2 Feb
2016

I’ve been beating myself up about something for several years now and I honestly don’t know what to do about it.  Every atom in my body that loves its comfort zone and drama-free existence is screaming at me “LET IT BE, YOU MORON!” but I am feeling like a crappy human being for this decision.

I have some unresolved issues with a parental figure in my life.  I don’t want to get into all of the details because I am not always sure who is reading this, but I will say that he was there for my sister and I when we really needed him. He stepped up, as they say, in a really big way–and he did not have to do that. But he did. We had a roof over our heads and food to eat and the best bit of stability that he could provide while our lives were in a great deal of upheaval.

Later, he provided me with what would come to be the best job that I would ever have.  Of course at this time in my life if I were still working for him I would be an utter pauper, but at that time it was enough to pay for my small apartment and my few bills and it worked out quite nicely.  It was just the two of us working there, and most days it was really just me, and a storage facility of rare books.  I will never forget how happy I was amongst those musty old companions and how grateful I was to have that job.

I moved away and the business closed. After that, I am not exactly sure what happened. He made a series of (what I would perceive to be) bad choices in lifestyle and relationships and I don’t think things worked out very well for him. Well, to be honest, I think he had made some not-so-great decisions long before that–who knows, maybe he considers being involved with my mother one of them.

When I moved back to FL, he was 50+ years old and saddled with two twin babies; their mother, with whom he had been involved for a few years and who was my age (which honestly sort of freaked me out), had overdosed. At least I think that’s what happened, I am not entirely clear on that point. He was living in a crappy apartment in a shitty part of town and due to some health issues which I suspect were entirely lifestyle related, was in chronic pain.

My sister, her husband, and I visited him upon my return.  It was a strange, upsetting visit. He seemed strung out, not entirely all there. He pressed us, almost frantically, to go next door to the liquor store and pick him up some cheap booze.  It was a very uncomfortable, disconcerting visit, especially considering the small babies that he was taking care of on his own. Babies, which I thought at the time, looked small for their age and, in my memory of the event seemed underfed, but I think that’s probably just because I was upset.  I have seen photos of them since, and they looked just fine.

In any event, I walked out of that apartment that day and haven’t spoken with him again. Typing it out just now, that looks awfully cruel and unforgiving of me, I guess.  No one’s perfect. Everyone has their demons.  Am I punishing a loved one because I happened to witness him losing to his demon on a particular day?

This man was a huge part of my life growing up–in a good way–and I was so quick to shut him out.  Why have I been so hard-hearted about this? I know that both of my sisters still talk with him, so if they can get over it, why can’t I? He has expressed some hurt feelings over my reluctance to talk with him or see him, and I wish I could articulate to him exactly why I have felt this way.

I am starting to suspect it is as much to do with me as him.  I think, at that time, I was very vulnerable. I had just gotten out of a situation that was very bad for me; I had left New Jersey and arrived back in FL not two weeks before, and I immediately encountered him acting in a way that made me extremely uncomfortable. (And now I think about it, he was acting a lot like my mother when she was drunk and acting nuts – so that has something to do with it too, I am sure).

Over time, and in my memory ,this brief afternoon visit has become weirder and more distressing and I suppose I have chalked this up as a valid reason to end a relationship.

I think he’s gotten his act together since that day five years ago.  I see his photos on facebook; he’s a proud papa and always sharing pictures of his twins and what they are up to. I hope things are looking up for all of them. I really want the best for him.  I have never hated him. I think I was only terribly afraid. And not even afraid of him, but rather for him.

And I am left with this: that was an awful time to abandon someone.

I think I have waited so long because I am just so goddamned ashamed of myself, and at this point I just don’t even know what to do.

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SAWEDHEADER

Once upon a time, dead and often festering mice were ground into paste and used for toothaches. Hemmorhoids were treated with hot irons. Trepanning and bloodletting were common practices. And surgery? You may as well write out your last will and testament and kiss your children goodbye because chances were that you weren’t coming out of that brutal, bloody business alive.

Thank god for modern medicine, yeah? We’ve made such advances! …Or have we?

Upon having a section of her leg removed as treatment for a rare and aggressive form of cancer, Cleveland-based artist Arabella Proffer began researching medical history and the treatments and techniques of centuries past, where it appeared the “cure” for her particular ailment had changed little. What she came to realize, though, is that the trauma she was enduring was nothing compared to those savage, superstitious old-timey remedies; “You could have been rich, important, or beautiful,” she says, “but if sick, you would still receive brutal or worthless treatment.”

Thus inspired,  she began a series of surreal portraits exploring those gruesome curative practices of the past. Drawing upon her signature style with influences of punk rock,  gothic divas, religious icons, and the decadence and decline of European aristocracy, “Ephemeral Antidotes” chronicles her subject’s afflictions alongside the horrors of traditional medieval “cures.”

In the following interview Arabella Proffer candidly speaks with us about her background and inspirations, as well as her illness and the fearless fascinations it inspired in her confessional body of work.

Arabella Proffer
Arabella Proffer

Tell us a little about your artistic background – What were your first inclinations that you had a strong creative instinct and how did you nurture that?

