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.

“Seraphim”

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.

“Hellmouth”

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.

“Angel at the End of Time”

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?

“Caritas”

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.

“Of Ergo and Ashes”

 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.

“Bride”

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.

Find Carrie Ann Baade: Website // Instagram // Facebook // Twitter

If you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?

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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. Alexander briefly 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.

Ghostpoet’s I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep is an amazing album as well. It’s an extremely sad, dark and introspective album.

A lot of my 2020 has been spent discovering things I missed from previous years too.

Vore Aurora’s Eidolon from 2018 is a beautiful, atmospheric dark synthpop album.

Carpenter Brut’s Leather Teeth is a great retro-synth dance album.

Creux Lies’s The Hearth is absolute The Cure-worship, but the songwriting and performances are so on-point.

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.

The Story:

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.

The End.

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”.

You can pick up my first comic, Keepsakes, on Comixology, Seernova and TromaNOW!

You can also read a short comic I put up for free on my website: “Welcome Home.

Find G.A. Alexander: Website // Instagram // Twitter

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This interview was originally posted at Haute Macabre on October 29, 2020

I’ve been spending the past week thinking about what sort of introduction to pen for the following interview with Megan Rosenbloom about her debut nonfiction book, Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin. Intros are always the hardest part, aren’t they? How do you sum up a brilliant writer, an intensely unique and intriguing subject matter, and one of the coolest, most thrillingly-researched books you’ve ever read… in a way that isn’t massively hyperbolic or, conversely, somehow doesn’t do any of it enough justice?

I considered beginning with some imaginary scenarios in the style of some of my own favorite tales, and which might pave the way for what you can expect to find in these pages detailing the history of books bound in human skin (Yes! that’s what this book is about! Like me, have you been waiting for this for your entire freaking life??) Perhaps a scholarly account of gentleman doctors in their mahogany-shelved libraries, flaunting strange collections; following the gruesome and clandestine theatrics of midnight corpse-thieving grave robbers, assisting midwives to royalty, bearing witness to 19th-century highwaymen in their final hours, poets and paupers, murderers and scientists–as in the book itself, all of these characters would have a role to play in my opening words here, but none, I think, so engrossing and engaging as the author of this book, herself.

Medical historian and biblio-adventurer Megan Rosenbloom’s chronicles of books bound in human skin (or Anthropodermic Bibliopegy) doesn’t just detail these books, or the collectors, or the people who created them; she passionately and humanely explores the people they used to be, and this is an emotional examination that renders these pages, and I am quoting from The LA Times here, “…surprisingly intersectional, touching on gender, race, socioeconomics, and the Western medical establishment’s colonialist mindset.” Come for the weird books facts, stay for the unexpected and powerful human questions.

As it happens, I did have some questions for the human who wrote what I believe is the most impassioned and exhilarating book of 2020! See below for our chat with Megan Rosenbloom, and yes, I asked the tacky question you would all expect me to ask. But, as she asserts in the book, “corpse desecration is ultimately in the eye of the beholder,” well, then, so too is tackiness.

SE: Not being much of a history buff myself…which is know is rather shameful… I learned a great many surprising things from this book, a book where I thought I was just going to get my macabre/weird-factoid itches scratched, albeit in a well-researched and highly thoughtful way! I should have known better! What was the most shocking or surprising thing you learned in your research and analysis of anthropodermic books? And so much of this book is about separating fact from fiction, myth from reality. So your most shocking thing…was it a true thing? Or a historical supposition that you debunked?

MR: The emergence of some French private collectors that reached out to us really surprised me, because once I realized there was probably an underground world of French human skin books that I’d never be able to access, some of them just came and found me and that was really thrilling. The Poe book in particular, the look of it but also its incredible provenance just kind of blew my mind. People will have to read the book to get that tale. I have a feeling that I am not nearly done with the French underground market…

I realize that this is a ridiculous question, bordering on gauche, but if you strip away the unsavory bits about many of these books, mainly (if I understand correctly) that their binding materials were obtained by unethical and non-consensual means, and if we pretend that it’s not at all a morbid practice (which…I don’t think that is a stretch for us, really) what would you deem an appropriate type of book to be bound in human skin? And maybe the best way to answer this is from a personal perspective… If you mandated that after death that this what you’d like done with your skinsuit…what sort of book would you like it wrapped around?

If I had to use my skin to cover a book, I think I’d have to somewhat follow the route of some of the folks in my book and bind Dark Archives in my skin. I worked on the book for so long and it really put me through the wringer, but I’m also quite proud of it (and of having published a book at all, a truly lifelong dream), so it seems fitting enough for me. But do note: I do not want my skin bound in a book. I do not consent! Here it is in writing. My friend Anna Dhody, the curator at the Mütter Museum, is gunning for my tattoo for the collection after I die. I got it as a book-finishing present to myself and it’s a mix of an image found on a bookplate in their collection and their library’s logo. I haven’t decided yet whether I like the idea or not, but knowing Anna, she will lie in wait patiently until I decide. She may be delightfully creepy, but she cares deeply about consent too.

“Why is the law so murky about what one can and cannot do with a human corpse?” you muse within the pages of the book, and YEAH, WHY? I am still unclear on, say, if in my earlier question, you did request in your last will and testament to have your personal diary or whatever bound in your skin–would your relatives have a legal problem fulfilling that final wish of yours?

