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The Inner Cathedral: The Exquisite Dolls of Mari Shimizu

The ethereal creations of Mari Shimizu are hauntingly beautiful and impossibly detailed. Shimizu crafts elaborate ball-jointed dolls which possess an angelic appearance of purity and seem haloed by their tragic suffering. The figures are saints, martyrs, Madonnas, and vampires emanating an aura of innocence overshadowed by affliction. Many of them contain intricately carved Gothic arches, chapels, or even miniature Gardens of Eden within their torsos – the most delicately beautiful element of her works. These hollowed-out cavities of the architecture of anatomy are inhabited by demons and angels, homunculi, scenes evoking Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, as well as antique cabinets of curiosities. Combining biblical themes with her love of historical fashion, Mari Shimizu’s doll sculptures are like three-dimensional paintings with as much detail and subtlety as that medium, in their small-scale, inner paradises and hells.

The roughly 2-foot dolls are characterized by both captivating realism and disturbing surreality. Their unnnerving, almost obscene quality reminds me of the doll projects of Hans Bellmer, an inspiration of Shimizu’s. Working with traditional Japanese materials, Shimizu forms the heads and limbs out of papier-mache or clay, and the hair is made with goat’s hairs or silk threads.

Reminiscent of Anatomical Venuses, these entrancingly lovely, dolorous ladies have a wasted, spiritual look and sometimes are even dissectible/vivisected, with removable organs. The lacy decay of some of their figures, with spots in their flesh as if eaten through by decomposition, exposing ribs and inner cavities, is touched with a melancholy, morbid sensuality. Their bodies seem to be both the sacrifice and the altar upon which they are sacrificed. Also intriguing are the sculptures that represent dryads of the dead, human-tree hybrids seemingly overtaken by decay and strange growths of skulls and corpse-like beings.

These fragilely beautiful girls, with their air of adolescent bloom, at the same time give the impression of being catacombs containing hordes of the dead and decomposing. Thus, they are always both radiant and dark. Although they seem like the miraculously preserved and incorrupt bodies of saints, they have a breath of the crypt. I particularly love the Death and the Maiden-themed pieces which vividly depict the juxtaposition between a young girl in the bloom of youth and the macabre specter of Death, giving shape to a figure that seems literally torn between youthful beauty and grim dissolution. One of these is currently available for sale on Akatako, as well as one of her anatomical girls, in a violin case.

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Monique Motil’s Miniature Marvels

The very eerie and very elegant creatures of Monique Motil are assemblaged from a variety of organic and synthetic materials, including bones, beads, textiles, and animal body parts. Attired in exquisite, fanciful costumes which are meticulously crafted, rich brocades and velvets, embroidery, and beadwork, each one-of-a-kind creation presents a persona combining the historical and the present, the live and the dead, the human and the animal.

With a sense of the dramatically uncanny, these aristocrats of the macabre, beautiful apparitions, avian or mink, beaver or cat skull-headed, carry out an endless mourning. They are pervaded with a sense of agedness, which is soaked into the richness and detail of their garments, and have all the delicacy of the most fragile and lovely dolls, without their quality of preciousness.

Instead, these creatures exude a foreboding sense of being timeless, deathless, ruthless executors of justice, vessels of past vengeances, long-carried grudges and dark passions. With their cruel claws, their magisterial dignity, their lace and fripperies, Monique’s hybrid creations embody haunting gracefulness on a small scale. Monique Motil also designs shadowboxes, assemblages, headdresses, and other artistic artifacts.

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Erik Bergrin

Erik Bergrin is an artist and costume maker whose collection of fiber sculptures called Shadowwork, incorporating techniques such as sewing, weaving, and coiling, are visual expressions of a ritualistic ceremony that created a mental hell. Resembling massive cocoons or sarcophagi for human forms, outlandish, abstract, and powerful, these sculptures are savagely original and dreamlike. They are terrifying, enigmatic, eerie, and wonderful. He is currently working on a stunning series based on his interpretation of the eight dissolutions of the Buddhist death process.

