Moving the Man: Sotheby’s Bowie/Collector Preview

Sotheby's Bowie/Collector

“Wouldn’t it be cool if you could buy sprouts and a Jeff Koons in the same place?” Bowie mused during an interview back in 1995, tucked somewhere in an anonymous gallery. With an idle tap of his chin, he adds “—which may not be too far away, judging by his prices.”

Whatever his thoughts on the accessibility of art, the late David Bowie amassed an impressive collection of artwork including paintings, sketches, and sculptures that easily cost more than a metric ton of sprouts. During his lifetime he actively loaned pieces to museums and collections, happy to share the pieces that brought him such happiness, but the public finally got a chance to view his collection in full this fall thanks to Sotheby’s, who displayed the work in multiple cities prior to their sale, titled Bowie/Collector.


On paper, Bowie collected Post-War British Art, but Bowie was never a man to be neatly categorized: his collection contained examples of Contemporary African and American art, Surrealism, and Italian design. In fact, very few pieces seemed to “go” together, let alone fit a theme. Brightly colored large-scale paintings hung beside small sketched studies, bronze sculptures rested on pedestals beside futuristic dayglo furniture. If there’s any common thread between what seem like radically different pieces in Bowie’s eclectic collection, it’s the simple fact that they moved him. Art was a passion, and it’s that passion that holds the collection together.

In this way, Bowie’s collection is much like his career: varied and diverse, at times scattered and downright strange, not always executed with the best technique or foremost skill, but pursued with enthusiasm because of a genuine emotional response. As an artist, Bowie was prolific, writing, performing, and producing music for more than fifty years in addition to pursuits in acting and painting. His work touched millions of people, created a soundtrack for so many memories, became the catalyst for so many emotions. Considering his own power to move, Sotheby’s preview seemed like a rare and precious opportunity to see what moved the man behind the icon.

La Condition Humaine

Standing in front of Méret Oppenheimer’s La Condition Humaine, one of the four hundred pieces being sold at Sotheby’s in London this November, one can’t help but wonder whether the piece appealed to the same frenetic neon desperation that produced “Be My Wife,” or “Always Crashing In The Same Car.” Frank Auerbach’s Head of Gerda Boehm recalls the discordant synthesizers of “Ashes to Ashes,” and again the thought creeps in—did the heaps of paint on canvas evoke the same feeling in Bowie that drove him to write the song?

Head of Gerda Boehm

Sotheby’s did not provide dates of acquisition for any of the pieces, though it would certainly help to give fans a better idea of Bowie’s relationship to the works themselves. Such dates may become available in the exhibition catalog, currently available for preorder to ship some time in October. In the meantime, the only item on which no one needs to speculate is 1966 radio phonograph designed by Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglione. Set beneath a nearly life-sized still from the 1979 “DJ” music video, Bowie’s well-loved phonograph undoubtedly played countless LPs, inspiring so many evolutions we’ve come to recognize in his own music. But art isn’t the only thing on the gallery walls: listed beside the phonograph are Bowie’s 25 Albums That Could Change Your Life, a list spanning nearly 70 years containing everything from chanson to electronic to comedic novelty. It seems to only further the feeling that in the end, it seemed what mattered most to Bowie was not collecting trends or making tastes, but inspiring passions and evoking emotions.



