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Strangely Familiar Visual Narratives: An Exploration of the Interplay between Reality and Unreality in Contemporary Collage Art

Collage constitutes a dynamic medium where elements of the familiar are unsettlingly displaced into unfamiliar territories, offering a visceral exploration of the uncanny. Teetering between the comfort of recognition and the chilling thrill of the unexpected, the realm of contemporary collage art opens up a world of paradoxes, where the mundane is rendemasred extraordinary and the predictable unexpectedly disrupted. Among the artists shaping the narratives in this sphere in the virtual space, Angelica Paez, Colette Saint Yves, Sato Masahiro, Sara Shakeel, and Robin Isely each stand out with a distinct approach to this medium, employing their unique artistic vernacular to translate the ethereal, the uncanny, and the nostalgic into tangible, visual experiences. As we shall see, these contemporary collage artists, albeit divergent in their techniques and thematic focal points, share a predilection for the provocative interplay of reality and unreality.

Angelica Paez‘s surreal monochrome collages engage our perception in a ludic, nostalgia-infused dialogue of complex, dreamlike contradictions through the depiction of hypnotic scenes created by cutting out old papers, catalogues, and magazines collected from second hand markets. The eerie atmosphere of her work is achieved by incorporating familiar objects in strange ways in intimate settings, unveiling images embedded in the unconscious. These enigmatic scenes, often characterised by a cleverly conceived atmospheric eeriness, artfully compel the viewer in a way that simultaneously challenges and delights.

Paez’s strikingly enticing works echo her early love for collage-making, a practice she developed from a tender age with safety scissors and her mother’s discarded magazines. Today, her notable artistic skills, manifested in her ability to conjure complex, layered narratives, reveal a sophisticated metamorphosis of her childhood pastime, though her affinity for the tangible, tactile process remains undiminished. Her intricate compositions, often bearing the inscription “Houston, Texas”, hint at the subtle interplay between the origin of her eclectic materials and their ultimate reincarnation within her art, further accentuating the intimate dialogue between the past and the present, the mundane and the extraordinary that permeates her nostalgic oeuvre.

Colette Saint Yves is a photographer and collector of evocative imagery featuring film stars with enigmatic gazes, mysterious apparitions, celestial settings, and melancholic monochrome nature shot in analogue. The artist creates haunting, surreal collage art by interweaving a range of elements from photographs, films, and books to create dreamlike, at times unsettling scenes that intrigue. Her work also acts as a bridge that connects modern audiences to the vintage aesthetics and poignant emotiveness of silent cinema. Saint Yves’s distinctive methodology involves the meticulous collection and curation of varied visual artifacts – abandoned photographs, vintage postcards, enigmatic screencaps, and illustrations from time-worn, antiquated books. These become the eclectic building blocks of her captivating collages, providing a rich, layered, and textured backdrop for her surreal, dreamlike compositions.

Her evocative works usually exude a deep sense of melancholy, offset by the mysterious, irresistible allure of the subjects she artfully depicts, often incorporating elements from celestial bodies and the untamed natural world. The striking monochromatic tones frequently featured in her intriguing collages heighten the overall enigma and ethereal, otherworldly nature of her mesmerising compositions. Each intricate piece is an exploration into the depths of the subconscious, where evocative nostalgia and vivid fantasy intertwine, eliciting a memorable sense of intrigue and a poignant longing for an elusive era irrevocably lost to time.

Sato Masahiro, operating under the creative pseudonym Q-TA, is a distinguished collage artist residing in Tokyo. Q-TA’s works consist of an innovative fusion of ephemera from antiquated encyclopedias, exploiting both digital manipulation and traditional techniques. The blend of old and new characterises his strikingly surreal artistic style. Masterfully employing both digital and analog techniques, he invites the viewer into compellingly strange and aesthetically rich landscapes through a juxtaposition of elements into an improbable assembly generating dreamlike, surreal compositions. The ability to render the absurd into harmonious continuity forms the distinctive appeal of his body of work.

In one if his interviews, Q-TA mentioned his hopes for audiences to experience a mix of feelings reminiscent of childhood book reading—surprise, delight, and a nostalgic yearning. This child-centric approach is not merely aesthetic; it underscores his aspiration to convey an innovative perspective by bestowing upon his audience a glimpse into a child’s world, whilst situating children in these distinctive, surreal environments. Even though his works don’t carry explicit messages, they are embedded with fragmented keywords, adding layers of subtle commentary and sparking curiosity.

Imbued with a profound understanding of the interplay between human form and animalistic instinct, San Francisco-based digital artist Robin Isely eerily bridges diverse historical and aesthetic influences in his haunting, compelling collage work. His compositions, marked by an uncanny fusion of the sublime and the unsettling, draw from a broad palette of eras and stylistic movements – the grandeur of classical mythology, the intricate mysticism of the Gothic period, the allure of French New Wave cinema, and the visceral expressiveness of the tumultuous sixties.

Isely’s intriguing, surreal collage art, resonating with a dreamy and sometimes disconcerting quality, crafts immersive, eerie yet aesthetically pleasing visual narratives. Through a creative blend of vintage photographs, his work constructs uncanny, richly textured scenes that immerse spectators into a universe where reality and fantasy seamlessly intersect. The effect is an enchanting, eerie tableau that invites a journey into the labyrinth of the subconscious, stirring up nostalgia and discomfort in equal measure.

Recognised for her distinctive combination of traditional craft techniques and experimental practices, Jana Sojka is a self-taught mixed media artist creating haunting, evocative art which often features natural motifs, fragmented words, vintage textures, and self-portraits. Born in Poland and now based in Bristol, Sojka’s varied yet recognisable body of work reflects her life journey and her intimate connection with the world around her. Having begun her artistic journey through a fascination with photography, Sojka soon started to explore various mediums, incorporating collage, animation, and journaling into her creative process. The result is a distinctive, multifaceted oeuvre that bridges the gap between introspection and universal resonance, personal memories and shared narratives. One of the signature elements of Sojka’s work is her dedication to using traditional craft-based techniques and materials. Sourced from her family home, old ephemera play a central role in her collages and prints, grounding her creations in a tangible sense of history and continuity. She imbues these pieces with a nostalgic resonance that is both deeply personal and universally relatable.