It is a very 21st century American notion that as long as you consent to doing something with your body, that it should be legal. Laws have not really caught up with us here. Its potential legality greatly depends on where you are, not just the country, but in the U.S. the individual state, and there’s no U.S. law that expressly forbids making a human skin book per se, but there are a number of state laws that could be invoked to file a claim of, say, “desecration of a corpse,” which is often judged by a very vague bar of “community standards.”

At other points in history, some body disposition methods like cremation could have been viewed as desecration of a corpse by a community. That’s the reason why some of the folks in the Order of the Good Death have been working to make certain newer disposition methods like aquamation (using water instead of fire to get a similar ash-like product that’s much more eco-friendly) and recomposition (basically human composting that can act like natural burial but in an urban setting) expressly legal in multiple states so they don’t have to wait and see whether someone wants to challenge the methods legally as desecration. That’s a great way to go about innovating in the deathsphere I think, because otherwise professionals would be putting themselves on the line by agreeing to carry out your wishes, not knowing if someone will file a complaint. But I suspect the demand for post-mortem human skin bookbinding is pretty niche and unlikely to have people pushing for getting a law on the books one way or the other.

Dark Archives connects so much of your work and the lessons you’ve learned as a librarian, a writer, and a Death Positive activist, an intersection of roles I find utterly fascinating. But it’s the death positive aspect I find that I keep coming back to as it relates to books bound in human skin and the lives–and deaths– of the individuals who most likely did not consent to have their mortal remains exploited in such a way. Can you speak to the findings in this book in terms of what it means to have A Good Death, and the lessons we can take away from it?

I would say death positivity runs throughout the book, whether it’s me going through my journey to decide what I want done with my corpse when I die, or thinking through all of the implications about the ways bodies have been used and abused throughout history, or indulging morbid curiosity without shame. From our current vantage point, I would say the person closest to having a good death in my book is George Walton because he wanted to be made into a book. The others likely had no idea this fate would befall them. But again, this is all from our perspective today where we have bodily consent as a concept and hold the idea very dear.

One death positive takeaway from the book is when we dig into death practices from different time periods and cultures, it reflects back to us how culturally relative our own ideas of what is a good or bad death is.

And on the very opposite end of the spectrum, that of the vibrant and the living! I know that you have a toddler in the house and I am so curious as to what she thinks of all of this business! You and I were no doubt, inquisitive children, with an interest in weird things…and I realize human skin books aren’t the topic for kiddie convos in every household…but I bet we would have appreciated knowing about them when we were young! And so I can’t help but imagine your wee one has an interest in your book and what you’re writing about, so I am curious about how you might talk to a child about this sort of thing. And of course, I am dying to know your kid’s reaction.

My kid is 3 going on 4 and precocious in the way that she talks, so it’s pretty funny to see what her concept of what I do is. One time she used a wall calendar as a “laptop” and pretended to bang on the keys saying, “Oh! There’s a good information right there.” One of her Mo Willems books has a drawing with a monster doing research with papers and stack of books, and even as a 2-year-old she’d say, “That’s you.” No lies detected!

She’s not really into creepy stuff but she has stuffed grim reapers (yes multiple), a plague doctor, and a human skin stuffie, because she lives in my home and it comes with the territory. She knows I wrote a book, but I don’t think she knows about the books bound in human skin. She generally digs that I’m a librarian, but I think that is mostly because Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony is also a librarian. So, twinsies.

Finally, after reading the words on the final pages of Dark Archives, closing the book, and reflecting back on all that they’ve learned regarding the history and legacy of anthropodermic books, what is the one thing that you hope readers take away from everything you’ve shared here?

I hope readers get that there’s a lot more to these books than just being spooky, creepy things. They are that, and if you want creepy stuff you’ll get plenty in the book, but they are also vessels for a lot of really important conversations. Thus far I’ve been really gratified that readers get what I was going for; they see the humanity and respect I bring to the topic while still being able to enjoy the sillier parts of my journey alongside the deeper issues.

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This interview was originally posted at Haute Macabre on July 31, 2020.

Earlier this year I read and was thoroughly charmed by Lisa Marie Basile‘s dreamily empowering Light Magic for Dark Times: More than 100 Spells, Rituals, and Practices for Coping in a Crisis –which Bust Magazine refers to as “The Artist’s Way for witches” (and wow, do I love that.) But in the past year or so before having read her book, I had been already falling in madly love with this marvelous word witch via her fierce, tender poetry and her lyrical, profoundly heart-stirring writings.

A poet, essayist, and editor living in New York City, Lisa Marie Basile is the founder and creative director of Luna Luna Magazine, an editor at Ingram’s poetry site Little Infinite, and co-host for the podcast, AstroLushes, which intersects astrology, literature, wellness, and culture. Her website Ritual Poetica is a space for sacred self-exploration at the intersection of writing, ritual, and healing, and she has just recently launched her Write Well Patreon, with holistic resources & advice for nourishing a creative life that is physically, emotionally, & spiritually fulfilling.