the Semiotics of Style: Identity as Art and Expression

You must be an artist.”
What band are you in?
Where are you shooting?”
My family never failed to marvel at the questions I’m asked by total strangers, some of whom have crossed streets or held up lines to ask advice in whatever field they think I’m in. “It’s so funny,” my mother will whisper. “How do they know?”
To me, the answer is plain: they can read my style. Each piece I wear, each choice I make is indicative of an influence, an icon or industry. To those in the know, everything is a symbol: the semiotics of style. It may be what’s inside that counts, but the outside can be a language used to decode the mysteries within. It’s a language that takes years to cultivate, and one that never stops evolving. Some of us take to it naturally, knowing just what to put on and pair to communicate our interests and ideas; others take years trying to gain fluency.
Stevie Nicks Self Portrait
For creative people, each article we wear, each hairstyle, lip colour, accessory, is a statement. We indicate our interests, our quirks, our differences on the outside—sometimes as fluid and gracefully as our creative pursuits, sometimes a little clumsier. I can’t even begin to count the awkward teenage translations I mucked up to communicate my still-developing identity. Sometimes, we plagiarize—in my own adventures in style, one could easily see Siouxsie’s brows, Robert Smith’s Hair, Stevie Nicks’ gypsy layers, Mana’s exaggerated lip color. Before I developed my own dialect, I lifted language directly from others. Like a child, we learn through imitation. We might try on so many other identities, learn so many different ways of speaking before honing in on what best communicates us to others. And after years of practice, gaining fluency and command of our new language, we allow these assumed identities to accent our individual voices.
Identity is my favourite medium. I admire skillful painting, and I marvel at musical composition, but every artist I can count among my favorites worked endlessly in cultivating not only their artistic skills but also their identity. Joel-Peter Witkin’s infamy is due not only to his strange, abject photography, but also the mythology that shrouds him. Edward Gorey illustrated countless works of whimsical fiction, but his larger-than-life character earned him a place in the public eye. David Bowie shape-shifted from character to character in order to immerse his audience in the fantastic worlds he conceived of. Andy Warhol not only became his own masterpiece of commercial culture, but also kept a veritable gallery of experimental identities. In my opinion, Candy Darling and Edie Sedgwick are infinitely more finely-crafted art objects than any silkscreened disaster or painted Brillo Box.
the Factory regulars
We’re often told to “dress for the job we want, not the job we have.” By trying on identities and learning the language of personal style, we explore not only our relationship with the world around us, but our deepest desires in life. Motivational speakers and life coaches will add that definite statements of success will help manifest goals—“I will be collected in the MoMA,” “I will write a NY Times best seller.” When you say these things with outward style, the sentiment is echoed back at you, which not only stokes the flame of our long-term goals, but also gives the immediate gratification of instant success—“you must be a rock star,” “I can tell you’re an artist.”
Walking through my neighborhood the other day, I passed a man who spoke volumes to me without ever saying a word. At a glance, I could tell what music he listened to, what places he frequented, what books he likely read, what shows he’d probably seen. —and in the fleeting instant our eyes connected, I wondered how he read me with my sea-witch hair and my waxed black jeans. It was clear as he stood on that corner in his matched tartan plaid bondage trousers and field jacket, taking long drags from a gnarled cigarette, that he had spoken this language far longer than I. He had settled comfortably in his manner of speech years ago. I wondered if he saw me as a foreigner still building my vocabulary, or as a modern polyglot chameleon, shifting from one language to another according to habitat. I could read his bleach-burned hair and bovver boots, but did my vintage frames and abundant silver jewelry translate to him?
David Bowie, Hadden Hall
Whether conversation-casual or professional-proper, our outward presentations say a lot to people. They can read our drives and desires before we ever open out mouths. We are art objects as much as anything we create, and we should take pride in our fluency and expressions. Popular opinion has shifted lately, placing the responsibility of style on the outside world—that we dress for other people, to please society, draw sexual interest, or squeeze into a designated role. But when considered as a form of expression, making these statements about style is like saying that artists produce work solely to please the public—and any artist can tell you that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Artists create work to convey ideas and concepts dear to them, to articulate points that may not be otherwise heard. They create to satisfy a deep need to express what’s going on inside. So too is style—we ought to adorn ourselves out of that same expressive drive. My hair isn’t blue in order to attract men or set myself apart from society, it’s a statement of self: “I am an exotic bird, a creature of my own creation.”
The next time you dress for the day, pause for a moment before the mirror. What are you saying today? Where did that expression stem from? From whom have you learned your visual language? Are you satisfied—even mores, are you happy? Express yourself. Exorcise those thoughts and feelings, pull yourself inside-out and look at your signs and signifiers as they manifest. What kind of life do they indicate? Life and art aren’t the tag-team separates we paint them to be—they are one in the same. Art doesn’t imitate life—life is art, and it begins with you. You are your own masterpiece. Speak out proudly.
Photo Credits: Self Portrait by Stevie Nicks, Factory Group Shot by Andy Warhol, David Bowie Hadden Hall 1972 by Mick Rock

