Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Sacred Union


I've written about Agostino Arrivabene before, here and here, and his work still has a somewhat preternatural hold on me. Perhaps it's because he uses some of the same obsessions in his work that I use in my own: Eleusinian Mysteries ( The rituals performed to honor the phases of Demeter &Persephone), Alchemy, Psychological Alchemy, amongst others, as well as how he considers his paintings to be a "room of curiosities" a kinship I feel in regards to my own work.... strange objects culled from personal travels: whether these sojourns have been to other countries/ cultures, or whilst diving into the shadow self, emerging with a jar filled with opposites: light & dark. 

There is so much below the surface of his works that snare me... &; then there are the works themselves, created using ancient techniques. Agostino actually grinds raw pigments to make his own paint and uses the outmoded technique of mischtechnik ( layers of egg tempera mixed with oil paint in this case ) to create luminous, translucent layers. The surfaces of his work have this amazingly visceral quality that is hard to decipher in photographs, something I feel adds to the physical presence of the work as an object.  

The title of this new body of work is 'Hierogamy', which opens on March 3rd in NYC at Cara Gallery,  has roots in Alchemy as well as in ancient fertility rituals in the Middle East, Greece, India etc. In these rituals, the 'sacred marriage' is either a symbolic or sexual union between a man and a woman as stand ins for the God & Goddess. In these rituals, the pair are 'purified', a feats is had, and then the union takes place in nocturnal secret. The next day, celebrations for the union "which guarantees the fertility of the land, the prosperity of the community, and the continuation of the cosmos" occur. (1) In Alchemical terms, "Hierogamy recalls the Alchemic myth of the Hermaphrodite, namely the being that encapsulates all, an entity that encompasses everything."(2) The union between the sacred opposites of male and female in alchemy is essentially the ultimate phase of the work, known as the 'chymical wedding' resulting in 'the philosopher's stone.'

Certainly there is a lot of transformation going on in Agostino's work, a merging with nature, a merging with another to produce transformation, conjured with regards to both application and dark beauty. I'm excited to see this body of work in person.

1. Footnote source. 
2. Footnote source. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

the ether.

Patti Smith's room at the Chelsea Hotel


In her new book, M Train, Patti Smith discusses the loss of a jacket, a friend's jacket that she coveted and was then gifted by said friend. She wore it for a time, ( it most likely became a kind of talisman to her ) and then it was lost, inexplicably.  I felt this loss. As the reader, you 'watch' her searching for it, can relate to the loss of a beloved object, imbued with sentiment, memory, a kind of magic that is synthesized when we wear something close to our skin on a daily basis. ( I feel very much this way about jewels, especially)

Throughout the course of the book, Patti loses many other objects, places and people. She loses an envelope filled with polaroids of Sylvia Plath's grave; we learn that she considers her polaroids to be a kind of 'string of rosaries', evidence that she was somewhere, that she exists. She leaves an olde polaroid camera on a bench. Her beach side bungalow is nearly entirely destroyed during Hurricane Sandy. She loses a Murakami book filled with personal notes. She loses the cafe she sat at daily in her solitary revelry, when the owner decides to close up shop. She loses her friends, her husband, her brother. While each loss may have varying degrees of effect on her, and on us as the reader, ultimately it made me a bit anxious for her. &, for myself, somehow.

In pale comparison, at the same time I was devouring her book, I would go on to ( temporarily) lose a tote bag filled with books, two of which, ironically, were other books of Patti's waiting to be read, and a few other out of prints on Surrealism I had amassed after spending hours in the stacks at Strand books. I also thought I lost a beloved hand knit cardigan. It's vintage and chunky and is falling apart a bit at the neckline, but it's one of the things I live in in the winter. I recovered both things after much searching with near surety that they were lost to the same ether that Patti's jacket is lost within. I am not usually absent minded with objects; I felt spelled by the book. As if I had adopted either her bad luck or her dreamer's carelessness. It was a curious feeling, and thankfully, the spell lifted.


These temporary loses led me to weird tangents of thoughts on objects. I own a lot of 'things', I've spent a life time collecting personal debris that I have knitted and built up around me in my loft. ( I inherited this obsession with collecting from my grandmother, who I also inherited my penchant for winged eyeliner from, & also, perhaps more poignantly, from my father; memories of trash picking with him as a kid late at night are still so vivid ) I've filled up my solitary loft life with books, carefully articulated skeletons and skulls under bell jars that collect veils of dust from living in high-ceilinged rooms, moldering lace dresses with tiny rows of hook buttons, old brass candlestick holders in the shape of cobras smothered in layers of black wax, a flat file drawer filled with ghosts; tin types and cabinet cards lost to the sea of time and ashore within my possession, locks of hair terminated in moth eaten ribbons, . . . this strange list goes on and on. This list, these objects, also make up what I consider to be a connection to the past & I know this is the sort of list that kindreds also may hold folded in an inner pocket. This is how I choose to be seen I think, behind the beauty and grotesque natures of the objects I have gathered up over the course of my 34 years of life. This collecting obsession has caused me trouble; more than one X has practiced a kind of reactionary measured cruelty to my weird needs.

See also: More than one X has complained about my all black ( mismatched blacks at that) wardrobe, my desire for olde couches, my inability to eat vegetables, my obsession with filling every possible bit of wall space with artwork, my vampire hours & so forth. In reaction to their reactions, I enjoy living alone these days.

See also: Symptoms on living with a black hole, ever widening inside your body . . .


Talismans make up much of my daily thoughts, I obsessively sketch in my notebook* ideas for new jewels, micro fictions I hope to one day publish. I imbue scraps of paper with my lover's handwriting on it with intense sentiment, I feel I could write my best work on an antique writing desk from the 1800's that is so tall, it may only ever fit in my loft and that I had to burn sage around for a month once I had it in my possession for fear of antique New Orleans' ghosts being attached to it since it was culled from down south. I run my fingers over the spines of my book when I'm sad.

When Patti's favorite cafe closed down, the owner gifted her the table and chairs she spent countless hours sitting at. He even offered to help her carry them over to her apartment. I like this idea. The transplanted object, both losing and gaining context, but still cradling Patti's books, her pens, her hands. Still a locus of creating, a liminal space she perfumed with her thoughts.

I'm currently living in a kind of transitory life. My lover lives in the Mid-West where the cold strangles you, where birds of prey fly freely, where the color of the ground mirrors the color of the sky when it snows and the line of the horizon is nearly indecipherable. I live on the East Coast where across the street from me, a warehouse is clothed in spray paint, where glass glitters in the streets, where plastic bags get snared in metal fences, where people are endless . . . . Being without my objects, my psychic armor, my own locus of creating and inspiration has caused a kind of displacement, and I try to find my new context. I think of what my own 'string of rosaries' may be; my notebooks, the small collection of books I have on the NoCoast, the pieces of jewelry I made for myself that I wear for protection and luck.