So many of the subjects that Lisa regularly creates dialogue about and touches on in her writing –intentionality and ritual, creativity, poetry, foster care, addiction, family trauma, and chronic illness– are topics that are close to my heart, and, no doubt, close to the hearts of many of her readers, as well. This spirit of sharing both the beautiful and the ugly, with regard to the body, the world, the universe, is the shining core, and the secret-but-not-so-secret-really, to what makes her work so dynamic and relateable and what always, every single time, thrills me so profoundly when I see that she has posted something on Instagram, or tweeted about over on the twitters. If Lisa has taken the time to ponder a thought or a concern, word-witch it into existence, and share it with us, then it is a rare gem worth seeking out.

Of the elements that deeply spoke to me in Lisa’s first book, it was the rituals and exercises that involved writing I found myself most psyched about. As a bit of a word witch myself, I find that written language is the realm I am most comfortable exploring and creating in. As you can imagine then, when she announced her second book The Magical Writing Grimoire: Use the Word as Your Wand for Magic, Manifestation & Ritual (released this past April), I was over the moon!

Part guided journaling practice, part magical grimoire, The Magical Writing Grimoire explores the transformative power of writing. Each chapter contains writing prompts, writing rituals, meditations, and poetic wisdom. You’ll find shadow work, bibliomancy, automatic writing practices, incantatory poetry, and more. I don’t think I need to tell you, this is a freaking amazing resource– and Lisa Marie Basile was kind enough to field a few of our questions about The Magical Writing Grimoire, below.

Haute MacabreA question that I might typically ask is where the inspiration for this book originated–a question which you have handily answered in the introduction! You recount how your grandfather spent a day teaching you calligraphy, and how as a child you could begin to understand how writing could become a tool to sort out life’s complexities. I love stories like this, a wisdom passed from a beloved elder to a younger you, wherein formative magics take hold and burrow under your skin, mapping an internal pathway, directing and guiding you from there on out. I don’t know how much time you spend with calligraphy nowadays, but what sort of activity would you sit with a younger person (a child the age that you were in that memory, or bb witch, or a young writer-in-training) and slowly teach them with over the course of an afternoon?

Lisa Marie Basile: First, can I tell you amazing I think this question is? So thoughtful and magical. It’s true that these memories, these seemingly forgettable flashes in our lives — how could my dying grandfather even imagine that this thing he did with his grandchild would stick? So often things tumble through our memories, until their just flashes — change us. Perhaps it’s not calligraphy that stuck, because in truth, I do not partake of calligraphy these days. I am sure I would if I had the chance, but it’s not the act of calligraphy that matters. It was the intention, the focus, and the use of language.

It was this idea that through writing we can make memories — that the word itself is a sacred, eternal thing

I suppose if I were with a child or new witch or someone young who wanted to begin writing, I’d have them write a letter to themselves; what they write would depend on their deepest need. Maybe it’s a letter of support or forgiveness or simply a letter that asked one’s future self to pave the way for something. When we write to ourselves, we usually transmit something into and from the shadowy self (even children have shadow selves), and this is important because all transformative acts require a willingness for the depths. Imagine the total freedom of talking to yourself without censorship or judgement or approval?

You note that one of the most important things you’ve learned is that doing something (ie writing a book, casting a spell, etc.) is a process of both “work” and “the occult”. Can you and define and maybe give an example of what you mean by the two of them in that sense, and why it is that this is an important differentiation to you?

I have always viewed writing (or, as you said, anything) as this sort of hybrid thing. Half of the act is occult; it comes from some channeling or transmuting. It is connected to the divine, or the higher self. Sometimes when I write it feels like I am connected to something electric, something cosmic. It pours into me and I take the tabula rasa and make it into something. I know so many creators feel this way. The other aspect is the Work or Craft. You take what you get from the unknown, and you chisel into a shape. You apply knowledge or years of training to the raw thing you made.

You have to work with the gift or the magic. I believe — and maybe this is just me, it’s possible — but you have to combine an intention with actionable energy. You have to speak an incantation and do the work to make space for something to manifest.

But in the end, I believe both are necessary. You can feel when something doesn’t have a soul, when it’s all math or function. And you can see when something is so raw and so in need of time and space and craft.

Write when you dont feel like working on yourself. Write when you do. The grand ritual is returning to those sacred moments.”  I’d love it if you could share what this process looks like for you when you just arent feeling it? And how to maybe turn an ughhh I dont wanna do this today” into a sacred act?

I think there are certainly days when you need rest. As someone with a chronic illness, it’s important to just lay in bed, to daydream, to sleep, to read poems with the window open. I don’t really mean this literally, as in every single time. I do mean if you find yourself again and again coming up against some resistance to write or self-explore, it’s probably a good reason to do just that. In life. But yeah, if I’m feeling particularly exhausted, drained, emptied, or uninspired, I turn to water. For me, a shower is always sacred — and I try not to rush it. I envision the energy that is being cleansed and renewed under the water. I think of the drain as a physical symbol of what I’m letting go. I think of water as luminous and electric and giving me what I need.

Maybe I’ll turn bedtime or just being in bed as a sacred thing: Herbal tea, a good ASMR video, some essential oils in the diffuser, a few candles. I love the idea that luxuriating and resting can be a sacred thing; it’s rest, yes, but it’s also a recharge, and a healing process.