Sojka’s work also displays a profound connection with nature, a theme that is often manifested in the presence of floral motifs and her exploration of natural light and shadows. Her nighttime escapades, as she calls them, led to a fascination with the interplay of darkness and light, an element she beautifully translates into her photographs and animations. Her artistic practice is guided by intuition and emotion, evident in her ‘always experimental’ approach. She believes in the importance of surrendering to creative impulses and the process of making art as an act of liberation. This philosophy permeates Sojka’s work, resulting in pieces that encapsulate the raw and authentic beauty of life. Within her oeuvre, Jana Sojka’s journals hold a special place. They are collections of thoughts, images, and ephemera, each telling a different story. They constitute both a documentation of her life and a channel for processing feelings, an intimate reflection of her journey that she occasionally shares with the world.

Sara Shakeel, the original crystal artist and a former dentist from Pakistan who found her artistic calling in the gleam and glitter of crystals, creates scintillating, bedazzled collage artworks. Through her striking, glamorous art, various aspects of the world are imbued with her signature magic. The magic is created by adding layers of crystals and glitter to subjects ranging from pop culture and artists, classical paintings and religious iconography, urban aesthetics, luxury brands, fashion, as well as tears and stretch marks promoting body positivity. Her artworks blend a sense of healing, empowerment, and joy with a unique aesthetic that draws the viewer into a universe studded with shimmering details. Shakeel uses her art as a medium of personal therapy, each creation reflecting a therapeutic journey that resonates with viewers and triggers a sense of shared healing.

Despite not having any formal training, Shakeel’s rise to fame, courtesy of social media platforms, has seen her distinct aesthetic reach over a million followers. Her first body of work, notably known as #glitterstretchmarks, challenges societal norms regarding body image. It reflects her stance towards body positivity, as she embellishes images of stretch marks with gold glitter and crystals, transmuting perceived imperfections into vibrant art. This theme, along with the artist’s penchant for incorporating celestial galaxies into her work, underscores her talent for finding and creating beauty and strength in the most unexpected places. What sets Shakeel’s work apart is not just her stunning technique but also the emotional depth and vivid storytelling that unfolds in each creation. Drawing inspiration from her surroundings, memories, and personal desires, she uses her pieces to communicate complex emotions through dazzlingly bright and captivating crystals.

A glimpse into the mind of Louise Bourgeois: art and psychoanalysis

Louise Bourgeois viewed art as an alternative form of psychoanalysis, an unravelling of the psyche, as it is based on exploring unconscious associations. Currently on display at Hayward Gallery, in London, The Woven Child exhibition features sculptures that explore ambivalent mental states, past selves, ghostly memories, and physical and emotional pain, as well as art installations incorporating textiles, old fabrics, needles, and spiders – which she views as protective repairers, rather than frightening figures. The spider motif is associated with motherhood, whilst the process of weaving is also a metaphor for mending family relations.

Delving into her work can be an unsettling process. In “Louise Bourgeois, Freud’s Daughter”, a book that also features rare excerpts from Bourgeois’ notebooks and diaries, Juliet Mitchell hints at the uncanny effect of her work, mentioning the ambivalence of the emotions felt due to the way her art taps into past and present mental states. She also emphasises that Bourgeois’ wish was for the viewer to focus on their own (unconscious) response to her work, rather than wondering about her own free associations. This aligns with the discourse on the uncanny, which inherently relies on the subjective experience of the viewer. Objects are usually not thought of as inherently ‘uncanny’. Unconscious responses to her work (and art in general) can be similar, consistent, despite the fluctuations in our psychological configuration and in the psychic, repressed material that triggers the response.

Although this is an oversimplification of the themes she depicted, her innovative work is in part fuelled by a resentment towards her father and an admiration for her mother. According to Mitchell, Bourgeois was obsessively fascinated with her own childhood and afraid of her own capacity for aggression (a trait that is particularly condemned in women). She also sublimated sadistic, vengeful drives through her art. In her therapy sessions, she tried to question the “nice girl” tendencies, resurrecting the buried self. She allowed herself to express rage and criticism towards Freud, Lacan, and her own psychoanalyst, Lowenfeld, whilst appreciating Freud’s “opponents”, Jung and Klein.

Despite being engaged in Freudian psychoanalysis for a significant period of her life, Bourgeois wrote an essay titled “Freud’s Toys”, in which she expressed the view that Freud’s method wasn’t helpful for artists. There tends to be an ambivalence in her statements regarding both the function of art and the links between the creative and the psychoanalytical process: whilst she acknowledged they are both forms of psyche excavation, metamorphosis, and resurrection, her reinforcement of the image of the suffering, tormented artist appears to be incompatible with the ‘talking cure’.

She pointed out that “To be an artist involves some suffering. That’s why artists repeat themselves – because they have no access to a cure”.

At the same time, she stated: “The connections that I make in my work are connections that I cannot face. They are really unconscious connections. The artist has the privilege of being in touch with his or her unconscious, and this is really a gift. It is the definition of sanity. It is the definition of self-realization.”

Interview with Visual Artist Apollonia Saintclair

DM: Your stirring, tantalising work intertwines surrealist, erotic, neo-noir, and grotesque elements. Talk to us about the creative process behind your dreamlike scenes. How do you generate these fascinating concepts?

A: Creating an image is somehow like being a sleepwalker: you are aware, but it is a kind of scrambled awareness, as if someone else is taking over and leading you.
It begins often with an image or a fragment gleaned from somewhere, which fixes my attention, like an attachment point, without my understanding why. Around that primer, I try to imagine a story, a reason that explains this moment, this snapshot: I am looking for the missing parts of the image. At the same time, I do sketches to set up the composition, to place the geometry inside the frame, to adjust the masses of shadows and light to obtain maximum effect. Visual necessities push me to introduce elements for which I also have to find a narrative role. And each image is also the expression of a purely visual desire, of the desire to create in terms of form, to push the limits of my technical knowledge.