Art and Grief, a Legacy of Loss

As human beings, we share certain experiences. If you’ve ever owned a pet, you’ve experienced the deep and profound heartbreak that comes with losing that life. They become part of your daily rituals, from feeding them in the morning to cuddling up at night. They rely on you to tend to their needs, and they love you unconditionally for it. No matter what you go through, who hurts you or how you self-destruct, pets are there for you. This month, I’ve lost not one, but two animal companions, including my best childhood friend, Paco. Since I was 12 years old, Paco has been with me for every trial and tribulation that comes with growing up. He was there for sleepovers with friends and giggly adolescent parties, and he was there when I cried over teenage spats and family feuds. He comforted me through intense medical treatments and saw me through countless heartaches. For 16 years, he left his mark on every article of clothing I owned and every piece of furniture in my family’s home. I can’t begin to describe the emotions that overwhelmed me Saturday morning, plucking his hair off a sweater that hadn’t seen daylight since last winter, knowing I wouldn’t be doing it again.


This January has been full of grief, from mourning a lifelong hero, navigating the illness and death of one pet, to coping with the sudden and unexpected loss of another. I’m not proud to admit that it’s effected my productivity–sleepless nights and mornings spent bargaining one’s way out of bed doesn’t lend itself well to getting things done. But that can only go on for so long. Grief needs to be experienced, but then it needs to be worked through and dispersed.

As an artist, I’ve always processed my emotions through projects–paintings, drawings, essays. John Lydon has said that anger was his primary driving source, Yayoi Kusama painted to stave off mental illness. It’s a common experience amongst artists: no matter your medium, you work through your feelings by producing work. So many amazing works of art have been made as a response to grief–Francis Bacon painted several tributes to his lover George Dyer after his 1971 suicide, and Salvador Dali and Max Ernst (among so many other artists) worked through the grief of wartime by creating truly profound pieces. Barthes wrote his classic essay, Camera Lucida, in the aftermath of his mother’s death, and it contains some mindblowing, heartwrenching thoughts on mortality and its inherent role in art. On some level, I think death is a driving motivation behind all artistic pursuits: the artist creates work to fight against his or her own mortality, unsatisfied with a life that leaves nothing living in its wake.

Julia, marked, in 19-something



In the days since these personal tragedies, I’ve dived headfirst into my work. I’ve sought catharsis in ink and paper, writing new words, working in new media. For some, the imagery of my recent experiments will be perfectly obvious. They’re not a “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans,” but it’s the beginning of something, some way to understand the role of these lost lives through the kaleidoscopic lens of my own artistic journey. If we are the sum of our collective experience, then the individuals and ideas that impress themselves upon you are also part of that equation. And lately, my work as been entirely about exploring that link been identity and influence. Last year, that mostly meant pouring through photo albums, briefly peering into the lives of anonymous relatives, tied to me only through blood and universal experiences: labour, laughter, love…

Love, circa 19-Something


The pain of loss never really leaves us entirely–ten, twenty, forty years from now, we’ll still feel pangs of grief recalling beloved pets, departed family, friends that left too soon. But rather than losing time, sinking in the quicksand of sorrow, use the memories as fuel for the creative fire. The death of someone close is absolute agony, but there is no greater heartbreak than a life gone unlived. Feel your sadness, grieve your losses, but process the pain into something positive. You can’t control when your time is up, but you can construct the legacy you leave. Let’s make this one count…

Self Portrait, Two Decades Removed


An Ode to my Nikon FG

Sometimes, it feels like centuries since I was growing up–not so much in the passage of time, but in the way things were done. Waiting for a phone call meant circling the kitchen for hours on end, possibly toting the boxy cordless down the hall and back for as long as it didn’t ring. Recording a school show or family holiday required a giant contraption that only my father was equipped to handle, resulting in innumerable home movies that would make you seasick just to watch. Vacation photos needed to be taken to the local photo lab and picked up days later, shared with family at gatherings and holidays sometimes months after the actual trip had ended. We have boxes of seemingly ancient Kodak prints filed in flimsy plastic albums that came free at some of the nicer labs. Now,  I can instantly show the world which latte I ordered today or get instant feedback on which dress to buy. It’s absolutely mind-blowing to think of how far we’ve progressed in just a handful of decades.