I don’t believe sacredness or magic always has a big a-ha shift; I believe that it’s found in the things that keep us going, keep us feeling alive.

You make this distinction between a practice that is “process-oriented” vs. “results-oriented.” Can you talk about this as it applies to your magical writing practice?

Ah, this sort of touches on the question above. For me, results-oriented magic is of course beneficial. A spell for this. A recipe for that. But I’ve found that (and this is likely a personal thing, or some sort of hyperintense Scorpio thing) that the long-game works better for me. A process is something I return to again and again — whether it’s a ritual I perform monthly or a meditative state I get back into regularly in order to write and sort of self-question. Almost all of this returning – to without immediate results leads to a massive shift in my life — in terms of joy, health, abundance, etc. That said, of course I do “xyz spell for zyz result” in the short term!

Like, yes, I’ll do a writing spell to manifest something I want immediately — a response in the affirmative, a sense of clarity when I wake up in the morning, a release of toxicity. But I will also return to the page for The Great Work — of healing old traumas, identifying patterns or getting in touch with an archetype or ancestral wisdom. That takes returning-to.

You speak to receptivity or conjuring the muse, as well as generative energy (being able to translate those musing energies) and that writing is a ritual of give and take between the two. I wonder if in your practice those energies shift or lean heavier to one side or another? How do you tempt an elusive muse? How do you interpret garbled transmissions? How do you get those synergies to sync, and what do you do when they are out of whack?

For me, the most important thing to do is give it space and to let garbled mess be. More often than not, the shit that comes out somehow ends up revealing a pattern — or even getting to the point where I realize I’m preventing myself from being receptive for some specific reason. It’s okay to write a few words, to incorrectly interpret, and to let there be times when things are unclear and messy. Usually, there’s a message there. It might mean you have some work you have to do outside of the ritual setting (for me at least).

Because so much of my magical life is informed by my writing life, I feel a need to think as a writer in both ways. Sometimes it’s better to get anything onto the page than to abandon ship because you feel the muse isn’t there. I tend to turn to rituals of beauty and creativity (cinema, music, movement, scent) to trigger/tap something in me that gets the flow going — and I do this with magic and with writing (I mean, it’s all one!).

Reading your passing mention of the Egyptian goddess Seshat was pretty uncanny. Literally, the day just before, Seshat came up in conversation with a friend and I was floored, never having heard this divine scribe and celestial librarian. I am curious as to whether or not there is a particular deity that you feel a connection with in your personal magical writing practice? And has that changed over the years with the changing of your own life’s story?

I love that. I believe that these synchronicities happen for a reason, so maybe Seshat wants to commune with you in some way? I don’t typically work closely with deities, gods, goddesses, etc, in an ongoing way — I take a more secular approach and see deities more as lesson-offering archetypes or representations as parts of myself — but I have always felt a deep kinship with Hecate.

I think growing up in foster care and watching addiction, imprisonment and homelessness happen in my immediate family made me yearn for a figure that stood for strength even in dark times. I wasn’t drawn to figures who didn’t have an intense understanding of darkness, the underworld, that dank underbelly of human pain. Hecate not only is that, she bears a torch to light the way. Today, I’m connected to Parthenope — a siren who lives in the water off of Naples. She’s been following me around, and she found me in Sorrento in Italy, in her waters. She is a symbol of love and vulnerability and water and the ancient world.

Writing is a form of reclamation, taking ownership of your pain, that there is power in your vulnerability– I love this idea…in theory…but what advice do you have for someone who is afraid of their own voice?

The voice blooms at its own pace.

Sometimes you don’t even realize that you are releasing it, that what you’re writing is the deepest truth. It’s okay if it doesn’t come natural or if it is frightening. I would suggest lovingly for everyone to lean into the discomfort and to know that your practice can be private and be entirely controlled by yourself. Create a beautiful and safe writing area to write; follow with self-care. Return to it weekly or under each new moon. Ask yourself what the fear is about and be willing to hear the answer. Is it ego? Is it that you were once punished for it? Is it fear of your own power and autonomy? Not fearing your voice is probably not going to happen in one cinematic moment; it will be gradual for some. But not resisting is key.

Resist the linear! You decry. Why? But also:  I wish I could! I am so tied to my structures and my routine, and I fear they are a bit of a crutch. I am curious as to what a non-linear day of writing or, just a non-linear day in your life might look like and what you might suggest for someone mired in the habitual and familiar.

If linear works for you, who am I to argue?! But I stress this because we all communicate and create differently. Perhaps you want to write a poem one day and a formal incantation, complete with rhyme scheme, the next? Maybe you want to journal here and there but can’t bring yourself to complete an entire ritual. I think it’s okay to do what feels right and what you can.

For me, I’ll write a poem, and only poetry for a while. I’ll write poem-spells and little lines and I’ll put them on my altar and I’ll hide them in my purse. Sometimes I’ll read them for a dose of magic. Then maybe I’ll write an essay or lists or whatever. I let my intuition guide me

I would say if what you do is working, don’t change it. But if you feel like structure is a crutch, maybe examine why? What does it feel like to let yourself be out at sea? If it’s scary, is it the sea — or is something you’re doing in the water? Thank you for your time and your beautiful, thoughtful, deep questions.

