I have a weird habit wherein every time I write something, I feel compelled to design an outfit around it. Obviously in the virtual sense – my wallet could not possibly withstand this peculiar compulsion!
Below are 15 (okay, it’s actually probably more like 20-30) ensembles created in 2015, including links back to the articles, essays, or ramblings that inspired their creation. As always, click through the image to find details on the items included.
Today I am going to write at length about one of my favorite humans on the planet.
But first, some backstory:
2009-ish, I guess that’s 6 years ago now – that was a strange, awful year for me. It had actually been a strange and awful number of years. I was floundering and feeling like a desperate mess. I had moved to New Jersey from Florida five years previously and things were not working out at all, which was some kind of bullshit, I can assure you. I had left everything I’d known behind for this opportunity and it was turning out to be the worst kind of hell. It was to get worse, and then get better, but I did not know that then.
Everyone’s got their coping mechanisms. For some it’s a kitten video binge on youtube, for others, it’s a tall glass of something cold and intoxicatingly potent; for me, at that time, it was obsessively seeking out horrors beyond my comprehension in the form of obscure cinema. I was fascinated with bizarre horror films at that time – well, I had been for as long as I could remember, but now it was so much easier to seek out and find these strange cinematic gems, and to connect with the like-minded souls who enjoyed them.
It was a Friday night, probably February. I view my time in New Jersey through the lens of a perpetual February -dull grey skies, relentless cold, dirty sidewalk slush that appears as if its been piled by the curb since the dawn of man and will never fully melt, even sometime in the future when the stars have all died. At the end times, there would still be a pile of pissed-on slush next to a dumpster, with an old boot next to it, somewhere in New Jersey. February in that place was the worst month to be a lonely person.
The hour had struck midnight and I was wide awake, and, of course- alone. Due to the unfortunate circumstances I had gotten myself into, all of my weekends were spent in my own company, which I don’t mind telling you, was pretty bleak. I was searching for reviews on a certain film and I unwittingly stumbled across the blog of one Tenebrous Kate, Love Train For The Tenebrous Empire. “Lurid. Weird. Fantastique.” promised the header, and after several feverish hours of devouring every entry and every lurid, weird, fantastic review I concluded that it was indeed all that and more.Occult nonsense and gothic horror? Women in prison? Necrophilia and Nunsploitation? Check, check and check. Cheeky kink? You betcha. Did she bring the weirdness, as promised? Fuck yeah, she did.
Brimming with wry humor, marvelously keen insight, and more knowledgeable on all my favorite subjects than perhaps any mortal has any right to be (because she’s actually a wizard, I suspect), Kate, I was to find, was more than just a damn good writer – she’s a talented artist as well, across several mediums. For years she’s consistently wowed me with her wicked Halloween costume prowess, she’s an illustrator and painter, as well as, a sometimes public speaker – which I believe is an art form into itself – and a wrangler of artists and writers for her mico-publishing imprint, Heretical Sexts. I would learn these things as they unfolded over the next several years, but at that specific point in time, I knew I had discovered a remarkable human woman and my life would never be the same.
I’m certain it took me at least a year to work up the nerve to even leave a comment on her blog, and yet somehow here we are, years later and you are about to read an interview that she graciously agreed to do with me. How did the stars align to even make this happen? I still don’t rightly know, but I am honored and privileged to have gotten to know Kate and I hope you will enjoy reading further and learning more about her background and her weird and fantastical projects as well.
S. Elizabeth :Lurid. Weird. Fantastique. That’s been tagline on your blog header for as long as I’ve been stalking you. (I sort of think of it as a mantra or an incantation now, ha!) Tell us about what those themes/concepts mean to you and how they translate to the various projects you summon forth to share with the world.
T’Kate:You know, I’ve always struggled with defining the “stuff” I enjoy, because I feel like genre labels tend to restrict discovery of interesting things instead of assisting after a certain point. I chose “Lurid, Weird, Fantastique” because my favorite things combine a bit of sexiness, plenty of strangeness, and an element of imagination, whether it’s psychedelia, fantasy, or decadence. That tagline wound up being a good match because, though I initially began writing strictly about movies, it also lets me play with art, books, and music without feeling like I’m veering off topic!
I’d love to know Tenebrous Kate’s origin story! I imagine a little 5 year old T’Kate toddling around in enormously oversized Black Sabbath tees alternately peeping at dirty magazines and staying up late to watch lesbian nazi exploitation flicks. How far off am I? When did your strange fascinations begin to take hold? And how did you come to channel them into your art and writing?