photo 1

My grandfather was something of a technological revolutionary, working on computers back when they were the size of entire buildings, so naturally he was the first person I knew to own a digital camera. For my 16th birthday, he gifted me with a boxy Hewlett-Packard point-and-shoot, equipped with one whole megapixel and then some, less than most phones come with now. At the time, it was a novelty. Rather than waiting a week or more to see evidence of the misadventures of my friends and classmates, we could view them instantly on the little LCD screen. If someone’s nose looked too big, or someone’s hair was blown unflatteringly, we could delete it and snap another. I could collect them on my hard drive, no physical clutter acquired. But then, in the Great Desktop Crash of ’04, I lost them all.


I can’t blame that crash for the attitudes I developed towards photography afterwards. It was also the social conditioning that came with our march towards Instagram and Snapchat that led me to feel like photography was disposable, something trivial and without consequence. I never took cameras on vacations, choosing to write down my experiences or commit them to detailed, purposeful memory. The camera was cumbersome, and I would rather enjoy living in a moment than stopping to dig a recording device out of my purse, boot it up, and fiddle with the settings until I trusted it to capture the scene. When my last digital camera died in 2012, I never bothered to replace it.


Then, I found my dad’s old Nikon. Specifically a Nikon FG, with a metal body and several glass lenses, heavier than any camera I’ve ever held before, with a vintage Mickey Mouse strap. Both the camera and the strap were an engagement gift from my mother, after months of researching stats and performance and consumer reports. Sitting forgotten in the basement for years, the battery had died and the roll of film inside had expired, but it was otherwise flawless. And now it was mine. Oddly, there’s something comforting about its weight, the way the aperture clicks into place, the heavy thunk of the curtain when the shutter is hit. Rather than simply capturing a moment, taking the picture becomes its own moment. Each photo documents not only what is in front of the lens, but the ritual that accompanies it: determining the aperture size, focussing the lens, checking the light meter, setting the shutter speed, hitting the shutter, advancing the film… The roll becomes a meditation, a series of practiced movements that produce a sense of oneness with the scene. A zen in which I am merely part of the setting, and the camera is the organ by which I can achieve it. Every exposure is precious, an experiment in light and form, waiting to be revealed when I wash away the excess silver.


When I open the reel and look at the film for the first time, there’s an anxiety released with it. The negative images feel so alien, not at all like the images I thought I took, and sometimes even after printing I don’t remember the picture in front of me. It’s not exactly how my eye remembers it. But it’s almost always how my heart recalls it. A sense of placid calm, a dreamy anticipation, a distant sadness, these are the real subjects. More than any model or flower or mountain rage, the feelings we get from them are the reason to hit the shutter.


Since my adventures with the Nikon, I’ve amassed an arsenal of old cameras: a Canon Rebel, a Minolta 110 Zoom, a reproduction Diana F+, each producing a totally different sort of image. But when I pack my bag for adventures unknown, it’s the Nikon that finds its way inside. Our love affair isn’t over yet, and despite the age gap between us, I suspect we have many years of tenderness before us. I might find myself out with another camera on occasion, but nothing has been able to replace the feeling I get with my Nikon in-hand.



Handcrafted Happiness: holiday misery and gifting handmade

Since just after midnight the day after Halloween, we’ve been barraged with a constant stream of Christmas commercials. Whether it’s in glossy print between magazine articles, on during breaks in our favourite television must-sees, or spoken rapid-fire by a radio DJ, we’ve heard about every product, every sale, and every shopping destination within fifty miles. Our inboxes have been flooded with messages boasting the best deals, our mailboxes are stuffed with catalogs, and everywhere we look there’s something newer, better, and shinier than what we originally set out to find. We’re on holiday overload and it’s exhausting. During a time of year when we should be sitting back, reflecting on our year, and enjoying time with our most beloved friends and family members, we’re fighting each other for parking spots at the mall and resenting the togetherness that might be keeping us away from the necessary shopping. It’s enough to drive even the most level-headed person mad.