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The Transmundane Jewelry of Arcana Obscura

Kate Hockstein of Arcana Obscura creates jewelry designs inspired by historical and occult themes, ranging from Georgian and Victorian mourning jewelry, alchemy, Egyptian symbolism, to vanitas art, medieval weaponry, and splendors of the animal world. Using the lost-wax casting method, she represents flowers, serpents, flails, sinister left hands, life-sized sculptures of tiny fishes, mortuary designs such as the winged skull that was favored by 17th-century Puritan gravestone carvers, and the inverted torch which is found in 19th-century cemeteries. I love her penchant for Latin mottoes, and her pieces, which have a fascinating story behind each inspiration, bring to life fragments of the annals of arcane history.

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L’Apothicaire Candles

These wonderful candles from the Noir Collection by L’Apothicaire Co. are now available in their online shop or at RitualCravt. I am especially intrigued by such scent profiles as: Forbidden (crisp apple • cassis • lichen • forest greens), Fortune + Fate (black amber • wild elderberry • tea leaves • incense), and Graveyard Roses (freshly turned soil • deep woods • garden roses • damp earth).

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Moonflesh: Embroideries by Lyla Mori

These gorgeous embroidered artworks by Lyla Mori of Moonflesh, “conjurer of thread-veined creatures…creatrix of embroideries with crystals/gemstones,” are intriguing, charming, and eerily creative. I love the rich colors, the antique atmosphere, the three-dimensional element of the beadwork as in the seeds of the pomegranate. While managing to impart a gossamer, lunar, and ethereal quality to the beautiful moths, Lyla also gives a quaint gothic drollness to many of her pieces.

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“I roamed this earth like life had also left me”: Masks by Candice Angelini

Candice Angelini is the creator of unique, disturbing, and startlingly beautiful masks. Exploring the idea of memorialization, her unsettling and magnificent sculptures, reminiscent of death-masks or mummified remains, are made with paper, wax, ink, beads, antique materials, and often real human hair and teeth.

Three of her masks are currently available in the Morbid Anatomy shop, The Witch of the Mountain, and collaborative gift sets Half of Heaven and The Silence, which include a hand-written card by Angelini and a photo print by the incredible Mothmeister.

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Masks and Phantasms by Damselfrau

Damselfrau’s enchanting masks, bizarre, gorgeous, totemic, resplendent and larger than life, are reminiscent of some imagined and heretofore-unknown folk culture. These portraits of a fantastical people are often featured with an arrangement of flowers, which also lend their explosive vividness to the ultra-saturated and violently jubilant palette. Damselfrau says, “I have used fine lace, carried by the nineteenth-century Norwegian author Camilla Collett, hair from two-hundred-year-old Japanese geisha hair pieces, as well as everyday stuff, found in the street….I am led by the phantasms appearing in the process of the making and the materials themselves.” I am quite a monochromatic creature personally, so I appreciate the incredible vibrancy and wild color of Damselfrau’s outré creations.

Artist Magnhild Kennedy interprets the moniker Damselfrau (frau referring to married women and “damsel” being an unmarried young lady) as “married to oneself.”

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Throwing the Stones: Jewelry by Chase + Scout

Informed by the natural world, hidden microcosms, and the talismanic properties of primitive rites and objects, Austin-based Chase and Scout creates unique, beautiful, and unsettling jewelry pieces such as the datura seed pod necklace below. The natural and the supernatural combine in their art self-described thus: “It is a shared secret between cohorts of common causes, or an answer to an unasked question. It is the sound of moonlight swimming through a dark night, or a deep howl…” Wolf’s-teeth earrings, rings inspired by the texture of the lunar landscape, honeycomb pieces, bracelets with the skulls of Odin’s two ravens, and moth orchid necklaces are others among their varied offerings. From cicada wings to dowsing rods and the Orphic Egg, the concepts for Chase and Scout’s wearable art are endlessly creative.

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