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.
Now it’s a week that I have been back from Portland and these experiences are not nearly as fresh in my mind …so I think this will be a massive photo dump along with some recommendations. Sound good? OK, let’s go!
As with our stay in 2012, we paid Voodoo Doughnuts a visit. I think a lot of the locals will tell you this place is over-hyped, and maybe waiting in line for a half an hour with a bunch of derpy tourists will certainly color your experiences a bit – but we were in and out of there in 5 minutes, so I still think it is a pretty okay spot for morning (or whenevertime) pastries. Pictured are the Maple Bacon bar, The Loop, and the Cock-n-Balls. Which we group shared. Of course!
Other doughnut places visited:
Blue Star – these doughnuts seemed… little more high-brow? If you can even say that about doughnuts, I guess. We shared the blueberry bourbon basil, which was understated and lovely.
Pips – these guys are tiny fried bits of deliciousness. A member of our group took it upon himself and hunted them down at 6 in the morning to take advantage of a birthday special that they offer. I had the honey and sea salt, which was a sweet, salty, greasy revelation.
After stuffing ourselves full of cheese samples and wine at The Wedge fest (watch the video at the top of that site and you’ll see two of my favorite beardos!) we wandered around the city looking for a proper meal. I am not sure how we ended up at the Bit House Saloon, but I am glad that circumstances led us there, for we had several rounds of wonderful cocktails between games of Fluxx. I used to feel sort of weird about showing up at a bar and playing card games, but now I find that I really enjoy it – how about you? My favorite cocktail of the afternoon was The Grandmaster Flowers: bourbon, nectarine, chamomile, grapefruit, lime, and dandelion & burdock bitters. Also, that punch bowl. Gimme!
Still not having put food in our bellies, we attempted to get seated at Katchka right across the street for “Russian food in a space that looks like your communist grandmother’s basement”, but once we heard about the 3-4 hour wait, we decided to hoof it down to Noraneko for some ramen. And who should we accidentally run into but our friend’s husband, with whom we had just shared drinks at Hale Pele the previous night! We all cozied up for noodles, but to be honest, it was the few light bites we enjoyed beforehand that really made me happy. Who knew that dried squid could be so sweet and chewy and delicious? Paired with an oolong highball, I felt like Murasaki Wakkako in Wakakozake! Pshuuu….!
I think we all can agree that no trip to Portland is complete without a trip to Powells, but what trip to Powells is complete without purchasing a copy of Kanye West – Reanimator? Ponder that, if you will.
Early on I knew that I would want to make a sojourn to ALTAR which boasts a magical collection of “Northwest Alternative Handmade” objects and apparel, home goods and body care items. When she rung up my purchases, the lovely owner (whose name I sadly did not catch. Or even ask for. Whoops!) assured me that I had picked out one of all of the best things in the store. Among my favorites: dark, wild scents from lvnea, dreamy tees from Wolf Child, jewels from Morgaine Faye, and the gorgeously illustrated wooden tarot deck from Skullgarden. What I did not bring home with me, though I wish I could have, was one of Tyler Thrasher‘s beautiful crystal encrusted creatures. So exquisite! So delicate! So not going to make it home in one piece! It was a treat though, to be able to see them in person and up close.
The first place – and one of the last places -that I visited in Portland was my beloved Paxton Gate. A treasure trove of taxidermy, oddities, curiosities and natural wonders, I could spend hours upon hours in there taking in all of the delights and grotesqueries! I would then of course become bankrupt and have to live in a cardboard box…but these are just minor inconveniences, you see. Just look at those fancy mice! I would love to have them cavorting with me forever! And that raccoon – his face! Ah, I love this place. On my first visit, a silver tentacled ring wrapped its way around my finger, and upon my last, my heart was stolen by a wee mummified bat. Too many good things!
Oh, Portland. I already miss your weirdness and your fantastic happy hours and your wonderfully friendly folks. We will be back again, mark my words!
Back in 2012, my fella and I visited Portland, OR and had a lovely time -delicious foods were devoured, delightful cocktails were quaffed, old friends met for the first time. It was a marvelous trip and we have been talking about it ever since.
It only made sense then, to make a return visit -this time with several friends in tow! And since I have a dreadful habit of glossing over the human aspects of my adventures, let me say that I could not hope for finer traveling companions. Everyone’s personality is so different in our group – boisterous and exuberant; clever and droll; taciturn and brilliantly observant -but they all add up to the most wonderful circle of friends! And it feels strange to say that, “friends”. These gentlemen were originally comrades of my beau* but over time, as I’ve gotten to know them, I feel like they might actually be friends of mine, as well.