“La lione blessée (Love is a killer)”, for example, started with a complex expression, mixing suffering with ecstasy, read on a woman’s face. I immediately saw, superimposed, the arrows stuck in her flesh. This visual idea, this concept, was born in a second and from there started the drawing process: the question of arranging the image, the lines of force, the movement, the blacks, whites and grays. The search for a balance between density and simplicity. It might sound simplistic, but that’s actually exactly what happens to me in this iterative process between the intuition of a strong but still incomplete mental picture and the material that is building up on the page. Little by little, I approach the moment when I have to put my pen down because it is no longer possible for me to improve the result. This is when I start looking for a definitive double title. Here, it was the memory of a similar impression of pain and strength seen on these famous Assyrian bas-reliefs that gave me half of the answer.

DM: Your ink illustrations are reminiscent of Milo Manara’s artistic depictions of beautiful women in erotic fantasy settings & Moebius’s surrealist & sci-fi illustrations. What are your other influences as an artist?

A: These two are certainly my godfathers of choice … I actually have a very diverse but unfortunately not very deep graphic baggage. On the other hand, it’s great, because since when I have become serious about drawing, I discover every day icons and masters that I might be more able to appreciate now. I have always drawn for my pleasure, as an autodidact and without pretensions and it was rather literature that interested me as a way of expressing myself. Whether it was “Madame Bovary” by Flaubert or “I am Legend” by Richard Matheson, what fascinates me is this power of the writer to arouse with words, like a medium that exudes ectoplasm, a complete world, an absolutely believable alternate reality. Which is, in retrospect, rather surprising because I somehow specialized in singular and laconic illustrations and I am still a long way to creating a graphic novel…

DM: Are your horror-themed illustrations inspired by nightmares, horror films, or literary fiction?

A: Literature plays a big role in the development of my drawings. However, I rarely work with the aim of illustrating a text; it is rather the opposite that happens: I start to work on a drawing without knowing yet where it is going to take me and as it gains shape, I realize that it echoes some reading that struck me.

I am not really interested in horror for its frightening potential, but more for the feeling of strangeness it sometimes produces. This feeling to be beside yourself, on the verge of entering a parallel universe. I had a revelation when I read a collection of short stories by H.P.Lovercraft which exists only in French under the title “Démons et merveilles” and gathers the wanderings of Randolf Carter. This title, which roughly means “Demons and Wonders”, perfectly sums up this state of mind that I’m trying to create, where one is both afraid and attracted, repulsed and fascinated. When you feel something is off but somehow enticing – and you suddenly realize you are off and on the way to a deeper meaning.

DM: What kind of response do you expect your viewers to have whilst appreciating your art? Your Instagram bio states “I draw for my own sake and for your pleasure.” Considering many of your drawings are sexually explicit, do you believe they have the effect of inducing this type of stimulation? Since there are peculiar elements within the scenes depicted in your erotic drawings as well, do you think we have become desensitised to more conventional types of visual stimulation?

A: I’m sure it has an exciting effect, because my drawings stimulate the greatest erogenous zone there is: the brain. But this is not the effect that I am primarily looking for; it is at most a secondary phenomenon. I would like to believe that my drawings are visual puzzles which, like double-bottomed drawers, encourage us to seek beyond the jubilation of fluids, to question, to look at ourselves, to be both voyeur and seer. Then: if I am talking about pleasure, it is not specifically physical pleasure that I mean, but rather aesthetic pleasure, which is the sum of body, senses, emotions, mind and soul. And this pleasure is boundless.

DM: There are some fetishistic elements in your work that can be considered transgressive, as they challenge the boundaries of what is acceptable in some people’s view. Despite that, there are many people who appreciate your artwork. This could be a great sign that people are becoming less repressed, more in touch with their “shadow selves” or comfortable enough to appreciate art that tackles taboo subjects. What are your thoughts about this?

A: I am sure that young people are less repressed than their elders, but from a legal point of view, these are the ones leading the dance. Then I honestly think it’s getting easier and easier to be transgressive today, as very strong conservative currents are reestablishing stricter standards … But, to answer the question, I don’t have any sound explanation why my art found a very large audience; I am the first to be surprised. I can only make assumptions. Maybe the aestheticization of sexuality makes its access less suspect, because somehow we are conditioned to think that what is beautiful is also good. The fact that many of the drawings also have a touch of humour and that they appeal to the intellect probably helps to uninhibit a certain audience, who otherwise would stay off graphic content – at least overtly.

DM: There is something subversive and ironic about your work, especially when viewed alongside some of your titles and captions, and it has been viewed as a rebellion of the female gaze. When I look at your artwork overall, I don’t feel like it goes against the cinematic concept of the “male gaze”; instead, there is an ambiguity that means it can appeal to both female and male viewers in different ways. In fact, it probably appeals to each individual in a unique way, as viewers project their own thoughts and fantasies onto them. Do you agree?

A: Absolutely. It is indeed ironic that I use black and white so much, and that I seek ambiguity in each of my drawings. I try to create images that are anything but one-dimensional and nothing irritates me more than criticism when it stops at the superficiality of the first possible interpretation. I believe, moreover, that it is the stigma of fanaticism to be incapable of seeing anything other than the narration of which one is already convinced.

It is true that the male gaze is a very powerful cultural formatting, and the female gaze is an attempt to escape it, to make room for other narratives. But I don’t believe that one should replace the other; rather, I think it’s a chance to create something new, as the rediscovery of perspective has allowed painting to be reinvented, and to rediscover the world beyond time and horizon. The highlighting of the feminine gaze is certainly a deserved reparation in view of the banishment of women from any leading role for centuries, but it is for me, at the creative level, above all an incentive to look beyond gender, and to create works that reflect not the categories but rather the fluidity of identities and their projections in sexuality.

Personally, I find it hard to imagine an art that is not inclusive, that does not try to offer a gateway to multiple users. A work of art should allow us to see differently, beyond our biases – to see how the other sees and through that, to see yourself differently.

DM: What do your fans and followers confess to you? What is the most interesting or surprising comment you have received relating to your work?

A: I will not betray the confidence of my fans by reporting here what they tell me in private … but what always surprises me is the strength of identification they feel towards images that all in all come from the privacy of my mind. These images become theirs, are real parts of their biography, past or future. Often times they even tell me, “That woman, that man you drew is me, one hundred percent!”