Images courtesy Lisa Marie Basile except for the mermaid blanket photo via Emily X.R. Pan

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!

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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!

Find Helena Aguilar Mayans: Website // Instagram

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“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.”

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HAM insta 8 HAM insta7 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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You’ve been involved in some gorgeous collaborations with various designers and musicians! Can you tell us a little bit about some of them (Under The Pyramids–I adore Mathilde!–Hvnter Gvtherer, King Dude, etc.), and how they came to be?

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.

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HAM insta12I’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?

A lot of art from the Fin de Siècle!! Now I am especially fond of Orazi and Georges de Feure. Fernand Khnopff’s art and also currently art nouveau Catalan artists like Ramon Casas or Santiago Rusiñol. The somewhat unknown and underrated Alexandre de Riquer has always been an inspiration too.

As for music, Alcest’s latest album, Nhor, and Sylvaine music are what I have been frequently listening to lately.

The poetry of Emily Brontë is always a huge inspiration and the illustrations of Selp @darkselp are always a beautiful inspiration too!

 

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This interview was originally posted at Haute Macabre on January 17, 2020

Embroidery is not for the impatient. Those tiny stitches, painstaking and precise, individually add up to a practice and a pastime that quite literally passes a lot of time. I tried it myself nearly a decade ago, and it took me all day–probably 6 hours total–just to stitch seven words.

Web weaving textile artist Lyla Mori of Moonflesh is well acquainted with this deliberate, decelerated passage of time, and observes it as a vital piece of the slow, ritualistic process comprising the stitches of her embroidered still-life tableaux. These thread-veined creatures and ghostly botanicals, embellished with precious found objects, are ideas and dreams transformed into something tangible through Lyla’s unhurried handiwork and are imbued with measured intent & the most patient of magics.

I never again attempted embroidery, but through a few collaborative commissions (featured above, and immediately below) Lyla has brilliantly captured and brought to life a handful of my own shadowy ideas and spectral dreams. I can’t help but admire these visions anew each time I catch sight of them on my walls; so many dainty, diminutive stitches, the results of which cast a hushed and bewitching spell on the viewer–a feat which is made that much more impressive when you have an awareness of and firsthand experience with (even if it’s just a day’s worth!) of the toil and trouble that goes into this type of craft.

I had so many questions for Lyla about her Moonflesh embroidery, which she has set aside her needle and thimbles for a moment and generously lent her cushion-hearted occasion to respond. See below and learn more about the human behind these darkly expressive offerings, and the countless eternities spent with each stitch in the practice of this timeless craft.

How did you start embroidering? What initially captured your imagination about textile art?

Lyla Mori: Embroidery came to me at a time when I felt incredibly lost in the world. I had just moved to a new state that I had only visited once before. I worked a minimum wage job that left me feeling completely depleted and unfulfilled. I felt lonely the vast majority of the time due to having no friends in the area. One of the few solaces I had was creating art — mainly drawing in pencil and ink, or painting.

Even in trying to actively recollect now, I can’t remember what specifically drew me to embroidery. Why embroidery, and not some other fibre art, or jewelry-making, or sculpting? I’m not sure, but I think a part of me felt intrinsically drawn to it. I never meant for it to become a business for me as it is now — it was just a way for me to relieve stress and channel creativity in my free time. What really inspired me about this art form was its capability to hold the intention of the creator. I remember the very first piece I ever created was a protection sigil, actually. I wanted something to hang up on the wall to protect my home, but I never imagined that the slow process of bringing the piece into tangible space would feel like performing a spell or ritual!

What were some of your early inspirations? And do these themes and motifs continue to show up in your work today or have they changed/evolved over time?

Once I started seriously practicing embroidery, the motifs and imagery that I like to explore had pretty much been set in stone — mainly mythology and folklore, witchcraft, herbalism, creatures of all forms, tarot, Victoriana, spiritualism, etc. In the beginning, I created a LOT of moths. They were a spirit and creature that brought a lot of joy and comfort to me at the time, so my work reflected that. In the past few months, I’ve been conjuring up many a snake. As is often the case with human nature, I find my interests in these specific subjects ebb and flow — something will take the forefront of my mind for a long while, and then fade away – only to revisit me again in the future.

I also find it interesting that the subject matter that people request to be commissioned often reflects what inspires me at the time. Because of this, I find that I hardly ever have to turn down a request! I truly believe that the imagery I desire to manifest is met by the right person who is looking for just that thing — we find each other at the right time and the pieces click into place.

Tell me about the materials that you work with (beads, keys, crystals) and what significance their inclusion lends to the piece.

I knew pretty early on in my journey with embroidery that I wanted my pieces to include objects that hold meaning for me. I love crystals and learning about their specific correspondences, power, and historical uses. I’m fond of the idea of the subject matter and the crystals collaborating on summoning a certain desired energy — whether that be bringing about protection, love, prosperity, magic, etc. Antique keys were a later inclusion into my work. I started collecting them mainly as a devotional practice to the goddess Hekate.