I was an extremely sensitive child (like, creepy, Poe protagonist levels of nervousness and sensitivity to stimulus), plus I was the first kid in my “generation” of the family. What this meant is that I was sheltered from a lot of media, plus I socialized exclusively with adults for the first several years of my life. My parents are both former English teachers, so I read a lot–early exposure to Tolkien and those Time Life Enchanted World books had a huge impact on me. There was definitely forbidden media, and it’s hilariously tame in retrospect: I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV after my mother decided that Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film” video went far beyond the limits of good taste. It took me to age twelve to get up the nerve to sneak downstairs after everyone had gone to bed and taste a few delicious minutes of “Headbangers Ball.” I didn’t start seeking out more extreme movies until my love of heavy metal and goth pointed me in that direction in my teens. What started as a way to test my adolescent nerves turned into a real passion after I recognized that there was more to some of these films than one might guess from the “gore checklist” mode of appreciation that was the norm in the 90s. Involvement in AOL chatrooms connected me with Scott Gabbey, who was developing what would become Ultra Violent Magazine, and that solidified my involvement in the world of “writing my thoughts about weird stuff.”
I think I found your blog through – of all things – a search for reviews on the film Hostel II (and was surprised to see someone give it a decent review!) – but it was your referencing and reviewing of gloomy, decadent occult artists, films, and music that really drew me in. I would love to talk about your interests in this vein – whether they are spiritual, literary-minded, aesthetic or whatever – and what are some of your beloved favorites that you’ve either reviewed for Love Train or that you’d recommend for a like-minded weirdo?
Oh boy–this is difficult for me! My favorites shift in focus over time, and I love different books, movies, art, and music for different reasons. I just seek out art (we’ll lump all creative output into this word for now) that resonates with me, and I feel like this shared creative vibration links all of the disparate things I enjoy. A great example of movies that really hit me where I live would be Tinto Brass’ historical epics–I think Salon Kitty and Caligula are absolutely captivating because there’s this combination of lush beauty, historical fiction, theatrical violence, melancholy, and taboo that just makes my brain and my eyes leap around, not knowing where to land. That’s the experience I’m looking for in art. Maybe the most perfect movie that captures this mindset, though, is Ken Russell’s “The Devils.” It’s so perfect that I’ve never written about because it’s just so vast in its imagery and implications, and it’s better if one just experiences it without vivisecting and destroying through over-analysis.
Delving into your various endeavors -your latest project, Die Mensur, “an exploration of the secretive world of German fencing fraternities” and a collaborative effort with with Gilles de Rais of the band Porta Nigra – Secret German fencing fraternities! Who knew such a thing even existed? Please tell us about how you stumbled upon this secret society of swordsmen and how you brought this amazing thing into being. How did it end up as the beautifully bound booklet that it is today instead of oh, say, working it into a blog post…or a painting, or even including in story arc for Super Coven?
I first became aware of Mensur (which is a form of non-sport/non-honor-duel fencing that has been practiced by student fraternities in Central Europe since the mid-1800s) from my long-time partner, whose family is of German descent. The powerful image of two men standing perfectly still while waving a blade towards one another’s faces had this combination of posture discipline, severity, and ritual that fascinated me. There are photographs of the aftermath of the Mensur that show these handsome young men with completely bloody faces and it’s really unforgettable. As a person who’s into body modification, I was intrigued by the dueling scars that were worn as a badge of honor. There’s not a lot of information in English on the Mensur since it’s an entirely oral tradition passed down through the fraternities, but it’s popped up on my radar over time (the mondo movie Ecco features what I’ve since learned is an accurate re-enactment of the Mensur, for example).
I read a review of the German decadent metal band Porta Nigra’s 2015 record Kaiserschnitt that included a photo of the band wearing Mensur protective gear and that’s what made me stop and listen to their music. Kaiserschnitt is an incredible record, and Gilles de Rais, the lyricist, is clearly a person who knows a lot about history and literature. After I wrote about the record on my blog, I wound up connecting with Gilles, who put me in touch with his contacts at a fencing fraternity in Cologne. I was honestly shocked that the fraternity brothers were willing to speak to me! Talk about being an outsider–I’m an American woman artist, and these are pretty conservative young men who are part of what’s essentially a male-only secret society
As to why I chose to make a book on the topic, it’s very important to me that, when I speak to people who clearly take their beliefs and passions seriously, I take those things equally seriously even if they’re different from my personal world view. Mensur is just such an interesting topic on its face that I felt anything other than a direct, documentary approach would have been doing it (and the people who were generous and candid enough to speak to me) a disservice.
Die Mensur is just one of several projects published by Heretical Sexts, the micro-niche publisher focusing on the dark and the bizarre that you founded in 2014. Billed as “Weird Words on Dead Trees” and giving a platform to “those outside the status quo”, you’ve published ‘zines chronicling fictional dream dates with villains (two volumes to date!), explorations of femininity and the occult, as well as your own personal collections of essay and arts in Forever Doomed. Why do you think there is a need right now for these kind of publications? Why is it important to give these discerning creeps a voice, and who is it that you imagine your audience to be? And if you can share, what are some topics or themes that you hope to tackle going forward?
Honestly? It started with a desire to create more valuable work while controlling the context of some of the topics I wanted to discuss. I don’t really like genre labels and I’m not much of a joiner, so the “orthodoxies” of certain internet conversations bum me out tremendously. By creating printed pieces, it means a couple of things: 1) readers are demonstrating a real desire to read what’s on the page, which means their minds are probably more open already and 2) the act of reading on paper (or eReader–I fully cop to reading on a Kindle sometimes) creates the kind of immersion you just don’t get from internet reading. I want to offer an experience where people aren’t getting upset by the comments or distracted by social media or whatever. Like, just sit and think about what you’re reading and looking at in an open-minded way.
