It’s springtime again, and rain is beating down on my window as I type. The eerie thunder seems to mesh well with this article, this special feature for May, because I have a lovely artist that makes me think of the lightest part of the dark. Perhaps that sounds strange to you, but I hope that you will understand by the end of this message, and I hope that you will also take delight in the beauty and darkness of her gothic and, oftentimes, quirky creations.
I was lucky enough to happen upon Esmeralda Marina Rupp-Spangle and her work through another artistic friend of mine. I was struck by how peculiar and antique much of it looked- my exact tastes when it comes to trinket type works, or artisan crafts. I often go out of my way to find these things in the world so I can get my hands on a piece of them, a bit of steampunk or aged Victorian whimsy. This is what she excels at.
From Portland, Oregon, Rupp-Spangle crafts as a hobby, and she does it often. I follow her on Facebook and have for some time now, silently watching as she posts updates on her newest projects, her interesting designs. It is inspiring to be able to shadow an artist this way, especially one who truly lets others into the process of making art, step by step, start to finish, and it is through this that I become inspired to perhaps try my own hand at replicating a piece of her artwork in the future.
Not only is she bursting at the seams with creative prowess, as well as an endearing love for bugs of all kinds, she’s also a brilliant woman, and I am sure you will be able to tell from the interview below. Please feel free to take a moment to read it and get to know her a little better, and if she piques your interest, I have included a few links for you to better connect with her.
To check out some of her work or follow her process, please check out the following links: Etsy, YouTube, Tumblr.
Interview with Esmeralda Marina Rupp-Spangle
What kind of things inspire your work? What compels you to make art?
This is an interesting question- I like the use of the word “compel”, because that’s often precisely how I feel. The things that guide my work are varied. Nature, science, the work of others more skilled than myself, strange midnight inspirations as I drift to sleep, history and human folly, the aesthetic of mysticism, decay, collapse, rebirth, and unexpected beauty are all factors in both inspiring me and also are incorporated as themes in my pieces. The forces that compel me to create are a mystery to me. I have always felt the need to make things- By the time I was twelve I had written hundreds of pages of a novel (never finished), and acquired an 8mm camera with which I attempted to make my own short films and stop motion (this was long before digital, as you can imagine). When I was a teenager I filled journals with bad poetry, started and maintained a small press zine’ with my friends, and took up darkroom photography. I pursued photography seriously for many years, even taking classes at a fancy art college for it, but eventually gave it up when digital photography finally eclipsed traditional film, and made my art obsolete. I would spend hours and hours in the darkroom on one photograph that might take someone fifteen minutes in Photoshop. At that point I became disillusioned and despairing, until one day I started randomly picking up bits of rusty metal on the street and putting them in my pocket. I didn’t really know why I was doing it at the time, but I felt, well, compelled. Eventually I found this one strange piece of metal that looked like a tiny knight’s helmet, and I realized I needed to make a chess set out of these bits of industrial ephemera. So I did. It was hugely liberating to realize I didn’t have to stick with one medium- that I could make art for no money and with no training. I didn’t have any expectation of wealth or glory; in fact I intentionally avoided self-promotion. I would, and still do, veer from medium to medium in a sort of haphazard artistic shambling- like a stumbling drunkard. I find that now, I can’t simply stick to one thing. I have to do it all. Oil and acrylics, drawing, writing, resin, encaustics, jewelry making, sewing, collage, mask making, altering books, sculpture… I can’t even think of all the different things I’ve tried my hand at. If I haven’t tried it, and it’s an artistic technique, there’s a good chance that I will at some point. Except music, the only musical instrument I ever really was interested in was the singing saw. I can play the first few notes of the Star Trek theme on it, and that’s about it. I’m sort of the antithesis of a specialist. I will never be exceptional at any one thing I think, but I’m ok with that. I’m doing this for myself- for my own fulfillment, not to satisfy the standards of any critics. I’m always surprised and delighted when someone takes an interest in my work.
Can you tell us a little bit about your current photography collection on Flikr?
I am not sure if I should talk about it or not- I definitely don’t want to promote it or anything. I started it as a private collection but ended up posting them on Flickr because it was kind of a good place to store them, and the response from the people who’ve seen them is very strong. Sometimes the response is good, sometimes bad, but rarely indifferent. Basically I’m like an everyman paparazzi. I have taken photographs, secretly on my phone, of innocent bystanders I ride the bus with. I want to remember their faces. I love people, and I love my city- I feel passionate about the interesting variation of faces and bodies and habits of those I see every day. I try to imagine where they’re going, what kind of pets they have, what do they do for a job? That sort of stuff… Anyway, I love them. Some people might be called ugly, some beautiful, some healthy, some sick, some old, some young- I will just see someone and feel this overwhelming desire to hold on to their face forever. So I pretend to text message but really I’m taking their photograph. I know some of those people would probably be really angry if they realized what I was doing, because it is pretty invasive, and I do sometimes feel a little guilty about it, but I just can’t help it. They’re so wonderful. I am never insulting or disrespectful towards them, just fascinated, adoring, or curious.