Eventually, an idea struck me — either directly from Her, or Spirit, or the Universe, etc. — to incorporate them into my pieces. I search for antique keys in my journeys and adventures to antique shops and flea markets. I’m pretty picky about the ones I choose. I often have to wade through bowls and buckets of keys, some too modern, some far too rusty, to find one or two that feel right. Once they come home with me, they live on my personal altar until I feel like it’s time to create something. I find that this slow, ritualistic process imbues each embroidery piece with a particularly sacred energy. Beading is a pretty common component in all kinds of embroidery, but I like to include it because I’m an actual magpie and like all things sparkly and shiny. It’s lovely when I come across antique beads that were made before a time when the factory process was more streamlined — so each bead is slightly different from the next. I think it provides a certain kind of magic and whimsy to my work.

Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?

I always have to have a cup of tea or some other beverage, with a candle burning close by before I start embroidering. I also have to be in the right mindset to embroider. I stop embroidering if I feel overly tired, drained, or sad — I take the intention that I put into my pieces seriously, which means that it sometimes takes even longer to get a piece completed! However, I feel that this keeps the process clear and genuine.

My process is a little different when working on a commission, but when I make the pieces I personally desire to create, I always start with research. I like to read about the subject matter online, or go digging through the books I have at my disposal. I study references and determine how the subject can best be created with thread, as it’s different from working with pencil and paper and translating what you see directly. I usually make a few different versions of a specific design, then pick a favorite, transfer it onto fabric, and then the actual embroidery part begins!

Taking into account my Libra sun and rising (and Libra’s association with Venus), I have a great desire to be surrounded by beauty! I’m surrounded by plants growing tendrils up the walls, crystals of all shapes and sizes, olde objects, book stacks assembled haphazardly, art filling the walls, etc. My studio holds my workspace and my personal altar. The two inform each other, which I think is pretty appropriate with how I create my art.

Did you undertake formal training in college or within the industry, or did you find your ways into embroidery via a different route?

I am definitely self-taught in regards to embroidery. Frequently I get asked about what stitch I used for this or that, and I often have to respond that I honestly don’t know. I know there are places that people can formally study embroidery (like the Royal School of Needlework in the UK – how fancy does that sound!) and I’m sure the people who study there would scoff at my methods and techniques, haha! I wouldn’t mind, as I know that some of my techniques must be strange and round-about. But I think there’s a charm and a unique quality in pieces created by artists that are self-taught, and I hope my work has some of that.

How would you describe your work and artistry within the world of embroidery and craft?

Because of my penchant for things that seem dark and scary to others, I feel like a bit of an outlier in the world of embroidery! I often feel inundated with photos of embroidery pieces emblazoned with trendy words and cheesy, tongue-in-cheek phrases, surrounded by a smattering of bright florals. Don’t get me wrong, there’s certainly a place for that sort of thing, just as I believe there’s a small place for my art – spooky/dark/macabre as it might seem.

What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?

I’m currently (/always) inspired by tattered old books, mysterious doorways, portals in nature, creatures sharing our plane of existence and creatures that only live in dreamscapes. I’m inspired by my talented artist friends and their creativity, passion, and work ethic. I’m inspired by women surrealists, my first loves: Leonora Carrington, Frida Kahlo, Remedios Varo. I’m inspired by the works of black femme writers and poets: Octavia Butler, N.K. Jemisin, Lucille Clifton. I’m inspired by the yokai of Japanese mythology and the prophetesses, seers, and sybils of Greek lore. I’m inspired by images of ancient relics and artifacts from across the world, and I’m inspired by the way the land I live on can still seem so alive underneath a thick blanket of ice and snow. I’m eternally inspired by this gracious, wondrous community that I’ve somehow found myself to become a part of!

What would be your dream commission?

I would love to create something HUGE, like a tapestry! Something that I can work on over the course of several months… I truly desire it but I simultaneously know that it would test my fortitude and composure like nothing else, haha! I believe the opportunity will come to me sometime in the future when the right benefactor comes around!

What’s something a lot of people don’t know about embroidering?

That it takes a damn long time! A lot of people are aware that it takes a ‘somewhat foggy, indistinguishable amount of time that probably requires a lot more patience than they care to put in’, but it’s hard to get a good grasp of it until you’re embroidering yourself. Even to this day it still surprises me. Sometimes while I’m working, I look down at the piece in my hands and realize that what I’ve spent the entire day embroidering is not even the length of my finger!

I think it’s a good lesson in valuing the time a person puts into their craft. Artists and art in general are wholly necessary to the health of humankind,  yet it often goes underappreciated and undervalued. This is exacerbated tenfold when it comes to fibre arts, due to the fact they have been historically thought of as woman’s work. This fact just amplifies my love and passion for embroidery, and is a big driving force in why I desire to continue honing and tending to my craft.

Bonus! The Moonflesh shop update, “Wintertide Creatures” is scheduled for January 24! Lyla shares, “I’m forever captivated by creatures with wintery white cloaks — pale furs and feathers that help them go unseen in this cold time of year. There will be three pieces in this collection: a white barn owl, a white raven variant of my Clairvoyant design, & a white elk (major Emperor vibes)”

Find Lyla Mori / Moonflesh: shop // instagram // patreon

 

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voidmerch-she-devil

At Haute Macabre this week, I interview Jordan Shiveley, who I am definitely in no way obsessed with, no way have you seen me RT thousands of his eerie Dread Singles tweets and I can guarantee you have never seen me wearing one of his magnificently peculiar Voidmerch tees or using them in my How To Wear posts.