*(I don’t mean to sound pretentious, but I hate the term “boyfriend”, so I’ll use just about every other descriptor I can wrangle.)
We found a fantastic place to stay via Air BnB, a spacious and welcoming spot to call home base whilst exploring the city. A renovated 1920’s bungalow, it offered four bedrooms and two bathrooms, a large kitchen, and plenty of community space for boardgames and D&D and Dark Adventure Radio Theatre (we’re a nerdy group, you know). Again, we stayed in the Mississippi neighborhood and reveled in the chance to revisit some previous loves while staking out some new favorites with my fellow travelers.
If you’ve a hankering to visit the City of Roses, perhaps you will consider the following suggestions? Portland friends, commence the eye-rolling now.
At Mac! you’ll find all sorts of macaroni and cheese related shenanigans. We shared enormous plates of their Truffle Mac, Cheeseburger Mac, Artichoke & Spinach Mac, and Cordon Bleu Mac. Somehow we lived through it.
We had a few breakfasts at Sweedeedee, a small corner cafe which is an excellent place for people watching and listening to records and eating pie – if you get there early enough, before the place starts to fill up. Recommended: the egg sandwich with shredded lettuce and avocado on the most delicious thick-cut, molasses bread. Also, salted honey pie. Skip: the breakfast burrito (too much mealy, undercooked potato).
At Hale Pele, in the lurid glow of torchlight and under the baleful glare of the gods, we sacrificed our dignity with friends and fellow fire drinkers. I am fairly certain I had just about one of everything on the menu, and I will admit, near the end I am not even sure what I ordered. I have to recommend, however, the Corn ‘n’ Oil, which as the menu would suggest, is indeed a strange name for an amazing drink. If you are looking for a nosh, they have several things to munch on; my favorites were the fried taro chips and the tuna poke. I love tiki bars for their kitschy escapism and potent cocktails, and Hale Pele now sits at the top of my list.
Elsewhere in the city, I met thesetwo magical humans for art and cocktails; at Antler Gallery for the Unnatural Histories show – where I finally got to see one of Jessica Joslin’s exquisitely crafted bone and brass menagerie in person – and at Victoria Bar, where the drinks were Princess Bride inspired!
Normally I am not keen on photos that other people take of me, because I have only like, 1/8 of a good side and no one knows how to capture it properly. That’s not their fault, of course. I just don’t photograph well. I shudder to think that I might actually look like a poor photo all of the time… but I suppose that’s a possibility that I can’t rule out, no matter how much it bruises the ego. I do love this picture, however, taken at Tidbit Food and Farm food truck pod thingy whatever you call it. I don’t recall what we were discussing, but the look on my face is ridiculous and I love Minna for meeting up with us to visit, and for making me make that face. I also do not recall what was eaten, but there was rice and noodles and karaage and takoyaki and I felt like the heroine of an action packed food anime trying to stuff it all in. Afterward, Minna marched us over to Fifty Licks for boozy adult ice cream super fun times. Pictured above is the Velvet Shiso made with plum wine, Riesling, and their Coconut Lemon Saffron sorbet with is spiced with saffron, star anise, and cardamom. It was amazing as it sounds. The only thing missing from this wonderful evening was our good friend Robyne, who was nursing a cold. Hopefully we will see you in January, Robyne!
The Lan Su Chinese Garden is a beautiful spot to gaze quietly upon art, architecture, design and nature, and I was just enamored this time around by the mosaic courtyards with their poetic names – “Plum Blossom On Cracked Ice” being the best-loved by my ear and my favorite to speak aloud. I have heard that the guides sometimes suggest walking barefoot on the stones to feel the different patterns and such, and I think that sounds like a lovely idea and a pleasant exercise in mindfulness (…or something? At least it sounds like a nice massage for the feet!)
Also, if you ever wonder if I actually wear the things that I have purchased from Stitch Fix, I present to you Exhibit A: the Everly Peter dress from Fix #10. I wore it with leggings and an asymmetric black Helmut Lang jacket and it was super cute. This photo, by the way, was taken in a startlingly clean nerdy game shop bathroom.
Next up: roses! more cocktails! doughnuts All of the shopping!
Are you reading Tenebrous Kate’s Great Moments in Historical Sluttery over at Slutist? Well, you should be. In this column, Kate gives us a fascinating glimpse into the lives of brilliant, shameless feminist icons and visionaries; the last installment, Rose Kelly, Scarlet Woman, Wife of the Beast, and Oracle of Thelema, is too good to miss!
