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Underworldly, Otherworldly or Otherwise: Author S. Elizabeth on The Art of Darkness 

Over two centuries ago, Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart had especially strong feelings about D minor, likening it to “melancholy womanliness” in which “the spleen and humors brood”. Upon listening to the key of D# minor, an even deeper level of lamentation shook him to his core. The auditory experience, in his opinion, was on par with a ghostly articulation. He felt that it summoned the inkiest degree of distress, despair, and depression within our gloomiest doomiest of souls. Serendipitously, the German author and composer’s “shuddering heart” sentiments about those specific musical tonalities set a suitably preternatural stage for S. Elizabeth’s dark art curation and macabre wordsmithery.

The things that cause my gaze to linger are usually the portraits or landscapes that spark a feeling of unease, disquiet and discomfort. A shadow amongst the summer trees, a lurking silhouette reflected in a perfect blue iris, a vibrant flower in the early stages of decay.

mark-ryden-allegory-of-the-four-elements
“Allegory of the Four Elements”, Mark Ryden

We do enjoy a heaping plateful of weirdness at Beautiful Bizarre Magazine, and when it’s liberally garnished with moody left-of-center zingers and otherworldly oddities, our appetite is further piqued. It makes perfect sense that S. Elizabeth, who is the scribe of the long-running occulture blog Unquiet Things and author-curator of various esoterically appealing art books – including her latest, The Art Of Darkness: A Treasury of the Morbid, Melancholic and Macabre – really does hear and see in the key of melancholy.

The self-described “frou frou fantôme and frillseeker” of vibrationally soul-stirring, gothically delicious lifestyle/dark art delights is just as inspired to trigger curiosity among her fanbase as she is to make connections that result in “hello, kindred weirdo!” moments. The hairs on the back of your neck are standing at attention with good reason – she is indeed one of us! – so pour yourself a cup of something deliriously depressive to balance out the macabre yippie-kai-yayyy endorphins that this interview will surely flood the pleasure center of your brain with.🖤

I definitely vibe with Francis Bacon’s sentiment, “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.”

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“The Four Elements”, MachumaYu

Exclusive Interview With S. Elizabeth, Author of The Art Of Darkness: A Treasury of the Morbid, Melancholic and Macabre

What is your first memory of being smitten with occult art and literature, and how did your appreciation of both evolve over time?

In my childhood, I was already a huge devotee of imaginary creatures and the fantastical elements of fairy tales, plus I loved stories filled with gods and goddesses, heroes and monsters, magic and mayhem. At the age of seven or eight, I was gifted a copy of D’Aulaires’ Greek Myths, which I read cover to cover. Then I discovered the Time Life Enchanted World series of books a year later and was especially smitten with the Ghosts volume. Those tales of eerie experiences and unexplained phenomena – along with the fact that my house was always filled with tarot cards, astrology books, and meditation groups – led to my interest in esoteric and occult writings and stories.

Creativity is in your blood and wordsmithing is how you’ve chosen to run with the genetic baton. It is curious, however, that apart from your affection for curating the art of others – and knitting! – you’ve never cultivated a specific visual arts skill. Do you intend to explore that in the future?

The easy answer (and my excuse) is that I was never really encouraged or “pushed” to explore any sort of visual arts practice. My father is an artist but my parents divorced when I was very young, so art just wasn’t a part of my upbringing. Instead, I was left to my own devices, which ended up being books.

I would love to create art as an adult – likely botanical art – but I have a fear that my first sketch won’t be virtuosic or a thing of utter magnificent beauty, so why bother? I keep telling myself to get over it and just do it, but that hasn’t happened yet.

evelyn-de-morgan-the-mourners
“The Mourners”, Evelyn De Morgan (1855-1919)

If you revel in beauty, terror, weirdness, absurdity and don’t mind passages of melodramatic purple prose interspersed with interludes of silliness and nonsensical ramblings, then you might enjoy my literary perspective on things.

If you woke up one day with a burning passion to tread the path of a fine artist, which old-school and/or new-school creatives would you want to study under?

If I had to narrow it down, I’d say one of the weirdo Dutch 17th-century vanitas artists who included huge, glossy lobsters in their tablescapes. Among contemporary artists, I would go with the decadent and surreal visions of Agostino Arrivabene. Or maybe the weird, pastel flights of fancy created by Brandi Milne! Or Toru Kamei’s beautiful nightmares and haunting still lifes! I could go on!

Did the time that you spent working at your stepfather’s occult book shop trigger your desire to establish a macabre/dark art/supernatural-themed digital presence?

It did, actually! At that time, I was not hugely active online, but I did create a Live Journal account for the shop where I shared “bookseller slice of life” moments and details about some of our more interesting inventory. Being alone amongst all of those books for 40 hours a week was the best job anyone could hope for.

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“Heiliger Turm im Gebirge mit den view Quellen der Lebensstrome”, Melchior Lechter (1865 – 1937)

Why did becoming a generator of online literary/curatorial content make more sense to you than merely just being a spectator?

