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Lana Crooks’ Soft Curiosities

Lana Crooks constructs perfect, delicate, macabre little “soft sculptures” out of hand-dyed wool, silk, seed beads, and vintage materials. They are like Victorian mourning relics in plush form. Bird skulls dripping blood like jewels, snake bones, death’s-head moths, human teeth, and lush, funereal flowers repose beneath antique bell jars. Whimsical, imaginative, resplendently colored and gorgeous, her “faux specimens” are artfully arranged, reminding one of some long-dead madcap’s oddities collection and also giving off a curious effect of two-dimensional drawings brought to three-dimensional life. These soft creations blending natural history and craft are exquisite and adorable.

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Baroque Biomech Ceramics by Laura Hewitt

Alaska-based artist Laura C. Hewitt creates ceramic housewares that are wildly imaginative, bold, and unique. They convey a sense both of the ancient and the futuristic, the organic and the mechanical, and put me in mind of the china service of an alien dynasty, regal relics of bygone opulence and sinister glory. Delicate and grotesque, they are impactful and lovingly crafted.

Her hybrids of the rustic and the decadently ornate, of the homely and the high-tech, are a delight to behold. I love the shadowy little clustered hollows or dents which are suggestive at once of old lace, of mushrooms, of rot and decay, and of insect hives. Hewitt plays with the juxtapositions among nature, art, and technology, between creation and destruction, and seeks to “animate the pragmatic with mischievousness.”

Gorgeous, savage, one-of-a-kind, Hewitt’s teacups, mugs, and plates are unlike any household ceramics I’ve ever seen. They embody the biomechanical aesthetic in a practical, intimate form, with a touch of playful irony. To use one of these pieces would transport you into otherworldly realms, directly off the Earth, and introduce the unnerving into the mundane, blending the familiar with the mysterious, the deeply unknown and the alien.

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Tarot by Uusi

Linnea Gits and Peter Dunham are artists/designers who head the creative studio Uusi. The following tarot and oracle decks are transcendently lovely.

The Pagan Otherworlds tarot deck features 84 cards with images hand-painted by Gits and Dunham using traditional oils, and is inspired by nature, Celtic mysticism, and the “luminous beauty of Renaissance paintings.”

The 56-card Supra oracle deck, illustrated by Peter Dunham, is based on the mingling of Jungian psychology and Gnosticism. The images are at once mystical and personal, partaking of the austere surreality of a Huysmans novel, evoking the communion of the self with the self.

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Catacomb Divinities: Wearable Works of Art by Hysteria Machine

Cara Trinder of London-based Hysteria Machine creates elaborate, lavish antiqued metalwork headdresses, diadems for royalty of dust and dissolution, bespeaking an aura of tombs, saints, and ancient deities. Reminding one of Hellboy’s Angel of Death, her blind masks are breathtakingly exquisite and exude a sense of eldritch menace and holiness, as of dead yet incorrupt gods. Ominous and beautiful, her creations wed charnel house aesthetics to a delicate fey airiness. Their inspiration is drawn from halos, religious iconography, horns, and skulls, and evokes the bejeweled, brocaded, and fantastically dressed catacomb saints in all their sepulchral splendor.

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The Abandoned Child: Necronymphic Creations by Tari Nakagawa

Tari Nakagawa’s exquisite ball-jointed dolls exude a deep sense of melancholy. With a haunting aura of mourning and vulnerability, these innocent, wan little faces expressing languor and dolor, malady and misery, with finely eloquent hands and limbs, bespeak a corrupt eroticism and a necromantic sensuality. They are disturbing as a strange alchemy of pathos, innocence, death, decay, and sirenlike allure. A primary inspiration for these lovely creations is 19th-century postmortem child portraiture.

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Anatomical Venus

One of the most bizarre relics from bygone days of anatomical understanding is the Anatomical Venus. Endowed with a startlingly lifelike appearance, full-size, and lovingly detailed, these wax models, popular through the 18th and 19th centuries, represented idealized beauties with body parts and organs that could be revealed and removed in a layer-by-layer dissection. Made with real hair, sometimes real eyelashes, glass eyes, bedecked with pearls, they were meant to enlighten the public on the anatomy of the animal “made in God’s image,” in a way that would be accessible and aesthetically pleasing.

With her strange, alluring, languid beauty, the Venus exudes a morbid eroticism that is simultaneously repulsive and fascinating, and so disturbing to the modern eye. Her far-off gaze seems to bespeak religious ecstasy, perhaps bordering on martyrdom (I imagine it as her sacrifice to our viewing/invasion of her interior spaces), as much as death and sensuality. I look at her, and I can’t help but to feel sorry for her, so exposed and vulnerable in her display case, her glass coffin lined with silk and velvet, eternally disassembled for our education and delectation. I feel as though as I am looking at her last thoughts as she’s dying upon her sumptuous bed, and there is an inherent, latent cruelty or brutality in the voyeuristic quality of this gaze. I can never know the nature of what she is thinking, I can only witness her dissected and intruded-upon body, transfixed in an unwitting, helpless macabre striptease. There is something both obscene and divine about this exquisite lost art form that was as much aesthetic marvel as scientific aid.

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Sara Suppan’s “Human Anatomical Manikin”

“…my work gravitates in imagery from antiquated medical practices, historic anatomical illustration, and the pathological grotesque. Many of my pieces feature a fusion of botanical and anatomical forms, or structures from the human anatomy acting as an environment in which to house another subject. Roses, or even planetary systems, will be imbedded in muscle tissue; entire figures trapped inside boney caves, or ribbons of cow carcass.”
— Sara Suppan