It’s always a bit of a “eureka!” moment, isn’t it, to discover the real world existence of a marvelous something that until just that very moment in time, you were absolutely certain did not live outside the fantastical realms of your imagination?
For years I believed that the best I could hope for, with regard to outfitting my suburban château with the otherworldly occult aesthetic I envisioned, were the strangest, most inscrutable items that Home Goods and my local garage sales and thrift shops had to offer. If I found the occasional not-t00-cheesy skull at Target during the Halloween season, I considered that a tremendous coup. (This was before the embarrassment of spooky riches we seem to have at World Market and so on, today…but it was honestly not all that long ago!)
Never in my most far-reaching fancies did I imagine that there actually existed artisans who brought to eerie, eldritch life my dreams of high drama gothic eccentricities and décor. Never, that is, until I cast my eyes upon the mystical, esoteric objets d’art– skulls, bats, witches, and the occasional gorgon or cephalopod, and more!–created with macabre elegance and dark allure by Dellamorte & Co.
A finely detailed Krampus ornament, so lifelike and sinister, it appears as though he may awake and mete out enthusiastically devilish punishment at any second. A Death and the Maiden wall plaque presents a lushly textured danse macabre rendered simultaneously vibrant and fragile. Serpent-tressed gorgon statuary to turn unwanted guests to stone, raven-headed canes for gothly midnight strolls, gorgeous anatomical heart vases for your sweetheart, bat and coffin shaped barware for your favorite undead dypsomaniac–whatever your fancy, no doubt you will find something splendid for your haunted castle (or mysterious apartment or uncanny condo or whatever) amongst the exquisite cabinet of curiosities that is Dellamorte & Co.
And before you think I am one to overstate the relative merits of goods that I have never seen in person, or felt with my own hands, I can assure you that I own several wondrous pieces from Dellamorte & Co., each more dreamy that the last–a writhing Kraken vase that I’ve arranged full of spectral undersea botanicals, a stoic Plague Doctor statue to keep watch over a shelf of deathly hardcovers and first editions, a grim raven ornament that hangs menacingly over my writing desk, memento mori gravestone magnets to rest on my refrigerator and remind me that every time I open that door I could make the wrong choice and end up six feet below ground…!
If you are as curious as I have been about the creative souls and kindred spirits behind this extraordinary venture, well then, we have a treat for you! Haute Macabre recently caught up for a candid correspondence with long time friends and creative partners Michael Locascio and Heather Jean Skalwold of Dellamorte & Co.; see below for our resulting interview and learn more about the aesthetics, influences, and inspirations of the artists who have granted our wildest, weirdest wishes and brought all of our darkest, dreamiest desires to life.
Haute Macabre:Your vision draws inspiration from “… catacombs and tombs, mysticism and the realm of esoteric lore” – I’m always interested in where such inspirations are rooted in for an artist–can you speak to how you came to be inspired by the mystical and esoteric; the first stirrings of their influence in your life, how you came to notice them and appreciate them, feed them, watch them grow or evolve and branch out, and bring them to life through your work?
Michael: I think I just had a natural inclination toward certain tastes, because as far back as I can remember I was interested in darker themes. My mother was a nurse, so I was exposed to human anatomy and diseases early on, and media from my father’s National Geographics to the books and movies I was exposed to shaped my tastes. There was one issue of National Geographic with a feature article about the Black Death, and a centerfold of the Peter Bruegel painting. The first books I recall taking out of the library once I learned to read were about mythology- Greek, Egyptian, Norse, and in grade school I enjoyed the Time Life books on the occult. And being the 80’s, there was Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragons, and lots of cool movies, shows, and toys. However, what I enjoyed playing with the most as a kid was simple modeling clay. And it was play initially rather than art, a method of story-building, so years later when I began to take art seriously, those dark themes and narratives naturally became part of my work.
Heather: I’ve had Brian Froud’s Faeries book since I can remember, and as a child I would pour over my father’s National Geographics (I’m always delighted by our similarities growing up), and I recall occasionally flipping through his record collection from the Seventies, in awe of the wild artwork. My parents also got me the Time Life Enchanted World series, which still lives with me in my studio. In my late teens I developed an interest in witchcraft and theology in general, and I was introduced to works by H. R. Giger. It was just the love of these things that were not everyday and ordinary that pushed me to learn and create and experiment with art. There is so much out in the world, so much hidden history, I want to share that and encourage others to learn and explore for themselves.
I read in an interview with etsy that you opened your shop in 2011 and that your first sale came 30 minutes after you first opened! Were you surprised by that, or did you go into this venture knowing that you had a artful designs that appealed to people and that there was an audience and customer base poised to jump on it? And why do you think that is?
Michael: At the time, I needed a creative outlet from my main focus, sculpting in the collectables market. So I planned it to be a fun side business, and I was certainly surprised to sell a piece so fast! I took it as a good sign, and while sales weren’t exceptionally brisk for the first couple of months, I got some online exposure for one of my pieces and things took off from there. In contrast my commission work with licensed products, I was sculpting pieces purely from my own aesthetic. My goal was to make dark home decor with a classical approach, and hopefully with a bit more sophistication that what I would generally see available.