I love this review for Windhand’s new album at tinymixtapes. It’s kind of dopey and weird but I love it. These are the kind of reviews I like to read. I don’t want to hear about how technically great something sounds, I want to hear how about whatever it conjures up in your mind -whether it’s a memory or a dream or an experience or a sensation, maybe about that time you got beat up at someone’s funeral or your aunt’s pierogi recipe or your mother’s dying words. At the end of the review I actually don’t care if you’ve told me a single thing about the thing you’re reviewing if you told me a good story.
I missed it earlier in the year, but Bibian Blue’s Spring/Summer 2015 SKIN collection is fantastic! Perfect to wear for the opening night of Attack on Titan, heh! (ok, I stole that from Becky.)
Every time I look at this image of three startled kittens riding a catfish, I can’t help but to smile. (Artist: Ayako Ishiguro)
And because I am nutty and can’t write about someone without wanting to dress them up myself (or even play dress up AS them) here are two interpretations of some modern day Countess of Castiglione ensembles!
A new mix for the autumn equinox, inspired by the bitter business that follows shortly thereafter.
Näkin Laulu, Tenhi | serpents in the dawn, Neutral | Black moth, Of The Wand And The Moon | Sweet Olga,Moon Far Away | A Ballad, Eltan Renaxy | Tunguska, Golgatha | Paralysie Générale, Sub Luna | Lacrimosa, Spiritual Front | Hewers of wood and drawers of water, Kiss the anus of a black cat Where At Night The Wood Grouse Plays, Empyrium | A Sadness Song, Current 93 | Bunter Staub, Darkwood | Leaves Of Autumn, Backworld | Urla (Frammenti DInfinito), ARGINE | Hollows of Devotion by Death in June | Under The Yew Possessed, Sorrow | Over the Stone by Sonne Hagal
I remember you as you were in the last autumn. You were the grey beret and the still heart. In your eyes the flames of the twilight fought on. And the leaves fell in the water of your soul. -Pablo Neruda
Ah, autumn! You of the grey beret and still heart. The low, whistling winds through the branches, the blazing cascades of gold and russet leaves, the nights creeping longer and colder…
Every year, around the beginning of September, my heart skips a beat – just one small, lone beat – when I think of autumn. For a brief, flickering moment, I somehow manage to forget that I no longer live in New Jersey and I begin to look forward to the cool shift in the weather, the subtle changes in the afternoon sunlight, and the the scent of embers on the breeze from chimneys or piles of burning leaves. And then, suddenly, I remember I am back in Florida with sticky sweat pooling in my cleavage on a 92 degree mid-September afternoon.
This is the only time of year that anyone will ever hear me talk about missing New Jersey.
So as you can imagine, it is business as usual down here in the swamps. Further north, when folks are pulling down their wool peacoats from storage and unpacking cabled sweaters and knee high leather boots, I am still bumming around in my flipflops and tee shirts (but let’s be real, I love my flip-flops). I don’t love, however, missing out on those beautiful cardigans and ribbed tights and fair isle scarves and all sorts of wonderful autumnal pieces that make up my very favorite sort of dying-year ensembles.
For now, I’m afraid, all I can do is daydream. And so, for the Autumn Equinox, see below for several – and there are quite a few – autumn wardrobe inspirations and flights of fancy. I can’t say that any of this is particularly “stylish” (ugh, I hate that word) or on trend, but who cares about that dumb crap, anyway? If you like it, wear it! Anyhow, these are all pieces that I find quite beautiful, with rich harvest colors and luxe textures and deep, lush prints.
****Please note, most of these ensembles were created on a platform that no longer exists, so unfortunately I don’t have the details on the included items anymore. However the first two are more recent and if you click on the image, you should be taken to a URSTYLE page with a breakdown of all the things I used. ****
Sense8; actually this is just about the only thing I am watching right now. A slow surreal sci-fi dip into “dreamy conspiracies and chimerical fellowship”, and is apparently lauded by critics as both a masterpiece and a disaster. All I can tell you is that this show makes me feel all of the feels. Which is pretty uncomfortable for me, I don’t mind telling you. And I love it.
Ghost, Meliora. I have been listening to this non-stop for the past month. And I will be seeing them again live next month! I didn’t know if I was on board with this new album, but it’s pretty amazing…super catchy in a kind of syrupy, tricksy way, and this Dirge review really sums up my thoughts quite well.
Lana Del Rey, Honeymoon. Shut up. Whatever you are going to say, I don’t want to hear it. This album is sad and fucked up in an epic way. It is Lana gone full-Lana.
Some Aftelier samples; Bergamoss is a heartbreaking gorgeous oakmoss, and I am afraid to even look at what the full-size costs. (OMG I just did. It’s $240.)
The Bitterroot Shawl, from knitty 2007 or something like that. This is the third time I have knit this pattern, and I still love it. I actually even added the beads on it this time, and despite that, and the fiddliness of the stupid yarn (warning: do not use knitpick’s Diadem for lace projects), I started and finished this in nine days. It will soon be off to its new home!
Next up: hats and scarves and wristwarmers – I’m actually getting started early on the holiday gifts this year!
Other than the above, (and the full time job which I never talk about because who wants to hear about that? Ugh) I have been busy with grandmother duty, a bit of writing and the odd guest blog here and there, the struggle with wellness and mental health, and getting ready for our trip to Portland next week. After that, there are lots of exciting things coming up in the next few months- the Ghost show, the Necromancy Art show at Gods & Monsters, Bat Boy the Musical, and Death Cafe Orlando! Though now that I see it typed out like that…it all looks rather exhausting. And stressful. Hm.
How is your fall shaping up? What have you been into lately and what looms on the horizon for you? I want to hear all about it!
The scent of horror, of fear, is no doubt a caustic combination of pungent fright-sweats, highlighted by the metallic tang of boiling blood and bitter adrenaline, underscored by a host of sharp, burning pheromones. An aggressively unpleasant, acrid bit of olfactory melodrama, to be sure.
Thankfully, the following fragrances inspired by myriad facets of the horror genre smell nothing like the noxious miasma described above. These unsettling scents range from mildly pleasing to devastatingly gorgeous, yet evoke a a vague stirring of horror, a delicious frisson of fear and a sickening plucking at the nerves.
Spanning film classics to cult favorites, bodacious late night tv hostesses to obscure texts regarding olde-timey vampyre ladies, these five horror-influenced scents are certain to thrill lovers of ghoulish delights and nightmarish phantasmagoria.
Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, is the inspiration forDemeter’s Elvira collection of supernatural scents showcasing dangerous flowers and plants such as red poppies, Belladonna, Nicotiana, and Davana. Demeter perfumes are not necessarily known for their complexity or their longevity – and yes, the packaging calls to mind the quote, “it takes a lot of money to look this cheap!” Or, in this case: “smell this cheap” – however, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to know that Vamp, Zombie, and Black Roses are every bit as sultry and sexy as the straining bosoms on the bottle would have us believe.
Room 237 by Bruno Mazzolari is a perfume inspired by the color and atmosphere in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Boasting, “supernatural green notes of flea bane and angelica haunt a base of oppoponax and costus root… Peculiar florals whisper together with soap and the scent of a vinyl shower curtain, laying a cold finger at the base of the spine,” this is a soft, reserved scent that is both highly wearable and slightly unnerving, and conjures a weird tension between the seemingly mundane and something monstrous lurking just beneath the surface.
Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s olfactory tribute to Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch’s tale of two fragile and sensitive vampires, who have been lovers for centuries, is a collection of sophisticated, sensual blends ranging from somber and savage, to voluptuous and brittle. Inspired by the film’s sensual photography, trance-like music, and droll humor, these perfume oils are a must-have for aficionados of fragrance, creatures of the night, and the mysteries of everlasting love. On a related note: genre fans will be thrilled to know that BPAL is releasing a line based on Guillermo del Toro’s highly anticipated ghost story and gothic romance, Crimson Peak, next month!
Paradise Lost by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, an otherworldly perfume – redolent of smoldering spice, candlewax, and faded flowers – was inspired by Clarimonde, a vampire courtesan in Theophile Gautier’s 1836 short story, La Morte Amoureuse. Classically structured, yet full of contradictions: warm amber/cold orris, buttery myrrh/astringent herbal florals, Paradise Lost is a stunning fragrance to bewitch your beloved and convince them that you are not, in fact, a blood-sucking fiend… even when the rotting stench of the tomb might tell another tale entirely.
The DevilScent Project, a blogging event launched by Olympic Orchids involving seven perfumers and eleven perfume bloggers, was inspired by Sheila Eggenberger’s Quantum Demonology. These perfumes represent the, “unique scent of the Devil and his ex-wife Lilith.” And why wouldn’t you want to sniff ol’ Beelz? Though I personally always thought the cumin note often used in perfumes is what the devil’s taint smells like so that might be a good reason not to smell him – but that’s another story for a different time. The five scents, ranging from cool and sharp to dense and murky, comprise a collection fraught with aromatic, diabolical passions. And thankfully, no cumin to be found.
Image: Cover art for Caroline Cooney’s The Perfume.
This article was originally posted in 2015 at Dirge. The site no longer exists.