Photograph of Spinestealer by Quiver & Quill Photography, 2017

 

A good piece will remind you of a heartache while you are perfectly content, or make you feel understood and loved at your most vulnerable and empty. If there has been any change in significance during the pandemic, I would hope that dark art is connecting people more than ever.

Spinestealer

Spinestealer, or Johnny to friends, is a delightful gothic harlequin who deftly demonstrates that pain can have beauty.

The current pandemic has forced many people to reckon with the realization that health and well-being can be fleeting. Living with chronic health concerns, that knowledge is never far from Spinestealer’s thoughts.

A mixed media artist, sculptor and painter, Spinestealer channels that suffering into acutely poignant works of pathos with androgynous assemblages, amputated sculptures and other mixed media confections.

By bringing personal pain to the surface, the artist allows the viewer to have a moment of catharsis. The childlike innocence of the pieces also returns the viewer to an existence of pure emotion without shame.

Given that so many of us are wrestling with health-related fears, I reached out to Spinestealer to get some perspective on dealing with something so negative and perhaps spinning it into something light.

You live in a highly populated area of Los Angeles, How has your daily life changed since the spread of Covid-19? Are you self-quarantining?

I’m self-quarantining with my lovely roommate who is also an artist (Siobhan Radke, known as House of Misery). We go on an occasional walk together but spend most of our days inside, and without any visitors entering our home.

Before Covid-19 I was typically working an average of 50 hours a week between two jobs, and sometimes working up to 73 hours a week. Now that I’m following the stay-at-home order, I’m healthier and happier than I’ve been in years.

I suffer from chronic medical problems and work long hours to try and afford medical care, which often makes my physical state worse. It’s an unending cycle of overworking to afford overpriced medical care, only to ultimately feel worse and be more fatigued.

Now that I’m at home I’m exercising more, sleeping well and creating, reading and cooking every day. My future employment is uncertain and I’ve lost access to healthcare, but I want to be positive and productive during this rare time off from work. I make every day full of the activities I love, caring for my health, and tackling unfinished projects.

While I empathize with the tragedy of this horrible pandemic and feel for those who are anxious or personally affected by the virus, I am very grateful for this time to breathe since I’ve always struggled to survive and be well. I’m hoping that any art I create might give solace to people who need it during this quarantine.

Very Dreadful, Indeed by Spinestealer, 2019
 

You announced on Facebook that you plan to start working on your first solo show in ten years, which is very exciting. Do you have a theme in mind? Why do you feel like this is the time to do that?

I’ve actually started working on two solo shows simultaneously. They will be scheduled a fair amount of time between eachother as to give each gallery focus.

First will be a fairytale theme for Hyaena Gallery in Burbank, which has long been a second home to me and many other dark artists. The pieces will focus on the Grimm’s fairytales I accidentally stumbled upon as a child, and incorporate other dark stories and rhymes that hum with some sort underlying menace or cautious lesson.

Second will be a show called Death Part Us for the dearly loved Dark Art Emporium in Long Beach. It will feature the passage of death, those awaiting death, and the silence after death has passed over.

I work from morning til night researching, reading, sketching, sculpting, and trying to perfect works for each show. I’m putting my all into each piece, and am not taking any shortcuts, in order to get the finished works just so. Loving care goes into each thought and the creation process.

I want to give my two favorite galleries shows that will make them proud. It’s an immense amount of work but I have the discipline and I also have an incredibly supportive art audience encouraging me. I’m hoping I can put smiles on faces and make some hearts swell, when these shows go up.

You also mentioned that the show is going to have to be created from supplies you already have. Can you talk about your stash and is there anything specific you’re hoping to get? Does being forced to work mostly with what you have make you feel freer creatively or more restricted in any way and why?

Now that my workload has gone from one show to two, the strategy has changed. While I’m still using my supply pile and donated items, I’m forced to buy things like matching frames and similar sized canvas so the shows have some cohesiveness. Although my bodies of work typically aren’t very cohesive because I switch from drawing, to painting, to mixed media; I have a style in mind for each show and matching supplies can help pull everything together.

Because of the need for some new supplies I’m also creating pieces to sell currently, which adds even more to my workload. And for anyone who wants to help fund the shows and see some of the pieces, I’m posting pictures and videos on my Patreon page, which has allowed me to purchase supplies year-round. I couldn’t tackle any of this without the amazing support from my Patreon followers.

Having a certain amount of restriction with what’s already on the shelves, actually forces me to get more creative and solve problems and I’m enjoying the challenge.

Fought My Best by Spinestealer, 2014
 

Has the tone or look of your work shifted at all during this time?

While I have done a few pieces based on this pandemic crisis, I would say my overall tone has not changed. However, my skills are improving now that I have such a great amount of time to tweak and experiment as much as I like.

Have you explored any techniques or mediums during this time that are new to you?

I would love to get my hands on oil paints and have been asking around for possible donations. Since some of my current supplies are canvas I seem to be returning to canvas a lot, despite that I’ve used mostly wood the last few years.

I know you were recently experimenting with castings and special effects monster work. Have you had to put that creative work aside at this time or are you able to continue?