DM: Let’s delve into your mind for a little bit. Is there any visceral experience or dream you’ve had, that significantly impacted your path as an artist?

A: That one is difficult, because there is no direct path between a specific experience and my work as an artist. But I can relate an experience, which has happened to me many times in different forms and which has convinced me very early that the texture of reality is in large part a projection of the mind. When I was a child, I found myself, without an adult, on a small boat in the middle of a very violent storm. The situation was dangerous because I was in the middle of reefs and the wind and the waves could take control of my skiff. While I was struggling to get away from the coast and I was surveying the bottom to identify obstacles, I saw, as clearly as I can see this page, instead of the boulders that should have been there, the collapsed ruins of a Cyclopean city. Needless to say, I returned to the site after the storm and only discovered a very common seabed…

DM: Do you remember your first drawing?

A: Yes, but it was more than a drawing, it was quite a collection: the codex by Leonardo da Vinci. I discovered a perfect fusion of pure science fiction and formal perfection, summoning everything from geometry to weaponry, from anatomy to architecture with an unbelievably clear but also mysterious style.

DM: I know you are a private person and you like to remain anonymous, but are there any autobiographical elements in your work, in some sense? I’m thinking, of course, in a symbolic, disguised way, or in the sense that it depicts your own fantasies. But I will leave this question open to other interpretations!

A: The answer would be yes, my drawings do feed off my substance, but how is indeed private. And to be honest I find that irrelevant and boring because the only reality that matters is the one my drawings create, and not the one I live in. I might be this magical individual who lives crazy adventures, but I have after all, to walk eventually through a banal little door and go back to everyday life, take the metro, etc …

DM: What are some other forms of art you appreciate?

A: Movies, music, literature, sculpture, architecture, videogames… I am omnivorous; a lot of things speak to me. Some because they excite my narrative fantasy, others for their formal aspect. What I like above all is the immersive side of a work, its ability to touch me at all levels, simultaneously: that it triggers my hormones secretion as well as my spinal fluid.

DM: What can you tell us about your new volume of drawings, Chapter 4 of ‘Ink is my blood’? Have your sources of inspiration shifted since your last volume?

A: Volume Four collects most of my graphic work created between 2017 & 2018. It is pure Ink is my Blood – only more so… These drawings bring us closer to today and their technical intensity is added to the themes that are dear to me. It contains among other things one of my favorite images “La technicienne de surface (Worshiping my Idol)” which concentrates everything I love in a drawing: eroticism, irony, phantasmagoria, social criticism, religious iconography, etc … It is completed with an erotic short story by Jehnny Beth, best known as the lead singer in the Anglo-Saxon band Savages and as solo singer with her new album ‘To Love Is To Live’.

Interview with French Fine Art Photographer Isabelle Féebrile

Isabelle Féebrile is a French fine art photographer and writer who creates uncanny worlds made up of phantasmagoric scenes, surreal Expressionistic settings, and cinematic tableaux intertwining the eerie with the erotic. In this interview we delve into her mind and her past, revealing more about her life, photographic approach, the beginning of her artistic journey, and her evolution.

DM: Stylised self-portraits represent a great part of your work. When have you started photographing yourself and what effect has this practice and ritual had on you – on your self-image and your life?

IF: My friend in high school had lent me her compact camera. I naturally started to take pictures of me, seeing what I looked like, as well as building characters, wearing make up that I wouldn’t have dared to otherwise. As a withdrawn teenager, very uncommunicative and hurt by the wickedness of others, photography simply helped me get out of it, to accept myself and gain confidence. Photography also allowed me to meet the people who are dear to my heart today.

DM: Your work embodies eroticism and sensuality, depicted in an unconventional, eerie, surreal way. Would you like to elaborate on this mix between the erotic and elements of horror, on the symbolism behind it?

IF: For me, eroticism would not be interesting without a hint of strange, and vice versa : no frightening without a bit of eroticism. It’s all the incongruity of the body. Both beautiful and desirable, hideous and sick. Just like Nature, in general.

L’érotisme, pour moi, ne serait pas intéressant sans un soupçon d’étrange, et inversement : pas d’effrayant sans un peu d’érotisme. C’est toute l’incongruité du corps. A la fois beau et désirable, hideux et malade. Tout comme l’est la Nature, plus généralement.

DM: Your photographs seem to depict scenes from dreams, particularly nightmares, as well as having the surreal structure of a dream. Is your visual narrative rooted in dreams or was one of your aims to create an artistic mirror of the unconscious mind?

IF: It has happened, a few times, reproducing a dream in my photography. In all cases, I like this question to be asked. What would be the use of faithfully reproducing reality? It’s well where it is ! I prefer to have fun with it. The subconscious is so rich, so interesting to try to peel.

Ca m’est déjà arrivée, quelques fois, de reproduire un rêve en photo. Dans tous les cas, j’aime qu’on se pose cette question. A quoi servirait de reproduire fidèlement la réalité ? Elle est bien là où elle est ! Je préfère m’amuser de celle-ci. L’inconscient est si riche, si interessant à tenter de décortiquer.

DM: The phantasmagorical world portrayed in your work sometimes verges on the macabre and the grotesque, incorporating eerie creatures, ghostly presences, distortions, and disjointed bodies. Do you have a fascination with death/mortality, and with occultism?

IF: Indeed, as a teenager, I went through this romantic/gothic stage : I wanted to be a witch. I was interested in fantasy, ghosts, myths, even UFOs stories ! Today, these tastes have taken a more philosophical dimension, even commitment (for example the feminist movement connected to the figure of the Witch or a way of being close to others and to nature). In fact, I’m much more interested by the living now ! : )

Adolescente, j’ai en effet eu cette période, romantique/gothique, je voulais être une sorcière. Je m’interessais au fantastique, aux fantômes, aux mythes, même aux histoires d’ovni ! Aujourd’hui, ces goûts ont pris une dimension plus philosophique, voir engagée (que ce soit le mouvement féministe relié à la figure de la sorcière ou une façon de vivre proche des autres et de la nature). En fait, je m’interesse beaucoup plus aux vivants maintenant ! : )

DM: Besides photography, you also express your creativity through written stories, videos, and music. Describe your creative process as a multimedia artist. How do you piece everything together and how do you crystallise your concepts into your multifaceted oeuvre?