Patti Smith's loft space on 23rd street 

* or, 'lint collecting'

Saturday, September 5, 2015

At Night: Lisa Ciccarello


My tumultuous affair with poetry began in high school (where it does for most melodramatic folk) when I first stumbled upon the confessional, suicidal poets Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. Admittedly, it was the fact that they had both caused their own ends that drew me to their work, but over time, these tragedies faded into the background, allowing their visceral, beautiful/grotesque & firercely raw poems to burn inside me. I wanted to be one of these women; I was already haunted by death in the romantic way young, sensitive people are often inflicted with. I wanted to write a small thing that took up barely a full page but that could sear a reader by the images conjured, by the uncanny use of normal words. I didn't succeed at poetry, but I wrote my undergrad thesis on Anne's work the same year I tattooed her initials inside my 'writing' wrist. I felt her ghost would linger if I gave my skin the power of her name.

Anne's book over time has become a sacred text to me as a writer. I always turn to her poems when in despair. My reading tastes, like everyone's have changed over time and after reading experimental garbage as well as being introduced to writers I still read such as Gary Lutz & Brian Evenson in graduate school, poetry fell from my reading habits. I returned to poetry this year after I attended AWP for the first time since it seemingly magically coincided with one of my trips out here to the Mid-West. I had known about Black Ocean Books vaguely as I had already owned a book by poet Zachary Schomburg, so I was happy when I stumbled upon their booth in a vast sea of presses I knew nothing about. 

Admittedly, when I'm 'cold' searching for a book in a store, I'm often drawn to their covers unless looking for something specific. Lisa's cover art drew me instantly, 'At Night' has a strange symbol akin to a voodoo veve, which are beautifully drawn symbols that are sacred to the voodoo religion and are used in ritual as representations of the loa, or the spirits that are the intermediaries between realms. These symbols, when used in ritual, act as astral beacons, drawing these spirits down to where the symbol is being used. Though I don't know much about voodoo, several trips to New Orleans have taught me a little about these symbols, as well as a deep respect for them....(or perhaps, in not using them. Many people get these designs tattooed on them because they are indeed intricate and beautiful (yikes) )

 I digress. The symbol on Lisa's book is not a reve, and only vaguely resembles one, as it also vaguely resembles other magical and old symbols.  The book itself has a butter soft cover that strangely makes it feel almost made of baby skin, and the back cover reads ' If you seek comfort, you will find none here.' I was immediately sold. This had my name written all over it before I even flipped the cover open. As the ether would have it, Lisa happened to be standing nearby and when I held her book in my hands, the kind folks manning the booth suggested I say hi. Ordinarily I shy away from unsolicited conversation, especially with other writers. I even had a giant pair of head phones on as I navigated the book fair. But meeting Lisa felt like meeting someone I already knew in the way that kindred ilk sometimes recognize one another, and I asked for her to sign the book, which she did so thusly ' I hope it makes you the right kind of miserable.'
With that I fell completely under the spell of the book and have carried its thin body tucked inside my journal with me nearly everywhere. 

Because I love this book so much, I wanted other people to read it to, especially since I feel people often don't seek out poetry or think they will 'understand it.' Because I love this book so much, I feel hesitant to write about it (hence my tardiness.) This may be why I'm continuing to digress, so here goes:

Here are some ideas that snared me:

* Immediately when flipping through or beginning to read the book, you'll notice none of the works are titled. In this way, it seems that all the poems are titled with the collective title 'At Night.' This decision may have limited Lisa when she was writing the book, but perhaps that drove the linked 'narrative' together so successfully. Although billed as poetry and often structured thusly ( despite the one liners from time to time), these writings feel more to me like secret conversations or confessions I'm not supposed to be privy to but am. Bearing witness to strangeness or mystery always makes me feel transcendent as a reader. It elevates the experience for me. I feel a bit haunted, in a similar way that Sleep No More makes me feel; an experience where I feel I'm in a place 'out of time', where I am a ghost in the company of other ghosts who cannot see me. We know the other is there, but there is no direct contact.

* Much like how the symbol on the cover suggests magic, so does the way these poems feel in the mouth when my eye moves over them. When reading them, their repetitions make me feel like I am invoking something beyond the page or preparing ingredients for a spell of protection or violence. This protection feels precarious however, the spirits looming within the pages are very real and present. Salt holds them at bay. Or tries to anyway.

* In the afterward, Lisa mentions how some of the "poems are inspired by and borrow lines from "The Newgate Calendar," a publication which gave " a full and satisfactory Account of the Crimes, Behaviors, Discourses in Prison and last Words" of criminals executed at Tyburn and Newgate Prison from the mid-sixteenth to mid-nineteenth century." I don't think this book needed this, I feel it stands alone perfectly, but when something like this is added to a text successfully, it makes my heart a swarm. These poems carry Lisa's voice as the creator, the voice of the 'imagined dead' as well as the truly dead, their words woven through her own seamlessly. The voices of the past echo into the future, into the book that sits in your hand.

* Perhaps what I was drawn most to is how important the body is in these works. Black eyes are constantly referenced, fingers in mouths, strands of hair, a binding of the body, a burning of the body, intrusions of the female body. If death has already come for these narrators, I don't imagine it was an easy leaving. Death by fire is hinted at quite often, which immediately makes me think of witch burnings. This subtly plays out like an unseen thread of anxiety stitched in the background. 

* Objects are often reassigned. The moon is all manner of things, a splinter, an axe, a shovel a tooth. Knives are pearls. The violence is both tender and not. It is asked for, and it is not. There is a lack of blood, instead there is salt and soil, death by curse. The longest poem in the book was one of my favorite, a tale of a murderous wife who seeks revenge on the favored wife. This proximity of intimacy and violence interests me, a kind of push and pull between Eros and Thanatos. 

There is more to say and hopefully there will be some discussion elsewhere. In closing, as much as this is a book of poems, it also feels like the recordings of a medium from another time. Lisa seems to be a conduit of a kind, channeling the night and its inhabitants into the constraints of a small book. I hope my thoughts will make you read it. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

To Live On


I always feel a bit of bittersweetness at the close of August. I have a bit of nostalgia concerning shopping for school supplies and returning to classes ( powerful lectures are a favorite). I'll miss riding my bike around out here in the Mid-west, searching for thistle and spider webs, watching for bats and the dark birds that perch on the tall summer grass. I truly enter a weird period of mourning at the close of summer. Despite living in a very dark loft, I love long days of light and nights perfumed by the day's residual sunshine Yet, Autumn is a favorite time, teeming with an unnamable magic. I'm sure some of you may feel this too, even if you are a night crawler as well.

September is the hardest month for me to get through, as it concerns the sea of grief I have carried inside me since 2008 when I lost someone important in my life ( which subsequently, as some of you may know, brought about the birth of BloodMilk).
Which brings me to this series of work, 'To Live On', by Korean born, Berlin based artist Ming Jeong Seo. His work flares with that same electricity of opposites I'm always drawn to; the beautiful and the grotesque shouldering against one another in the same narrative space. Death is being challenged here, perhaps even cheated, for a while anyway.

I was reading an essay in the new issue of 'Creative Non Fiction' by writer Suzanne Roberts, concerning her personal analysis of grief. She likens grief to having the texture of water, describing it as a well that only more grief gets poured on top of, something I've noticed myself when trying to describe it, although as she says, grief seems only fitting for metaphor:

"The way we recognize a musical score-by its scales, the repeating notes-is similar to the way we recall grief. A musical score can transport us to another time and place, as if the music has always lived inside us; in the same way, one grief recalls another"

 I do not like having to carry grief around, or the knowledge that I will be piling other griefs onto this deep one I already have like a black hole inside me. However, as Suzanne mentions, "All life leads to death, so why is it so hard to imagine?."

I think these roses, temporarily suspended between life and death, explain my personal struggle so perfectly. This netherworld, this liminal space, is rife with sorrow and the knowledge of our fragility, but it is also teeming with beauty. Here, death is creeping up those shriveled stems and yet, still hard to imagine when gazing at those waterlogged blood clouds of petals.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Blood Milk Book Club August:

Sally Wen Mao

Sally Wen Mao: from 'Mad Honey Symposium'

Lisa Ciccarello

Lisa Ciccarello from 'At Night' 

I've chosen two titles of poetry for the Blood Milk Book Club this month. I'll be changing format each month, so for September it will be a book of short stories. In tandem to a more "traditional" conversational style book club post (this time, as per some feedback I received, I'll post some prompting questions to incite discussion), I hope to have extra posts revolving around these books live during the month, including an author interview, or two. 
I've been thrilled with the response & honored by the support I've been receiving. 

If interested in reading along this month, please pick up: 

Mad Honey Symposium by Sally Wen Mao from small press Alice James Books HERE.

At Night by Lisa Ciccarello from Black Ocean Books HERE.  The kind folks at Black Ocean are offering 30% off of Lisa's glorious book for the month of August. Enter BLOODMILK at checkout and feel good about supporting a small independent press. 

I know some people cringe when they think of reading poetry. & while some of these poems are written in a more 'traditional' format, I promise that if you are at all interested in my aesthetic or have read and liked other books I've recommended, these poems will be like daggers to your heart and at least one poem from each book will snare you forever. I've posted one of my favorites from each author above. 

Further reading to nudge you along:

Publisher's Weekly review of At Night.
Lisa's blog. 
Lisa's Tiny Letter.
An interview with Lisa.

Publisher's Weekly review of Mad Honey Symposium.
A cluster of glowing reviews on Sally's site.
An interview with Sally.
another interview with Sally.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Guest Post: Summer Scents For Those Who Shun The Sun

When I was younger, summertime, to me, meant curling up on a sweaty vinyl chair on the screened-in back porch with a pitcher of powdered iced tea drink and reading stories of ghosts and monsters and possessed children. If I was lucky, the skies would darken at midday, the winds would pick up, and a fearsome storm would thunder through the area; this is a common occurrence on a summer afternoon in central Florida, and normally would not last more than ten minutes.

I avoided the sun when at all possible; I did not relish playing outside with my sisters or the neighbor’s kids, I did not care for trips to the beach, I didn’t like being hot and sticky and gross. And I didn’t really have any friends to do any of those things with, anyhow. But I’d never had many friends, so I really didn’t know any better and I didn’t feel badly about it. These long, sweltering days on the back porch voraciously tearing through stacks upon stacks of cheap, lurid used bookstore finds are some of the happiest memories I have from my pre-teen years. This was how summer was supposed to be, I thought, and at the ages of 11/12/13, I was young enough to have the luxury of spending that time however I liked. And after the daily rains, which were impatiently anticipated and perfectly inevitable -that was my favorite part of the day: a few glorious moments when the humidity dropped the tiniest bit, the air cooled a few degrees, and the sun disappeared entirely, culminating in a rich scent that still tugs at my memories and the edges of my dreams many years later. The musty scent of disintegrating paperbacks, the air heavy with the sweet, musky fragrance of jasmine, the tang of ozone, just before a heavy rainfall. This was the scent of my summers.

Years later when it comes to scenting myself for summer weather, I steer clear of many of the perfumes marketed for these sizzling, stifling afternoons when the evil day star holds sway. I don’t want to smell like the synthetic coconut of greasy suntan lotion, nor do I want to smell like those generic aquatics that are supposedly “crisp and refreshing” or the ubiquitous green tea and cucumber/melon melange which smell like so many country club air fresheners. Yes, I do want something lighter, for anything richer and heavier would certainly suffocate and strangle me in our notoriously murky, muggy Southern summers...but I want a scent that also evokes some sort of nostalgia, triggers a memory, conjured a long-forgotten dream.

 Below is a list of my five preferred fragrances in this vein; scents for these summer months that are at turns cooling, invigorating, revitalizing and imaginative. Summer scents for those who shun the sun.

Coriandre by Jean Couturier is a light, lovely chypre launched in the mid-70’s. If you are not familiar with chypres, well, they seem to be a rather divisive grouping of scents, with perfume lovers falling squarely in either the Love Them or Hate Them camps. To me, generically, chypres smell a bit cold and astringent, distant; but Coriandre is on the warmer, more familiar end of the spectrum. It does remind me of something from the 70s; it’s got a hazy Polaroid quality to it. A warm, grassy summer day recalled through the yellowed veil of memory. It's dry and woody and musky and I think it smells a bit like a lovely little secret that you might never be ready to share.

Annick Goutal's Mandragore reminds me of a scene in the 1980's vampire film The Lost Boys, when the main characters' grandpa says "....well that's about as close to town as I like to get." My perfume shelf is filled mostly with deep, dark, resinous fragrances, and Mandragore, with its bright lemony/peppery opening that quickly fades to a soft, minty bergamot, is as close to a "summer scent" as I like to get. It's a lovely, (softly) zingy scent that calls to mind some sort of mildly alcoholic herbal shandy one might drink to refresh one's self at the close of a balmy June afternoon. Unfortunately, much like the buzz from this weak cocktail, the scent lasts but a moment and is gone.

 Safran Troublant by L’Artisan is a wonderfully restorative, heart-warming/opening scent. It should be part of a comforting bedtime ritual at the end of a long, hot day where one has done a lot of yard work or gardening. There’s a comforting sweetness to it, though not at all sugary or cloying. A creamy sandalwood pudding, a lukewarm bath lightly infused with milk and rose petals and a deep, enveloping hug. You’ll sleep quite well and be visited by the loveliest midsummer dreams.

Danube, by Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab is a beloved scent that is, for me, more about memory than the actual fragrance itself. It is a deep blue aquatic scent - but not salty, ozone-y, beachy aquatic, nor is it murky, swampy aquatic. Like a cold swimming pool on a hot day (maybe if you were adding grapefruit to your pool instead of chlorine) with every blue flower imaginable floating on top of it. Imagine being 6 years old and holding your breath and submerging yourself in a swimming pool, then slo-o-o-wly sinking to the bottom. The water is chilled, you feel like the only person in the world and everything is totally silent. Imagine peering up and seeing the sun streaming down into the water, between all of the blue petals. It's calm and soothing and serene and is an absolutely a must for hot, sticky weather and for people who haven't got a swimming pool. For other other unique summer scents from BPAL, sniff out Fae (sweet, floral, peachy), and Zephyr (light musk, soft lemon and florals), and Aeval (dried herbs & sweet pea & tonka and it smells like all of my favorite occult bookshops at once -herbs and oils and stones and crystals and and the crisp pages of unopened books filled with unlearned knowledge.)

When I was 18, I was dating the boy who used to live next door to me, but who had since graduated high school and moved to Indiana to attend Notre Dame. We spent a week together on summer break, during which time he had flown down South to stay with me and my family. It was early in this visit that he proposed to me on the beach one night, and I accepted...though something told me that this was a doomed venture. I knew it was not going to last, and yet I agreed anyway; I suppose I just liked the idea that something interesting loomed in the distant future for me. One late afternoon a few days later, we took a drive; the sun hung low on the horizon, the windows were down, and on the wind that ruffled our hair was the musky, sweet scent of orange blossoms, as we had just driven past a massive orange grove. Jo Malone’s Orange Blossom smells like that summer afternoon, sweet blooms and dying suns and the melancholy of tears yet to be shed for reasons you’re not quite sure of.

A bonus scent, which I have mentioned before, so it didn’t seem quite fair to list it above: Comme des Garcons Incense Series: Kyoto. To be honest, Kyoto is my go-to fragrance no matter what the season; it’s austere and meditative and calls to mind a dark prayer in a cool, shadowy forest temple. But there is something exceptionally wonderful about it in the summer months. On a day of wretched, heated summertime oppression, do this: draw the curtains, dim the lights, strip naked, and liberally spritz yourself with Kyoto. Lay on your bed, mid-afternoon in the dark. Nap for a time. Dream of cooler places.

What scents do you dream of in summer time? What cools you down & soothes your brow when the temperatures soar?

 Leave a comment with your ideal summer fragrance, whether it is based on a memory, a story, or a combination of your favorite summer smells, and be entered into a giveaway for samples of the perfumes listed above, as well as, various other “summer scent” samples! Giveaway will close and a winner will be chosen on Monday, July 20 !

*So many thanks to S. Elizabeth / Mlle Ghoul for joining me on my blog again. This lady writes about scent ( & many other things )better than anyone I've come across and I'm thrilled to have her on the blog again. For her previous scent post, take a peek here. She'll be returning soon for a guide on Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab  scents ! *

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Vorrh: B. Catling.


Welcome to the first installment of the Blood Milk Book Club: 'The Vorrh' by B. Catling.

As I've mentioned before, I'm absolutely winging this, it is completely experimental but something I feel dedicated to and passionate about, and sometimes, despite the small messes you can make when starting something without having a recipe in hand, things unravel and smooth out over time if you burn for it. So here goes:

When I was in graduate school, one of the first courses I took was Shelley Jackson's Non-Linear class. We read odd books; I was both bored by some of the gimmicks and stimulated by the writers who fared better at digressions. B. Catling is one of those writers who is successful at digressions. He is also brilliant at carrying the heavy weights of a large cast of characters and sub-species within a fantastical setting. ( The hefty Game of Thrones books are also mostly successful with this same balancing act. ) 

There is talk about how fantasy based / weird / cosmic horror / speculative fiction will be taken more seriously and will be penned by more contemporary writers in the present and future tenses as it allows people to explore psychic / psychological situations with an escape of realism ( i.e. the exploding success of Karen Russell into the main stream.) Which quickens my blood because it has always been my favorite way to read and write. Anything that transports me wholly from my life and internal landscape's sounds/moods/repetitions is for me. Books as escape hatches always. Which was precisely what 'The Vorrh' offered, an entrance into a world forged with truly original imaginative thinking & beautifully sculpted language / sentences.

Here are some ideas that snared me:

* The night seems to take on another texture. When traveling into 'The Vorrh', 'Night' last upwards of 40 hours, or feels like it does anyway. The darkness is 'perfumed', it is riddled with strange creatures that may be blood thirsty, it is an ominous black tablet painted with layers of darknesses. 

Charlotte's descriptions of the Twilight Dove and the Twilight Raven seem to be metaphors for these differences in light/darkness. 

This technique lends itself to other disorienting elements in the book. It's hard to know the exact landscape of the forest and where the travelers are inside of it. It seems more like a vortex; the memory draining and The Orm's hollowing techniques are quite frightful. This contrast of beauty and terror is exactly the kind of thing that works sharp hooks into me. 

* Despite depictions of monstrous cruelty, graphic violence ( there are many murders and strange deaths woven like a dark thread through the skin of the book) and taboo subjects (the one who looks back), there is a realistic and comforting view of love and friendship found in so many of the criss crossings of characters. Even when Ishmael forgoes his ghostly friendship for his lover, I believed. Sometimes friendships are apparitions, materializing in and out of your life. Other times our relationships run deeper and we sacrifice for them. 

* Although I enjoyed the passages on Muybridge, (some of which were my favorite in the book) he's the only person who hasn't directly been inside the Vorrh ( although it appears he's traversed every other heart of darkness) or knowingly been in direct contact with anyone who has travelled inside it. He's a historical figure with his own 'real' baggage and yet is given a new life under Catling's pen. He exists outside of the intersecting narratives. I did however, get excited when Sarah Winchester showed up. I love the Winchester Mystery House. Its one of those structures I feel deeply drawn to. 

I loved this bit from his story line 'Muybridge was vividly reminded of a photograph he never stopped to take...' This stayed with me and lent itself to the arching narrative of memory within. How some of the character's memories are sharp and intact, while others are erased and fogged, and yet still others, like the rest of us, have a more shifting relationship with our memories. 

* I was interested in the many spiritual traditions at play. They were numerous and yet, it is said that Eden lies at the center (which we are never made clear if Peter Williams has made it to or not.) Catling was not heavy handed with the Bible here and Adam is actually struck down more easily than I imagined possible. Charms, spells, potions, prayers, tests of faith, and healing rituals are all a beautiful cocktail in this world, operating side by side. I was interested in how well Catling was able to describe and balance these different ideas, some of which were not even wholly understood or flushed out, but still succeeded. (thinking of the Limboia in particular here and their strange mirror ritual.)

*Lastly, though I could go on & hope to in the comments: I really enjoyed all of the descriptions of bodies and feel this is one of Catling's  most poignant strengths, which may stem from him also being a visual and performance artist as well. We may not always be rooted in a particular place, more levitating over it, but his bodily imaginings make me feel tethered to this world he's created. The Kin have bodies that are described as 'hard and beetle like' while their innards seem to be made of a kind of thick spider silk cream. Ishmael's body and sexual organs are graphically described and even in his self-imposed transformation to look more normal, he still comes across as beautiful and gentle to me. By the end, 'his life is his to live' and I'll be curious to see how he fares in upcoming installments. The Erstwhile also have transformed bodies that can't be perceived by the human eye, but once they are burned, their bones are more tangible. I can go on and on here: 'a zoo of measured humanity.' A line that may yet be the heart of the story at hand. 

Synchroncity I found personally pleasing:

In Alan Moore's glowing review of the book, he describes it as akin to Max Ernst's collage work.

Muybridge's work is prominent in a Laird Barron story, 'The Hand of Glory.'

So, what were your thoughts ?

 Please remember I moderate comments to avoid strange spam so if yours doesn't show up right away, please be patient ! 

*image of the author as a cyclops*

Thursday, July 2, 2015







we go down to the river to shed. at night, this sloughing of skin, this shared release. a secret we pass to each other like a lit match.

in the summer, the river spiders weave their nursery webs and eat their lovers. sometimes they come near, named for the gloom, each of their eight eyes trained on our undoing.

in the winter the swallows anxiously watch us from their lofty nests, tucked into the bridge's eaves.
we run our arms against rocks, against each other, almost intimate.
we loosen our skin at the elbow, a grievous unbuttoning.
we unravel, removing our skins like long gloves, finger by finger.

our skins trail in the snow like pale ribbons, rotten lengths of lace hurriedly left behind. 

you kiss me and your lip slips between my teeth,
 coils on my tongue, 
dissolves like smoke. 

* collaborative photos by artists Crystal Lee Lucas & Dylan Garrett Smith.*

Friday, May 1, 2015

Everything Around Her Was On Fire: An Interview with Jessica Dalva


Sift, or Everything Around Her Was on Fire (detail)

While working on my new collection 'Darkling, I Listen', I have been reading a lot of Carl Jung and his interpretations on Alchemy and how this ancient process relates to his idea of individuation;  the successful psychic process of 'becoming whole', or integrating the conscious with the unconscious  ( or for me, in relation to 'Darkling', truly knowing & accepting oneself, despite the darkness, depression, melancholy or nightmares we may carry inside us. ) One of the stages of this process Jung likens to the alchemical stage of Nigredo, or the putrefaction, the blackening, the 'killing'. For Jung, this is the time one when meets their shadow and faces it. Not for banishment, but for acceptance. One must be destroyed in order to understand, in order to transcend. 

Though these are not the foundations that artist Jessica Louise Dalva may have built her own new body of work, Hapax Legomena on, which opens on May 1st ( Happy Beltane!) at L.A.'s La Luz de Jesus Gallery, I still find threads of these ideas in the barren, ashen landscapes that appear to be the charred evidence of rolling fires, and in the solitude of the figures, perhaps just out of this fire themselves.

I like to think of Jessica working on these pieces, perhaps late at night. I think of the the intense, meticulous attention that must go into every choice, the literally molding & conjuring of flesh that holds no heartbeat, but yet still bears visceral emotions. I recently had the honor to ask Jessica some general questions about her process, as well as more ( self-serving perhaps!) personal ones about darkness and emotional solitude.


Augury, or There Beside You (detail)

Although you primarily work in 3D, you are also a painter and create graphite drawings as well.  What attracts you to working with dimensional mediums ?

 My mother is a ceramic sculptor and also used to make large hand-carved wooden sculptures, so I have always had sculpture around me. When I was little, I would make little cats and pinch pots on the porch with her while she worked on her pieces, which are primarily figurative or animal-based. In school, I majored in Illustration because I wanted to learn how to draw and paint, but I found myself frustrated and honestly sort of uninspired by painting- I wanted to play with more materials and spatial changes. I am always looking for new materials to use, and I really enjoy figuring out how to build something, and painting on a flat surface just sort of underwhelmed me.

 Making a physical object from nothing (or from a lump of clay or scraps of fabric) is always very satisfying to me- it’s like taking flour, milk, butter and eggs; then magically you have a cake. Also, I feel that there is a certain charm and fascination that comes from wondering what something is made of or how it is constructed. That’s one of my favorite things about other artists’ work, the mystery of how it’s built, and sculpture offers a wide variety of problems to be solved with interesting and ever-changing techniques. I constantly feel like I might switch back entirely to painting and drawing, I do have a great love for both, and there is a very appealing flexibility there when all you need to make your art is a pencil and some paper. Part of me wants to paint giant oil paintings and draw messy portraits in charcoal, and perhaps I’ll have a chance to indulge that desire, but sculpture will always be a natural solution to me.


Over recent years, there has been a lot of cross over of what is considered ‘fine art’ and what is considered ‘craft.’ Could you talk about this blurring? 

This is one of those never-ending debates- every “craftsperson” of worth will say that there is a degree of art to their work, and every honest “fine artist” would acknowledge the elements that are purely craft they use to create their art. I think that having infinite knowledge at our fingertips (aka the Internet) has been a significant influence in this blur- people are exposed to higher levels of skill from people that they would otherwise never interact with, so inspiration can come from a much wider source than it has in the past. You can see a master origami artist on the same page as a photorealistic painter and a textile sculptor, and it is more up to one’s own opinion whether any or all of these are artists or not. There is no singular Salon that is the end-all-be-all of artistic merit, as there has been before, and so we are freer from limitation on materials and techniques.


Tantivy, or You Said You’d Be Gone a Long Time

Can you talk about the process of working on a show, from conception to completion ? 

The process is a long one! I’ve already got an inkling of what my next series will consist of. I generally start with many lists. Lists of words, colors, themes, phrases, titles, characters, animals, and even textures. Then I narrow things down to the main, important aspects, and decide a rough outline of pieces I want to make. This outline can morph considerably, and often. I then gather lots of reference and start sketching (though really, many of these steps cross back and forth for a few months- sketch and list and list and sketch). My sketches are sometimes very detailed, with measurements, material lists, and colors listed in the margins, but they can also be super loose and basically stick figures with a word or two to remind me what they are about.



Then, my least favorite part- armatures. I make a lightweight armature with aluminum wire, basically a simplified skeleton for the figure. Usually at this point I will mess around with the pose of the figure and determine how it will attach to the frame or base. I am bad at deciding the pose and sticking with it strictly, though, so often arms and legs will get cut off or moved as the piece progresses. When working on a larger body of work, I will usually have a number of pieces being made at once, so I can shift around and don’t get too bogged down in one piece’s problems. As more pieces get started, I can go back and do little tiny details on more completed pieces, then back to fun cutting, drilling and building, then hunker down for some mindless application of clay to a rough figure. Sometimes I will get a random inspiration and have to completely alter a piece, or scrap an idea to make way for something better.

Before, during, and after a show I have a number of lists running of ideas and elements to be included in this or future shows. The pieces all have a lot of different elements to them which require different tools, materials and processes, so sometimes I will assembly-line a task and get all the eyeballs painted glossy at once or make 15 different-sized armatures in an afternoon. As the pieces get more solidly finished, I lock down the titles, which I generally have a loose idea of while I work on the piece, but leave until the end so I am sure they really fit with the feeling of the completed piece.

Because I have limited studio space, I hang my pieces on my wall as they come into being, which is beneficial so I can see everything together and make sure there is a cohesive feel to the series. I also tend to try to rush together “one last thing” right before the show opens, as I never feel like I have enough done or have one more idea I just have to get done.



One of the things that I can personally relate to with your work is the expressions of your figures, so many of them seem to have palpable emotions. Do you work from models, or are these internal conjurings ? 

One of my greatest pleasures in life is drawing and sculpting from life- unfortunately it’s a luxury I cannot afford at this moment to indulge in on a regular basis or for every piece. I will occasionally hire a friend who is a lovely modern dancer to model for me and take reference photos of her, but the majority of my pieces’ poses are frankensteined reference from awkward photos of myself. If anyone ever got a hold of my Photo Booth images on my computer, they would be amused by a series of photos of me brandishing a broom in my underwear, or confused as to why on earth I needed to hold my arm up in the air for 27 minutely different hand gestures. I also will often take parts of a photo I find online or a sketch I’ve done from life and combine them in more refined sketches. I try to avoid directly using reference from the internet, though, as I don’t want to infringe on anyone’s work.


Viscera, or What More Can I Give (detail)

Also, as in a few previous works as well, the bodies of some of your figures are fissured, they become an ‘other' by these wounds that no ‘real’ person could survive. Can you talk about this hollowing, this violence?

There is an opportunity in sculpture (and all art, really) to create something that is at once fairly realistic and completely impossible. The feeling of hollowness or being torn apart is sort of a universally experienced phenomenon, even though, hopefully, most people don’t know what this would actually feel like. I also like to leave the source of these cavities open to suggestion, as we all have different experiences that leave us feeling this way. Maybe I often have leaned towards this symbolism because I am, in these instances, at a loss for another way to describe or illustrate how this feels. By representing an overwhelming and often seriously dangerous, destructive, feeling of despair with something that is unreal or unsurvivable, the gravity of its impact can really be seen.



There seems to be a more visceral ‘darkness’ or melancholy in this body of work as a whole compared to other exhibitions. Many of the backgrounds are pared down, appear ashen or voids the figures are suspended in. Can you talk about this chosen landscape ?

Part of this theme is a personal desire to create work with a more graphic and simplified aesthetic, and part of it is because I had a pretty hard year, and drew a lot of inspiration from that. I wanted to focus on sculpting more realistic figures and animals, and I find that there was enough information in some of the pieces to capture my concept. I went through a variety of personal struggles that lead to many of the pieces, and much of this was centered around being alone and developing a more thoughtful relationship with myself. And also I hate painting backgrounds. :)


Sift, or Everything Around Her Was on Fire 

Narrative appears to play an important role in your work, these pieces feel like little clips of a larger story, as if we’ve trapped the protagonist in a moment of choice or action. Can you talk about how storytelling is important to you ? 

Your interpretation here is really spot on, I often say that each piece is a little snippet, or a short story, or a moment in time that is part of an overall story. This show was a little different than some of my past series, which had much more defined stories, as I intentionally left the pieces disconnected from one another. That is the main theme and source behind the title of the show; “Hapax Legomena” are words that only appear once in a language or body of work, and each one of these pieces stands on its own. In previous series of works, I have actually written full stories and based pieces on the significant moments in the story. When I’m working on a piece, I tend to create a little narrative about the subject and what they are feeling or doing. Most of the time, the most important aspect of the piece is how the subject feels, and so the story can evolve and change quite a bit while I work. One of my most loved interactions is when someone tells me what they think the story is behind a piece I’ve made, because, although they often are rather different than my own, it’s fascinating to see what tales they gather from what I’ve created.


 Involution, or In the Quiet

Many of your figures appear alone or joined with an animal. Can you talk about this solitude from others? In the once instance that there are two figures together, they appear young, as if the world was still whole, a flashback in time perhaps.

This series had a lot of basis in self-reflection, and so many of the figures are on their own. In the pieces with animals, I actually intended to use the animals to represent another person- the animals aren’t really supplementary characters, but more like symbolized versions of another person. For example, “Involution, or, In the Quiet” was originally going to be a similar pose but with another human figure instead of the mountain lion. I found it was more conceptually accurate to use an animal as the second character for many of the pieces, as their expression and interaction was more symbolic. When creating two human forms, the smallest of change in balance, pose or expression can wield much more unpredictable interpretations in the audience.


Per Aspera Ad Astra, or We Never Lost Sight of the Horizon (detail)

I really like your view of the piece with the two children, it’s quite close to my original concept, which stemmed from the feeling of having this inherent comfort when one finds oneself staring out onto the ocean in the company of someone one cares for. It’s a flashback in a way, but also by representing the pair as children, it makes me feel like it shows a more simple, whole feeling than the implied complexities of two adults standing by the sea. The idea also drew from one of my favorite quotes, by Loren Eiseley,

“Every time we walk along a beach some ancient urge disturbs us so that we find ourselves shedding shoes and garments or scavenging among seaweed and whitened timbers like the homesick refugees of a long war.” 

Because they are children, they represent an intrinsic human feeling, and have less implied, unnecessary information to cloud the meaning of the piece. This feeling of solitude I think is still being experienced by all the characters, even if they have a companion. I can only create things from what I know, and I really only know my own experiences, so I often tend to create pieces with a strong feeling of isolation, as that is all we ultimately can really know.


Barghest, or Look After Me

I love the clothing you create for your figures (when they are clothed), all the tiny details and folds really snare me. Can you talk about what its like to make this aspect of the work ? Do you know what the clothing will look like before the body is sculpted or is it something that happens after they come into form ?

Thank you! That is one of my favorite parts too. A lot of the clothing starts out with a general plan, something like a cloak or skirt, and then it is influenced by a few things before it evolves into the final “garment”. I will usually have the sculpture fully painted at this point, sometimes I’ll have applied the hair but not always. I then go and gather options for fabric choices - I have drawers organized by color of both large and tiny scraps of fabric (the problem with the scale that I work in is it validates my keeping of every tiny little scrap of fabric, since a 2” piece of velvet is sometimes just perfect for what I need) and trim and little bits and baubles. Usually at this point my desk is a sea of silk and ribbon and little metal bits and tiny flowers.

Then I try to narrow the choices down, holding up and “draping” the figure with various combinations of materials until I find what works best for the piece. I have a bunch of pieces of antique fabrics, lace and ribbons, and these often inform how I build the clothing- there will be a little edge of lace that creates a perfect neckline and then I work around that to create the costume. And sometimes I will have an idea for the costume that ends up not working with the figure- if an arm is down and touches the side of the figure, it can be hard to create a convincing sleeve, or other such logistical restrictions. Then, depending on the piece, there is lots of careful glueing and sewing tiny stitches, often a couple instances of tearing off fabric and starting over, and then starching and pinning the folds of fabric in place to create the illusion of the appropriate weight of the fabric or so it looks like it’s being blown by the wind. After the main fabric pieces are in place, I will go back and age them, and add embellishments.


Onslaught, or Left to Drastic Measures (detail)

Like my fabric collection, I have drawers of ribbon, trim, lace, beads and metal tidbits that I pull out and paw through to find just the right thing for each piece. I’ve been collecting these kinds of things forever, so many have a history and significance to me- like the armor I made for the piece “Onslaught, or, Left to Drastic Measures” is made from scraps of brass sheeting that my mom had used in her sculptures years ago, and the “burned” branches in “Sift, or, Everything Around her was on Fire” were collected on a hike in the San Bernadino National Forest where I went camping with friends.


Eyrie, or Clarity of Conscience (detail)

The names of each piece intrigued me in relation to the show title. Could you talk about these double names ? 

I wanted to title each piece with a unique word, to follow along with the show title of Hapax Legomena, but I felt like there was a little more explanation necessary in some cases. There were a few phrases that I had to include, like “everything around her was on fire” which I had heard randomly walking down the street, and it stuck with me for months. The titles become a sort of short story to me, and can really change how people interpret the piece. I felt like if I only used the singular words for some of the pieces, it would distract from the actual concept- the additional titles are meant as a way of clarifying the meaning of the piece.


Spectres, or While I Slept (detail)

There is a nightmarish quality to the work that I’m attracted to; a anxiety that I can  personally relate to in some of the compositions. Do you feel that your dream life informs your work ? 

Yes, and in this show especially. The character of the black dogs that appears in a few of the pieces is directly pulled from reoccurring nightmares I had as a child- these creepy black dogs with glowing white-blue eyes would silently appear and try to eat me. Then, while researching, I find out that this is a fairly common myth (especially from the British Isles) of an ominous, giant black dog that stalks the countryside and preys on wandering travelers. A lot of my best ideas come to me either just as I’m falling asleep or just as I wake up - I have a running list of ideas, hastily written down, often half asleep, which can lend itself to some pretty funny, incoherent nonsense, but also to some good ideas. It’s important for me to always keep notes of little ideas or things I see, or dreams, as often this is the starting point for a piece, and I never know where a tiny idea will take me. I have always had a pretty intense dream life, and it often will affect my waking hours, either by inspiring a great idea or by convincing me that monsters are after me or some other super realistic and disturbing story.


Can you describe what your studio looks like? Do you need to be surrounded by visual stimulation, do you read much etc ? How do you prepare for the idea of a show ? 

My “studio” takes up the majority of my little living room space! I have two desks and lots and lots of drawers and shelves filled with little boxes of supplies, books, materials and an amateur hoarder’s amount of fabric. Mixed in with beads and wire and fifteen different kinds of tape, I like to display little collections of things I find beautiful. I try to keep my knick knacks down to a minimum (see previous mention of hoarder-type tendencies) but on my shelves and the tops of dressers I have friends’ artwork, plants, various found skulls and bones, and souvenirs from adventures, many of which are strangely shaped pieces of wood, or rocks.


One of the Unofficial Dalva Family Mottos is “Rocks are your friends,” so basically any place I go, I end up bringing back an interesting stone… or six. I also have managed to gather a fairly hefty collection of art and reference books, as well as a number of beautiful, old novels and collections of children’s stories. One of my most prized possessions is a little book from the turn of the century, titled “Mental Portraits” which has page after page of surveys, filled out by a teenage girl's (Emma U. Raymond, Charlestown Massachusetts) friends in the most beautiful, handwritten script. Each survey asks the friends to fill out their answers for things like “the greatest wonder of the world, according to my estimation:” (common responses- “The Telegraph” or “The Brooklyn Bridge”) and “My Favorite Music” (answers include “Church organ” and “violin”) - it’s basically a beautiful version of Facebook from the 1880’s. Some of the answers are pretty funny, one of my favorites is - “Shipwrecked on a desolate island, I would most desire: … “ A Ship.” And that even at this time, everyone loved pug dogs.

I like to keep books around me that I can flip through; I have a number of artist’s books of both older (Alphonse Mucha, Egon Schiele, JC Lyendecker, etc) and contemporary (Nathan Ota, Andrew Hem, Liz McGrath, etc) artists that I admire, as well as tons of anatomical reference books, drawing books and animal reference. I have been trying to read more novels, but I also really enjoy nonfiction biographies and histories, and have a few shelves of those filling my studio.


I am also a fan of Pinterest, since I can keep a huge resource of reference and inspiration right at my fingertips, as well as be exposed to friends' and others’ special finds. When I’m working on a piece, I will gather a selection of images from Google searches and Pinterest, especially reference of animals or parts of poses for figures, and pull them up to have with me while I’m working. Sometimes just one image will spark something that becomes an entire piece, or I will have ten different crows to look at to get it just right.

My process for a show has no set structure- I tend to have loose ideas that I refine as I go along, some stay stronger the whole time, while some can completely change from start to finish. It is a very personal experience, as I use the creation of these pieces as a way to wrap my head around ideas and problems I am having. I am often nervous and uncomfortable when talking about the way I feel, but by creating something that is another form of communication, I can express myself in a more natural and satisfying way. Creating a whole series is a daunting task, but sometimes being able to attack a general concept from a number of angles can help you reach a higher understanding of the problem than just making a single piece or speaking to a friend about it.  

Monday, April 13, 2015

Her Kind: An Interview with Nicomi Nix Turner

Nicomi Nix Turner
Oakland, CA based artist Nicomi Nix Turner conjures delicate graphite drawings in her sunny loft, often with her beloved cat Luna in her lap. Each piece seems to take countless hours; I like to think of the meditative quality creating them must have, the solitude with one's thoughts such careful work demands. Strange &; yet familiar, the nature based works have been increasingly featuring portraits of women caught in moments of trance or wonder-filled reverie, coupled with flora & fauna and enriched by ancient symbols and texts.

I see bits of myself in these portraits, &; think of the poem by Anne Sexton, 'Her Kind', which has since become a kind of anthem for women living on the fringe of societal norms. My favorite couple of lines, in which she describes her self ( & unknowingly, so many others): "...lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind. / A woman like that is not a woman, quite. I have been her kind," feels  akin to  the moods imbued in the new work.

The 'loneliness' in these images in not so much a lack of love or friendship, as they seem so wholly connected to the natural world, but instead, perhaps a loneliness for God, as evidenced by the title of the show: 'No God For A Wanderer,' which opens in my hometown of Philly at Paradigm Gallery on April 24th. I was recently given the opportunity to talk to Nicomi about how she works, what books inspire her and her thoughts on womanhood in our modern age. 
Nicomi Nix TurnerAlthough your family is from Oakland, & that is where you currently live & work, you were raised in rural Oregon & had what appears to be a rather isolated childhood. Can you talk about how this solitude with nature may have shaped your path as an artist? Can you recall how your younger self felt communing with nature in such a way?

I grew up on a ranch. My closest friend was a bit of a drive from our house so I mostly enjoyed the company of the menagerie of animals kept on our 35 acres; cats, cows, rabbits, birds, dogs, a horse... Most of my childhood was spent outdoors by myself where I watched life, death, growth and decay. 

Nature has always been a central part of my art. I started to draw mushrooms and other flora growing out of flesh or on bone about a decade ago. I had recalled stumbling on a coyote carcass in a bed of ferns that was slowly decaying, collecting spores, insects, etc. and giving space for new life to take over. I wanted to capture that cycle coexisting with life and not just decay.

It goes without saying that my intense love of nature never went away. I’m still a loner collecting fern clippings and flowers.

Nicomi Nix Turner: Studio

You entered the commercial art world at a very young age and moved up the ranks rather quickly, working as an Art Director for a the- known character brand 'Emily The Strange,' before leaving to focus on your personal work. What skills did you acquire during this time that you feel may inform how your work ? 

A couple months after leaving art school (I was paying for it myself at 18 and was not taking too much out of it at the time) I was hired to work for Emily the Strange as an Illustrator/Graphic Designer for the brand. I worked on everything from comics to apparel and learned a great deal about the business of art in the 6 years I was part of the Strange family. Emily will always be a little part of me and it was an honor to be a part of the legacy of the character. 

It was working on Emily that I realized how much dedication to art could pay off, visually speaking, and where I picked up my (slightly unhealthy) work habit: I’m always working. I feel weird or disconnected when I’m not drawing or writing/sketching out new ideas so I’m always keeping my hands busy. I firmly believe that with art (and not to sound cliché but life in general) you get what you put into it.

Nicomi Nix Turner: Studio

I’ve read that you consider your technique ‘painting with graphite’, & also, that you don’t erase anything whilst working. Both of these ideas intrigue me, and as I own a couple of originals from you, I can definitely attest to their ‘pureness’ in terms of showing no visible ‘fault lines.’  How do you problem solve when a line may go wayward ? 

When I work, I draw a piece a few times before settling in on the final… pressing out parts I like and working out the part I don’t. By the time I get to the final piece I like to think of every line being there for a reason. I don’t erase my mistakes and if there are ones that stick out to me, I just integrate them into the fold of the story. I’m no stranger to starting all over if something goes terribly awry but all in all I just go as slow and meticulous as possible.

Nicomi Nix Turner: Studio

In lieu of color, you focus on highly detailed natural textures and textile patterns for a dynamic depth within your compositions. This results in work that feels more nuanced, delicate. Can you talk about these obsessions ? 

Texture is king to me. I try to relay movement and deeper parts of a story with textiles and texture. I grew up being inspired by my Grandparent’s love of the Japanese culture. This affinity for patternwork has been something of a bridge to me between natural patterns and man made patterns (hexes, sigils, needlework…etc) and the equal or diverged significances.

You left art school after a brief stint and are mostly self taught, choosing to work on and with mediums that many don’t, as many galleries seem to push for works in acrylic and oil on canvas or wood. Do you feel freer to explore or do you brush up against limitations ? 

I don’t believe an artist should be creating art that caters to what galleries know they can sell.

I enjoy color and enjoy painting but exploring what can be done with graphite is thrilling. There are certainly limitations with any medium but I feel like its up to the artist to figure out how to work around those and make the medium work for them.

Nicomi Nix Turner

I know that you don’t work from photographic reference and instead rely on memory and experience for your work. Having spent time with many artists both in a personal capacity as well as for studio visits during my time at Hi-Fructose, I can say many artists rely on this, especially now with so many images immediately available via the internet. What strikes me is how you are able to conjure precise forms from nature etc.

 The idea of photo reference has always been a weird thing to me. I think that allowing yourself to trust and explore your hand as an artist can be just as interesting as referencing a photograph.

 For my work, I’m not trying to connect images to the strings of reality - only the tangible idea of a story. If I see something in real life or elsewhere I grasp on to parts that intrigue me (wide-set slanted eyes, markings, expressions…) and try to fold that into sketches. I do reference things but not in the sense of staring at an image and drawing it. I’ll bring plant clippings into the studio to study but what I draw from that is just my interpretation. I like to create things that may or may not exist.

 None of my work is perfect or meant to be photorealistic- I’m not aiming for that. I draw what I know.

Nicomi Nix Turner: Studio

One of the things that most strikes me about your new body of work is the feeling of suspended motion. The moths flutter around your central figures, and yet are captured in time, frozen in a beautiful silence. This feels a bit different to me than previous pieces and for me, strengthens your work. Can you talk about this ?

That feeling when you fall in your sleep or watching a glass fall is both beautiful and alarming. I have been trying to capture that feeling in between movement and stillness- a weightlessness. This body of work centers on the idea of limbo- a place somewhere between a possible God and nothingness so that feeling of suspended motion is its own protagonist in this body of work.

Nicomi Nix Turner

Another thing that snared me were my two favorite pieces, ‘Of False Martyrs’ and ‘ And In the End, Silence.’ Both of the female figures appear to be connected and each share a strange expression, a kind of trance like, otherworldly reverie, as if they were occupying two worlds at the same time. This feels so different from the confrontational ‘sexy’ gazes seen in so many female centric works.

I loath “sexy” gazes. It’s actually really disturbing to me and you see it so much in art these days. The women in my works are strong, beaten down & crawling back up, knowing & savage- they have no need for pursed lips and sexy gazes.

I bring this up in every interview because it is beautiful and inspiring to me: a couple years ago I came across a story of The Asgarda; a group of Ukrainian women who have formed a tribe in the Carpathian Mountains. In an effort to empower young women they learn and hone skills in weaponry, science, public speaking, martial arts… These women go back to the forest in a claim of resurgence. Women are strong creatures and I try to depict that in my works.

“Of False Martyrs” and “And In The End, Silence” depict two different moments of trying to find God…communing with something that may not be there and the feeling of helpless silence.

Nicomi Nix Turner
Can you talk about your idea of the ‘Celestial Equator?’

Most of (not all) the women in my works have a thin line tattooed across the bridge of their nose. This is a line I put on the women in my works who have in a sense, gone through hell and back and found their center or equator, if you will. Not all of the figures I draw have found that so in turn, not all of them have the line.

Nicomi Nix Turner: Studio

You are also an avid reader. Can you talk about any books you feel changed you or inspired you in a way you hadn’t been before ? Now that the work is complete for your show, can you list the books you are most looking forward to delving into, or do you always carve out time for reading ?

Franz Kafka’s story Metamorphosis definitely had a great influence over myself and my works. That feeling of being an insect… being cast out and abandoned… waiting to die… being forgotten. I get chills thinking about the protagonist on his back, writhing.

I have hoarded a few new piles of books to dive into when things calm down for a minute. I found a used book store that is filled with so many good books that I am ready to just hand over my wallet.

So far my piles include:

King Lear - Shakespeare
My Friend Hitler- Yukio Mishima
An Alchemy of Mind - D. Ackerman
The Goat Foot God - Dion Fortune
Paris Spleen – Baudelaire
Ada - Nabokov

 I like to read at breakfast… Its quiet and the only time I really make for “me time”.

Nicomi Nix Turner: Studio

Can you give a written visual tour of your workspace? What sorts of objects do you surround yourself with ? 

My space is ever changing. Right now for this show, I have a wall of preliminary drawings for each piece behind me, a variety of plants soaking up sun, beetles and moth parts on my easel, bones and critters, Murphy’s Law equation written on a scrap of paper, a stack of sketchbooks, torn notes of passing thoughts or ideas and Luna.
Nicomi Nix Turner

Occasionally you take sojourns to Europe and elsewhere to soak in art and be inspired. What do you take away from these experiences, and how are you able to transmute them into your work? { I bring this up in synchronicity to the title of your show, the idea of the 'Wanderer' }

Because I spend so much time working and not really leaving the house much, I like to enjoy trips that soak my brain in new sights and stimulus. Prague was one of the most inspiring places I have been yet. A lot of what I take from places is the tone of the setting and cultural history. Prague was old, dark, romantic, startling… It has inspired my work since I left it.

What would you consider to be the true heart this new body of work?

No God For A Wanderer is about belief and death. I lost my mother when I was a teenager- this started my internal conversation of belief. I lost my grandmother last fall and have spent the last few months grieving and wondering if they are both wandering around somewhere.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

lover's eye.

Tilda Swinton by Tim Walker

Tilda Swinton by Tim Walker

Tilda Swinton by Tim Walker

Tilda Swinton by Tim Walker

Tilda Swinton by Tim Walker

Tilda Swinton by Tim Walker

I always love it when Tim Walker photographs Tilda Swinton. I imagine her being a kind of muse to him; her ethereal cool and willingness to explore being a surreal font of inspiration. I like to think their visual collaborations are akin to Klimt's portraits of Sarah Bernhardt, & wonder how his images of Tilda will stand the test of time.....

On a related aside, I play this song featuring Tilda, almost daily.