Working in the retail and service industry, I see some of the season’s worst moments unfold right in front of me. It’s hard not to resent the holidays when it turns people into monsters before your very eyes, but it has an uncanny way of changing people. Suddenly, having friends is a chore. Family members are needy money-drains, more obligation than joy. Loved ones are reduced to a check mark on a to-do list, the sooner done the better. And there’s no living with anyone until that list is completely crossed off. But it doesn’t need to be that way. The thing is, the people who love us want us to be happy–and if buying gifts makes you miserable, they would probably rather you not!


In the past, I’ve felt that gifting handmade presents to my friends and family was a cheap cop-out, and handing them homemade trinkets felt like a let-down. After all, they spent hard-earned money on me, searching the malls and shops until they had found just the right trinket: I had spent a few hours at my work table, scribbling down pictures and words. For some pieces, I went big and bought frames. But the reception was never as chilly as I anticipated. In fact, people seemed to like receiving paintings or pencil drawings. Years later, there was no greater thrill than receiving a handmade piece from my artsier, craftier friends. Art is no small effort. It can brighten a room, liven up a workspace, start a conversation between people where words might have never happened. There’s something truly magical about holding a personalized gift in your hands; you can almost feel the thought and effort seeping out of it. Knowing the amount of time and care put into creating a singular, unique piece especially for you is intoxicating.


A drawing or painting of something beloved by a friend or family member is a wonderful gift–try painting an ornament or sculpting a small trinket for their tree. If you’re not an artist, don’t worry! There are plenty of ways to show you care with something handmade. Find their favourite stones and make a piece of jewelry, or decorate something for their home. Use colourful paper to modge-podge the outside of a jar candle, or cover a pillar candle with epsom salts for a wintery effect. Sift through Facebook photos to find a favourite snapshot or dive through their Instagram for pictures of pets, vacation memories, or hangout snaps and print them on photo paper. Then, make a frame from found objects or simply paint one from your local craft store to personalize it. Don’t fret if you aren’t crafty–a tin of cookies is a classic handmade gift. Bake a few batches of gingerbread, sugar cookies, pinwheels, and whoopee pies and tuck them into a colourful tin for transport: everyone loves a sugary holiday treat.


This year, I spent my time in a veritable mad science lab sniffing and mixing and pouring to concoct the perfect perfume for my friends, infusing it with healing stones and topping it off with decorative labels. I probably spent more time working on it than I would have picking up things at the mall, and fragrance oils aren’t necessarily cheap, but it saved me the stress and anxiety of battling other shoppers for that perfect sweater or pair of gloves. I’d much rather spend my time off tucked into a cozy, sweet-smelling corner listening to Spotify radio and contemplating my friends’ favourite smells than hustling through department stores, grabbing things just to have a package to hand off on Christmas Day–and at the end of the day, it saves more than just me from the holiday stresses–no one really wants another pair of clearance gloves or a discounted scarf anyway!



The Art of Memory-Making with the Darling Clandestine Halloween Suite

Oversized sweaters, drapey scarves, leather jackets, pumpkin-spiced everything–these are just a few of my favourite things about Fall. When October hits, I can count on cheesy horror movies every night, spicy lattes, and going flat broke on spooky clothing, dark makeup, and limited seasonal perfumes. When I look back on Autumns past, I remember flashes of orange and red beneath my Docs, the scent of pumpkins and pie spice wafting through the sleeves of my faux jacket as I lug my portfolio out of my car. I remember thick, ambered chocolate and sticky-sweet Halloween candies drifting up as I fill pages in my sketchbook at the cafe.


But this Autumn has been different. It’s been mossy forest trails and dusky rose gardens, cold darkroom chemistry and silver emulsions. This autumn needed a new olfactory soundtrack. Enter the Darling Clandestine Halloween Four-Scent Suite. There’s a reason DarlingClandestine is one of my favourite perfumeries: nothing can be expected, except quality and creativity. Presented in dropper-topped glass bottles, they appear every bit the mad alchemical product that perfume really is. The sleek, clean lines add an elegance to them, and they have an air of quack medical serums and elixirs when displayed together with my other DarlingClandestine bottles. But rather than claiming to soothe a colicky child or cure a woman’s ills, the labels are a series of breathtaking, beautifully-composed photographs by Leif Johnson. Each image depicts an almost eerily-calm landscape inhabited by a lone figure, like a snapshot from a long-ago memory, or a glimpse into a dream where the beach is our rational mind and the water is our emotional state. From the outside, it seems these were made for a season of darkroom sorcery and adventures behind the lens.

