, I worry about how long those will feel “Valid”.
For example, in Keepsakes, there’s a short story “An Open Letter to Blue American Petroleum”. That’s directly inspired by actual experiences I had moving cross-country in the United States, filling up at little gas stations in little towns off the highway. I don’t think the same sort of experiences happen here.
While that’s the case, every place has its own strange culture and unique features. The city I live in now has an extensive canal system and you have the ability to travel from neighborhood to neighborhood through tunnels underneath bridges and by the side of long stretches of water. I can see this, and many other features of where I now live sneaking into my work soon.
Keepsakes felt very North Eastern USA to me. Keepsakes 2 (which will be a standalone story, tangentially connected to the original collection) will be Pacific Northwestern. OBSO/LETE’s setting feels Chicago to me, while its characters feel very St. Petersburg, Florida. I always seem to want to write about places after I leave them more than when I’m there.
I’m extremely fascinated by the personal routines of creators. Do you have a particular process you use when entering into your work? What gets you in the mood to write? Any rituals or practices?
I wish I had a better or more structured routine. A lot of my process feels like “stealing time” from other things. I recently bought a couple of notebooks and a fountain pen to try and make my writing process feel a little less tethered to a keyboard, but I’ve found that the notebook is its own tether.
Some of my favorite work has been typed into my phone at 11:30pm at night while laying in bed, dealing with insomnia.
I only just realized that you stream on Twitch! Horror games, is that right? I am not very good at these things, but I recently just tried my hand at World of Horror, an H.P. Lovecraft/Junji Ito-inspired RPG horror game set in a quiet Japanese town filled with eldritch beings, wild-eyed cultists, and impossibly twisted human forms. I died a lot! Have you played anything lately that you really enjoyed and that you might recommend?
I tried out World of Horror on-stream a few months back!
I died a lot too. I think my issue is that I have exactly zero history with RPGs. My game of choice was always point-and-click adventure games.
The Twitch stream, Welcome to Frankenstein House, came as a result of wanting to fill time when the pandemic hit. Initially the idea was to do comic book reviews but that quickly evolved into abandoning the review format about 10 minutes into each stream and them proceeding to goof around about whatever we wanted (usually complaints about the Stuart Townsend depiction of Lestat in the Queen of the Damned movie, or how Alfred from Batman is in fact an interdimensional sex god) for 2-3 hours every week.
After that, we started adding in horror gaming streams, which then took over the whole thing. We’ve been on pause for a couple of months due to the movie and the time difference but we’re planning on restarting soon and we’re probably going to be switching to more of a variety show format.
The games I’ve really enjoyed playing lately are:
Detention: Scary point-and-click adventure game set in a haunted school during the White Terror in Taiwan
Love, Sam: I dubbed this a “Reading Simulator” on the stream as a joke, but it was REALLY scary. You play an unidentified character, reading a school friend’s diary in their tiny apartment. As you read, things in the apartment being to move and change. Doors appear, taking you to different places. You realize that the diary may have opened the door for something to haunt you.
Stories Untold: Sort of a puzzle/adventure game. It’s 4 different games that each tell a story in different ways. The first game, The House Abandon, is a retro text adventure and each of the others keep the sme spirit if not the same mechanics. It has a great early 80’s style aesthetic to it.
The Glass Staircase: Made by Puppet Combo, one of the more interesting “auteur” game creators out there right now. This is effectively a take on the Resident Evil or Clocktower style survival horror gameplay, but in an Italo-horror environment. It’s really cool, but really difficult.
Speaking of recommendations! I am normally constantly on the hunt for, and learning about new music–although in 2020 my interest in this has regrettably waned quite a bit. I have to imagine that as a musian you’re constantly finding and listening to new things! I’d love to know your favorites from 2020.
The most recent I Like Trains album Kompromat was fantastic, a really great return for a band I was half-sure was done. It’s odd post-punk, extremely politically outspoken, dark and upsetting.
This question is a bit silly, but I hope you’ll indulge me! Your wife Sonya sometimes shares your thoughts on the perfumes that they’re sampling, and I know I’m not the only one who loves to read about them! Unquiet Things readers are fragrance fiends as well, and I think I speak for all of us when I say that I’d love to know what perfume of theirs you’ve smelled recently…that you might base a horror story around! Tell us everything about this aromatic atrocity, please!
Oh god. So, the problem with writing a horror story about Perfume is you don’t want it to be derivative of the Patrick Suskind book!
So for anyone unfamiliar with Sonya’s “My Husband Smells” posts, Sonya collects all these samples from various boutique perfume companies and has me smell them and say what I feel they smell link.
