You may know Ulorin Vex from her alternative model years, and you certainly may have encountered her illustrations either under the names of Malady Charlotina, Ulorin Vex or her real name, Christiane Shillito. Her artworks are as protean as her identity, and usually question and asserts it with bright colors, eroticism, body positivity and of course, wit. In April 2014, we chatted with her to discover her whimsical universe. Since then, water has flowed under the bridges so it’s time for an update!
In your previous interview with us, you introduced our readers with the different facets of your artistic personality. Can you tell us how you have evolved since 2014?
I’ve certainly been through a lot since then… not long after that interview I experienced several traumatic events in my personal life in close succession that completely shattered my assumptive worldview. I spent the following few years rebuilding it from scratch, focusing on self-development and building courage in my convictions. Part of that included a determination to let go of my modeling persona and putting all my creative energy into my artwork and improving my artistic skills. I used to struggle with what I was trying to say with my work but I think as I’ve grown as a person I’ve started to find my voice and personal style. I actually stopped modelling professionally in 2017, and made the transitional to full time artist, though I’m still modeling occasionally. Mostly for creative collaborative projects that feed my soul or posing for other artists.
Talking of evolution, what can you say about the direction taken by your art since then, both in term of style, technique and storytelling?
I look back at some of my older work and I notice that I was very preoccupied with morbid anatomy that leaned towards a medical fetish… there were a lot of missing limbs, bleeding hearts and wistful faces. In retrospect, I think I was trying to communicate how unhappy, even depressed, that I was and a dissatisfaction with the direction my life was taking. As I’ve evolved I made a conscious decision to step away from portraying characters that are fragile, doll-like and injured. I want to paint fierce characters that are in charge of their realities and sexualities… I still hint at wounds but they have scar tissue now. If limbs are missing they’re more likely to be melting in a psychedelic fashion that suggests transformation and growth.
Since I retired from modeling, I’ve been able to put a lot more time into experimenting with different media and techniques. I think last time I spoke to Beautiful Bizarre Magazine I was working exclusively with colored Indian inks and marker pens, mostly because that was all I owned and could afford at the time rather than a personal preference. I’m working more now with mediums that allow me to build up multiple layers and allowing myself to be a little less controlling and precise. I’ve also more recently been working on a personal collage and assemblage project that makes use of my personal collection of stamps and antique paper ephemera, though I’m not quite ready to share most of that with the world yet!
What are the sources of inspiration that fuel your personal art?
I’m always contemplating my surroundings and channeling them into my work. Everything is an amalgamation of my personal experiences, interests and dreams. My studio is filled with occult objects, retro science-fiction novels and horror comics, anime/manga of the 80s/90s, antique oddities and ephemera, animal skulls, insects… a long time ago I was a scientist and I have a bachelor’s degree in Biology. Though most of my artwork is primary figurative now I still have a deep love for nature and natural history which I think comes through in my preference for flowing lines and organic shapes.
Coming out of a 15 year career as a fetish and alternative model, has obviously had a huge impact; I’ll often look back to the fetish and avant-garde clothing designers I’ve worked with when it comes to the fashion elements of my work. Similarly I’m inspired by other alternative models, both those I’ve worked with in the past and those I discovered more recently via social media. I have a few amazing women in my life (models and otherwise) who I respect and admire so much, they will all make an appearance in my work at some point if they haven’t already!
More personal experiences and trauma like being adopted, growing up with an undiagnosed anxiety disorder (I have a few recurring anxiety nightmares that are weird as hell, including elements of those in my work has been quite therapeutic!), anger via flashbacks to a mentally abusive relationship. The constant tension and re-traumatization from the current political dystopia has only fueled my desire to celebrate powerful women and focus on counterculture and the idea of personal transformation. I’ve also found a great deal of healing from PTSD through psychedelics and that has had a long lasting impact on all aspects of my artwork.
Can you tell us more about your process when creating an artwork, in term of imagination, organisation and satisfaction?
I’m pretty introverted and I spend a lot of quiet alone time just reading, observing my surroundings or thinking about life, the universe and everything… there are always things popping into my head that I feel compelled to put out into the world at some point. Lately, I’ve started keeping a written list of these ideas or doing very quick thumbnail sketches with notes to remind myself. It used to be that I kept lists in my head but I’d inevitably get overwhelmed that way.
I also like to incorporate ritual into the way I do things… when starting a new project I’ll always clean and tidy my studio and layout everything I think I’ll need. Once I start on something things tend to get a little messy and chaotic and it will continue that way until I’m done!