The story goes that when I was two years old I drew an eye with a landscape in the pupil. So it was kind of decided for me by my family that I was going to be an artist. I think it was their worst fear I’d grow up to become an accountant!

I was enrolled in classes early, but I didn’t really nurture it–in fact, I kind of gave up on it for a while. But even the times I tried to fight it, I realized art was the only thing I was good at. Going to art school in Los Angeles was decided upon already by the time I was 12. I also had a strong interest in film, so I did that, but came back around to painting when I moved to Laguna Beach at 16. In that town the “art scene” was a Wyland meets Thomas Kinkade nightmare! I had to do something! I actually got censored at a few galleries and at my high school because of the punk rock nudes I was painting. My boyfriend at the time got me my first uncensored show at Koo’s Art House in Santa Ana, and shortly after that I attended Art Center College of Design and then CalArts where I was in the art department, but mostly doing experimental film and animation.

I didn’t start painting in oils until I was maybe 23. I feel like there’s still so much to learn with it. But I never thought I’d be a gallery artist or doing what I do now; working in the film industry had been my primary goal for many years.

Daughters of Maternal Impression
Daughters of Maternal Impression

Your works might be described as Mannerist meets Pop Surrealism–what would you add to that for folks unfamiliar with your art? And what are some of your influences and inspirations in that vein?

I think a few others have called it magic realism and neorealism, but Tamara de Lempicka and Christian Schad were huge influences to be sure, as well as the early 20th century work in my parents’ art collection. They also collected contemporary Ukrainian and Russian art, and David Miretsky was a big influence mainly due to the sheer size and presence of his work in our home. I would actually call him a Pop Surrealist with that slight Christian Schad thing going on; his was the first art opening I ever attended when I was five years old in New York. He now owns two of my paintings and I’m still floored by that.

National Portrait Gallery of Kessa
National Portrait Gallery of Kessa


You’re also an author, as wonderfully evidenced by the stories and histories accompanying your National Portrait Gallery of Kessa series, documenting the lives of a fictional empire of punks, goths, and nobility behaving badly. I’ve been peeking in at the writings on your blog and finding it humorous, insightful, and a fascinating glimpse into the life and goings-on of an artist. Though, I imagine, your true heart lies with the art you create, what can you tell us about your background in writing and working with words as opposed to painting?

My parents ran a Russian literature publishing company, my dad was a writer, and my mom is a writer. They both juggled between serious academic biographies and secretly wrote pulp or regency romance novels on the side! Growing up I met a lot of famous authors, but to be honest I really didn’t like reading. At least not until later, and then only historical or biographical accounts of aristocrats and silly café society people.

I don’t know why but I have an aversion to fiction–which is funny since my husband is a fiction writer and I’ll edit his first drafts (really mean comments too, red pen and all). And to this day I have never read a single book that either of my parents have written. Probably should get on that. I used to make illustrated books as a kid with a weak story to tie images together, but that was all. I did okay in writing workshops and the classes I took in college, but the book I wrote came easy because it was short biographies I could pull out of my ass and it was about what I had already painted.

One of my jobs was to write artist bios for a fancy art gallery in L.A., so maybe this was how it began? I didn’t know if they were any good until people at shows thought they were real and I started getting emails from amateur historians asking me where I got my information on these “historical characters.” Fortunately, writing has been way easier than painting! In fact, all the artwork bios for my medical history series were written in a single day.

Sawed
Sawed

In 2010 you were diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer and subsequently experienced a botched surgery and suffered stage 3 kidney failure as a result. These occurrences had a huge impact on your art and inspired your Ephemeral Antidotes series and, I believe, your Biomorphic Garden Party series. Can you talk about your experience and how it transformed from the art you had been making into these newer series?

Sure, the cancer is called liposarcoma, and unfortunately the only famous poster child we have is the former crack-smoking mayor of Toronto. The series began when I did research into seeing the old ways of how it was treated, and I came to find out it hadn’t changed in centuries: amputation of the leg. I didn’t have a full amputation because it was caught in time, but I’ll never be able to run or do stairs normal, and I still need a cane on occasion.

Chemo doesn’t work on that type of cancer so I had a boatload of radiation which in turn fractured my bone, so I now have a titanium rod and other hardware inside. I can’t run or do other movements, but I can kick someone in the balls really hard now! I started the series as a way to be kind of like, “hey it could be worse, because treatment for the black plague sure looks like it sucked!” and that led me to the Dittrick Museum of Medical History here in Cleveland for research and to attend lectures. I was mostly focused on the eras between Medieval through the Regency–when things got only slightly more civilized. That first show was appropriately held at Loved to Death in San Francisco. As a result, medical humanities has become my hobby and I’ve met a whole community of cool people through it who are maybe a little into the morbid and macabre but are also historians and scientists.

Something is always going wrong with my health even in this wonder age of medicine, and I’m always thinking about what will be considered stupid and barbaric in the future. I believe chemo will be seen as a horror and the same goes for a lot of prescription drugs we have today. The kidney failure was a prime example of how modern medicine and robotic surgery isn’t always great; it was from a botched lady-parts surgery related to the cancer, and it nearly killed me. I actually finished painting for my second medical-themed solo show in Cleveland while I was recovering from it. The final two pieces, the veiled women I think, look very different from the rest of the series because that was when I finally broke down and couldn’t continue. Still, I attended the reception with my giant catheter bag in my purse–and everyone thought my purse was a Chanel–so that was pretty funny!

If anything, the ongoing experience has turned me into a bit of a nihilist. I don’t believe anything happens for a reason anymore, it just happens. I’ve never been afraid of death and was always fascinated by it, so the only beneficial thing that has come of it all is that I’m not scared of a damn thing anymore. Oh, and I have a handicapped parking sticker for getting awesome parking spots!

Violets for Heart Veins
Violets for Heart Veins

“What the patient says is truth might not be what the body reveals as the truth.” You wrote this regarding the importance of images for both medical professionals and patients. What truths are showing up in your art right now? And listening to your body the way that I am sure that you do now, what do you divine from them?

Oh God, I kind of don’t want to know! Luckily I’ve been doing nothing but commissions for the last year, so I’m hoping there is no correlation! Except painting a lot of cats; cats are awesome. That’s the truth.

studioeaselProffer

What is life like in your workspace/studio? Do you have any routines or rituals that put you in the mood to create?

I share a studio in an old Templar car factory with my best friend, but I haven’t really used it since I went through two major surgeries last year. I use it for meetings and to varnish art these days but by spring I should be more active there. I kind of miss the routine of keeping “office hours” and the light with the huge factory windows. I work from home now and overlook Lake Erie, and I’m surrounded by a combination of medical books and fashion or art books. I’m on a second shift schedule so I don’t get going until about 3 p.m. Watching Judge Judy is usually my background noise because I love her! But I also have certain albums on loop: The Church, Priest = Aura; The Black Ryder, Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride; and the Velvet Tinmine compilation for the fun glam singles.

I might be a full-time artist but I’m also a Cleveland housewife, so there’s a lot of vacuuming of cat hair and blasting Sisters of Mercy while I re-line my shelves with scented drawer liners. The truth is that I am supremely lazy about my art if I have no deadline; I read about artists who say they spend 8-10 hours a day painting and I just can’t get down with that. Five hours is about all I can do before I need a cocktail, and I’m also not a typical introvert studio artist. I go out a lot and travel and socialize and see lectures and movies and bands. This is partly because I have spent so much time confined to bed against my will, and when I see people who just want to stay home and watch Netflix, it drives me crazy. I’ve done that for months at a time because I literally couldn’t use the bathroom without help, so I’ve had a lifetime’s worth of canceled social plans and staying home dorking around on the internet.

What’s the point of making work if you aren’t living a real life in-between? Do you have any first-hand experiences with anything? The first step is leaving the house!

 Ocular Prosthesis
Ocular Prosthesis

What do you do enjoy doing when you’re not creating?

There’s a crazy stack of books I’m slowly getting through: currently it’s the Marlene Dietrich biography her daughter wrote and it’s quite nasty! Next is an English translation of The Eight Paradises by Princess Bibesco that I spent a stupid amount on tracking down at auction. I try to travel as much as I can; New Orleans is where I go most often but Dublin is my other favorite. I also am a teaching artist at the Cleveland Museum of Art and part of a program that promotes observational skills using the collection to medical students and medical professionals. It’s still a new thing but so far it has been really interesting and I get to do a crash course in learning about certain works.

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Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?

I’ll be in a group show at the Crystal Palace in Aspen, Colorado called “Female Gaze” curated by Max Kauffman, that opens February 4. Aside from that I want to continue with more of the “Ephemeral Antidotes” series; I’m not done with it and I have piles of notes and ideas for more subjects to paint. I’m a deadline-driven person, so without one I’m all over the place and my laziness comes in waves. One day I’m doing a commission or an experimental piece, the next I’m doing commercial illustration work.

Find Arabella Proffer: website // blog // instagram // twitter

(This article was originally posted at Dirge; the site is no longer active.)

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1 Feb
2016

Cover

Friends and fiends, foul and fair–it is finally here!

Our wee devil baby has arrived! Head on over to Munich Art Studio to nab your copy of THE OCCULT ACTIVITY BOOK.

The activity book alone is $6 and for $10 you will receive a deluxe package including the activity book, two 5X7 prints by artist Becky Munich and one sticker created by EC Steiner.
(Shipping is included for domestic orders. International friends, please reach out to us directly, and we’ll figure out shipping cost to your part of the world.)

Speaking of artists – we could not have done this without our fantastic coven of evil genius creators! Many thanks to (in no particular order of magnificence) Carisa Swenson, Dana Glover, EC Steiner, Heather Drain, Jack Shear, Tenebrous Kate and Laurel Barickman. You guys are all amazing – thank you so much!

Deluxe

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Swamp-girls-Header

Flipping through Swedish artist Johanna Öst’s vibrant, fanciful illustrations is akin to curling up with a beloved book of favorite fairy tales and finding them now populated with B-movie dames, monsters from the pulpiest retro sci-fi magazines, and ghostly apparitions from other dimensions. Folk tales meets Weird Tales, if you will.

In Johanna’s portfolio one will spot swamp girls and jungle queens, moth ladies, spider women and mermaids. A closer look reveals sorceresses and witches, warriors and seductresses. Whether they’re haunting some poor jerk senseless, blasting their enemies with laser guns, or just chilling with their coven of devastatingly gorgeous cronies, one thing’s for sure: these are some tough broads who truck in badassery, and if you don’t watch your step, they will fuck your shit up.

A painter, sculptor, and a costumer with a sublimely extravagant aesthetic, Johanna keeps especially busy. We are thrilled that she took the time to talk with us about her art and her love for the brash characters and outlandish creatures that she paints.

She-wolf The-Spectre-In-the-Woods

Has art always been a passion? When is your earliest memory of creating such things and how did it lead to the path you now find yourself on? I’ve read that you are not really a social creature as far as classroom settings are concerned–how do you think that affected your artistic training, such as it was?

Yes definitely, it’s probably the most important part of my life, and it always has been. I don’t have any specific early memories of creating since I’ve simply been doing it all the time since my first baby doodles.

Making art for a living was never a conscious decision when I was younger, just something I’ve always fallen back on. I never thought of it as a valid option or a “real job,” and I very much still struggle with that, but now it’s my dream to keep this my profession for as long as I can.

I don’t really have any formal art training. I have learned from constant drawing and from studying books and other people’s art. I did try going to an art class for a year when I was about 18, but for personal reasons I don’t think I was around enough to actually learn anything, which is a shame. Having had some formal art training would have probably been good for me, I’m definitely lacking in the technical areas.

Black-dress il_fullxfull.764858605_leqa Meteorettes

You’re always into something! If it’s not your amazing illustrations, you are creating dolls and figures, or costumes. What fuels your creative drive?
I have far too many ideas than I will ever have the time and energy to make. I think I’m very lucky to never had experienced artist’s block or anything like that. I constantly have at least three big half-finished projects lying around the flat annoying my boyfriend, not counting all the paintings I’m working on.

I don’t know what fuels it really, but I’m constantly inspired by things I see and hear about, adding to the unending list in the back of my head of things I’d like to make.

ea6e2103-a684-47d3-a888-e3520e02dadf Sorceress-of-the-prehistoric-planet
From the moment I laid eyes on your work I’ve been fascinated by the fairy tale meets pulpy B-movie world that you conjure: full of glamour and danger and lush, dreamy mythical scenes. Can you speak to your influences in this regard?

Thank you so much! Myths, folklore, and fairy tales of all sorts are some of the things that influence me the most, and I love mysteries, horror, and the supernatural. These things have probably inspired the majority of the narratives in my pictures.

Visually I am indeed very much inspired by pulp illustrations and B-movies, but also fairy tale illustrations and surrealists and symbolism.

Man-eater The-Web

Another aspect of your art that has always struck me as interesting is your focus on the tough broad, the dangerous dame, the bad girl. What is it that appeals to you about this archetype?

I have been fascinated by this type of woman since I was a small child. I guess she represents everything I would like to be, unafraid, independent, and not bothered by what anyone else might think, especially since in many ways I’m rather the opposite. Bad girls also tend to be over-the-top glamorous and unashamedly sexual with no concern for those loathsome concepts of “good taste” and “class.”

The-Witch f6fc4eb6-1b33-4de2-8684-4e1abbc23ab9

It’s obvious that you have a keen interest in fashion that spans several eras; one can see that your inspirations run the gamut from burlesque and pin-up beauties to crimped, edgy punk influence, to Marie Antoinette’s dreamy-rococo-confectionary fluf, to traditional motifs found in Swedish folk costumery. From where does this interest stem and how does it work its way into your art?

Painting a picture, making a sculpture or putting together an outfit and putting makeup on my face are just different aspects of my interest in everything visual and creative. Since I draw a lot of people I obviously also draw a lot of clothes and style, and I’ve been making or altering clothes for myself since I started picking my own outfits.

Recently I’ve also ventured into making some clothes and accessories to sell. I made a small collection of completely recycled, hand-sewn, and hand-painted tops last year, and I’ve started making different types of pins.

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From murky swamps to outer space, crystal castles in the clouds to stairways descending into eerie darkness–the scenery in your works holds as much of a key to the mysterious images you present as do the characters who populate them. Do you build the piece around the background or the characters, which comes first?

It makes me very happy to hear that since I think I’m rather crap at backgrounds. I have made a conscious effort to get better at them during the last few years though, challenging myself to focus more on the scenery and add more detail even if it seems daunting.

Most of the time the characters definitely come first, but it depends on my initial idea. My pictures usually start as a sort mini-narrative in my brain, and most often the characters are the important part, but sometimes it can be the scenery. I think you can usually tell from looking at them!

Spring-Heeled-Jack

Many of your works also focus on frightening, violent legends and folklore–The Geast of Gévaudan, for example, or Spring Heeled Jack. Others feature ghosts and mythological monsters, some familiar, some I suspect, entirely made up! I’d love to hear about some of your favorite tales in this regard–the ghost stories and creatures from legends that keep you awake at night and haunt you.

My favourite unexplained mysterious creatures are definitely the two you mentioned. Spring Heeled Jack possibly being my absolute favourite because he’s such an outlandish creature. The fact that the sightings were in plain sight in urban areas and Jack is such a brash character yet never found or explained, makes it especially fascinating. Another favourite tale of a similar type is the devil’s footprints in Cornwall; look it up! It’s such an eerie occurrence even if it could have a rational explanation.

Swedish and Nordic folklore of course has a special place in my heart since it’s what I’ve grown up with, but there are too many fantastic stories to pick favourites.


Shelf

Tell us about your creative space. What is life like in your studio? Do you set aside a specific time to create or is your muse on full-time? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or have a movie on in the background or do you prefer silence as you create?

Oh I wish I had a studio! I live in a small flat so there’s no room for that. I usually work in the sofa or by the kitchen table. I try to be disciplined and work at specific times but I’m not always great at it. And of course I do lots of creating in my “free” time as well.

Most often I watch movies at the same time as I’m working, but I listen to audio books as well. I’m a bit picky with the readers, though. There was a period a couple of years ago when I listened to every Agatha Christie audio book read by Hugh Fraser I could find. They were perfect listening to while painting. At the moment I’m listening to Irish Fairy and Folk Tales by W.B. Yeats, and I think I’m going to look up some classic ghost stories next.

fc65c2a3-b89c-480c-a18d-21e1cb67bce0Where can we see your work right now? Are you involved in any current or future projects or collaborations that you can tell us about?

Me and my artist friends Liselotte Eriksson and Naomi Nowak are planning a big joint exhibition in Stockholm in March, and I’m working on some new things for that. I’l be releasing a new pin soon, and I was just contacted about possibly making a really exciting fanzine featuring illustrations to classic horror literature.

Find Johanna Öst: website // etsy // instagram

(This article was originally posted at Dirge; the site is no longer active.)

 

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mama

My mother was a complicated piece of business.  That reads more harsh than what I meant to write, and I am feeling kindly disposed this morning, so perhaps I will amend that to say that my feelings about my mother are the real complications here.

When I was eleven years old, I couldn’t fathom saying such a thing.  My mother was this amazing, radiant being; she was like unto God.  I don’t know what, precisely, I based this upon – perhaps nothing at all save a daughter’s faith and devotion that was as yet untested. 20 cats?  That’s ok, I loved cats!  My mom didn’t drive? No problem, my grandma took us everywhere that we needed to go! No money? Ah, we were happy and well-cared for, who needs money? I recall gazing at her, one evening, rapt, and exclaiming “I can’t imagine ever having a fight with you, mom!” She smiled enigmatically, knowing better.

(When I grew much older and had to divest her dilapidated beach cottage of 20 sick felines and several heartbreakingly unwell dogs; when I got my driver’s license and became my mother’s chauffeur at all hours of the night; when I loaned her money time and again which would never be repaid–that is when my feelings became irreversibly complicated).

However, by the time I was fourteen years old, they were certainly going through some complex changes.  My beautiful, brilliant mother was, without a doubt, a raging alcoholic.

I think I have blocked out much of my home-life during my teenage years at this time; I recall going to school, I remember spending time with my boyfriend, I can re-live just about every single moment I ever spent at my first job…but there’s not much I remember about my mother, save surreal flashes of trauma here and there. A Thanksgiving morning when our refrigerator broke down; the kitchen flooded, she had a meltdown and subsequently entered rehab for the first time.  3am early mornings when she cornered my sister and I in a bedroom while she ranted and raged for hours about god knows what, while terrified and confused, we wondered how we would function at school the next day.  My senior year of high school when she disappeared for two weeks entirely. These things.

The one thing I can unfailingly conjure up now, twenty years from now, perhaps even on my deathbed, is her scent: Perfumer’s Workshop Tea Rose.

A scent upon which my grandmother would often remark in disgust “You smell like a funeral parlour!” Tea Rose permeated the fabric of my mother’s clothes and floated around her from room to room in a fragrant cloud. My mother wore exotic, jingling belled anklets which would tinkle and announce her presence as she made her way throughout her home–but Tearose often loudly preceded those tiny chimes.

I purchased a bottle for myself recently, and a week later I am just now able to bring myself to slide the cellophane from the plain, somewhat retro looking brown box and remove the bottle.  I’ve been afraid to spray it, not knowing what images and memories the perfume will invoke. Not ready for the the feelings it will inevitably stir up.

Initially somewhat sour and strange, this is an incredibly potent fragrance, that opens chilly and green and bitter.  It smells less of rose petals and more, I imagine, of chilled thorns, after a frost. Prickly, biting.  Slightly metallic, like the mineral tang of blood, but without the hemic crimson associations.

If it smells like roses, these are not any roses I would wish to be familiar with.  These are not lush, inviting midsummer roses in full bloom, nor are they delicate, blushing buds.
This is more like …roses, plucked too young, brainwashed and warped and corrupted and distilled into  something astringent and spiky and cruel.  If it were a color, it would be an otherwordly emerald, facets glowing strangely, lit from within by distant, verdant starlight.

If you’re patient, though…if you wait long enough…. Let it dry. Give it time. Walk away. It then becomes just a rose. Any rose. All roses. And in it I can smell my mother’s summer cotton night gowns. I can smell the evenings she spent reading us James and the Giant Peach when we were very young. I can smell the soft, warm fur of her favorite Siamese cat.

I can smell the very best memories I have of her, and there is nothing left of the complications.

This is not to say that Tea Rose is a fragrance that I can, or want, to wear.  Although I enjoy the scent of roses, I’ve never wanted to smell like one.  Tea Rose is a bottle I will take off the shelf when I am having angry thoughts, hateful thoughts, or a bad day when I am blaming my mother’s failures for my own shortcomings.
Just a small spritz, with a light hand.
A reminder that my mother was only human, as am I.  We can only be who we are.

And a rose is, after all,  just a rose.

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Doing: attending birthday parties in public places –the idea of which which will never fail to freak me out because: people & conversation. However, I always forget that in this particular group there are also people like me who are similarly freaked out, which is great because misery (and anxious weirdos) love company. We always seem to find each other, and a corner to cozy into, cringing away from the crowd.  Look at this guy! It’s a Mexican Salamander, or Axolotyl. He is a cold-blooded, live-in friend of my corner-companion and her husband. These are the kinds of things we talk about.

 

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Reading: Beautiful Darkness, a thoroughly charmingly illustrated graphic novel that is savage and unsettling and not at all what I expected.  Although I kind of figured out what I was in for by the second or third page.  Beauty, also illustrated by Kerascoet and is supposedly an “immersive”, “dark, feminist parable”; I’ll know more tonight, after I’ve settled in with it!  And lastly (well, not really lastly, I’ve got stacks and stacks of unread books) is Wylding Hall, by Elisabeth Hand.  Here’s the synopsis–doesn’t it sound dreamy?

“After the tragic and mysterious death of one of their founding members, the young musicians in a British acid-folk band hole up at Wylding Hall, an ancient country house with its own dark secrets. There they record the classic album that will make their reputation but at a terrifying cost, when Julian Blake, their lead singer, disappears within the mansion and is never seen again. Now, years later, each of the surviving musicians, their friends and lovers (including a psychic, a photographer, and the band s manager) meets with a young documentary filmmaker to tell his or her own version of what happened during that summer but whose story is the true one?”

 

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Knitting: Terpsichore Street, by Romi Hill.  This pattern gave me extreme agita around this time last year, and I eventually called it quits and felt like a failure and moped about it for the next year. Well, this year I am attempting it again, and I am seeing that a great many of my issues are directly related to misreading the pattern, misinterpreting the instructions, and making assumptions that aren’t accurate.  So far progress is slow–we’re talking a glacial pace– but I am reading and re-reading and correcting myself every time I go astray. Except for a potentially huge mistake that I made at the beginning…but I think that’s only going to affect the size of the finished shawl, and I’m over that.  I’ll just give it to one of my tinier friends.  Problem solved!

Oh, and what’s that, you ask? Another book?  Yes, you caught me.  This one is Death’s Summer Coat by Brandy Schillace and touches on a subject close to my heart: death awareness and death acceptance.

“Death is something we all confront―it touches our families, our homes, our hearts. And yet we have grown used to denying its existence, treating it as an enemy to be beaten back with medical advances.

We are living at a unique point in human history. People are living longer than ever, yet the longer we live, the more taboo and alien our mortality becomes. Yet we, and our loved ones, still remain mortal. People today still struggle with this fact, as we have done throughout our entire history. What led us to this point? What drove us to sanitize death and make it foreign and unfamiliar?

Schillace shows how talking about death, and the rituals associated with it, can help provide answers. It also brings us closer together―conversation and community are just as important for living as for dying. Some of the stories are strikingly unfamiliar; others are far more familiar than you might suppose. But all reveal much about the present―and about ourselves.”

 

Listening: Daughter, Not To Disappear. I am happy to report that Daughter’s second album sounds very much like the first, which is to say: lush, beautiful sadness. Hushed, desolate dream-pop. Heartbreak and doom and gentle glooms.  Perfection.

 

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Wearing: Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Mother Ghost, from their Crimson Peak line {a cold, sheer white musk gleaming with black orchid, benzoin, labdanum, and blackened amber, and embraced by white rose, tea leaf, and vanilla flower.} This is a pearly, translucent delicate scent that reminds me very much of my lost (discontinued) love, the delicate, gauzy, Antique Lace.

 

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Anticipating: The release of our Occult Activity Book! Co-conspirator Becky Munich and I have been working with several splendid several artists and writers to conjure forth this wicked little book …and for true believers we have concocted a Deluxe pack which includes the 24-page Occult Activity book, two 5×7 color prints and a sticker by contributing artist Casket Glass Studio .

We should have them available for purchase sometime in the beginning of February, but be forewarned! Only 250 of these marvels will be printed, so you’ll want to nab them while they are available on this plane of existence!

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Bonus! Another one from the cutting room floor, from How To Wear A Séance over at Dirge. That dress is utterly killing me.

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McCarthy-Featured

West Coast-based artist Caitlin McCarthy illustrates pale, spectral beauties, languid of limb and with milky, blind eyes belying the secrets and mystical knowledge they possess. Visions of dark, dreamy romanticism, these sibyls and seers gaze impassively at the viewer, their delicate bones and bloodless visages hinting at a bygone era of melancholy and loss, and of mysteries glimpsed from beyond the veil.

Though among her inspirations she’s noted a fascination with otherworldly pursuits–the occult, fairy tales, uncanny oddities, etc.–and this clearly includes a fondness for Victorian aesthetic and Gothic sensibilities, there are also whispers of the natural world to be found in McCarthy’s work. The quartz crystals, lush flora, and thorny crowns paired with and adorning these spellbinding enchantresses suggest more than a few earthly adorations, as well.

Caitlin graciously gave of her time for a brief Q&A; read more and learn of this artist’s love for the odd and the unusual and how the mystical and macabre manifests itself in her work.

Beyond-The-Veil

Has art always been a passion for you? Can you tell us how you got started on this creative path and how it has lead to the work you are producing today?

I’ve always felt a pull to create, and I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. I loved that art gave me the magical ability to transport my imaginary world into something physical and real. I kept drawing through childhood and into my adult life. Eventually I became tired of working at a coffee shop and decided to go to art school. I graduated a few years ago with a BFA in studio art and was lucky enough to get a job in a creative field. I’ve been blessed to have family, friends, and teachers in my life that have supported and encouraged me to continue creating and find my own artistic voice.

Katrina-Van-Tassel

Your Tumblr blog and your Etsy site both mention that you find beauty in the odd and the unusual. Has it always been this way for you? When did you notice this curious appreciation and what forms did it take for you?

I would say I have always been drawn to magic, the unexplained, and the mysterious. When I was younger it was an attraction to fantasy, and as I got a bit older I began veering towards a darker aesthetic. As a teenager, I developed a love for dark music, black clothing, vampire novels, and cemetery walks. I like to think my taste and style have evolved, but I suppose I never really outgrew any of it. Things that are considered spooky or macabre inspire me. Perhaps it’s the idea that surrounding yourself with reminders of death will lessen the fear of it, or maybe it’s simply the aesthetic I find myself naturally drawn toward. I do my best to fill my life with the odd and the darkly beautiful and I channel this into my art, my style, my travels, and my home.

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The-Crown

Your work appears mainly colorless, rendered in black and white, perhaps some shades of grey and the occasionally pale blushing pink background. The effect is delicate, nuanced–almost elegantly anemic. Can you speak to the muted tones and lack of color in your work?

In college I worked primarily in watercolor. After school I began working in comics and training as a colorist. I spent my days working on the computer, staring at screens glowing with vibrant colors. I have found my personal art began naturally drifting in an opposite direction. Drawing with graphite has become a bit therapeutic for me. I enjoy the act of using my hands to create something. After I’ve completed a drawing, sometimes I’ll add faint tones of color to match the personality of the piece. Other times, the piece just seems complete, so I’ll let it be. Color can be a very powerful tool, but I find that the lack of it can be as well. I use contrast, texture, and line to create the moods I wish to evoke with a piece. Absence of color lends itself well to creating the melancholy, eerie, or mystic atmosphere that I am trying to summon in my work.

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The-Priestess

Your portfolio is peppered with priestesses, seers, and witches; mystical females as well as an obvious interest in the occult feature heavily in your works. I would love to hear about your influences in this vein, and how they inform your art.

The occult is a pathway into exploring the paranormal, the unknown, and hidden secrets. I often draw the women I wish to be or that I admire. These are often strong women with magic in their eyes, ladies who are tapping into, channeling, or manipulating things we can’t even begin to understand. Instead of being passive, they are mastering and shaping the world around them. I find the idea of controlling what is believed to be uncontrollable both comforting and terrifying.

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Can you give us a tour of your workspace? What sorts of objects do you surround yourself with ? What rituals do you use to put yourself in the mood to work?

My home is my shrine and my safe space. I do my best to surround myself with inspiration and things I love. I collect antiques, mourning memorabilia, taxidermy, old photographs, and religious paraphernalia. My walls are covered in work created by artists I admire, and I have more books than I have shelf space, or time to read. I do nearly all of my drawing at night when I’m home alone. I’ll settle in with a cup of tea or a glass of wine on my couch, and snuggle up with my two dogs. I like to turn on a favorite film or music, and the colder and stormier it is outside, the better.

Mary-Shelley

Other than your Etsy shop, where can we find your work?

You can also find me on Instagram @CaitlinMcCarthyArt. I have found Instagram to be a very inspiring and supportive place for artists. I like to share photos of what I am currently working on, glimpses into my home and life, as well as information on sales and such. I’m also extremely fond of Pinterest. I find myself pinning inspirations nearly every day. It’s my virtual bulletin board, and if you’re interested in a peek inside of my head, it’s the place to go.

Step into the role of prophetess or seer for a moment, if you can. What do you predict for 2016 in terms of your art?

I had a lot of personal life-changing events last year and I’m curious to see how those will seep into my art. I really am hoping to challenge myself throughout 2016. I’d like to push myself to sketch more, and to share more on social media. I too often get caught up in thinking things aren’t good enough, and that is so toxic. I’d also love to participate in some group art shows. I think it is such an amazing way to meet and connect with other artists. Unfortunately, I am not able to predict the future, but I am excited to see what it may bring.

(This article was originally posted at Dirge; the site is no longer active.)

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British singer David Bowie performs on stage in Brussels, on May 20, 1983. (AFP/Getty Images)
David Bowie performs on stage in Brussels, on May 20, 1983. (AFP/Getty Images)

 

A gathering of death related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have been reported on or journaled about in or related to the Death Industry recently.

Previous installments:
Links of the dead for December 2015
Links of the dead for November 2015
Links of the dead for September 2015
Links of the dead for August 2015

9 Reasons It Is Not Crazy To Grieve A Celebrity Death

In His Final Performance, David Bowie Embraced Death

A Paean to the Goblin King; wise words from Angeliska on stepping into the shadow of David Bowie’s death and using the righteous lessons he taught us. Do the hard work! Live with aplomb! Let your every wild facet shine.

A Young Neurosurgeon Examines the Meaning of Life as He Faces His Death

“But Harold, we begin to die as soon as we are born. What is so strange about death?”

Death and the birth of feminism

Neil DeGrasse Tyson Talks About The Beauty Of Life And Death

11 Signs You May Be Dying In A Victorian Novel

“Just Buried”–Funeral Home Weddings

Funerary Darlings: The Tradition of Child Pallbearers
The Day I’ll Finally Stop Grieving

The year my partner drowned, I bought a lobster — and set it free.

How Uganda Came To Earn High Marks For Quality Of Death

Love champagne? Thank a French widow

 

 

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Shapeshifter-shawl
Shapeshifter shawl available from Morph Knitwear

Today over at Dirge Magazine I discuss my own personal “yarnomancy”, and the ritual connectedness of crafting by hand with Morph Knitwear’s Angela Thornton.

Bad-Ass Knitting Magic: Angela Thornton of Morph Knitwear

One of my favorite pieces from Morph Knitwear is the huge, open knit Shapeshifter shawl. (And come to think of it, I probably should add that to my winter uniform!) Curious as to how one might style this wooly behemoth?  I’ve a few suggestions for you, below. As always, click on the image to find more details on the items within each ensemble.

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winteruniform

 

Laugh all you like, but when I get cold, I get cold. My fingernails turn blue and my butt cheeks become ice cubes (even under layers!) right around this time of year, and …wait for it…it’s only about 60 degrees.

It’s true.  I am a total cold weather weenie.  I have no idea how I lasted as long as I did in New Jersey when there were actual winters with snow and ice and never-ending Februaries. Ugh! I don’t even like thinking about it.  It’s bad enough I still dream about it– about once a month or so, even though I have been back in Florida for four years now.

So when the temperatures dip into the arctic mid-50s, I cannot wear my go-to tee shirts and flip-flips, no way, no how.  I’d freeze to death!  I’ve developed a winter uniform that I pretty much wear every day starting this time of year…and the bonus is that it doesn’t even have a chance to get old, since our “winter” only lasts about a week!

1. Giant cotton kettle-dyed scarf from the Scarf Shop // 2. Babooshka Boutique asymmetric shirt dress // 3. floridxfauna skull fragment necklace // 4. HUE black leggings // 5. OVATE Valhalla hoodie (I think this is sold out, but they always seem to bring it back)

The leggings are the high-waisted kind with some sort of shaping, so they’ve got a tiny bit of structure to them and  it doesn’t feel like your flabby belly is flumping hither and yon under your pants. Which wouldn’t matter anyway because the tunic/tee dress is so gloriously voluminous.  In any event, they are very, very comfortable and I would highly recommend this brand to people who do not find leggings abhorrent. There are no shoes pictured because well, let’s be honest. Where am I wearing shoes? I work from home and wear socks and never go anywhere. Shoes would be a lie.

Not pictured is something that should have made my 2015 best of list, but I think I was a little bit too embarrassed to mention it.  I’ve been growing increasingly self-conscious about that bra-strap fat that oozes out and around my ladies’ support garments, so I’ve taken to wearing this wonderful thing.  I’m not even going to type the name out.  It’s too dumb.  Click on the link and you will see what I mean.  Despite the name though, I love it.  I purchased four of them last year and they are by far–seriously– the best thing anyone has ever made, and I wear them under just about everything.

winterperfumeIt is also winter perfume season!  Time to slather myself with all of the woodsy, mysterious resins and incenses!  Which most of these are, save for the Bergamoss, which is loamy and sweetly grassy and strangely enough there’s a weird bit of celery in there, too.  It’s a nice break between the heavy scents I tend to wear this time of year.

1. Aftelier Bergamoss // 2. House of Matriarch Black No. 1 // 3. Terveer Incense // 4. Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab Practical Occultism (Limited Edition but rumored to return).

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