Your art is heavily influenced by film, what are some of your favourite movies?
I tend to swim around in the 60s and 70s more than any other time period, because that era seems to synthesize all the movements that I enjoy from the preceding century: all of the decadence of the late 19th century, the surrealism of the 20th, chaotic, anarchic and experimental modernist sensibilities. Gothic literature got really beautiful treatment in this era as well, from Bava's films in Italy to the Roger Corman Poe films and Hammer Horror in general. So I can spend an entire year in 1960-1975 without ever really feeling the need to venture out - though I'm not strictly locked into that time period. It's just a preference.
My favorite film, however, will likely always be Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris. I'm not sure I can adequately express all of the reasons why, but it perfectly captures the beauty of and longing for nature, the search for completion and meaning; silence, solitude, subjectivity, love. It is a film comprised almost entirely of perfect moments and I could probably spend this entire interview just talking about it.
Since I was a teenager, Alejandro Jodorowsky's "The Holy Mountain" has always been at or near the top spot as well. I love the ornate, decadent explosion of imagery and alchemical symbolism, and the way it presents an epic psychological and spiritual journey in such lavish and self-indulgent terms.
Neddal Ayad interviews the artist and musician...
NA. Let's start at the beginning, introduce yourself please.
SH. Thank you for the interview! I'm a self-taught artist, musician and a few other self-taught things. I started showing and selling some little fantasy paintings in and around my hometown when I was about 13 years old, mostly dragons and mythical creatures inspired by a childhood love of Dungeons & Dragons. I quickly gravitated toward surrealism, and later to more dark and horror-inspired imagery. I have more of a naïve than a realistic style, and I love color as much as I love stark contrasts of dark and light. Some of my favorite artists are Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, Alfred Kubin, the Surrealist and Symbolist artists in general, outsider and visionary artists - too many to name really, but I tend to gravitate toward art rich in dream imagery, fantastic and psychologically complex scenes. For myself, I paint primarily for pleasure and self-indulgence. That could mean something really simple and decorative like a Halloween postcard image or something that would appeal to the 14-year-old inside of me, with a pile of crystals and a dragon next to it. Or it could be something from a dream, fraught with personal and psychological significance. At least once a week I have a dream that I am visiting a gallery full of art, or finding some old paintings in a corner of my mom's house, and I wake up retaining a few of those images. I paint some of them, and others I just cherish in the back of my mind, as things that exist somewhere in a private gallery. On a personal note, I live in Houston, Texas, with my husband (my creative collaborator, and inspiration) and at least three cats. Three official cats - we take care of any that camp out in our immediate vicinity, as well. I also design clothing as a member of the Mad Recital Fashion Collective in Houston, making avant-garde clothing with deconstructed and repurposed material, and we put on two fashion shows every year.
You're also a musician, can you tell us about some of the music you make?
I began singing with Stone Breath (and a side project, The Spectral Light and Moonshine Firefly Snakeoil Jamboree) in 1999, although I had been recording by myself before that and with another project. I am by no means a particularly competent musician, technically, but I like sounds. I like subtle, acoustic sounds, and manipulated sounds - the studio tricks of the 1960s, anything slightly processed, old electronics, and abstract noise. I have always said that characters and plot aren't integral to a film or novel, for me, but by the same token, song structure and musicianship aren't necessarily as important to me as the overall atmosphere and individual sounds. I've worked with Stone Breath-related projects for the last 16 years, including incarnations such as Breathe Stone, Crow Tongue, and Timothy's solo works from time to time. When I lived in New Jersey, it was only a couple of hours drive to recording sessions. Now that I am in Texas, we collaborate long-distance and I work on some projects here. On my own, I don't do a lot that sees the light of day until recently. I recorded a solo cassette that I think I made six copies of, ages ago, but there are plans in the works for Reverb Worship in the UK to release some of my early recordings soon, perhaps this year, and I am preparing material for Dark Holler (Stone Breath's label) as well. I am recording new material now that will probably be somewhere in the experimental folk vein. I like to use electronic and manipulated sounds as well as acoustic instruments, but hopefully my love of atmosphere and texture can make up for my lack of professional musicianship. I also do an experimental project here in Houston called White Gloves and Party Manners, which sprung from the idea that noise music tends to be very confrontational and use extreme imagery. I thought it would be interesting to do something very polite and ladylike in demeanor, making harsh noise by knitting chains with metal knitting needles, through distortion pedals, while wearing pearls and gloves. For my recordings though it's a little more varied - I use scraps of sound from records of sewing or hygiene instruction, bird calls, and the like, and play around with household objects. I am also a member of the harsh noise project An Innocent Young Throat Cutter and have other local collaborations in the works.
Where else do you find inspiration?