The gimmick is that I have no idea what I’m talking about. I have no frame of reference for what traditional perfumes or colognes are “supposed” to smell like. This is only compounded due to the fact that I have bad sinuses which affect my sense of smell.
Ultimately, you’ll end up with a $400 bottle of expensive perfume and a review from me that just says “Smells like Dracula makeup?” because some chemical in it smelled sort of like Halloween makeup I put on as a kid and it triggered a sense memory.
My perfume horror story would be based around us receiving a number of samples from some company that Sonya couldn’t remember ordering from, and that doesn’t have a website.
Rather than triggering sense memories, the perfumes would cause us to relive entire moments in our lives. As we went down the series of samples, the memories would get more and more recent, and we would find ourselves unable to stop sniffing each of the samples.
The story would end with us testing the last of the samples, in a jet black, unlabeled nebulizer. As we each breathed it in, we would feel the air disappear from our lungs, the lights disappear and the walls close around us – we wouldn’t be in a memory from the past, we would be trapped in a memory of something that hasn’t happened yet.
We would be “remembering” being dead and being interred in a grave, unable to breathe or speak or escape.
Back to OBSO/LETE as we wrap up! Is there anything else you want to share about this project or what we can expect? I’m really looking forward to it!
We have about 7 days left on the campaign and we’ve just debuted our second of two t-shirt designs.
It’s really been a labor of love, and I’ve gotten the opportunity to make some new friends in the industry, Justin M. Ryan (penciller and inker) is also an accomplished writer on his own and has a fantastic graphic novel he put out a while back called Tresspasser. Todd Rayner (colorist) has an awesome comic book he does called Icepick.
In addition to OBSO/LETE, I also have a scifi-horror story called “Flickering” which just came out in an anthology from Eerie River Press called “It Calls From The Sky”.
I’d taken a bit of a summer break with regard to my non-personal writing, but I am back over at Haute Macabre this Friday in late July to share a lovely interview I recently collaborated on with Author, Poet, Word Witch Lisa Marie Basile.
Many thanks to my dear friend Sonya, for it was through them that I originally learned about Lisa’s work a few years ago, and it was also through them that this interview coalesced and came into being. Thank you, thank you, dearest bean of my heart!
For what feels like forever now, I have been in swoons and raptures over the misty, half-lit elegance of analog photographer Helena Aguilar Mayans’ stunning storybook landscapes and transportive, time-traveling portraits. I am very happy that, like in some wondrous, enchanting tale from a bygone era, the stars mystically aligned for us and I can finally share our interview–at least two years in the making!– with you today.
See below for our Q&A wherein Helena shares her passions and inspirations, her reverence for mystery and the passage of time, and of course, a gallery of her incredible works. Helena–thank you for your patience and perseverance, your kindness and candor, and for working with me on this and long as we have!
“Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.” is the quote used in your instagram bio. Can you talk about that philosophy as it relates to your art?
This is a quote by Junichiro Tanizaki, from his book “In Praise for Shadows”. It’s a very beautiful and poetic book and I always found it very inspiring. I had the chance to visit Japan lately and I could relate to everything he points on the book. It’s a book written in 1933 but I think it’s still very contemporary.
The book explores some concepts and ideas that usually in the occidental world have been understood in a very different way or not really appreciated.
I feel that in traditional Japanese culture time is understood differently and beauty is seen in many things, even in the most ordinary. The space they have for contemplation, ritual, and beauty is something that I love and I feel is not well valued in other cultures.
We are used to having everything immediately and I always felt against that, I think we should understand time in a very different way. I’ve been learning Urushi (Japanese traditional lacquer) and Kintsugi (ceramic repair with Urushi and metal dust) for 3 years now and it’s all about time and patience! It’s not only about the technique itself, but you also learn about other things. It really helps me to balance and to focus on my new photographic projects! I have a photoshoot in mind inspired by a passage of “In Praise of Shadows” and I cannot wait for it!
I also love the Japanese concept of “mono no aware” (sympathy for things) and the idea of patina, showing the time passing by, the texture, it’s somehow what I find in old and abandoned buildings and also in old garments. I love to see the time passing by all over these spaces and objects, for me it has a very special charm.
Tanizaki also speaks about the strange calm, darkness or shadows, can bring and the mystery they hold. I think a must for me is trying to get some mystery in my pictures, sometimes more subtle and sometimes more direct, but I think mystery needs to be there. Related to this I also love this quote by Einstein:
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”
I always feel an overwhelming sense of solitude when gazing upon the lone models in the shadowy environs in your photos. But not in a terribly melancholic way–I get the feeling that these characters are content to be lost in their own worlds, and there is no place they’d rather be. Can you speak to that?
I always pictured women being alone, either between wild landscapes or in abandoned environments, it has been something very inner, it happens very naturally it has been the way I have always seen my pictures. But I wouldn’t say these women are feeling lonely, I think they are just lost in their worlds, daydreaming or looking for a shelter, away from the modern world. It’s also how I feel about the world many times. It’s probably a bit about being an outsider. The idea of trying to live in a different way, out of what’s it’s considered standard.
These women are where they are because they want, they want to be out or explore. I always included the lone female character in my pictures and when I discovered the novels of the Brontës I could feel so related to it. The Brontës had been a very important influence for that. I’ve been very very inspired by the works and lives of them during the last years and something that I really like from them is the idea that they made some revolutionary heroines just by the fact that they went out walking.
I’m stealing a quote from an interview you did with one of my favorite writers and appreciators of art, Jantine Zantbergen; you said that you view photography as “…a medium one can use in order to make fantasies more real.” Can you tell about the sort of fantasies you try to bring to life?
I always had a deep fascination for bygone eras and past artistic movements. Usually those the “fantasies” I try to recreate, I imagine characters from the Brontë novels or paintings by the symbolists, the decadents, the pre-raphaelites and I try to make these visions live through photography.
Trying to recreate all this through photography it’s a kind of way of making everything more real. It’s also the best way I know to evade myself and connect with these bygone eras and art movements that I am so fond of. The moment just before pressing the shooter, when I am in front of the scene and everything looks like I imagined I really feel transported, it feels like time works in a very different way.
I also sense complex stories in your photography; each frame could be a chapter in a beautiful fairy tale. Can you talk about art as story-telling, the particular stories you are trying to tell, and where you draw your inspirations from?
Yes, I think photography it’s a strong medium for story telling, usually I go with an idea about what could be the story of the character I’m imagining and then during the photoshoot it just seems to appear in my head. I like the idea that with photography you hold the mystery and leave the story more open to the viewer rather than cinema. I like this, that with just a shot or a short series you are opening the door to a world, a period, an atmosphere, you give some details, some tricks, but the rest has to be imagined. I can take inspiration from many things, but usually, it comes from painting, literature, cinema or music.
Some constant inspirations are the decadents, the symbolists, the Pre-Raphaelites. and the aesthetic movement. I am currently being very very inspired by all the 1900s art and the “Fin de Siècle” concept. Powerful women and decadentism are my current vibes, along with Catalan “Modernistes” (Art Nouveau) painters too.
The landscape in your photography is always so stunning, whether you have shot your models against the backdrop of a foggy half-lit meadow or the ominous face of a rocky cliff. Are all of these locations local to you? Can you tell us about the role that nature and these natural spaces play in your art?
I had the chance to grew up and live in Olot, a village that’s inside a Natural Park; it’s a volcanic area that makes the landscape surrounding me very unique. This is something that has always been related to my work. I wouldn’t do the pictures I do if I were living in Barcelona, for example.
The landscape here, it’s singular but also quite varied, from basalt cliffs to English countryside-looking meadows to faerie tale forests.
So most of the places that I picture on my work are nearby locations, sometimes there are also places I visited while traveling. Searching for the place it’s always an important step before a shoot takes place.
If I work on abandoned places I then usually travel around Europe for the locations. It can take months to locate the places but it’s always worth it. I love to explore such places and being able to use them as scenarios before they are gone forever. They really transport me and I can feel the past and history of them, it’s a very special feeling.
I will be always grateful for all these collaborations!
Working with Mathyld its always a dream, she puts all her heart in all her creations and you can sense that. She’s the sweetest and it’s always wonderful to work with her. We are hoping to do something together again soon! 🙂
I also cherish the collab I did for Hvnter Gvtherer, I think Laura’s work it’s very genuine and I did have a great time doing a photoshoot for her!
I think it’s a very nice way to support independent artists this way.
I’m also very nosy when it comes to what is currently inspiring my favorite artists! Is there anything you’ve listened to, read, watched, or become aware of recently that’s sparking your creative flow?
Today at Haute Macabre it is an immense pleasure to share my recent interview with fantastical fiber artist Our Widow, whose exquisite stitches have had me in sighs and swoons for some time now. She answered my questions with warmth, candor, and sincerity and I am extremely appreciative for her time and thoughtfulness…and I was especially excited to learn that we are Sisters In Never-Swatching!
I can’t believe I forgot to share this! At Haute Macabre last week, my interview with Lyla Mori of Moonflesh and the slow-stitched secrets of her spectral threadwork went up. In case you missed it, have a peek!