I’ve greatly enjoyed working my second job making molds, casting up monsters, painting iconic horrors. Robert Vinter had been using his time to teach me on nights and weekends, before the stay-at-home order was in effect.

Unfortunately both of my jobs are “non-essential” so I’m not working at the shop for studio props. I’ll continue learning in that area, but I’ve lost the opportunity of several major projects and am unsure if I will get such an opportunity again.

While I’m at home I have very little access to tactile learning, but I’m now watching tutorials on scenic painting in hopes that I can land more work.

Your aesthetic is heavily inspired by Victoriana and circus art. Many of your pieces feel like they come from a different time period. Are you reflecting at all on current events in your creative work? And do you feel pressure to incorporate current events into your art at this time?

I don’t feel any pressure for my art to be relevant with the current state of the world. But I am using my art skills to help raise money for galleries at this time. There is a sense of obligation to help small business at this difficult time, and if I’m able I will do what I can to keep wonderful local shops and independent artists afloat.

You’ll Be a Swan Someday by Spinestealer, 2018

What role (if any) does art and the artist have at a time of crisis?

I know for me personally, I can feel completely enveloped in a feeling that a certain piece of artwork could convey. In times of loneliness, art can be our comfort, our company, our dreams. Watching so many great artists being productive at this time is proof that they are thriving, fighting back against helplessness.

Sending and receiving pictures of works in progress with other artists has been so uplifting. Living with a fellow artist and tossing ideas back and forth and introducing eachother to new artists breathes live into our self-isolation.

Novels and comic books are part of my daily routine and I find myself lost in the stories and the beautiful art. Art, writing, and music are all wonderful escapes during this time and give a sense of fulfillment.

I’m watching my friends put on concerts in their living rooms, poets offering to send out postcards, sculptors sending me pictures of delicately painted creatures, and DM’s creating extravagant worlds for their players to get immersed in.

Americans are exhausted and broke from the daily grind, and this crisis is our time to flourish creatively.

Additionally, your work is known for exploring darker themes such as death, dismemberment and loss of innocence. What’s the role of dark art in dark times?

Dark art is so engrained in my entire lifetime, that it’s hard to personally see any large change in relevance depending on the current climate. Dark art has a way of pulling on the heartstrings no matter the present state of a viewer.

A good piece will remind you of a heartache while you are perfectly content, or make you feel understood and loved at your most vulnerable and empty. If there has been any change in significance during the pandemic, I would hope that dark art is connecting people more than ever.

What kind of art have you been consuming and why? Is this different than what you typically consume?

Podcasts and music while I’m at my art desk. Reading morning and night. All the books and comics I’m currently engaged in were a part of a large unread pile that was getting away from me because of my all-consuming work schedule.

I’m also re-reading Women Who Run with Wolves and Grimm’s Fairytales as part of my show research. The original Grimm’s fairytales I own was something my parents accidentally let me buy when I was about ten. The innocuous cover featuring a princess in pastel colors never led my parents on to the actuality that the book was filled with horrors.

How is your mental health? Do you feel that you have been doing things to take care of yourself and if you do what are those things?

My mental health is great. I’m already used to isolation given my work life, my art and my medical problems. I’d been previously confined during a severe disability years ago, so being able-bodied at home is something I don’t take for granted. I lift weights most mornings, eat healthy, drink lots of tea and red wine.

I am easy on myself and don’t indulge in harsh self-criticism. If I’m fatigued I rest, if I’m having an artist block I enjoy reading instead, If an injury is too painful to exercise I don’t get frustrated with my body.

I hear a lot of people being hard on themselves during this time, and feeling helpless or restless. I’d urge people to go easy on themselves, and focus on the small delights around them. Mindfulness can be of great help in healing negative feelings.

Your Heart is Safe With Me by Spinestealer, 2018

Did you have any planned showcases that have been postponed or cancelled? Or were there any shows that you were looking forward to attending?

I was going to participate in the Luxe Paws Fundraiser Exhibit at Copro Gallery which raises money for care of cats in need. The show has been postponed but will be rescheduled.

Has your financial situation been affected by the spread of Covid-19?

Greatly. I went from struggling to survive while working two jobs, to having no solid work at all. Like most Americans, I’m living off of credit cards and support from others.

I’ve lost my health insurance as well as hundreds of dollars worth of shots that I will now have to start over. I’m alone in my health problems and unsure if I will be employed at either of my previous jobs once this situation ends.

What can we do to support your work at this time?

If anyone would like to financially support my creations they can fund me through Patreon.com/spinestealer. Even the smallest funding by supporters is of great help to artists. If ten people were to sign up at $1/month, that’s $10 that could afford a pack of art cards or fresh paint.

I also show and sell work directly through Instagram under Spinestealer.

A lot of those who have shared my art have gotten my pieces to reach people that wanted to buy or commission work. I share the work of other independent artists and small businesses as well. Sharing content has a huge positive impact on independent creators, and is a great way to support without spending money.

Thank you very much to Spinestealer for doing this interview. To see more of Spinestealer’s work, be sure to follow on Instagram. Original work is also for sale through Hyaena Gallery and the Dark Art Emporium.

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