I noticed that you are drawn to collage type works quite a bit. What kind of pieces draw your attention and make you want to incorporate them into your work? What do you look for?
I’m really drawn to apocalyptic themes: rust, decay, death, kook medicine, Victoriana… but not human or animal suffering- I have a very sharp line there. I find a lot of beauty in decay and collapse in a removed, objective sense. I read a disproportionate number of nonfiction books about disaster. Catastrophic climate change and mass extinction, peak oil and resources, the history and future of disease, cults, mutations, religious and social hysteria, other science… I sometimes call myself a mental masochist. I expose myself to these really dark and horrible things because it gives me perspective. These things make me feel really small and unimportant, on a universal scale- but that also has a liberating effect for me, oddly. My mom used to say to me “I acknowledge the dark pit, but you like to hang off the edge and stare right into it, Esmeralda.” And I can’t disagree with that.
Collage can be a really effective because of the crowded, claustrophobic effect it can have; and also because it’s a great way to recycle vintage imagery and juxtapose it with refuse, multimedia stuff, or whatever is at hand. I feel like the effect can be quite spooky.
What is your favorite creation so far?
That’s a tough one. I like a lot of the things I’ve done. I know, as an artist that’s sort of taboo to say. I’m supposed to be all self-effacing or what have you- and I don’t want to give the impression that I’m an egotistical expletive- but there are some things I’ve done that I’m really proud of. The Silent Tarot, a couple of the pieces in the horoscope mask series, the insect resin painting “The Arduous March”, the Insectorum Divinorum, Ten After Ten (my miniature murder scene)- I don’t think I could pick one. I think my favorite is probably something I haven’t even thought of doing yet. It’s out there on the horizon, and I may or may not ever get there. Something I’m striving for, but haven’t reached yet.
I notice you use a ton of different media and methods in your artwork. Which medium do you prefer to work with and why?
Well, I guess it depends on what day it is, and what I’m working on. Right now I’m SUPER into resin. It seems to have limitless possibilities, and I’m very excited to push the boundaries of what it can do. It’s a bit of a learning curve, but I’m determined.
Can you tell us how you made that dragon egg?
Oh yeah, I did NOT come up with that one. I watch this amazing crafter/ make-up artist called Klaire De Lys on YouTube- she’s completely amazing. I followed the basic idea of her work, but added my own twists: Baking clay instead of air dry, several layers of varnish, and different sort of paint- but I pretty much just followed her lead. You should put this link up so people can see her amazing work. She’s got two channels: one here, and here.
Your insect divination cards are really unique, and I followed you through the process of making them. Would you tell us a little bit about some of the challenges you faced, if any?
They took me almost a year to make, and unlike the Silent Tarot, I didn’t have a “map” or outline of what I was going to be doing. With the tarot deck, I was representing images that had pre-determined definitions. The Lovers, the Ten of Swords, the Tower, and so on- they have definitions made for them, things that they already mean- I was just interpreting them in my own way. With the Insectorum Divinorum I was flying blind. It’s an oracle deck, so there’s no set of definitions or meanings, no limit to how many or how few cards there are supposed to me- nothing. Deciding what sort of structure the deck should have- creating the framework as I went along was tough. Writing the definitions was extremely challenging as well, but ultimately satisfying. I think the hardest part of all though, was trying to find concepts that overlapped the insect world and the human one. For instance, the “Butterfly” card means delicacy and fragility, either of a person, or situation. The card “Stridulation” (which means insect song, like a cricket) references the search for someone like you, for those who understand you, which is something we share with all animals- the need to belong. Finding those points of commonality and representing them visually was the ultimate challenge- but it also was the most important aspect of the deck, in my view.
When you were younger, did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up? Has that changed significantly over the years? And what are you doing now?
No, no, and nothing interesting enough to talk about. I never really knew what I wanted to do professionally, but I knew that whatever it was, it wouldn’t be my passion. I’ve always known that. All the things I’m really interested in doing wouldn’t be lucrative enough to pursue as a career- and if they were, I’d have to marry myself to it in a way I’d be afraid would make me resent the art. So I do a job I like to call “eminently tolerable” that pays my bills, and fill my off time with the things I’m truly interested in. It’s pretty much exactly what I wanted. Only when I was younger I didn’t want kids, but now that I have one, I can’t imagine my life without him. Other than that I’m doing exactly what I expected I would, by and large. It’s exactly what I want to do. That’s important to me- because, as anyone who’s ever lost a good friend or close relative can attest- when mortality smacks you in the face, you realize the true importance of not wasting your time conforming, trying to please others, or fulfilling social obligations. Doing what keeps you and those you love happy and content is really all that matters in life. And art is what keeps me happy.