Like any scent, though, the real magic comes out on the skin. I was immediately drawn to Squander, with its crisp apple and creamy sandalwood, the ghost of cloves and spices like trails of exotic cigarillo smoke in brisk evening air. It’s everything I ever really look for in a Fall scent, replete with memories but hungry for more. Wither, too, pulled me in at first sniff: immediately leather boots and cool mists, it springs to life as a juicy berry and foliage scent when it hits my skin. It’s blue and green, purple and black, algid and zoetic. Spurn, by contrast, is a warm, tart red, like pomegranate wine aged in sweet oak barrels. It has a distinctly dry, leafy quality underneath the initial spike of fruit that makes it a distinctly cold-weather scent, to be paired with fire-lit gatherings and brisk evening excursions. It was Falter that shocked me, totally unlike anything I would have expected from a Fall seasonal perfume. All sweet grasses and green herbs, it’s a swirling, misty haze of a scent. It’s the foggy Reservation trails I’ve followed, the small, tender greens that spring up between layers of leaves fallen years before. There’s something rich and buttery like squash or smashed white pumpkin beneath it all, giving it a hint of not-unpleasant decay–life returning to its base elements in order to feed the new generation.


When I wear a Darling Clandestine perfume, I’m not just wearing a series of notes, I’m wearing a mood. It sets the pace for the moments I will live and the memories I will create that day, it helps to set my frame of mind. Safe to say, these are not saccharine moods set by sweet, hard candies or pumpkin pie–there’s a time and a place for those things, but this Fall hasn’t seen many of them. My Fall has been rich with adventure, the intoxicating burn of creativity, and I need moods that will turn my days into works of art. There is no doubt in my mind that these perfumes will be a unique part of the memories I create this season, tinging them with a sweetness all their own.


An Ideal Future: propelling forward

On any given day, I have two or three drafts written, waiting for final photos to be added and one last proof before going live. Photos take me a long time to edit and finalize, and I do try to take them all myself whenever possible. But right now, there are five–five–drafts waiting for me to finish them.

What have I been doing? Aside from the obvious (work, school, and life in general), I’ve been trying to figure out exactly which direction I want to go in. You’ve seen several sides of me now–you’ve seen the makeup addict, the makeup artist, the artist, the writer, and the witch–but sometimes I still feel like there’s something missing. At home, I often wonder where I’m headed: I work my day job as a makeup artist, I’m finishing my degree in studio arts, but how to do I reconcile my passions with my job, or make a living with my dreams?


When I envision my ideal future, what I would most like my life to be, I see a small apartment on the lower east side, and cliche as it sounds, a typewriter by a window where I can drink coffee and look down on the city I love and write. I see myself with my dog in sidewalk cafes, a blue-haired bundle of sweaters and scarves, tapping words into my iPad or sketching characters onto paper. I love makeup and the beauty culture, but I don’t see myself living in it for the rest of my life–art is my passion, in all of its forms, and I desperately want to immerse myself fully in it. Certainly, I’ve worked hard to get where I am now, and I recognize that I am where I should be at this present time. But sometimes, I get lost in the fact that I’m not yet accomplished in the areas I want to be. On the good days, being a part of people’s precious memories is enough–knowing that I’ve helped them feel beautiful on important occasions and particular moments of their lives is immensely gratifying. But on the bad days, I worry that the time I spend surrounded by powders and creams is taking up too much of my attention and that I’ll never get ahead as an artist or a writer because of it. Quitting or cutting back is not an option because that’s where the money is right now, and we all have to live.


So what am I doing with those precious spare moments to propel myself towards that ideal future? Sometimes, I’m not so sure. But I have decided that this is the year I finish the novel I’ve been working at for the past three years. I was afraid that it would sit unfinished on my hard drive for the rest of eternity, but the words have started flowing again and I know that in the next few months I can definitely squeeze out the last of them. Fiction was my first love, and I’m more than thrilled to be working with it again. And once I finish this one, two more neglected projects are nipping at my brain, begging for completion.


