Interview by Jones Grey.
Charles McNally Photograph
Finding beauty in death is a unique talent. Though the coupling of the words “death” and “talent” may be subjective to some, having an eye for the artistically macabre has become ingrained in modern alternative culture. This art form is not for the faint of heart. The sight of pink flesh, smell of musty, ancient taxidermy and skinning of week-old road kill only add to the creative process for artists like Lauren Miller, the eccentric beauty and brains behind Altar Ego Design. “Altar Ego became my official business title after I realized how ritualistic my work had become,” says Miller. “Since there is such a significant energy exchange that occurs with death as well as the process of preserving the deceased, I make sure that all antiques are as naturally examined and collected as any deceased fragments I choose to use.” Death isn’t just a means unto itself as a concept for this femme creator. “I really like to know every items back story: what are their origins, if they are imported from another country, belonged to a deceased eccentric old family member, or took part in a memory that was passed to the current owner of the possession. I then have the privilege of honoring the story of each piece, rendering them to the most significant extent of their new life and passing that story on with its new owner.” In a way, Miller is a historian, preserving the past in a unique fashion and allowing each piece to tell a new story through her handiwork.
Jones Grey: Your beautiful use of animal preservation was what originally drew me to your work. Can I count you as a fellow weird kid who was always poking at dead things and stopping to look at road kill? (laughs)
Lauren Miller: If being a weird kid means dealing with a few dead things now and again, then you can definitely count me in. Us oddballs need to stick together, especially the artistic variety! I’ve actually been intrigued by art and natural preservation my entire life. I grew up on the beaches of Laguna Beach and Mendocino county, so beach fragments, things on the forest floor, all of these became precious treasures.
JG: Where did you get your start in taxidermy-based art?
LM: Taxidermy aspects crept onto my pallette seemingly of their own accord. I discovered that my passion for preserving and working with antique and vintage materials comfortably nestled with the idea of preserving the dead. To place them together creates a homage that people can understand on a more profound level. When dealing with the deceased or fragments of a once-living creature, respect and reverence are key to the integrity of my work. Before each project there is a ritual of down time, the mind is cleared, tea is steeped, and the work begins. Once in awhile I like to let a project really engulf me, sometimes I entice it with a good movie or album that fits the mood I would like to imprint upon the specific project or piece I am working on.
JG: What drew you to using bird wings in the majority of your hair fascinators?
LM: Wings have been an obsession of mine from a very early age, and it’s exciting to see that my love for wings has become a symbol that has brought me to this current artistic stage. Wing imagery invades my fine art, but I really love the depth and an understanding of respect that comes with connecting to a once-living being and preserving it with other antique fragments, fusing their seperate histories together. Of course I can’t speak for the individual birds that I have preserved, but I’d like to think that they would appreciate the gesture of being perfectly preserved in a state of flight.
JG: You have amazing personal style! What influences your look and how does it contribute to your art?
LM: Thank you for saying so! I definitely got a lot of mixed reviews when I was growing up. My mother would cock her head to one side, a smirk on her lips and review the outfit- Asian meets Victorian aquainted with classic Gothic and just a dash of 20’s flapper somewhere in there. As my personal fashion refined, it began to settle into the vein of true antique/vintage with elements of the more liberating fashion views and concepts more closely associated with Steampunk couture. I guess I just wanted to break down the boundaries of fashion and see these ‘outrageous’ design concepts come alive for others to admire and play with. To create beautiful, eccentric treasures and to know that there are individuals out there in the world indulging in the debauchery of my artistic creations is a dream come true.
JG: Some of your drawings evoke an ethereal, nostalgic, or melancholy feel, and some encompass all three. What are you trying to portray to your audience with these pieces?
LM: The men and women I draw have a lot to say. They are strong, often portraying states of weakness or despair, and they aren’t ashamed of their vulnerability. My drawings tend to speak of heartache, loss, you know... darker concepts, and like the phoenix they rise from the ashes through surrealist, romantic, sometimes darker interpretations. Drawing is my release. It is my therapy, and throughout my life I’ve used it to tell a story. To share little parts and fragments of my psyche and raw, unbridled thoughts or feelings that lie just below the surface.
JG: Amongst your favorite musicians, taxidermists, and visual artists, who inspires you the most?
LM: The center of my obsession with the strange and lovely is the photography of Joel Peter Witkin. His bold work is shameless and lacks apology. His compositions, however lude or nightmarish, seem to stroke a strong chord in my psyche that I can relate to on a deep level. Art Nouveau God Alphonse Mucha and his lovely ladies as well as the vibrant and ethereal work of Maxfield Parrish will forever stir my pot of artistic lust and longing. I have a strong bond with my Thoth tarot deck, and its concepts and interpretations have given me inspiration, guidance and concrete archetypes to visualize and express in my art work. Musically speaking, I love wordless music- piano soothes me, as does most classical music. A few favorites are Ludovico Einaudi and the modern piano covers of Maxence Cyrin. Classic favorites are Massive Attack, Air and Boards of Canada, though more recently I’ve deeply fallen for the raw electronic sounds of oOoOO, Beats Antique and William Orbit.
JG: Do you have an audience in mind for your art and accessories?
LM: Though my pieces tend to lean towards females of all ages and variety, I like to hope that my pieces grace the bodies and walls of anyone who has a deep love for the curious, the lovely and the macabre. I aim to evoke a sense of wonder and imagination. To take the hand of the Alice within and bring them into a personal wonderland of profound beauty, sultry seduction, and imprint something upon them that maybe they long to express, relay or understand in themselves. |
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