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Imagine paintings, which present like fanciful windows displaying gel-eyed lashy beauties among a plethora of living treasures and fanciful landscapes. Your mortal eyes journey into the wonderment, and all at once, as if rapt in an invisible, magnetic spell, you tumble into the lush, chasmic gazes of sad, lonely – and sometimes sassy – enigmatic fairies.
Welcome to the rich, fanciful world of Gothic Fantasy artist Jasmine Becket-Griffith. Delivering delightful details and fluid shimmer, Jasmine works primarily with classical and fantasy themes from literature and fairy tales, constructing atmospheres, which exude deep (and often dark) mystery. Each surreal, archetypal image contains symbolism, which stretches far beyond face value, depositing a numinous, supernatural energy that spreads its eager tendrils into the minds of her viewers.
Being an admirer of Jasmine’s talent and stellar work ethic, It was my pleasure to speak with her about the themes and symbols in her work, her literary preferences, and her love of amazing creatures – both of this world and beyond…
b.b: You often work with classical and fantasy themes from literature and fairy tales, and you’ve categorized your work as “Gothic Fantasy.” In researching the various meanings of “Gothic,” I found the description by author Clive Bloom to be particularly befitting of your work: “The gothic sensibility takes pleasure in the bizarre and the wild, the magical and the arabesque: in architecture, it was expressed in revived taste for the medieval, while in literature and painting it was expressed by dealing in the supernatural, with the inexplicable monsters of the forest and castle…” In what ways do you feel that your work helps others find pleasure in the bizarre and the wild?
JBG: I do think for the most part the term “gothic fantasy” is a good one to encapsulate my work. A lot of my artwork would not be considered “high fantasy” (traditional swords and sorcery) but there are certainly a lot of fantastical elements. “Gothic” – particularly in the Clive Bloom definition – is a word I would very much associate with my paintings. I feel my work expresses a deep sense of mystery – each image has an aspect of symbolism that implies a meaning beyond the surface. Many of my pieces incorporate surrealistic aspects or traditional cross-cultural archetypal symbols and images, which I think, resonate with a numinous or supernatural energy in the back of the viewer’s mind. I often include historical (or at the very least art-historical) references intentionally in my paintings to give the impression of having a deeper meaning or narrative that transcends the centuries. Having a touchstone – whether it be that of a mythological creature, a popular fairytale, a painting from the Old Masters, or a contemporary cultural reference – immediately creates a connection with the viewer and helps provide a context for the story I want to expand on with the piece.
b.b: Your paintings feel much like fanciful windows displaying living treasures, which command our attention as we pass by them. On the one hand, your subjects feel ultra-lovely, and therefore may seem inaccessible to your viewers; yet on the other hand, we immediately connect with them via the magnetism of their expressive eyes. How do your fans react to and identify with the women and fairies in your paintings?
JBG: The eyes of course tend to be the immediate draw with my paintings. I spend a great deal of time painting the eyes, always giving them special attention. They are typically my favorite part to paint personally. Scientific eye-tracking studies show that a viewer’s eyes will automatically scan and connect with any two-dimensional image that resembles another human face, focusing in first on the eyes. I think the effort, emotion, attention to detail, and the exaggerated enlargement I give the eyes of the figures in my artwork helps to instigate an initial bond between my painting and my viewer. After this “introduction,” the viewer will begin to explore and appreciate the other aspects of the work. Even if the theme or narrative may be surreal, disturbing, or otherworldly, I think that the eye contact through the window of the surface still creates an inviting feeling that transcends any discomfort for most viewers. I want the viewer to identify with the figures in my work, and vicariously experience the corresponding environments through them.
b.b: Your weariness of the mundane world and your desire for more beauty and mystery is ever evident in the (sad, sassy, and slightly annoyed) eyes of the women and fairies you paint. Are you painting them in ways, which reflect your own personal longing for an unattainable, paranormal wonderland? Can you tell me about a specific instance in which a fan explained to you the ways in which your paintings brought him or her hope and inspiration?
JBG: Oh yes, most definitely. I hate it when people complain that they are bored. I think its evidence of a lack of imagination. So as not to be a hypocrite, I simply can’t abide that in myself either. A lot of the impetus behind my compulsive painting is simply me wanting to better my own environment by creating something new that I find beautiful, intriguing or enjoyable. If something pisses me off or if I’m in danger of being depressed or dragged down, what better activity than amusing myself and hopefully thousands (or millions) of others? It’s one of the most constructive ways I can spend my time really. I do it instead of bitching about things online, I do it instead of shopping for crap I don’t need, I do it instead of wasting time in front of the TV or looking at junk online. It reminds me of those old “This is my Anti-Drug” public service commercials where kids would extoll the virtues of after-school sports programs, etc. I guess painting would be my “Anti-Drug” since it’s something positive I think I can contribute without hurting anybody. Although I must say, it’s probably as intoxicating as anything else. And I’ll certainly have a glass of wine while doing it.
With Facebook, email, Instagram and especially live shows & appearances I have had numerous encounters with fans that have connected with my artwork in a positive way. As with creating artwork, I think hardcore appreciators & collectors of artwork also see it as a way of escaping (or at least coping) with the more negative aspects of the mundane world. I can’t begin to count the thousands of folks who have tattooed my paintings on them as memorials, as reminders, as symbols of significant people and events, as inspirational or grounding messages – it is always one of the best compliments I can receive as an artist when somebody wants to keep my artwork with them forever. I’ve gotten emails from online friends and fans who tell me my artwork has helped them through a difficult time or has inspired them to follow their own artistic path. After my own breast cancer scare I’ve done a lot of fundraising with the Hamilton Collection raising money for the Susan G. Komen foundation (together we have donated over a million dollars for research/awareness) and I think that we’ve connected with a lot of folks who have had cancer touch their lives. I’ve had people show me tattoos of my paintings over their mastectomy scars, it really makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile.
Regarding themes and symbols…
b.b: Let’s talk about the thematic content in many of your paintings. You compose work, which balances the themes of isolation and sadness with those of delighted wonder by placing comforting animals alongside troubled human souls. Do you agree with me that the majority of your work is thematically “balanced” or do you feel that it favors the dark or the light?
JBG: I do think my work – if taken as a whole body of work – is most certainly balanced. It reflects the world, life in general, so I think that in general it evens out. While human concerns/politics/consumerism can certainly take a negative “spin” in the real world, I think many people forget that humans are really just a very small part of this planet. Earth has been here for a long time without us, and will no doubt end up continuing a long time once again without us. I’m very happy to be along for the ride while I’m here, very proud of our planet (hey – it beats the heck out of all the other planets we know about!) but I also like to take the time to point out that there are/were/will be /could be an awful lot of things non-human-related going on here. If there is click-bait on the news, I’ll much more likely click on the article about a new type of octopus than something gossipy or political. I would never be dismissive about our importance or certainly our impact on the planet, but I’m often more excited about non-human activity here than I am with all the People Stuff. And nature being Nature, there will always be a balance.
b.b: In his bestiary titled “The Book of Beasts,” T.H. White writes, “The meaning of symbolism was so important to the medieval mind that St. Augustine stated in so many words that it did not matter whether certain animals existed; what did matter was what they meant.” What do the symbols of fairies and mermaids – two of the most common subjects in your paintings – mean to you?
JBG: Well, St. Augustine was always one for great quotes – wasn’t he the “please lord grant me chastity, but not quite yet – I’m not finished!” guy? I think symbolism in general is part of our obsessive narcissistic human tendency to want to catalogue everything into our own language and use it for our own purposes. Which of course I’m entirely guilty of, exploit to the fullest and think it works fabulously when wanting to convey a readily-accepted accessible narrative or context. I definitely do think of mermaids and fairies as being symbolic images as well as fantastical creatures and I think that within my artwork they can be taken either way. From my own standpoint, I see them both as straddling the human world and the “natural” world – some sort of faux evolutionary missing link between man and animal, or between reality and myth, or waking and dream. When you take a relatively (however stylized) portrait of a person and suddenly add wings or a tail, you are prefacing the narrative by letting the viewer know that already something is Not Of This World. It’s like letting folks know a story will be a fairy tale because you start off with “Once Upon a Time….” And from there you are setting a groundwork of letting them know to expect the unusual.
b.b: You stated in another interview that your father was a science fiction fan, and you grew up with sci-fi books and magazines around the house. I recently saw this wonderful quote at a sci-fi exhibit at a museum in Southern California: “No other literary genre has inspired such creativity as science fiction. With science fiction, we can meet creatures beyond our wildest dreams.” First, do you feel that reading sci-fi and fantasy expands an individual’s creative capacity? Second, do you recommend the practice of reading sci-fi and fantasy stories to artists who feel the need to stretch their imaginations?
JBG: Firstly – yes and also – yes. Science fiction has even in some instances been the drive for actual scientific developments. I was watching an old (1960s) Star Trek episode with my niece and she mentioned, “Wow, he has a weird cell phone.” And of course, that was decades before anybody had a cell phone. I’m sure there are a zillion other examples of this. Probably all addressed in some Discovery Channel show or something. However, anything involving science fiction, speculative fiction, imaginative realism, magical realism, pop surrealism, etc. is already bridging a gap between the known quantities of what we have and what we want (or don’t want, or fear, or hope for). Just approaching that line of combining creative and critical thinking is helpful. Even if it’s something as simple and as silly as “Hey, what if submarines were part dragon and could also go in space?” or “What if instead of fins, goldfish developed wings?” as I might suggest in a painting. It’s a little bit of a gateway into providing a blueprint for thinking outside the box a little, which is always important for forward-thinking development.
b.b: While we are in the literature vein, I’d like to know who you’d declare as your top two favorite authors. Additionally, do you think your paintings indirectly help promote literacy by opening the gateway to the fantasy and sci-fi genre of literature?
JBG: Oh wow, that’s a hard one! I don’t know if I could pick two. I love Haruki Murakami a lot, he has the level of magical realism / surrealism in his writing that I aspire to mirror in my own work. I like the subtle mythological elements he weaves into his stories. I’d say similar of Neil Gaiman too. Those are definitely two authors whose books I immediately pre-order as soon as they are announced.
b.b: I am a huge audiobook fan, and often listen to sci-fi and strange fiction books while jogging and making art. In fact, I listened to some H.P. Lovecraft while trail running this morning. I’ve read that you are also an audiobook junkie, and I’m curious: what is one of your favorite audiobooks, and do you have one that you’ve listened to more than once?
JBG: Me as well. I have eleven H.P. Lovecraft audiobooks on my phone right now, hehe, including duplicates of some by different narrators to mix things up a bit. My dad had a Miskatonic University shirt he wore so often when I was a kid I mistakenly mentioned it as a potential Alumni angle to the guidance counselor at school when I was trying out for different scholarships. Let me see, one of my not-especially-guilty pleasures is Audible – I purchase about 20 audiobooks per month to listen to while I paint (which is probably one of the largest utility bills I pay, but well worth it.) I re-listen to many of them (have to, or I’d go broke) – love the Lovecraft, Stephen King, Ruth Rendell, Anne Rice, Kazuo Ishigiro, all the fun ones. For non-fiction I think Bill Bryson is great. And Mary Roach. Most recently I’ve re-read Caroline Kepnes’ “You” and Miranda July’s “The First Bad Man” – even though they are both fairly recent books I have already read them a couple times through. Whenever I recommend a book to my husband I always re-listen or re-read it at the same time he does, so we can argue about it with accuracy.
A few questions regarding your “Beasties”
b.b: You are a vegetarian and a lover of animals, and the kinship you feel with the many creatures – both real and imagined – of this world is evident in the manner in which your subjects cradle their animal companions in a protective, almost motherly posture. Might there be a somewhat subliminal, pro-vegetarian statement about “loving animals in lieu of eating them” at work here?
JBG: I am indeed, and yes definitely. Whether intentional or not, I think my love of animals and my notions of wanting to appreciate them as equal beings certainly leaks through into my artwork.
b.b: There is another powerful theme at work with regard to your use of animals: the lonely or sad looking women and fairies in your paintings are often accompanied by a sweet, small animal or fantasy creature of some kind. I know you have stated that many of your works are self-portraits, so with that in mind, how are animals and pets therapeutic for you?
JBG: I don’t have any children myself, my cats are my babies, and I think that that bleeds through the characters/animals in my work. My cats (and animals in general) “ground me” in a way that I don’t think other humans really do. When I’m at home painting, and my little cats are swarming around me, I feel very comfortable, “at home,” and in my element.
b.b: You showcase your mastery of acrylic techniques by delivering to us a plethora of varied textures – iridescent scales, paper-thin fins, and thick, luxurious fur – in the form of the delightful creatures that adorn your work. I imagine you visiting zoos, hiking in nature, browsing google images, and watching nature documentaries. Is this at all accurate? Explain how you get up close and personal with the animals you portray in your work.
JBG: All of the above! A lot of my time when not painting is spent out of doors. I always have some sort of camera with me. My primary home/studio is in Florida, right in the middle of the swamps and conservation areas. I’ll see half a dozen alligators and fifty species of birds just walking down the block. I travel extensively – just came back from a photo safari in Africa, for example, and am continuously taking reference photos and gaining inspiration. In addition, I belong to a couple of stock photo membership sites, I have several pro photographer friends, and I do a lot of fundraising work for various animal rescue groups (which are usually happy to grant use of their own photos for reference pics in exchange for artwork to raffle off, etc.). Sometimes though I just paint out of my head, it’s hard to get dragons and dinosaurs to pose for me after all….
b.b: You have said in other interviews that you love to travel, and as one peruses your work, it is evident that your subjects do as well. You paint your women and fairies in a variety of wondrous, yet often foreboding, settings: idyllic gardens, undersea landscapes, and haunted forests. If you could live for a day in one of your paintings, which one would you choose, and why?
JBG: Definitely something under the sea. I love the water and spending time in the ocean. If I could live in any time it would be in the Devonian Age, or the Age of Marine Reptiles, or maybe sometime around the era of the Burgess Shale. So I guess I’d choose the environment of my “Cambrian Mermaid” or “Cretaceous Mermaid” -any of the prehistoric eras where life did not seem constrained by the rudimentary vertebrate/mammal restrictions we have now. We have so few fossil remains from some of the earlier eras I think I’d like to experience that all first-hand.
b.b: You have stated in other interviews that you are a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Wes Anderson films – so obviously, you have good taste, an excellent sense of humor, and you love to laugh. What other hobbies and routines help fill you with positive energy and renew your creative spirit?
JBG: Yep – big fan of MST3K, Rifftrax, Wes Anderson, anything funny that also assumes you have a brain and puts thought into the writing. I usually stop painting around 10pm each night and settle in with Matt (my husband) for an hour or two of TV/movie watching. Hobby-wise, I like nature, being outside, hiking, traveling, vegetarian cooking, reading, visiting museums, spending time with my nieces and nephews, bird watching, and exercise.
b.b: You’ve recently enjoyed some pretty big events such as your “Meet and Greet” at WonderGround Gallery, your Dragon*Con Art Show in Atlanta, your “Birds and Beasties” solo show in Seattle, and your “Four Seasons” show at Pop Gallery Orlando. This month you have a solo show titled “Allusions and Allegories” at Corey Helford Gallery in Los Angeles, where you will be in attendance for the opening July 16th. You have stated that this will be your largest solo show to date – congratulations! Showing your work all over the country and meeting your many fans must be an unbelievable high. Which recent event gave you the most tingles, left the biggest impression, was your absolute favorite, and why?
JBG: That’s a tough one! I’d say one of my favorite events I do nearly every year is the Avalon Faery Fayre in Glastonbury, England. Visiting that town definitely brings the tingles each time. It’s a very holy and mysterious place. When I was a kid, I read and re-read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “The Mists of Avalon” which focuses on the specific region and vaguely Arthurian pagan/faery culture of Glastonbury, and it was magnificent getting to visit, and then thereafter being a regular guest at the faery festival there! That, and also the shows & events I get to do at Disneyland and Disney World – I’m a huge Disney fan and have been my whole life. Also I love having my own gallery now at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival as I grew up visiting the festival every year since I was little. Anything that would have made my Younger Self very proud, that makes me happy now.
b.b: You have a beautiful new painting, “Femme Fatale,” which is being included in the September to October 2016 exhibit “Femme to Femme Fatale” curated by beautiful.bizarre. What other upcoming events and projects are you most excited about?
JBG: Eek, it’s hard to say what I’m most excited about! Right now this autumn I’m preparing for my usual show at the KC Renaissance Festival – we have a gallery there and have built an apartment on top of it for use during the show – it is so neat. It’s a lot of fun too because both Matt & I grew up in Kansas City and both our families live nearby there so we always have a slew of family members hanging out there while we’re there. I remember one day last year I went upstairs to get a drink in the midst of the show and found about eight of my nieces & nephews hanging out in the apartment above, hehe, it’s an awful lot of fun. This November I’m looking forward to returning to the Whitby Goth Festival – it’s up in Whitby, England (famous of course from Bram Stoker’s original “Dracula” book) – a fantastically well-themed event, very gothy, loads of great bands, costumery, art & more. I bought a secondary home/studio in London a couple years back so I have been able to take advantage of more UK shows – I always have a blast there! I also have a slew of new Disney projects & events in the works, a new coloring book coming out, a new Alice in Wonderland Oracle Deck coming out, a sequel to my Strangeling art book coming out, and about a zillion more things. I’m excited about it all…
The cover of Jasmine’s forthcoming coloring book