OK I AM LYING YOU TOTALLY HAVE SEEN ALL OF THIS.

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Get the Big Mood shirt here!

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15 Aug
2019

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I cannot even remember the last time I was excited about new music as I am La Femme Pendu’s debut album All Of Them Witches, four French lounge horror ballads,  inspired by women in horror cinema– for feminists, film freaks, and creatures of the night. For us!

I got a chance to chat via email with La Femme Pendu for an interview at Haute Macabre, which went live today. I highly suggest you give this glorious album a listen while perusing our Q&A!

Also, La Femme Pendu did a cover of Danzig’s “Mother,” and I have been listening to it for two weeks straight.

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seance feature

Mixed media artist Rebecca Reeves’ work is intricate and enthralling, delicately wrought with thin black thread and fraught with powerful, piercing themes of family and loss. Some pieces work to contain and preserve their contents–poignant heirlooms or other meaningful objects– while others encapsulate their interior in a suffocating struggle of sorrow and grief.

More recently, these pieces instead of items obsessively enveloped, incorporates the idea of mirrors and portals, a connection with another world, and–unlike her cocooned works of familial preservation and protection–embraces the notion that we must not allow the spirits of the deceased to become trapped within.

I own one of Rebecca Reeves works, it sits on a shelf in my office and quietly watches me work every day. A sweet, eerie-eyed porcelain doll head atop an antique milk glass jar, to resemble a flower festooned with softly glimmering petals and leaves, each one painstakingly hand-beaded. It is a rare treasure.

And what treasure, too, the opportunity to delve deeper into these works of grace and grief and better get to know the sensitive soul who created them! See below for an interview with artist Rebecca Reeves.

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Unquiet Things: In repeated viewings of your work I am struck how you have taken a thing as vast and fathomless and amorphous as grief and fashioned it into a tiny, tangible keepsake to treasure. You have bound it snugly in thread, embellished it with glass beads, pinned it in place like a rare specimen and protected it under glass. Here, you seem to say. This is the enormity of your staggering grief made small, manageable, secure. It is fragile and delicate. Your grief is not only a thing you can face, but it is a thing to be cherished and preserved.

Now…this is just what I see when I gaze upon your work, of course; I am bringing the weight of my own grief and experiences with loss to the table. But you didn’t make your work for me. Your pieces are intensely personal works inspired by overwhelming emotions experienced when you attempt to live around your grief. And to an extent, we all grieve alone, and our experiences reflect that. What did I get right, in my initial assessment (if anything)? Where do I lose the thread? How are your personal experiences with grief manifested in your creations?

Rebecca Reeves: Thank you for interpreting my work perfectly and for connecting with it on a personal level. When my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, we were also caring for my grandmother who had vascular dementia and my grandfather’s debilitating, nerve damage from shingles. We all had our roles and worked as a team. As my dad’s cancer metastasized to his brain, tough decisions had to be made for the safety and care of everyone. Within one year and four months, we lost three of our dearest loved ones. There wasn’t a moment to grieve, as one died, another person needed our full attention. After nearly three years, those life-ending decisions both haunt me and bring comfort. It’s a never-ending personal battle of emotional highs and lows, reassurance and self-doubt. Grief surrounds my every day life. I’m now finding that I struggle to live in the moment and see the bright side of things. My art is my outlet.

Working small is the ultimate way to gain control over something that is uncontrollable. Incorporating fiber-related materials into my work reminds me of my family and all of the good memories. Ever since the beginning of my college education, I have channeled loss and grief into my art. My loved ones are my entire world. They gave everything to me and in return, I give everything to them. So it was only a natural progression to create work about the love I have for them. My work comes straight from my heart and more times than not, my emotions get the best of me while working on pieces.

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Your art incorporates “fiber-related processes” and your “obsessive qualities”; can you expand upon those ideas and how they are embodied in your work? And perhaps how they may have evolved over time, as your grief may ebb or flow, as your different inspirations shift or unfold?

For as long as I can remember, I have been an obsessive person. When I was little, I found comfort in pouring my wooden puzzles together and completing them all at once. I had a Tupperware container with compartments that I would organize and reorganize beads according to size, color, or favorites. When I was 8 or 9 years old, I hung shelves up in my closet in order to organize my toys/games. They didn’t last long since I had no knowledge about drywall anchors. But, it was when I was 10 years old that my life forever changed. My paternal grandfather passed away. It was a life-changing experience because I wished him away. My fascination with death and the need to control the uncontrollable has altered my life and given me comfort.

My grandfather was one of many painters in my family and I once considered this as my medium, but it was the women in my life that influenced my fiber-related processes. From crocheting, knitting, darning, beadwork, and sewing – it was inevitable that fiber took its hold on me.

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One of my favorite pieces is Gathering My Ghosts, which was, I believe, created with the idea of connecting to your ancestors on the other side–” mini portals for time traveling.” Can you share how this idea came about and how it all came together?