Heather: Back then, when looking for gothic home decor you’d be relegated to Halloween decorations and generally cheesy crap. We wanted to offer something beautiful and functional that reflected our interests, things that we wanted for our own homes.
I understand that you are collector of curiosities yourselves. Can you tell me about your menagerie? What drives you to seek these pieces out? Do we see any of these treasures reflected in the creations that you offer through Dellamorte & Co.?
Michael: I’ve always had an interest in such things, and it really blossomed when I was in college in NYC and I discovered the Evolution store. I’ve collected bones and taxidermy, medical antiques, fossils and insects. It definitely sets the mood in my studio, and sometimes decorative bits I find at antique stores make their way into my artwork. I’d say for me it reflects my interest in science and natural history rather than just being spooky.
Heather: I have a punk/goth background, so I was naturally drawn to Coney Island and freak shows, and I had a similar experience in college with the discovery of the Evolution store. The Dellamorte & Co. studio is full of skulls of every type, antique medical items, sideshow posters, taxidermy gaffs, and artwork by artists we admire. It’s inspired us to create pieces for ourselves, like our little bone minions, and pieces inspired by items we’d never feasibly be able to acquire, such as a replica of one of the Dancing Fetal Skeletons of Bologna, and our own versions of tribal ancestor skulls. This interest has inspired a number of one-of-a-kind pieces we’ve created for the shop, and has led us to artists with similar creative proclivities who currently collaborate with us.
What are some of your favorite creations that you’ve sold or that are in your shop right now? Why?
Michael: Currently my favorite pieces are the Medusa statue and Hecate statue. I really enjoy interpreting themes from mythology in my own style, and I feel that they are informed both by my fine art training and my time in the collectables industry.
Heather: I adore the little homunculi that Michael has been creating out of bits and pieces of other sculpts. I have one hanging out in my living room right now.
What’s currently inspiring you? Music/film/literature/etc.-wise?
Heather: Instagram! We follow so many amazing artists, photographers, and designers on IG, and I find it to be a constant and nearly endless source of inspiration lately. As far as film, Guillermo del Toro is always a favorite. (He’s also our favorite customer!)
Michael: We listen to a lot of classical music and soundtracks in the studio. Some of my favorite podcasts involve history, myths, and legends; for example, Sawbones, Stuff You Missed in History Class, Lore, Spirits Podcast, and Myths and Legends.
What’s life like in your studio/s? Do you create in quiet, or do you have music playing, movies in the background? Do you have any sort of rituals for studio time? In what sort of atmosphere do you find you are most creative and/or productive? (I realize these are sometimes two very different things!)
Michael: After working in a sculpting studio for a toy company for five years, I went freelance and worked from home for another five years before starting Dellamorte & Co. I had my work habits down, and I find keeping a regular schedule and a (reasonably) organized space helps a lot with structure and efficiency. I split my time between fulfilling orders and business maintenance and the creative work of designing and sculpting. Since my work is largely visual, I find podcasts and audiobooks help pass the time best, and when I’m doing something noisy like packing boxes, I put on music.
Heather: I used to work in silence, but because of Michael’s influence, I am always listening to something now. Classical, old jazz, occasionally some retrowave works it way in, and podcasts. The best atmosphere for me to work in is a clean one. My studio is always a disaster. When I break down and finally pick up and organize, life is very good for a while. My rituals aren’t very glamorous. It involves the removal of the brassiere, changing into sweatpants, and making a fresh cup of coffee. Decaf if it’s late, because my work suffers if I don’t get to sleep eventually. But coffee is key.
Do you have a dream project? How about any dream collaborations?
Michael: I love working in bronze, since I began as an apprentice to a monument sculptor. I’ve cast some of my pieces in bronze for personal display, and I always look forward to commissions in bronze or for larger scale sculpture. I’d love to collaborate with Ugo Serrano, perhaps sculpting some of his armor or reliquary designs.
How do you decide upon new piece for your shop? Is it usually something that, say, you’ve had a large amount of requests from customers for? Or is it something that’s just been knocking about in your head and you want to bring it forth into the world? Can you share (or give a tiny hint) as to anything that might be in the works, something new we might be seeing soon?
Michael: I like to balance my new pieces between functional items, such as barware, mugs, and night lights, and purely decorative sculpture like statues and plaques. I always have ideas, so I keep a list of potential projects, but I tend not to begin them until I feel inspired. I always welcome suggestions and requests from customers, and I add them to my list if I feel it’s something that I can add my own spin to. I’m just getting back into designing after a grueling holiday season, but I have a new vampire bat cane finished, and I’m currently working on a harpy statue.
Heather: Michael’s Hecate statue was a customer driven creation for sure. My OOAK pieces have always served as a creative outlet when I’m not too busy with production. I plan to work on a series of perfumes for the shop. It’s something I’ve been playing around with for a while and I hope to produce this year.