IF: Today, I mainly focus on photography or creating accessories for them (masks in particular). My writing has evolved, I have written a lot of short stories with elements of fantasy, but I think I have less need to write stories because I stage them in photos. For video or music, my old equipment doesn’t allow me to do it -for the moment ! I don’t feel frustrated, I have less need to spread myself too thin; I found in the creation of masks the way to include all the facets of my art. Although, of course, when I can, I would love to come back to video. I have some ideas pending.

Aujourd’hui, je me concentre surtout sur la photographie ou la création d’accessoires pour celles-ci (les masques notamment). Mon écriture a évolué, j’ai beaucoup écrit des nouvelles un peu fantastiques mais je crois que j’ai moins besoin d’écrire des histoires car je les mets en scène en photo. Pour la vidéo ou la musique, mon vieux matériel ne me permet pas d’en faire, pour le moment. Je ne m’en sens pas frustrée, j’ai moins besoin de m’éparpiller, j’ai trouvé dans la création de masques dont je parle le moyen d’inclure toutes les facettes de mon art. Même si bien sûr, quand je le pourrai, j’aurais plaisir à revenir à la vidéo. J’ai quelques idées en attente.

DM: The aesthetic of some of your photographs incorporates unnatural shapes, distortions, stylised Expressionistic set designs, and an old horror style reminiscent of German Expressionist cinema of the 1920s. Has old horror cinema been an influence on your work, or have there been any cinematic influences on your work?

IF: I’ve always thought that photography and character creation had everything to do with cinema. Except that you have to say everything in one still image. I cannot say that the old silent films influenced me but I feel close to this aesthetic. Just like any eerie film.

J’ai toujours pensé que la photo, la création de personnages avait tout à voir avec le cinéma. Juste qu’il faut tout dire en une image fixe. Je ne peux pas dire que les vieux films muets m’aient influencée mais je me sens proche de cette esthétique. Tout comme de n’importe quel film un peu étrange aux cadrages travaillés.

DM: What inspires you? Do you experience inspiration as spontaneous bouts of energy more often or do you also go to certain places, read, or do other things to seek it out and get into that mental state of inspiration and creation?

IF: Everything can inspire me, a book, a film, everyday life, an exciting conversation … Inspiration comes when it wants to ! : )

Tout peut m’inspirer, une lecture, un film, le quotidien, une conversation passionnante… L’inspiration vient quand elle veut bien ! : )

DM: What is a day in the life of Isabelle Feebrile like? Tell us a little bit more about yourself, your lifestyle, and your interests beyond your artistic identity.

IF: Sleeping and eating a lot ! I also spend a lot of time observing my apartment, which I have filled with many objects (masks, puppets, frames, etc.). I have the incredible luxury of working for myself, at home, and to be able to be bored -which is the first condition leading to creation. Creation reflects the wish to get out of boredom, to heal oneself from reality.

Dormir et manger beaucoup ! Je passe beaucoup de temps, également, à regarder mon appartement que j’ai rempli d’objets (masques, marionnettes, cadres..). J’ai le luxe incroyable de travailler chez moi et pour moi, de pouvoir m’ennuyer -ce qui est la condition number one pour amener à la création. Créer c’est vouloir sortir de l’ennui, se guérir de la réalité.

DM: Would you say there have been changes in your artistic practice, approach, and vision along the years?

IF: Of course ! Nothing worse than staying static, not questioning anything. The 20-year-old girl who took photos to discover herself, to repair herself, to escape the family weight is no longer the same 13 years later ! Today, it’s no longer (totally) a work on pain or loneliness, but a sweet game, a source of joy, a renewal ! I like to create characters sometimes very different from me, I speak less of the intimate although I think that my photos resemble me more today, even if that seems contradictory.

Of course ! Rien de pire que de rester statique, de ne rien remettre en question. La jeune fille de 20 ans qui faisait de la photo pour se découvrir, se réparer, s’échapper du poids familial n’est plus la même 13 ans après ! Aujourd’hui, ce n’est plus (totalement) un travail sur la douleur ou la solitude, mais bien un jeu, un bonheur, un renouvellement ! J’aime créer des personnages parfois très différents de moi, je parle moins de l’intime bien que je pense que mes photos me ressemblent plus aujourd’hui, même si ça semble contradictoire.

DM: Do you feel a sense of nostalgia for the past?

IF: Not so much but I like to tap into the past. I prefer something old, handmade, that lasts over time. It is true however, that I’m often nostalgic of my past (rather than the past in general) but I prefer, a thousand times, my life, today.

Pas vraiment mais j’aime puiser dans le passé. Je préfère une chose ancienne, faite à la main, qui dure. C’est vrai toutefois, que je suis souvent nostalgique de mon passé (plutôt que du passé en général) mais je préfère mille fois ma vie, aujourd’hui.

DM: Talk to us about the concept, story, and symbolism behind your series “Les Petites”. What were the thoughts that gave birth to this strange, grim, yet enchanting collection?

IF: In this series of my work, each miniature set is made from cardboard and / or modelling clay. When I was little, I loved to draw but I wasn’t very good. This series is a happy playground, which allows me to break the limits imposed by photography (by inventing a place, an object, a body), because here everything starts from scratch, everything is malleable, everything can be carved, painted, modelled, mixed… like a drawing. Besides, everything begins with a sketch. So, I create my own reality.

Dans cette série particulière de mon travail, chaque décors miniature est construit avec du carton et/ou de la pâte à modeler. Quand j’étais petite, j’adorais dessiner mais je n’étais pas très bonne. Cette série est un joyeux terrain de jeu, qui me permet de briser les limites qu’impose la photographie (on n’invente pas un lieu, un objet, un corps), car ici tout part de zéro, tout est malléable, tout peut être découpé, peint, modelé, mélangé, ce en quoi ma façon de travailler se rapproche du dessin. D’ailleurs, tout commence par un croquis. Ainsi, je crée ma propre réalité.

DM: What words would you use to best describe the stories you convey within your art?

