West Coast-based artist Caitlin McCarthy illustrates pale, spectral beauties, languid of limb and with milky, blind eyes belying the secrets and mystical knowledge they possess. Visions of dark, dreamy romanticism, these sibyls and seers gaze impassively at the viewer, their delicate bones and bloodless visages hinting at a bygone era of melancholy and loss, and of mysteries glimpsed from beyond the veil.
Though among her inspirations she’s noted a fascination with otherworldly pursuits–the occult, fairy tales, uncanny oddities, etc.–and this clearly includes a fondness for Victorian aesthetic and Gothic sensibilities, there are also whispers of the natural world to be found in McCarthy’s work. The quartz crystals, lush flora, and thorny crowns paired with and adorning these spellbinding enchantresses suggest more than a few earthly adorations, as well.
Caitlin graciously gave of her time for a brief Q&A with Dirge; read more and learn of this artist’s love for the odd and the unusual and how the mystical and macabre manifests itself in her work.
Dirge: Has art always been a passion for you? Can you tell us how you got started on this creative path and how it has lead to the work you are producing today?
Caitlin McCarthy: I’ve always felt a pull to create, and I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. I loved that art gave me the magical ability to transport my imaginary world into something physical and real. I kept drawing through childhood and into my adult life. Eventually I became tired of working at a coffee shop and decided to go to art school. I graduated a few years ago with a BFA in studio art and was lucky enough to get a job in a creative field. I’ve been blessed to have family, friends, and teachers in my life that have supported and encouraged me to continue creating and find my own artistic voice.
Your Tumblr blog and your Etsy site both mention that you find beauty in the odd and the unusual. Has it always been this way for you? When did you notice this curious appreciation and what forms did it take for you?
I would say I have always been drawn to magic, the unexplained, and the mysterious. When I was younger it was an attraction to fantasy, and as I got a bit older I began veering towards a darker aesthetic. As a teenager, I developed a love for dark music, black clothing, vampire novels, and cemetery walks. I like to think my taste and style have evolved, but I suppose I never really outgrew any of it. Things that are considered spooky or macabre inspire me. Perhaps it’s the idea that surrounding yourself with reminders of death will lessen the fear of it, or maybe it’s simply the aesthetic I find myself naturally drawn toward. I do my best to fill my life with the odd and the darkly beautiful and I channel this into my art, my style, my travels, and my home.
Your work appears mainly colorless, rendered in black and white, perhaps some shades of grey and the occasionally pale blushing pink background. The effect is delicate, nuanced–almost elegantly anemic. Can you speak to the muted tones and lack of color in your work?
In college I worked primarily in watercolor. After school I began working in comics and training as a colorist. I spent my days working on the computer, staring at screens glowing with vibrant colors. I have found my personal art began naturally drifting in an opposite direction. Drawing with graphite has become a bit therapeutic for me. I enjoy the act of using my hands to create something. After I’ve completed a drawing, sometimes I’ll add faint tones of color to match the personality of the piece. Other times, the piece just seems complete, so I’ll let it be. Color can be a very powerful tool, but I find that the lack of it can be as well. I use contrast, texture, and line to create the moods I wish to evoke with a piece. Absence of color lends itself well to creating the melancholy, eerie, or mystic atmosphere that I am trying to summon in my work.
Your portfolio is peppered with priestesses, seers, and witches; mystical females as well as an obvious interest in the occult feature heavily in your works. I would love to hear about your influences in this vein, and how they inform your art.
The occult is a pathway into exploring the paranormal, the unknown, and hidden secrets. I often draw the women I wish to be or that I admire. These are often strong women with magic in their eyes, ladies who are tapping into, channeling, or manipulating things we can’t even begin to understand. Instead of being passive, they are mastering and shaping the world around them. I find the idea of controlling what is believed to be uncontrollable both comforting and terrifying.
Can you give us a tour of your workspace? What sorts of objects do you surround yourself with ? What rituals do you use to put yourself in the mood to work?
My home is my shrine and my safe space. I do my best to surround myself with inspiration and things I love. I collect antiques, mourning memorabilia, taxidermy, old photographs, and religious paraphernalia. My walls are covered in work created by artists I admire, and I have more books than I have shelf space, or time to read. I do nearly all of my drawing at night when I’m home alone. I’ll settle in with a cup of tea or a glass of wine on my couch, and snuggle up with my two dogs. I like to turn on a favorite film or music, and the colder and stormier it is outside, the better.
Other than your Etsy shop, where can we find your work?
You can also find me on Instagram @CaitlinMcCarthyArt. I have found Instagram to be a very inspiring and supportive place for artists. I like to share photos of what I am currently working on, glimpses into my home and life, as well as information on sales and such. I’m also extremely fond of Pinterest. I find myself pinning inspirations nearly every day. It’s my virtual bulletin board, and if you’re interested in a peek inside of my head, it’s the place to go.
Step into the role of prophetess or seer for a moment, if you can. What do you predict for 2016 in terms of your art?
I had a lot of personal life-changing events last year and I’m curious to see how those will seep into my art. I really am hoping to challenge myself throughout 2016. I’d like to push myself to sketch more, and to share more on social media. I too often get caught up in thinking things aren’t good enough, and that is so toxic. I’d also love to participate in some group art shows. I think it is such an amazing way to meet and connect with other artists. Unfortunately, I am not able to predict the future, but I am excited to see what it may bring.