I don’t know if anyone’s paying attention, or if I am forever shouting in the void, but if I see something, I’ve gotta say something. I’m perpetually compelled to share things that stir my soul – underworldly, otherworldly or otherwise. My motto is “be the weird that you wish to see in the world“, and it has never steered me wrong. Sometimes you want to see something that just doesn’t exist, or if it does, it’s not the way that YOU would do it. That is probably what inspires 95% of my projects!

With book research, I’m always looking for threads and connections that might link one artist or movement or motif or whatever. Finding those instances of insight and synchronicity, following where they lead, uncovering more in the vein of that synergistic spirit and weaving all of those pieces together into a weird cohesive whole is immensely satisfying.

In this day and age of endless distractions and white noise, it seems like a feat of pure magic when a piece of art still manages to transfix the beholder. What aesthetic qualities consistently turn your head?

I definitely vibe with Francis Bacon’s sentiment, “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.” The things that cause my gaze to linger are usually the portraits or landscapes that spark a feeling of unease, disquiet and discomfort. A shadow amongst the summer trees, a lurking silhouette reflected in a perfect blue iris, a vibrant flower in the early stages of decay.

Why darkness rather than light?

You’d think this wouldn’t be such a tough question! Is it as simple as, “I think I look better in dark, muted shades rather than colourful cheery ones?” Is it because I developed a pretty dark sense of humor growing up with a parent who struggled with addiction and mental illness? Or because ghosts and vampires are more interesting for me to read about and watch than rom-com romances with normal human people? Perhaps once you’ve lived with darkness and in it, that vibe ends up being more comfortable and trustworthy than lightness, sunshine and good vibes only. Maybe it’s all of those things.

august-friedrich-schenck-anguish
“Anguish”, August Friedrich Schenck (1828 – 1901)

What is your idea of a near perfect doomy-gloomy aesthetic?

Vanitas paintings with wilting blooms, grinning skulls and a ridiculous cat painted by an artist who has quite possibly never seen a cat before. I love the pieces of creative output – whether they be visual art or literature or music or cinema or even stand-up comedy – that can concurrently make you weepy, farty with laughter, and genuinely freak you out a little.

I’m perpetually compelled to share things that stir my soul – underworldly, otherworldly or otherwise. My motto is “be the weird that you wish to see in the world”, and it has never steered me wrong.

Is the fact that you are among a long line of creatives the main reason why you’re particularly dedicated to giving artists the credit that they deserve? Or is it simply just reflective of your belief that if you’re going to do something, you might as well do it the right way?

If I am being deeply honest, what fuels my desire to share art with full credit to the creator is a burning sense of spite. Artist unknown, huh? I’ll show you! Online platforms run rampant with imagery shared out of context, sans artist credit or relevant source data, and no, I’m sorry, but “sourced from Pinterest” doesn’t count! What is super galling are the many Instagram accounts with enormous followings that post art without credit. Everyone can take two seconds to figure out who has created the art that we admire thanks to convenient tools like reverse-image search. Artists and creators work hard and deserve proper acknowledgement.

There are various gloomy gossamer filaments swaying amid the digital ether that bear your signature, including Skeletor is Love, Unquiet Things, and your literary/curatorial contributions to Dirge Magazine, Haute Macabre, Death and the Maiden, etc. In what way did all of those experiences make your Mlle Ghoul wordsmithing persona far more three dimensional?

Every one of those opportunities allowed me to connect with artists and other writers, further explore my interests and passions, develop my voice, and hone my writing practice. I wasn’t really looking to be a blog contributor or staff writer for anyone, but if someone was so kind as to extend an invitation, I was certainly going to take them up on it!   

Who is your audience…and who isn’t your audience?

If you revel in beauty, terror, weirdness, absurdity and don’t mind passages of melodramatic purple prose interspersed with interludes of silliness and nonsensical ramblings, then you might enjoy my literary perspective on things (especially if you don’t mind personal anecdotes, stories, and asides because…I don’t know how to not do that, apparently).

Regarding who isn’t my audience, I don’t want to make any assumptions! Who knows – humans are weird. I always surprise myself with the things I am into. I love Mortiis and Lana del Rey and King Diamond and Weird Al. I love inscrutable avant-garde art house films and I love watching 20-minute long ASMR videos of people getting their joints cracked on YouTube. I love Junji Ito’s grotesque body horror and also adorable Studio Ghibli productions.

Perhaps once you’ve lived with darkness and in it, that vibe ends up being more comfortable and trustworthy than lightness, sunshine and good vibes only.

Several books bear your name, including two volumes of The Occult Activity Book, The Art of the Occult: A Visual Sourcebook For The Modern Mystic, and your latest release, The Art Of Darkness: A Treasury of the Morbid, Melancholic and Macabre. Have you always been intent on being a published writer of tangible print volumes, or did that career path sneak up on you?

My two activity books were co-created with marvelous artist and friend, Becky Munich, and featured contributions from many of our wonderful art coven associates and writers. That was another one of those things where we thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if X thing existed?” and both volumes sold out immediately.

The Art of the Occult was not a book that I ever planned to write, though weirdly enough, I feel like my life and my trajectory had already prepared me to be the person to write it! I was contacted by a commissions editor who had already pitched the idea to Quarto publishing company. I guess they just needed someone with an eye for curation who could also string a word or two together and write the book. (I’m kidding about that last part…I hope.) Once The Art of the Occult was published, the same editor read one of my blog posts which then inspired her to approach me about doing a second book. That’s how The Art of Darkness was born!

What is the most fulfilling aspect of being a published author of several books?

Well, it’s always exciting to see your name in print, and if it’s attached to hardbound book with a gorgeous cover, that’s even better. When people send you photos of that book hanging out in a bookshop’s bestseller self, that’s pretty amazing, too!

With book research, I’m always looking for threads and connections that might link one artist or movement or motif or whatever. Finding those instances of insight and synchronicity, following where they lead, uncovering more in the vein of that synergistic spirit and weaving all of those pieces together into a weird cohesive whole is immensely satisfying.

Alex Eckman-Lawn’s distinctive cut paper collages were featured in Issue 31 of Beautiful Bizarre Magazine, so of course we’d love to know how Antiquity V ended up becoming the foreboding posterchild for The Art of Darkness.

When I suggested Alex Eckman-Lawn for the cover of The Art of Darkness, it turns out that the cover designer had already bookmarked a few of his pieces, so we were more or less on the same page. I realize that not everyone is able to say that about their publisher/editing team situation, so I feel very grateful!

I love the pieces of creative output – whether they be visual art or literature or music or cinema or even stand-up comedy – that can concurrently make you weepy, farty with laughter, and genuinely freak you out a little.

While penning the manuscript for The Art of Darkness, what crazy-cool, new-to-you factoid did you unearth that made your macabre geek flag fly way high?

There is a moronic 11-year-old who still lives in my heart and thinks that naked people are hilarious, so I guess I found it interesting and fun to learn that Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach was apparently a nudist!

You packed an enormous amount of historically-relevant and contemporarily edgy art into each of your Quarto publications. How did you figure out which pieces were book-worthy?
I really did have tons of creative flexibility with only the slightest bit of reigning in, so most of my loads and loads of top favorites were approved by my editor. You’d be surprised, though, by how many top favorites are knocked out of the running because permission isn’t granted, or artists fail to respond, or an agreement with the artist can’t be reached, or they simply don’t have a high resolution artwork image.

You’ve already secured yet another NEW book contract? Well geesh, that was quick! Please let us know what kind of theme you’ll be exploring this time around and any other details you’re able to reveal.

Wheee – my gorgeous couple is going to become a trio! I am very excited about partnering up with Quarto again. My next book won’t be occult-themed. Let’s just say it’s of a more fantastical nature. LoTR fanatics, D&D enthusiasts, and appreciators of fairies and Frazetta should get pretty excited ;) Quarto will be grouping my three books together as an Art In The Margins series!

The Art of the Occult was not a book that I ever planned to write, though weirdly enough, I feel like my life and my trajectory had already prepared me to be the person to write it!

michele-di-rodolfo-del-ghirlandaio-the-night
“The Night”, Michele di Rodolfo del Ghirlandaio aka Michele Tosini (1503–1577)

In conclusion, please curate a few sickly shivers and uncomfortable feelings for us!

MUSIC

  • Cheesy Synthwave Ear Worm: Running In The Night (featuring Ollie Wride)

FILM

  • Prano Bailey-Bond: Censor (2021)

VISUAL DELIGHTS

  • Irina Korsakova: Assorted Works
  • Josef Vyletal: Beauty and the Beast Movie Poster (1978)
  • Merenda Wallpaper: Snake Party Pattern
  • Peter Polach: Good Lord, Anglerfish, Show Us More
Peter-Polach-Anglerfish
Peter Polach: “Good Lord, Anglerfish, Show Us More”

LITERATURE

  • Catriona Ward: Sundial
  • Ainslie Hogarth: Motherthing

PERFUME

  • Etat Libre d’Orange: The Ghost In The Shell
  • Milano Fragranze: Basilica Eau de Parfum

FASHION

  • Vogue Hong Kong: Armour of Couture Editorial
  • Schiaperelli: Spring 2022 Collection
  • Nooworks: Psychedelic Eyes Turtleneck
  • Heaven Gaia by XiongYing: 2022 RTW Collection
sveta-dorosheva-the-alchemyst
“The Alchemyst”, Sveta Dorosheva
S-Elizabeth-Author-The-Art-Of-Darkness-Book

The Art of Darkness

Website

S. Elizabeth Social Media Accounts

Website | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Tumblr | Pinterest

About Author

Longtime eco-journalist, art wordsmith and creativity connoisseur. Anything that hovers in the right-brained spectrum or is born out of unbridled imagination elevates my spirit. I probably revere mother nature's ever-changing shazaamy brush strokes more than the average humanoid. Technicolor art supplies make me weak in the knees, as do wet-nosed luvvies.

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