I am also lucky enough to know a lot of incredibly talented, intelligent people, and I feel that combining their voices and viewpoints can elevate everyone involved. Collaborative work just feeds my soul in an amazing way, and those that have agreed to work with me really commit to the concept and deliver remarkable art and writing that, in turn, inspires me. I think it’s important to publish humorous work (like the My Dream Date with a Villain zines) alongside more serious pieces (like Die Mensur or certain pieces in Witch Women), because life is complicated and our human brains are messy and contain multitudes. I’ve got a bunch of stuff in the pipeline right now! Jack Shear, who has had a hand in every single piece I’ve done with Heretical Sexts and who has been an amazing sounding-board for ideas, is developing a piece on Gothic fiction, and I’ve been pitched some great ideas on a very grown-up activity book that I’m pretty stoked to help bring to life.
Getting back to Super Coven, your web comic about friends and bandmates Andy, Jess and Red and the “monsters, heavy music, and all manner of occult nonsense”, that makes up their day to day goings-on – I know you’ve had to step back with the updates due to general busyness and other projects, but can you talk a little bit about where we left off? Without giving away any spoilers, we’ve encountered everything from bigfoots to nazi vampires to a burlesque dancer in a relationship with her motorcycle – what’s next for our intrepid stoner friends? And I have to ask -these characters seem so relatable, I feel like I could know these guys, maybe I AM these guys… – I have had so many of these weird, late-night, bar closing conversations about crazy monster theories and conspiracies and god knows what else. How much of this is pure imagination and how much can you attribute to actual real-life stuff? (Please tell me this motorcycle loving Lorna is based upon a real person!)
Oh sure! I still love Super Coven, and it’s been a really important project for me because it got me into the habit of producing (and sharing) my creative work on a regular schedule. I have the whole storyline laid out for this arc (which Jack Shear co-authored with me), plus there’s another story I’ve got a half-baked idea for that involves the character of “Draculigula” because most of my best Super Coven ideas are basically just portmanteaus.
As to how the comic developed, I really loved Scooby Doo and Dark Shadows as a kid, so I nicked the “pals solving mysteries” concept from the former and the “everything AND the kitchen sink” approach from the latter and blended it with my own worldview. I wanted a concept that would support all of the things I’m interested in (occult matters, history, folklore, gothic/decadent literature, various kinds of music, witty banter…) in a universe where those things could conceivably be blended. I’d like to think there’s an audience that likes monster fights and Huysmans references, anyway.
Writing and illustrating a long-form, serialized piece has been challenging, and I realize in hindsight that “conversations in a bar” do not make for scintillating visuals, but I’ve amped up some of the action stuff in this most current story (which I do intend to complete!). I’d like to think that occasional werewolf fights and motorcycle love-making offer enough to keep people reading.
This makes me wince as I type it, but I’ve been going to weird shows, bars, and clubs in New York for well over two decades now, so yes–there’s a good deal of “slice of life” stuff in Super Coven. The whole “real vampyre” thing is definitely drawn from my personal interactions. Sadly, I’ve never encountered an objectum sexual as fashionable and enchanting as Lorna.
You have got so many irons in the fire – if you’re not webcomicing, you’re working on a new book for Heretical Sexts, or you’re blogging a fantastic review on an obscure giallo film teeming with blood and bare breasts, or you are writing for various other publications – Ultra Violent Magazine, Occult Rock Magazine, Slutist, and most recently Dirge Magazine, OR you are making live speaking appearances at pop culture variety shows in NYC. Damn, lady! What do you do in your downtime? Do you have any downtime? What are some current loves and favorite things that you’re enjoying?
That IS what I do in my down-time! I’ve just cut out most of the aspects of what I was doing that I didn’t really enjoy. There was a time in about 2010 or so where I felt compelled to write about EVERY movie I watched or to “give a chance” to a lot of things I really knew I wasn’t going to dig. Now I write only about the things that inspire me and have given myself permission to stop reading or watching at the point where I’m no longer engaged with a thing. I’m also kinder to myself when I need to shift my focus from project to project, or if I need a break. I only work with people I like on projects that excite me–I’m just fortunate enough to know a lot of great people with exciting concepts. In fact, I have a wishlist of people I’d love to work with, so we’ll see!
I know I’ve asked this with regard to various projects above, but on the whole – what is next for Tenebrous Kate? What is left to conquer? I am hoping it is some sort of crazy-kinky memoir, but that’s just me. Any thoughts?
I’m always cooking up something! I really love working on the Historical Sluttery series that I’ve been doing for Slutist so I plan on continuing that, plus Dirge has been the kind of place that lets me write lengthy pieces where I get to showcase GIFs from silent films so I dig working with them. In addition to the couple of projects I mentioned above for Heretical Sexts, I’m writing some really lurid historical fiction that I plan to illustrate and bind in way that mimics early 20th Century pornography. I just like ambitious things that shouldn’t have an audience, whether I’m seeking them out or making them myself!