I can’t remember exactly when the piece began and how far along cancer had its grips on my dad. When I was creating the piece, loss was already setting in and I was thinking about how I could communicate with my ancestors – the ones I love and the ones I’ve never met. I was thinking about the occult during this time. Not practicing, but mulling over the idea of the black mirror; thinking about how my family would cover the mirrors in black cloth during funerary visitations as a superstition. The use of black-colored threads in my obsessive wrapping process is directly attributed to those darkened mirrors.

I do remember finishing the piece and gathering up the details for a large show that I was curating titled, “More Beyond”. My dad was on steroids and looking great on the outside. My parents attended the show and we had the best time. They were so proud. The piece stood in a glorious spot as you walked through the gallery entrance. The piece was also exhibited in a chance-of-a-lifetime show alongside 150 Victorian hairwork pieces at the Kemerer Museum a few months later. “Gathering My Ghosts” now resides in a loving home with a dear friend who also suffered the loss of a parent.

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In a previous interview, about both you and your husband’s interest in collection Post Mortem photography, you stated, “We respect the artistic expression of death”; I am curious as to what other mediums or forms of artistic expression extends with regard to your collection (or perhaps things you might be interested in collecting.)

Over the 30 years together, we have the typical collections: Victorian mourning jewelry and hairworks, religious items, funerary pieces, post mortem photography, and human bones. Within my personal collection, I have antique silver and beaded purses, porcelain doll legs and fire king ware. We have always been avid antique collectors, doing the circuit of shops and markets. I’ve learned all I know about antiques from generations of my family. Our home is filled with our loved ones’ items. I refer to it as a living museum of my family’s heirlooms. There’s something about touching an object that was once loved by a family member. I like to believe there’s an energy that continues on within.

I’ve inherited an extensive collection of antique glass bottles, tins, books dating back to my great-grandparents, vintage postcards and honeycomb Valentine’s Day cards as well as my great-grandfather’s Independent Order of Odd Fellows memorabilia, just to name a few. We’ve come to the point in our collecting where something really has to strike hard for us to buy more. We question, “How will this piece inspire our art and music?” rather than just expanding a collection.

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In 2018, your Garden of Grief collection was exhibited and sold through the Creeping Museum (whom I love dearly, I think they do such good work!) How was your experience with that? Can you share anything about that particular collection and how that collaboration was born?

The moment I met Alyssa, she found a special place in my heart. When I was introduced to her tiny museum, I knew right then that I had to be a part of what she created. The night of the opening was so memorable and she made me feel special. The series came from a memory of my great-grandmother’s art. When I was little, I remember a beaded bouquet of flowers that she made on her kitchen windowsill. She was an incredibly talented potter, painter, bead artisan and everything in between. From this memory, I began researching and creating beaded flowers with a lot of trial and error. The title to the series came naturally from my heart. As difficult as it was to part with them, I wanted to incorporate some of my dad’s milk glass collection into the series. They then became the foundation for the sculptures.

To give your poor hands a break from all the obsessive stitching, intricate beading and tiny wire wrapping that you do for your art, what sort of things do you get up to in your spare time when you are not creating?

Well, you would think I would try and relax my hands and elbows, but no. There just isn’t enough time to get it all done. My brain never stops and our house to-do list posted on the refrigerator just gets longer and longer. I have the most patient husband and he goes with the flow on all of my crazy ideas. He has banned me, though, from renting any more heavy equipment due to my obsession with moving boulders.

One of my favorite things equivalent to creating art is home design/décor and organizing. I love to rearrange the furniture placement and I specifically designed our home with limited interior walls just for this reason. I adore structure magazines and thank my grandmother for this appreciation. She and I shared subscriptions for decades, earmarking our favorite pages and then discussing how we would incorporate them into our homes. My heart grows heavy when I look at them today without her. My family is everything and taking care of them is first priority. Enjoying a night out to dinner with my love at our favorite haunt or just sitting next to each other in our chairs, watching comedies over and over brings me joy. Spending time with my mom, either working on going through our loved ones’ possessions, having lunch at our favorite teahouse or just simply talking about the daily happenings. Time spent together no matter what we do is precious.

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Are there any gallery shows or exhibits where we may see your work right now, or perhaps further into 2019?

Currently, I am working on a few new pieces that will be exhibiting in two different shows at Gristle Gallery in Brooklyn this year. At the same time, I’m in the beginning stages of a new piece for an upcoming show at Arch Enemy Arts Gallery in August. I’m thrilled to announce that “Slipping Below,” the two-woman exhibition with Danielle Schlunegger-Warner, is now traveling to the West Coast to Ghost Gallery in September. Also, I’ll be vending at a few different venues this year including the upcoming Oddities Market in Chicago, where I received my graduate degree. I’m excited to see the city again.

Can you share any projects that are percolating, or ideas that are coalescing for the upcoming year?

I’m working on the gathering stages for a ghosted sea captain series. It is a continuation of the work that is dedicated to my dad and his service in the Navy. There isn’t a planned venue as of yet, but I have been mind-sketching this series since the close of the “Slipping Below” exhibition at the end of last year. New wearable pieces and tiny originals, incorporating beaded flowers and porcelain hands are brewing for a couple of the upcoming markets this year. When grief and anxieties get the best of me, I find that my greatest distraction is collecting materials and working out ideas in my mind. It helps me justify that I’m still being productive during emotionally hard times.

Find Rebecca Reeves: website // instagram // shop

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