IF: Dream – Persona – Feminine

DM: A lot of your photographs feature peculiar masks, made by yourself- what significance do masks have for you?

IF: I make my masks starting from the shape of my face. Resembling, yet different. By creating a double, we are protected by the very nature of it : a distance is created, a distance which is already there with the makeup or the costume, but which is exacerbated by the mask. On this double, we can transpose everything, we can talk about us but we will not be dispossessed of what we put in it. It’s just like acting. My masks are my different facets but also the companions of my daily life.

Je fabrique mes masques en partant de la forme de mon visage. Ressemblant mais autre. En créant un double, on est protégé par la nature même de celui-ci : une distance se crée, distance qui est déjà là avec le maquillage ou le costume mais qui  exacerbée par le masque. Sur ce double, on peut tout transposer, on peut parler de nous mais on ne sera pas dépossédé de ce qu’on y met. C’est exactement comme un travail d’acteur.  Mes masques sont mes différentes facettes mais aussi les compagnons de mon quotidien.

DM: What kind of reaction would you like or expect the viewer to have whilst experiencing your art?

IF: I really don’t know. Having a reaction is nice in itself ! : )

Je ne sais pas vraiment. Déjà une réaction c’est bien ! : )

DM: How do you select your models?

IF: It’s not all the same, working with a model or getting involved, it’s an exchange, it also brings a part of her (I put in feminine because I work mainly with women but it also includes men), even if I think that a successful photo will always, even in a distant way, be a form of self-portrait because we are always looking for a little of ourselves in the other. So, I imagine that I chose them because, one way or another, I find myself in them.

Ce n’est pas la même façon de travailler avec une modèle (je mets au féminin car je travaille surtout avec des femmes mais cela englobe aussi les hommes) ni de s’impliquer, c’est un échange, elle amène également une part d’elle, même si je pense qu’une photo réussie sera toujours, même d’une manière lointaine, une forme d’autoportrait car on recherche toujours un peu de nous dans l’autre. J’imagine donc que je les choisi parce que, d’une façon ou d’une autre, je me retrouve en elles.

DM: Do you have any upcoming projects or exhibitions? What are some concepts you would like to explore in the near future?

Exhibiting will be complicated in these times of pandemic … I’m in a great collective exhibition, in France, in the super gallery Arts Factory, made by Les Crocs Electriques (underground publishers) but I don’t know when it will be able to reopen. As for my next creation, it’s going to be a “girl-flower” mask!

Exposer va être compliqué en ces temps de pandémie… Je suis dans une super exposition collective, en France, dans la super galerie Arts Factory, made by Les Crocs Electriques (éditeurs underground) mais je ne sais pas quand elle pourra rouvrir. Qant à ma prochaine création, ça va être un masque de femme-fleur !


Interview with Russian fine art photographer and multimedia artist Natalia Drepina: tenebrous emotional portraits

The fine art photography of Natalia Drepina explores human frailty, fears, and melancholy, often in cold, quiet dreamscapes with a tinge of ominousness. Her conceptual realm is reminiscent of dark fairytales, conveyed through a soft, gloomy, painterly aesthetic. Darkness, a sense of sorrow, and lyricism are also the distinguishing marks of her multimedia art piecesshowcasing a mixture of poetry, voice-over, videos, as well as haunting sounds and instrumentals. Whilst her projects are deeply intimatemetaphors for her soul, portraying aspects of the human condition, the poetic message conveyed is disguised, symbolic, just as dream imagery. We had the chance to find out the thoughts behind the art, as well as getting to know Natalia beyond her artistic persona, as she was open to revealing more about her lifestyle and her views on inspiration and mortality.

DM: Where does your fascination with melancholy, sorrow, and the darker aspects of the mind spring from? Is melancholy a dominant emotion in your real life as well as in your artistic world?

ND: I’m truly a melancholy person. My sadness, which has been living in me for many years, has become my friend. I learned to see a special beauty in these emotions and draw inspiration.

DM: What is Natalia like in everyday life otherwise and how do you think your loved ones or people who know you best would describe you? Would they associate you with the same feelings you evoke in your projects or are these feelings purged through your art?

ND: People often tell me that I’m weird. Perhaps this word best describes me. I would also call myself inspired and pensive, because I’m always between two worlds – imagination and reality.
I’m rather unsociable, I prefer solitude and silence, rather than meeting and talking with people. But sometimes I also like talking with animals, birds, insects and plants. Nature is a place where I feel happy and calm. People scare me a little.
Of course, in everyday life I’m not always sad, I’m familiar with the spectrum of human emotions, but nevertheless, even in moments of happiness, I feel a strange longing, as if beauty and happiness also hurt in their own way.
I believe that my soul speaks the language of poetry, because true poetry combines pain and beauty, giving rise to a special feeling, a special vision of the world.

DM: The aesthetic of your photographs is characterised by a sombre and cold colour palette. It seems that you have a special connection to the cold seasons; and you also have a great grasp over the “winter of the soul”. There is a quote by Andrew Wyeth saying “I prefer winter and fall, when you can feel the bone structure in the landscapethe loneliness of it-the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath itthe whole story doesn’t show.” This epitomises the enigmatic mood and alluring aesthetic of your photographs as well. Do you feel more inspired during the cold seasons since they are often associated with the emotions underlying your work and do you have a special bond to your birth month?

ND: Yes, I’m a child of November, a child of Autumn. Fall is my favorite season, at this time all my feelings are aggravated, my dreams become more bizarre, I create a lot of photographs, music, poetry, needlework. Also I keep a diary every fall – I call it “The diary of wilting”. Every day I write my thoughts and add some leaves and plants filled with autumn colors and a foreboding of death. Autumn nature fully reflects the landscapes of my soul.
As for winter, it depresses me. I don’t like this white cold world. And I can’t sleep – insomnia visits me. However, most of my music is composed on winter nights.

DM: Do you think your photography is influenced by your native Russian roots and do you feel any emotional connection to your land?

ND: Perhaps the only connection with the Russian mentality that I feel is “Russian toska” – it’s ache of soul, longing with nothing to long for. This feeling is reflected in my works.
I’d call myself a resident of the universe. For me, the homeland is not a city or country, it’s a planet, its forests, fields, rivers, sky. I really love the nature that surrounds me, but I know that I’d also love nature in other parts of the world.