Everything inspires me - a walk in the park, a trip to any museum, every book I read, and most importantly, my relationship with the love of my life - it all makes me want to paint. If I walk past an exhibit of children's art in the library, or see an unusual mushroom in the forest, it inspires me. Our conversations about the things that we love are inspiring, and we can fuel each other's enthusiasm on a nature walk, a long conversation while stuck in traffic, or an all-night binge playing favorite records for each other. Everything about our life together is an inspiration.
Books are my oldest friends (besides cats) and one of our most intense shared interests. I was an English literature major in college, because once I realized I could just read books for four years and write about them, that seemed like the way to go. I have always thought that writing is the most difficult creative art, because there is just you and the language -- and if you fail, there is no way to cover it up. It's a little terrifying, which might be why I do not attempt writing as often as I would like, though I do a little from time to time, including my contributions here in Sein und Werden. Nature is always present in my life as well. Always renewing itself, always full of surprises and color; carries on in vibrant, constant beauty, regardless of human efforts to thwart it. Deep sea creatures like nudibranchs and jellyfish aren't concerned with making a good impression on us - they just carry out their genetic instructions to be gorgeous, symmetrical and colorful, and even they themselves are probably not aware of just how incredible they are. I recharge in nature, and I need to be outside and see green and growing things constantly. Just the fact that it (Nature) is, and we are a part of it, and can experience it, even in the smallest way, is an endless source of inspiration.
I'm very attracted to intense visuals in film. I like to be plunged into an atmosphere, and I like derangement of the senses, particularly when a filmmaker presents ambiguities and unanswered questions. Oddly, this happens the most in very "good" films and very "bad" films. Both, at their pinnacle, represent auteurship. The good films succeed in conveying the filmmaker's vision. The "bad" films lack the means to achieve this but still create something with the artist's unique signature and vision. The unifying factor might be self-indulgence, which is something I love. I want filmmakers (and all artists) to just immerse themselves in their own vision, however deranged it might be.
The films of Jean Rollin are certainly my favorite in that strange area between art and horror, and Jess Franco hit a few high notes as well. My favorites, respectively, are "Shiver of the Vampires," and "Virgin Among the Living Dead." Some others are "La Vampire Nue," "The Iron Rose," and "Venus in Furs," by those directors.
Peter Greenaway's films combine my love of the static image with an obsession with lists. His film "The Falls" is a dense, rich and rewarding riddle. David Lynch will always be near and dear to my heart, but "Eraserhead" will always be my favorite by him.
All Italian gothic films and most giallos from the 60s and 70s tread that strange line between art and exploitation that I love. Mario Bava ("Lisa and the Devil" is a favorite), Dario Argento (I can't resist "Suspiria"). And we can't forget other visually intense horror films like those of Coffin Joe.
From elsewhere in Europe, Czech New Wave films (Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, naturally, Morgiana, and others), French New Wave film (Alain Robbe-Grillet is a particular favorite, I love Jean-Luc Goddard and Agnes Varda, among others), On the Silver Globe by Andrzej Żuławski, Malpertuis, Harry Kümel, and all of the great classic directors - Fellini and Bergman, for instance. I can't tell you how many times I watched 8 ½ and The Seventh Seal when I was a teenager or how deep of an impression those made. Or Jean Cocteau, particularly "Orphee."
As far as new films, this year's "The Duke of Burgundy" was a perfect movie, as was last year's "A Field in England." Maybe they appealed to me because they captured the look and atmosphere of those early 70s films, but they were thought-provoking, artistically composed, and married visuals, music and ideas in a way that few other contemporary films have, in recent years.
What art/style/artist do you loathe?
I don't spend a lot of time with things that I don't like - I generally skip over them and focus my attention elsewhere. Any genuine creative expression is valid and exciting to me, whatever my personal tastes might be. That said, like everyone else, there are going to be things that aren't to my taste. Perhaps it goes without saying that extremely slick, commercial art (or writing, or music, or film) with no essence or idea behind it, leaves me cold. I like art that has a strong personal touch and vision, even if its execution is naïve and imperfect. Digital art, or anything very slick, doesn't resound with me in most of the forms that I have encountered. Nor do the plethora of "copycat" artists that you see in the self-representing world. As an example, while I enjoy some of the "big-eyed" art of Margaret Keane, it seems to have inspired an endless wave of imitators, to the point where that motif has lost most of the charge it initially held, in the third-generation copies. I can admire the execution and skill in commercial art or in highly popular styles of comic and anime art, but if it doesn't bear any personal signature, I find it hard to connect with on a deeper level. As for fine art, I love abstraction and conceptual art as much as I do highly realistic (or surrealistic) art, so it's hard to displease me if the artist is working from an idea and a desire to communicate that idea. When art is not communicating anything but a desire to sell itself, I can't form a relationship with it.