I’ll admit I’ve lapsed in painting again, but I’ve found a new fascination in photography. Armed with my father’s old Nikon FG, I’ve been taking a course in photography and development that’s instilled in me a true appreciation for a medium I never before considered. There’s something so zen about holding that camera, adjusting the aperture, the shutter speed, checking the light meter and focussing just so on the subject, and then just letting it go–all you can do is hit that button and wait until you get into the darkroom to see if you got the shot. When I was little, the camera was sacred: it was taken on family vacations, a fixture at all holiday gatherings, and it was to be touched only by skilled adult hands. Film was also something special–frames were precious and not to be wasted on anything you didn’t want to remember forever. Digital photography almost ruined me. When I got my first digital camera (a 3 megapixel HP point-and-shoot gifted to me by my ever-technologically-savvy grandfather), it turned photos into something disposable. Once they were uploaded, they could sit forever on my hard drive. Prints were nothing more than streaky printouts on an inkjet, and once I got a new computer most of them were deleted, un-missed. With paintings, I can put imagination into something tangible. Photography never seemed more than documentary to me. But not everyone sees the world the same way, and there’s more imagination that reality to some…


So that’s what I’ve been up to, Internet. The radio silence isn’t really silence at all. I’m simply gathering myself, collecting the bits and pieces I’d like to share. Eventually, I need to learn to stop combing through things unit they’re perfect–they never will be, and there’s a sort of charm in imperfection anyway.


Integral Fear: the Monsters of Junji Ito

Most children are afraid of the things around them, real and imagined, but I was worse than most. Halloween was a trauma that repeated every year–I couldn’t turn on a television, listen to a radio, or even follow my mother into a grocery store without being faced by some terrifying monster or another. Frankenstein’s Monster and Dracula adorned doors and windows in the form of stylized cartoon cutouts, and I often had the imprint of weekly circulars on my face from pressing them against my eyes as my mother led me around stores. But the thing that chilled me most was hardly a monster at all: it was a basic component of human life. My biggest childhood fear was the human skeleton. There was something about the proportions of it, the incompleteness of a creature full of holes and open space that gave me chills. The skeletal figures in films or cartoons moved with distorted, jerky motions that made my skin crawl. It was a monster I imagined at the end of every dark hallway, in every ill-lit closet, under every proverbial bed. My mother thought it would calm my nerves to tell me that we each hid our very own skeleton inside, but it only made things worse. That only meant there was a monster inside of me, hidden just beneath the surface of my own skin.

image by Shigeru Mizuki

image by Shigeru Mizuki

Perhaps this is why, when fear turned to fascination, I found myself obsessed with Japanese horror. There was a certain psychology to their hauntings and invasions that I was taken in by, and a sense of poetry to their direction that I couldn’t find in Western horror. As an artist, I was drawn to manga, the comic culture of Japan, and was pleased to find a decent amount of horror titles available to import. I loved authors like Senno Knife and Eiji Otsuka, but they weren’t being translated at the time and I had to rely on my own working knowledge of written Japanese to get a general feel of the stories. Luckily, I was able to find a good body of Junji Ito’s work translated for me. A true master of Japanese horror, Ito has produced about a dozen titles, some series spanning numerous volumes in length. Best known for Uzumaki and Tomie, two serials that later became films by the same name, Ito’s sense of the uncanny coupled with his distinct drawing style makes his work easy to recognize. But what drew me to his work above others was the idea that our own fear can turn us into the very monsters we try to avoid.

Ito's Mimi no Kaidan

Ito’s Mimi no Kaidan

Ito’s antagonizing forces are usually mysterious and unexplained–creatures that surface from the depths of the ocean, holes in the earth millions of years buried, plants that bear impossible fruit. Certainly, the uncanny situations in and of themselves are unsettling, but what makes his stories truly horrifying is the reaction seen in the characters and the people that surround them. Amigara Fault might be the title enigma, but the chilling part of the story is what the characters feel forced to do. While we find ourselves intrigued by the cursed village in Falling, we realize we don’t really care what happened to the sleepwalking townspeople or where the abducted group goes. What we’re really concerned with is the irrational reaction of the family members left behind to gang up on the sole survivor. In each of these stories, like so many of his others, the disturbance we are presented with is not inherently evil or bad as far as we can tell–instead, we watch the characters begin a complete psychological breakdown as they face the fears that arise within them. Their own sense of doom is what does them in–no one forces the residents of Amigara into the holes, they simply feel as if they must.

Ito's Thing that Drifted Ashore

Ito’s Thing that Drifted Ashore

Of course there are plenty of stories where the characters do face actual monsters: the Thing That Drifted Ashore is certainly monstrous, alien in its appearance and function. It might seem as if the most horrifying part is its belly full of hardly-digested human bodies, but one girl’s distant memory of a strange dream suggests that there’s much more at play than we immediately thought. The Thing itself is really just an object, like the carving in the Chill, that through some mysterious process transforms the ill-fated characters into monsters themselves. Through curiosity, or greed, or lust, or paranoia, the characters are changed into the worst possible versions of themselves with horrifying consequences. The Slug Girl seems to morph into the object of her revulsion simply through her fear and hatred, the same force that drives privacy-obsessed Saiko into the claustrophobic Town with no Streets.

The terrifying thing about all of Ito’s monsters is that they all began as human. We could easily have been any one of them, at the wrong place at the wrong time, equipped with the wrong set of phobias. I find myself obsessed with the imagery, the ideas he presents, and therefore find myself afraid of meeting the characters’ fates as a result. Like so many of the writers who imagine apocalyptic situations, Ito does not see a sympathetic and helpful population. Instead, he imagines our own fears will devour us, render us inhuman and transform us into monsters deserving of annihilation. His most terrifying forces are the fears within the human soul, as basic a component of life as the skeleton that hides inside every single one of us. And that thought in itself is downright chilling.

Brought to you as part of the May Monster Madness Blog Hop —


Sharing my Constants

My life has always had two constants: words and pictures. From the moment I could hold a pencil, I drew pictures and I wrote stories. It’s a bit of a chicken/egg situation because the stories and the pictures were always intertwined, one filling gaps in the other. I can still find old pieces of computer paper cut and stapled into illustrated books created at recess in grade school or earlier.


Years before I registered a domain of any kind and hosted my words on LiveJournal instead of WordPress, I wrote a lot of fiction. The art always complimented the project of the time: portraits of characters, important scenes, dream sequences that might never have happened on paper. Sometimes, the words spilled onto the art as well, crowding into sketches and crushing characters with a weight of their own. This blog actually started as a sort of overflow parking for those words–a place to write about things that didn’t have a place of their own in my work, but ended up taking on a life of their own. That fact is probably why I burned out doing the swatches and look posts I did for a while–the words had no place.

I struggled for a long time with professionalism and personality. It felt like one voided out the other, and always wary of the Internet Oversharers, I kept myself out of this blog for a long time. I would show you what I was wearing, what products I was using, but not a lot more. You might see my cat, my lizard, my dining room table, but rarely anything that didn’t directly pertain to cosmetics or style. But style is more than what you’re wearing or how your makeup is done. Style surrounds everything we do. I often say that life is an art of its own–the way we live can reflect our tastes and aesthetics as much as our clothing or our lipstick. We are our own greatest work. This is how I can reconcile the new direction I’ve been taking here and the personal details I’ve begun to share.


In the effort of sharing more of the Girl Behind the Blog, I’m going to be taking part once again in May Monster Madness, a blog hop for horror lovers. Last year, I struggled with my participation–what place does a beauty blog really have in the horror world? I’ve always found beauty in the strange, but readers looking for product reviews or makeup tips probably wouldn’t appreciate the sudden shift in content. Now that I’m allowing myself some freedom, I want to share love affair with the bizarre and the monstrous: my goal is to make a post each day during the week of May 11th to share some of my favourite strange and beautiful things along with a whole list of others around the ‘Net. Want to join in? I’ve included the link signup below–you can add the banner graphic to your sidebar and invite your readers to do the same!


Muse Food 09.04.13

When it comes to creating, it can be just as important to take in other work as it is to produce your own. Without knowing what moves you, it can be difficult to feel fulfilled by your own work. Each week, I’d like to start featuring some articles that have stoked my own creative flame in a feature called Muse Food: this week, some intriguing new ways to work with old materials, some creepy flatware, and beautiful words!

Have a link to an article or archive you found inspiring? Share it with me on Facebook or Twitter!