DM: Do the characters in your photographs embody parts of your identity, or are they vivid aspects of your imagination, inspired by the world around you or fiction? How do you breathe life into them?

ND: My characters are woven from fragments of my personality, fiction and dreams. They seem to live in parallel reality and sometimes come to visit me in a dream or wake up in the subconscious.

DM: Some of your projects are eclectic: you create music, poetry, and video art, interweaving these creative threads to give birth to beautiful and evocative atmospheric pieces. Describe your creative process as a multimedia artist.

ND: It is always very difficult for me to describe this process. Because all this happens mostly spontaneously, in a fit of inspiration. I don’t have any clear structure, plan. Sometimes I feel the need to supplement my visual creativity with music, poetry and I just do it.

DM: Do you make a living entirely out of your art or do you have any other side occupations?

ND: Art is my only source of income.

DM: Some of your visual stories—both photographs and videosunfold like dream fragments, often of an unsettling nature. Your art gives the impression of resurrecting elements from the unconscious mindrepressed fantasies, desires, and imagery. Is the visual symbolism borrowed from your own dreams, or nightmares?

ND: Yes, I write in my diary all interesting dreams and nightmares, and then use this material for my art. Dreams really inspire me to work.

DM: Do you believe in the concept of Soul as something separate from the body, and in the immortality of the soul? Some of your photographs have a macabre aspect, do thoughts of death scare and sadden you or do you embrace mortality?

ND: I’m not sure what I believe. It seems to me that the soul exists, but I don’t believe in immortality. It seems to me that death is a black void that will envelop us. It is like a dead dream, without images and visions, when you simply plunge into nothing.
Death does not scare me. Especially my death. I have long accepted and realised the fact of my mortality, and I’m fine with that. I would not want to live forever, to be honest. But the pain of losing close to me creatures—people or animals—scares me.

DM: Your Schizophrenia, your musical project, is such a moody, hypnotising piece of art. On the one hand, as we don’t have an understanding of Russian, we think we would like to hear an English version; on the other hand, Russian is such a beautiful-sounding language, it seems it contributes to the lyricism and the compelling, atmospheric nature of the project. Have you ever thought of creating English versions of your musical poems?

ND: The Russian language allows me to express everything that I feel, because of it I use it more often in my project. For my listeners, I also add translations (especially on Instagram) so that they can understand what this song or dark tale is about.
I also have poems and songs in English. For example:
Inner Demon
Late lamented
Fall asleep
We are dying with falling leaves
The lyrical fatigue

And in the near future I plan to release a book with translations of my poems and dark tales.

DM: What made you decide to go for the title, “Your Schizophrenia”?
ND: Partly it is connected with the person (schizophrenic) I knew and who influenced me in a certain period of my life.
Schizophrenia also includes hearing voices, delusions, social withdrawal. Your Schizophrenia is a character living in my subconscious, as if I transmit her thoughts, whispers, tunes, fears and sorrows.

DM: Do you believe an artist has to face the darker side of life and of the mind, being guided by chaos, darkness, and/or sorrow, in order to create valuable art, or can worthwhile art be generated by a peaceful mind, or in peaceful moments infused with happiness too?

ND: I think that art can be born by darkness and chaos, but also in peaceful moments. I think that each of the emotions can be used as inspiration for poems, paintings, photographs, music. Creativity is multifaceted. What is more important here is what inspires You, makes You feel. It all depends on preferences as well. In my soul, dark art and painful beauty find a greater response. It is like that strange feeling before the storm, when the breath stops and the heart beats so loudly…

Images © Natalia Drepina


Katie Eleanor: a ghostly world inhabited by ethereal, marble-like beings

Katie Eleanor is a London-based contemporary fine art photographer and Photographic Arts Graduate from the University of Westminster. Inspired by marble sculptures, the sculptural nature of Oscar Gustave Rejlander’s artworks, as well as scenes and characters from myths and from the artist’s fictional world, artistic memory, or, as she evocatively refers to it, the museum of her mind, “The Sialia Marbles” exhibition features hand-coloured photographic prints depicting ethereal beings frozen in time, marble-like, sometimes angelic-looking, other times ghostly. The uncanny dimension of her artworks stems from the dichotomous interplay between liveliness and death, between the ephemeral and the immortal qualities of her art; the rigidity and physical longevity of marble statues and the fluidity and ephemerality of the human performer; the deathlike stillness and the implication of physical and emotional movement. The beings depicted are also characterised by the archetypal (sentient-inanimate) ambiguity belonging to the Uncanny Valley.

The tableaux of Katie Eleanor allude to religious iconography and mythology art, with some subjects appearing to be solemn, others dramatic, involved in intense narratives. The veiled, white, diaphanous subjects portrayed are reminiscent of spirit photography, which amplifies the uncanny effect. It’s as if we are waiting for the motionless inhabitants of these unknown worlds to transcend the parameters of their existence within art; waiting for them to move towards the edge of the frame or fade away, for their veils to slip and reveal a change in expression, for their eyes to meet ours or glow. At the same time, the resemblance with statues (thus with something inanimate) makes this expectation perplexing.

The process behind the images includes the ritual of painting the models, performing a scene, the post-production process of hand colouring and enhancing the texture of the black and white analogue photographs. “Sialia” is the scientific name for bluebird – which Katie mentions is her alter ego, and the choice to include the word ‘marbles’ in the series title is congruent with her museum without walls parallel- a collection of uncanny human statues from her imaginary museum. The use of analogue photography and old film techniques brings uniqueness to the artworks; the physical, haptic quality of her work makes it more memorable and evocative, taking us on a mental trip through photographic art practices and through history, bringing back cultural artefacts and the sensory, magical properties of photography belonging to the pre-digital age. In more ways than one, Katie Eleanour’s photographs transcend temporality, having a hauntological dimension.