As I mentioned before I try to experiment often, including with different media, colour schemes or when it comes to figures, not sticking to the one or 2 body types I find the easiest to draw. It’s easy to stay in the comfort zone, especially with the pressure to keep posting content on social media. I think it can tempt artists to stick to the same formula that you know will be “popular” and limits the imagination. This is also important for me as my work is (or tries to be) about counterculture, including the rejection of mainstream ideals and celebration of non-typical beauty. I follow a lot of models who would be considered alternative in terms of looks, style, body types.
If I’m feeling stuck or it doesn’t feel like the right time to work on my list, I’ll often just start sketching figures, often referencing some of these models. I find once I start putting pencil to paper it will evolve organically from there and I’ll end up with at least 2 or 3 new things to work on simultaneously. The important thing is to not procrastinate.
I nearly always go through the inevitable stages of “this will be pretty good”, followed by a creeping doubt, “what was I thinking” and an “I hate this” before settling into “it’s not so bad after all”. Even if I’m not totally happy with the final result, the process of creating is always very meditative and I really enjoy getting lost in my work.
Your heroines are often inspired by either yourself or fellow alternative models, and your work indeed focus on womanhood: what is your take on that theme and how do you think your art can contribute to the contemporary discussion about femininity?
This is such a complex question for me and brings up all sorts of thoughts about the definition of womanhood and femininity as well as my personal experience of being a woman. It seems to me that womanhood is the state of being a woman, which is an internal feeling whereas femininity is the qualities or attributes regarded as characteristic of women. Although I identify mostly as a woman, I’ve never fit into the traditional feminine mould as much as I tried for a long time. I’ve always felt like a weirdo and outsider in so many aspects of my life and personality. I think that womanhood should not be defined by stereotypical feminine characteristics and extreme gender stereotypes are harmful because they restrict people from fully expressing themselves.
On womanhood, as an experience, like many I’ve experienced sexism and misogyny for most of my life. I was socialized to be quiet, to be polite. Don’t be aggressive. Told to smile. Don’t be a bitch. I’ve experienced sexual assault and ended up in abusive relationships where I felt powerless. Of course this isn’t the entire experience of womanhood but these experiences shaped me as a person. When I finally realized that I didn’t have to be so submissive and eager to please people it was extremely liberating. I think that’s why my characters nearly always have some element of the supernatural, occult or alien, becoming mythical creatures, demons and deities. They’ve transformed, become powerful, dangerous and fierce, are sexual but not sexualized. If they’re smiling it’s deliberately manic and far from demure.
Much of my work is very personal and I wouldn’t dare to assume that my little world and personal mythology can contribute to such big topics other than providing one person’s point of view. I’d like to encourage everyone to be who they want to be without restrictive definitions of femininity and masculinity or judging people by their gender.
Some elements of your work can easily be classified in the “dark art” category, yet, your artworks are usually colorful, even whimsical: do you think that our current definition of dark art should evolve and that your work can help opening possibilities to other artists?
For me personally, dark art isn’t limited to horror and the occult. It’s about feelings or an outlook on the world that leans towards the macabre, the mysterious and dare I say: bizarre! If I had to categorize my art I think maybe “dark surrealism” would be more appropriate. Unexpected juxtapositions, including bright colors with dark elements are part of that. Sometimes the bright colors and playful absurdity simply helps take the edge off the erotic/sexual nature of a lot of my work and is part of the catharsis.
There are already artists infinitely more accomplished than me whose work is both psychedelically colorful but also pretty dark and odd… Ron English or Camille Rose Garcia are 2 of my favourites that spring to mind. I’m also a fan of the Japanese Ero Guro Nansensu (‘erotic grotesque nonsense’) art movement, which intermingle dark themes and sexual overtones with a trippy ridiculousness that I love. For example, Shintaro Kago whose work is dark without a doubt but often uses bright manga/anime colors and always seems to be satirical, to me at least. I really love that.
Which direction would you like to give to your art in the future? What are your upcoming projects (exhibitions, artistic projects, etc)?
2019 has been a busy year for me so far, I’ve already shown work in 2 erotic art shows, at The Hive Gallery in Los Angeles and the Dirty Show Detroit and currently have one of my favorite paintings in the annual Laluzapalooza group show at La Luz de Jesus gallery. In May I’ll be taking part in the Pussy Strikes Back II: The Resistance Ball art show at Titmouse Animation studio in Hollywood, which is “an overtly political, overtly progressive art auction for charity, celebrating the interplay, juxtaposition, and/or combination of intersectional feminism, fandom as well as progressive values. I took part in their first show last year and we raised over $10K for charity so hopefully this year will be just as successful!
I’m also working on my personal side project that I mentioned earlier using collected antique ephemera and hope to turn that into a new body of work. There’s a chance I’ll be collaborating at some point with swimwear designer Jordan Terra. We met when I modeled for her first collection and hit it off quickly over our mutual love of bright colors and Star Trek! Other than that I just want to continue to grow and evolve.