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Bill Crisafi;in addition being a marvelous, magical artist, he is one of the nicest humans I have ever had the opportunity to chat with. Thanks so much, Bill! This interview was originally published at Dirge Magazine.
An artist’s ability to not only move with ease between mediums, but to transcend them, is a rare talent. Illustrator, photographer, and sculptor Bill Crisafi is adept in this regard. In summoning his uncanny inner narrative and powerful visions, Crisafi draws inspiration from nature, feminine strength and energies, and the, “remaining echoes of the Victorian era that haunt the landscape” of his native New England.
He shares this otherworldly imagery with the viewer through a variety of lenses, both literal and figurative. Feral witches and their familiars frolic, mystical woodland rituals are illumined, and the deeply dreaming, fog-shrouded forest holds sway over all in his starkly surreal, whimsical illustrations and eerie woodland photography. These themes can also be found in the earthy mysticism of the jewelry he creates for Burial Ground, with long-time friend and collaborator Jamie Mooers.
I recently caught up with Crisafi and chatted about his melancholic art and dark obsessions, the eternal autumn otherworld he inhabits, and his deep love for the magical New England landscape.
As an illustrator, photographer, sculptor, and jeweler – and soon to be a tattoo artist – you’re very much a visual storyteller. Where do you conjure the dark tales that you share with the world from – can you talk about your influences and inspirations in this vein?
Yes! I am apprenticing with my good friends who own The Black Veil Studio, that’s opening very soon. I am beyond lucky to be learning the trade from these guys.
I think I am most directly influenced by, but not limited to, film & folklore. When I was in college at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, I substituted all of my art history courses for film history. Among those courses, I was able to study the work of Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, as well as take a course on German film & the Grimm Brothers, where we compared films to the tales. These courses fueled my obsessions with darker themes. I loved learning about the uncanny and German Expressionism and it has stuck with me.
It’s hard to say where my true heart is. I love all mediums for different reasons.
I’ve read that you attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in NY for a time but the call of the wild brought you back to the woods of your native New England. Can you talk about how this woodland yearning shaped your path as an artist? Do you feel any influences from your time in the city and with FIT creeping into your work – how do you reconcile those two somewhat opposing influences?
A lot of my work at FIT was directly influenced by the New England landscapes I left behind. I have one clothing collection in particular that I illustrated which was heavily influenced by my walks through Maudslay State Park in Newbury, MA. Among my ‘fabric swatch page’ was an assortment of specimens from the park: milkweed, twigs, dead flowers, etc.
I think the aching I had to be home, in the woodland environment, made me obsessively keep it alive and breathing through my work when I had to be in the city. This theme lives on today in Burial Ground. All of the twigs & natural elements used are found in places that are sacred to Jamie and me.
I was never keen on illustrating as I was instructed to at FIT. I’ll never forget a project where we had to draw a collection for J. Crew and it resulted in big headed models with frizzy orange hair that had deer antlers jutting out of their heads.
Your illustrative work focuses quite a bit on witches, ritual, and all manner of creatures/familiars/shapeshifters haunting both land and air – spiders, bats, wolves, etc. It’s all imbued with this sense of feral mysticism. Can you talk about these obsessions ?
There is a drawing at my parents house I did in 2nd grade that is a book of “What I liked doing the most during the year” and one page says, “I liked it when we worked on the witches,” and my drawing to accompany that is a naked hag with white hair, standing over a bubbling cauldron
I remember as a child rolling around the forest in the fallen leaves by myself wearing a cloak, mixing potions at the kitchen sink, and making frequent trips to Laurie Cabot’s store in Salem to beg my parents to buy me a book, a wand, or something that I could use to conjure magic. Those are some of the best memories I have and feel like there is a dialogue between myself and nature that magic helps me communicate.
I also see a connection with these ideas and my mother. She is honestly the hardest working and strongest person I know. I see the presence of female strength, sacrifice, and wisdom in witchcraft and it is really comforting to me.
It wasn’t until I was 19 or 20 that I did really start to address it in my work and use it as a tool for communicating my beliefs.
What can you share with us regarding your work space where you create and cultivate these mythic, melancholic narratives? What sorts of objects do you surround yourself with? What’s the most vital, invaluable item in your studio?
I was spending my days in the upstairs corner of the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem drawing on a couch that had a window overlooking the grand ballroom. I love it there and will probably still utilize that space from time to time to get work done. I finally purchased a desk so now I can draw right in my bedroom.
My space is very important to me and directly determines my drive to make work. I hope to turn my room into a mixture of a Sabbath scene from the film Haxan and a Victorian treehouse, then I’ll never have to leave! I will forever be obsessed with Victorian objects, particularly mourning ones. The most invaluable item would probably be the human skull Jamie’s grandmother gifted me on my birthday some years ago. She is also an artist and used to use it as a reference when drawing. I do think it may be a close second when I pick up the taxidermy still-born goat I have been making payments on.
As you can tell, my priorities are in order.
In 2014 you and longtime friend and collaborator, Jamie Mooers, relaunched Burial Ground with “The Way of The Mystic” collection, which, as you state, “reflects our shared path and the symbols that captivate us.” Brimming with earthy mysticism, these pieces wonderfully echo the motifs seen and felt in your other works. As your paths forge forward, what can we expect to see in future collections from Burial Ground?
We have a small collection of jewelry set to debut in just a few weeks. Our first collection focuses on familiar symbols with concrete meanings that are easy to resonate with.
As we move forward from that, we are still working with casting twigs from areas that are sacred to us, but trying to create a dialogue between the wooded sculptures and the stones we set in them. Some pieces transform from twig into limb, referencing our connection to nature. We are also branching out – we will be offering photographic prints, illustrations, patches, and even some really exciting housewares.
There are also some collaborations in the works that we have been dying to get started as well.
Speaking of collaborations and collections, you work with some really fantastic artists who are relatively well-known in their own right. Courtney Brooke of Lightwitch, for example, is the first who comes to mind. She shot the look book for The Way of the Mystic and quite frequently shows up in some of your own photography. Can you tell us about your relationships in this community and the almost collective vision that you seem to share?
I feel like I am a chip off of the same block as Courtney. She is one of the most inspiring and true humans I have the pleasure of knowing. There are some people that you meet who don’t even really need to be given an explanation of what you’re going for creatively and they already get it. Courtney is that person.
The Way of the Mystic lookbook is a prime example of a dream collaboration day. It was our first time working with the makeup talent, Steffanie Strazzere (@sstrazzere), and the combined skillset she has with our art direction, Courtney’s vision, and Kris Hatch’s modeling was the most magical thing I’ve ever seen.
I think there is an understanding for artists from New England that are into similar things as us. It goes back to the rich and haunting history of Massachusetts, and although it resonates differently in each of us, I think there is a bond from that we share. I wouldn’t trade New England or its people for anything.
Divining with shadows and dreams, tears and blood:
Revelations from otherworldly conjurer JL Schnabel of bloodmilk
In dreams we travel instinctively to places we’ve never seen but already know: still landscapes of dim corners, hushed collections of shadows, overwhelming and powerful darkness. Mysteries are slowly revealed and forgotten, and surface later as foggy instances of déjà vu. We awaken with tears drying on our cheeks and a feeling of loss for worlds the doors of which are open only for fleeting instants. Beyond these doors, filaments of memories and past lives spin idly in un-accessed portions of our brains like mechanical toys in dusty attics. And one night when these obscure recollections and neglected reincarnations are finally unlocked and spill about us in pools of nonsense and surreal stories, we attribute them to overactive imaginations and snippets from tales told when we were young.
Thoughtful and enigmatic, and perhaps part mystic or seer, JL Schnabel travels with ease between these impossible dream worlds of shadows and half-light. From these etherous realms she conjures into existence and immortalizes dark memories and strange sorrows, the results of which are items delicate and powerful, graceful and grotesque, and exquisitely, painfully personal. These singular adornments which she refers to as “psychic armor” are the foundation of her line of hand-crafted jewelry, bloodmilk: “supernatural jewels for surrealist darlings”.
Not only a time traveler, world straddler, and collector of tears, of bone, of teeth, and words – JL Schnabel, in addition to continuously creating new baubles for bloodmilk, is also a staff writer for Hi-Fructose Magazine. And if her creative energies were not already stretched vaporously thin, she has also just this evening – 11.11.11 – released an immense and immensely stunning lookbook for her current collection, which can be seen in spellbinding detail here. Despite all of this on her very full plate, she granted the following interview which parted the veil and revealed a glimpse into the process of her conjurings and consequential creations, and guided me through the strange splendor of her own alternate worlds.
S. Elizabeth: In the past you’ve spoken about the surrealist spirit of “objective chance” – the ‘curious joining of objects/images that are seemingly unrelated but are in truth secretly connected’ and further note that is how the name “Blood Milk” came about “…taking two potent potions and conjoining them forever beneath the same banner.” I find this notion of objective chance intensely fascinating. Are there any other instances where you can cite the presence of this spirit in your life? Is this sort of an everyday thing that you have always been aware of, or is it more prevalent now because of your work as bloodmilk?
JL Schnabel: For the surrealists, ‘objective chance’ was applied to an interest in the “marvelous encounter”. Beauty was convulsive. To react to art / writings / dreams / love & desire/ life with both repulsion and attraction, especially when experienced simultaneously, was a goal of the surrealists, the ultimate state of being. These reactions mirrored the anxiety of the everyday, the ordinary. To see beyond what is objective by joining a word that’s quite its opposite is already an illustration of what it means.
I think everyone’s life is freckled with these instances. It’s as abundant as synchronicity. Sometimes hard to recognize, but always there if you have the eye or spirit to really look. For me though, objective chance lives in my world of “making” while synchronicity has lately been occurring so often in my waking life that it doesn’t startle me as much anymore. These are strange times we live in.
The themes of light/darkness, horror/beauty, sacred/profane are pervasive throughout your body of work I’d love to get a peek into your cerebral machinations– to see how you take a grotesque notion and forge it into a wondrous thing of eternal beauty. Talk to me about your process – how a small, gnarled crow’s claw, for example, comes to be clutching a quartz crystal, and is reincarnated into“the messenger”? Or how a boa constrictor snake rib bone is transformed into “forget me not”
I had a tarot reading recently and was told, with the forewarning of “I’m someone who would understand,” that I “have an intimate relationship with death”. When I was a kid, I had a potent brush with my mortality and since then, steadily, my feelings / visions / & reactions to death have transformed. I think this kind of spectral intimacy lends itself to seeing both the beauty and horror in life, in art, in those around me, maybe most importantly, within myself. I’m connected to my jewels, they reveal my secrets, my darkness, my lightness. I think the only way to describe how these physical objects materialize is that they represent my turbulent emotions and ideas on mourning and spirituality. They are immensely personal.
As for my process, I always carry around a palm sized hardbound sketchbook that I flood with notes and scratchy drawings. I work in a stream of consciousness style, without limiting myself with seasonal deadlines. I’m always filled with ideas for new pieces. I wish there was two of me !
I like to think that I’ve created a language with some of the objects I’ve molded and work with within this language to create new narratives. Sometimes I’ll already have an object that I’ll use as the starting point, such as bit of bone, and other times, I’ll find things at antique sales or on the street or in the woods that I think would be good to add into the collection. There is a lot of mining involved. Friends gift me bits that they think I could use. Somehow I’ve become the girl people give dead things to. It’s terrible, and really great.
Nearly everything I make incorporates an object that has already existed, whether it’s a natural one such as a pair of rattlesnake fangs or something with a history, like a skeleton key or a shard of phantom quartz. In this way, I consider most of my work to be in the spirit of surrealist assemblage. Max Ernst is one of my muses, I love his collage work and in a way, I try to emulate his seamless technique and bizarre narratives with my jewels.
“Consider a girl who keeps slipping off, arms limp as old carrots, into the hypnotist’s trance, into a spirit world speaking with the gift of tongues.” -Anne Sexton
You have this quote currently both on your blog profile and in the “about section” of your etsy store –can you explain for us what it is about those words that speak to you, and why you would use it to describe yourself?
Anne Sexton has been an inspiration of mine since I was in high school. The way she conjures a stunningly searing image kills me. She can knock the wind out of you with one line! I even have her initials tattooed on my right wrist for good luck when writing.
This quote is extracted from ‘Briar Rose’ and is part of a longer series named ‘Transformations.’ They are her re-imagined fairy tales. I like how Anne imagines Briar Rose, not as a ‘sleeping beauty’ waiting for her prince, but as a woman who exists between worlds, with a gift of speaking the languages of both of these worlds. I like to think this quote sums up how I feel that I’m straddling different worlds in life with my work and how I feel connected to the ‘spirit world.’ I think it also speaks to how I probably live too much of my life in my inner world. I’m a hopeless dreamer, walking into traffic.
The descriptions accompanying the items in your shop are always so fantastically detailed, so rife with symbolism; one almost feels as if you could be creating your own personal mythology.
Thank you for the compliments about my writing!
In theory, I’m imbuing objects that already exist / tales that have already been written, with my own emotional / spiritual history. Sometimes this is a slight inclusion and other times it takes over the narrative of the piece, as in ‘the crystal tomb’ series.
Speaking of writing…I know that you also write for Hi-Fructose, covering contemporary art. I am struck by how, between the jewels you create for bloodmilk with their emphasis on the ancient, the esoteric and arcane, and articles you write/ interviews that you conduct regarding on the latest offerings from emerging artists …you have to strike a balance between excavating the bones and relics of the past and being “on trend” and future seeking. Either way, you are a bit of a time traveling nomad aren’t you? Thoughts?
I suppose there is a bit of time traveling involved in what I do, but I don’t notice it. Though, a lot of the art I’m connected to deals with these same esoteric and antiquated bits, whether in imagery, medium or style.
I don’t think of being ‘on trend’ with my written reviews. I like to have intuitive reactions to art and am blessed with the opportunity to write about what I’m attracted to 98% of the time.
Back to your writing, which, apparently through a thesis you were working on, turned to painting as a sort of research, and then to jewelry design? Among which of these mediums can we find the authentic you? Which of these artistic avenues feels most natural to you as a means of creative expression? Which is your dream job, and how does that translate in the work that you do with any of them?
I’ve been a writer since I was a little kid. I can not not write. Despite all my schooling, I find it’s the hardest thing for me to share. I fill journals and scraps of paper with snips of conversations, fleeting thoughts, wishes, my manic unrest etc. (though I would love to learn how to be a great recorder of my dreams as you are.)
Jewelry feels like fate to me. I didn’t feel exactly like I was making this conscious choice, it just happened. I can’t quite pin point the locus of its origin. In that same tarot reading I mentioned earlier, The Hermit card was pulled, suggesting I’m headed the right way with designing jewels and writing reviews. I like this idea, but I’m also a believer in the winds of change. I’m a bit restless.
I believe I put myself in everything I do. Sometimes I think this is my great fault because I leave very little left to protect.
A dream job would be to never have to worry about the real life and to live near the sea but still close to the city, making things that people love and feel connected to. This is really close to what I have now, I’m insanely lucky.
Your jewelry often references divinatory and alchemical motifs, as well as dreams and saints, etc – you are obviously well read on these subjects and are able to translate and transmute their tenets and philosophies into your work. I would love to take a peek at your bookcase, or at least some of your favourite texts in this vein!
I went to a Christian boarding high school. We were required to be well versed in the Bible, but were never taught about the particulars of the weird and scary bits, the prophets rising bones, beastly angels, demons, the Rapture. I think, despite the vast differences between the two faiths, that this study renewed my early exposure to Catholicism. My father’s mother was intensely Catholic and would take me to church with her when I visited. I remember laying in the pews and staring at the ceiling, wishing I had wings to be able to fly to the top and touch all the angels pictured there. I remember being awed at her fevered faith. I was convinced that when she passed away, she’d become a Saint. She took me on trips to visit places that were blessed with supernatural occurrences, a church that had a crying statue, a field where the Holy Mother had materialized in a cloud. She had a pin that had a saint relic inside of it. Looking back now, it was really strange, but it marked me for life. I miss her.
With regard to all manner of esoteric knowledge and symbolism, to what do you attribute its (relatively)recent resurgence in fashion, almost to a point in which it seems “mainstream”? I know it is not exactly a new thing to see, for example, a pentagram on a t-shirt ( I had one on a Motley crew t-shirt when I was 15! And that was…a long time ago) but in this case we are talking heavy weight designers of considerable prestige…which of course trickles down. What is it about this sort of symbolism that lends to sartorial influence, and how does your work fit into this?
People have always been drawn to powerful symbols, even if they don’t fully understand them or why they are attracted to them. Right now occult and esoteric symbols are “popular”, and I feel part of this has to do with a sense of national, perhaps even worldwide, unrest. Our generation, the one just before us and the one coming up now, hasn’t put much faith into the government and subsequently its religion as much as past generations have. This has caused a ‘seeking’ for an otherness to fill this void. It seems natural to me to find comfort or expression in these symbols considering we have a generalized sense of fear and instability these days. The unknown is powerful in its mystery. Artists will always be the mouthpieces for such large, fantastic theories.
As for me, I’m just happy I can wear some of these symbols without people trying to burn me at the stake. In high school, we were taught, in intense detail, the horrors of Hell and how very real it could be for those of us who did not convert. This early brush with supernatural terror and people with cult like yet deep- rooted faith both repelled and fascinated me. To them, limbo, which was notion that had comforted me as a child, does not exist. You either are or aren’t going to Heaven.
And since we are on the subject of fashion, a subject on which from glancing through your tumblr I am sure you have at least some modicum of interest -who are some of your favourite designers, and what is it about their aesthetic that appeals to you? What could we find in your own wardrobe? What would a daily bloodmilk ensemble look like?
Like most other things, I’m attracted to fashion in an intuitive sense. Aside from a couple of big name designers like the late Alexander McQueen, I really don’t know who is doing what. I don’t follow it, I just collect it from the vast, flawed, yet wonderful abyss that is Tumblr. I do love fashion though. How it requires a certain braveness.
As for independent designers, I love Audrey Cantwell’s work. Her most recent incarnation, Ovate, plays a large role in my lookbook. I also really admire Zana Bayne. She’s created this subversive collection of harnesses that people are going wild for. I own a few and wear them obsessively.
I like the idea of creating a personal aesthetic. My own fashion reference point is Beetlejuice. I wear a lot of witchy blacks and a lot of bold black and white striped pieces. I’m attracted to the idea of clothing and jewelry serving as psychic armor. I think I wind up looking a bit Goth as I have long dark hair but I don’t really see myself this way. To avoid this label, I often wear electric coral lipstick. I don’t think this tactic works as well as I hope it does though……
Last year you had a show, “Darker, My Love”, resulting in a series of vignettes which questioned “if it were possible to commune between this world and the next”, and which was partially inspired by your pilgrimage to lilydale, an intensely personal experience for you, one which you are still trying to understand. And yet, you continue to be inspired by and create from it, as evidenced by your “seance” pieces. I realize you are still trying to work through and process the visit, but is there anything you can tell us at all about your trip to that victorian spiritualist community?
The pilgrimage to Lily Dale was immensely inspiring. My father had been accidentally killed the early autumn of 2008 & I was left in an emotional and psychic fissure. It was the first time I encountered deep- rooted grief. It was destructive and terrifying. I wanted answers .I started to question everything I knew about the afterlife and mourning. Things I had learned in boarding school, things different members of my family thought or didn’t think about what happened after one died. I ask nearly everyone I encounter what their thoughts are of how the afterlife looks, what or who they believe is there waiting for them. I still never seem to feel comforted.
Lily Dale offers an interesting promise of proof. It’s a strange and beautiful town, filled with ghosts and hopeful people, most of them far more “normal” than I had imagined them to be. All the mediums live in these olde houses within the small town that resides near Cassadaga lake and a true haunted forest, the Leoyln woods, which has spirits and elementals beneath its stunning canopy. It also marks the only other time and place I have seen a hummingbird after my very first encounter the previous autumn in SF.
It is a gated community, fiercely protective. Sometimes there are picketers at the edges of this gate., but I don’t remember if we encountered any. You have to pay to get in and pay each day just to be there, though you can stay on the grounds. We stayed in the Maplewood hotel where a visiting medium from Erie was staying. The sound of her voice in the halls was an odd sensation, but in truth I was slight afraid of her.
During the day, if you don’t have an appointment with a medium there a various things to do, visit the healing temple, visit the small museum, walk through the woods. This is punctuated by 2 groups sessions held in the Leoyln woods. People gather near the ‘inspiration stump’ to hear various mediums give public readings to select people in the crowd. Some people break down during this, and others are clearly skeptical, giving the mediums short responses. I found this part to be the most interesting, this communal gathering of those looking to connect with the dead, and therefore, in a way, death itself. There is a braveness to this, but it is also rooted in sadness.
Though I didn’t get any messages from the other side as I had wanted, it cemented my interest in investigating how I felt about the afterlife. It’s an ongoing quest and I hope to find real peace in the future. How I deal with all this information and conflicting feelings is by making jewelry. In a sense bloodmilk was born out of this untimely tragedy, out of my grief.
Insofar as your paintings, what can we expect on that front? Is that something you are constantly working on, that we may not be aware of…or are the paintings the sort of project that occurs when the moods strikes or an opportunity arises?
I may or may not be making secret plans with amazing artist Sienna Freeman based around our mutual love of doubles / shadow selves … 😉
What direction do you foresee for bloodmilk? Spending so much time ruminating upon oracles and prophecies, surely you must have become somewhat of a seer yourself…of what does that foggy crystal ball upon that gloomy grey oxidised metal speak to us? What jeweled dreams are being currently cast / being forged in the future for all of your surrealist, supernatural darlings?
Those are bold adjectives! I wish I could see the future more clearly!
I think for now, that bloodmilk will remain as self -contained as I can keep it. In terms of exciting projects, I have a bunch of collaborations in the works with other artists and talented photographers. I also have a lookbook, ‘The Conjurer’ debuting today in honor of 11/ 11 / 11….
In December, there will be an exhibition at 309 Gallery here in Philly centered on ‘The Conjurer’. I’ll be showing my personal collection of my jewelry alongside Christina Brown’s photographs and Paul Romano’s design. I might never sleep again.
Your lookbook, ’The Conjurer’, looks to be a fantastical coming together of like-minded people with a shared vision, and is clearly a labor of love, from start to finish. How, and why was it conceived? How did it grow? Tell me about the experience as a whole.
‘The Conjurer’ was born from my need to have the work photographed on a model. So many times I’ll meet someone in person and they marvel at how much bigger or smaller a piece of bloodmilk seems when they see it in real life. To remedy this, I wanted to build a sort of bridge between how these objects/ jewels appear on the internet and how they appear in real life. The resulting lookbook has far exceeded my expectations and might not truly help people realize the size and scale of the pieces, but I absolutely love it. Everyone involved in this project has helped me to conjure this sorrowful yet beautiful world for the jewels.
The images were all shot in mid August in my great friend Paul Romano’s home. He is an exceptional artist and maker of incredible paintings and objects. His massive home is a reflection of the otherworldly beauty he captures in his work, filled with curiosities and strange splendors in every nook. Also living with him is another talented artist, Jeremy Hush, who also has a sizeable collection of strange things he’s acquired from traveling the world.
Jacci, the model I choose to represent the conjurer, is stunning. Her eyes have such an intense, potent power. She has also has this quiet grace I found inspiring.
In addition, another great and talented friend, Amber Lynn, composed a series of incredible still vignettes of the work coupled with some of the objects we found in their home and others I had brought with me, such as an old stone mortar that was my father’s.
Christina Brown, another great friend whom I met when she worked for me at my now defunct gallery, started shooting the lookbook in the fourth floor attic where Jeremy lives, in the room he uses for a studio. The light had a strange quality that high up, in the eye of summer, kind of like being caught in a bell jar half shrouded in shadow. The narrative is built up around the conjurer’s slow descent into the foyer of the house, with images having been shot in the hallways and in the living room. The transitional feel of it represents a kind of psychological turbulence. At the end of the shoot there was this absence of atmosphere and objects, it’s just Jacci and the jewels and a vivid, summer light. Though you can’t tell, it’s the closet she is to the doorway than at any other time in the series. Looking on it now, I think this is symbolic of my own need / desire to be able to open the door of my grief and to be able to step outside of it. To find peace.
The resulting experience was a wonderful merging of people, ideas and objects that I believe really illuminated not only the jewelry, but my ideas and beliefs behind them.