“I love tableaux vivants and creating intense, ambiguous scenarios with my performers. Angels are found in so much religious and historical visual culture, so they are familiar. They also symbolise protection, particularly when the series is viewed as a whole. I am not a particularly religious person, but I believe in sanctuary. My brain and my imagination are my sanctuary, and that is something I associate with these solemn spaces. It’s all creating a sanctuary for the viewer to inhabit, a sense of stillness and introspection.” – Katie Eleanor, Image Journal interview, 2019

Among the figures depicted in her work, you can find Saint Lucy and Daphne. After seeing a painting of Saint Lucy by Francesco Del Cossa, displayed at the National Gallery, the artist reveals:

“I was struck by the contrast between the brutality of her story and this ornate, delicate, almost whimsical rendering. In my version, the bandages over her eyes are significant, as I find the eyes of sculptures particularly haunting and vacant. This piece is a kind of homage to an amazing character in history.” – Katie Eleanor, Image Journal interview, 2019

“The Sialia Marbles” collection is on show at MMX Gallery until 15 February 2020

Diana Marin – Requiem for the Aesthete / Uncanny Photographic Poem

Diana Marin’s photographic project, Requiem for the Awakening, is a postmodern audio-visual trip, visual poetry constructed primarily from still photographs, a few moving image moments, and piercing, post-modernist monologue. Her activity included single-handedly editing, photographing, filming, as well as recording sound and voice-over to crystallise a concept that was inspired by her own dream experience. One morning in her previous home city, during a time when days were seamlessly, furtively blending into nights, Diana was immersed into a dream of an uncanny afterlife, in which the dimension of temporality became absurd. It was a special type of dream within a dream, evocatively described through the voice-over in her Requiem.

The fantasy-style digital manipulation is present throughout many images, with some particularly memorable ones featuring surreal compositions: the stormy skies surrounding the woman’s body embraced by tree branches, the woman with a grandiose pose standing behind what looks like a glass case followed by a shot of the graves with a similar layout, the Gothic images of Lilith guarded by her shadow, the elegant yet decaying decor in which she finds herself in the last tableaux.

Each “chapter” of the story contains conscious literary, artistic, photographic, philosophical, and cinematic allusions and influences in its depiction. The prologue, describing an ambiguous post-mortem state, summons up scenarios of the after life, whilst the strange connection the protagonist – as a disembodied presence traversing the ether- has with her still living brother has an element of unreality to it, and is partly rooted in occultism and the concept of astral plane and astral shells. Visually, the prologue is constructed from digitally altered photographs, created through the technique of digital painting, merging visuals, and adding layers. The first chapter, in which she re-learns how to live, has been inspired by The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser and philosophical contemplation, particularly existentialism and the sense of disorientation characteristic of existential angst. It has a soft, aesthetically pleasing photographic style, somewhat in contrast to the eerie atmosphere and tension. The narrative style and stream-of-consciousness monologue of the second chapter carries echoes of Samuel Beckett’s Not I, combined with dark visuals directly pointing at German Expressionist cinema and Gothic films. The third chapter depicts the act of seeking harmony and purpose in the sanctuary of nature, the shots resembling idyllic paintings before the aesthetic switches to sombre and sinister and the mood becomes ominous once again, which leads us to the fourth and final chapter. In this final collection of photographs, the natural is replaced by the artificial and decaying decor. The atmosphere recalls the debauchery and aesthetic focus of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, as well as being a feminine, photographic re-interpretation of the artificiality of Des Esseintes’ life from Huysmans’ À rebours. The mise-en-scene includes paintings, statues, bottles of wine, female figurines, Gothic fashion items, jewellery boxes, and other aesthetic objects. These painterly photographs reveal the life of an eccentric, solitary aesthete, slowly turning into a still life painting.

A brief description of the concept and a few photographic stills:

Prologue – Purgatory: Lilith lives through a centuries-long dream that she believes is the afterlife. She finds herself in a liminal space, with only one connection to the real world to keep her sane, until everything eventually proves to be designed by her mind.

Chapter I – The awakening: Lilith awakens from the dream and tries to re-learn how to live.

Chapter II – Anxiety: She cannot seem to be able to adjust to life once again. In a stream of consciousness, she re-lives epiphanies from her childhood when she gained acute awareness of her ephemeral condition

Chapter III – Nature escapism: Lilith thinks her environment is a cage, and decides to seek refuge in nature, only to realise she is a living cage. The outer world becomes a reflection of her inner world.

Chapter IV – Refuge in art: The girl turns away from nature and towards the artificial, and eventually, towards art. She reconciles with the idea of death through art, when she becomes art.

Model: Rosie Cochrane

The voice-over:

“On the 19th of July Lilith drifted away from everything that she knew and acquired a post-mortem insight into the world, after the bomb explosion that shattered the hearts of her relatives. She likes to think that she can still reach out to the closest person she knew while alive. Her brother, who was also the first one to find out about her death.
My consciousness is spread across an indefinite area of pulsating matter. I could not tell you whether I’m on another planet, wandering in the ether or lost in my own mind. I can tell you this is neither heaven nor hell. I have been here for a very long time, I couldn’t tell you how long, perhaps years, perhaps centuries
My sanity has relied on this inexplicable connection.
When I realised I had died, although sad, I was also relieved, that I still existed somewhere, even in this confusing state. I never believed in life after death, although I wished for it, as nothingness always frightened me. After a while however, existing like this became wearying.
How can I ever trust my mind and my world again now that I’ve wandered away from reality for what felt like hundreds of years. I’ve been awake for a few days trying to make sense of what happened to me. I can’t fully remember life before the explosion, and my body is finding it very hard to readjust to normality.
Words, voices, spiders crawling on the wall, abnormal shadows with a hundred legs, waiting, waiting waiting for the right moment so they could choke me…I would then be one with the shadows. I used to love the darkness as a kid, wandering in gardens after midnight, sneaking out of the house through that small window; making sure everyone was asleep to avoid punishments. The garden…looking at the stars, knowing from a young age that what I was seeing in the sky may have died a long time ago. Those were astral traces, spectres of something that once was; I wanted to exist I wanted to exist beyond time, beyond space, I wanted to see the beginning of the world and the end of the world at the same time…to understand it. To understand my urge for creation and destruction.
I have to get out of here. everything around me pulsates and feels like it’s about to explode, my heart jumps with every turn. I fear my nightmare is going to replace reality.”

Diana’s Website: