An Obscurum Of Secrets: The Lost Art Of Robin Isely | Haute Macabre

An Obscurum Of Secrets: The Lost Art Of Robin Isely

I had, for a time, sadly shelved the idea of a feature on digital collage artist Robin Isely, aka sliplead. I first mentioned this artist in my 2017 Needful Things roundup and I was immensely thrilled at the opportunity to connect with them for an interview, but unfortunately, their gorgeous Tumblr-hosted gallery–an obscurum of secrets, elusive of precise description; a sensualist’s delight of surreal grotesqueries–had vanished into the ether in late 2018. This was due, in part, to Tumblr’s ridiculous censorship nonsense at that time, and– if that wasn’t bad enough– the artist’s URL had been hacked by some porny bots and their whole virtual salon of loveliness was eventually deleted.

Understandably heartsick at the loss of their body of work, as of today, they still have not found a new space on the internet for their creative portfolio. This left me with a dilemma, and I was hesitant to proceed; I generally try to be pretty scrupulous when it comes to sharing website/store/social media details regarding the artists I write about; but regrettably in this instance I would not have anywhere at all to direct those readers who may have been keen to learn more about this artist and see more of their work.

However. Blog content across all platforms runs rampant with imagery shared out of context, sans artist credit or relevant source data (and no, I’m sorry, but “sourced from Pinterest” does not count!) I guess it must be hard to believe that artists as creative beings actually exist, right? You’d think most artistic content springs fully formed from the dashboards of microblogging “content creators.”  In addition to this particularly annoying form of artist erasure, many sites (I’m looking at you, Tumblr, Facebook, and Instagram) practice a puritanical form of censorship under the guise of “community standards”–especially when it comes to those wily and dangerous nipples on female-presenting subjects. Here today, gone tomorrow– sorry about your content, artists! Shoulda kept them titties covered! It’s absurd and infuriating and I hate it. This is in part what happened when Robin Isely’s work started to disappear.

Digital Archivist, Digital Curator, and Art Consultant Samantha Levin shared with me, “As Tumblr and other sites disappear or change over time, we’re looking at losing our history,” and I can’t even begin to tell you how distressing and urgent this notion feels to me (see my lamentations concerning the great Polyvore disappearance of 2018, for one example of this type of occurrence.) With this realization, it is more important than ever that we bolster and keep alive this conversation and the push-back surrounding these types of censorship, the lazy lack of artist sourcing and citing, and the responsibility of giving credit where credit is due.

…and so I concluded that regardless of whether or not Robin Isely has an online gallery for their work right now, it is of paramount importance to me to share both their work and their story, right here. While there is still a place for it, and a person who cares to tell it, and people interested in witnessing it and learning more.

As someone who writes about people and their artistic practices and processes, I probably ask a lot of dumb questions. But occasionally I get lucky and hit on some really good ones! And I’m always gratified when the recipient of my queries takes the time to provide me with some thoughtful answers. That’s not always the case, though, and I won’t lie to you–every once in a while I get a bit of a dud in terms of maybe one-word or canned responses. Is that unprofessional to admit? Well, maybe. But it happens and that’s the truth and I guess you’re not supposed to take it personally (but I do, because how else are you supposed to take things?) Also, I’m sorry, between this gripe and the tumblr thing, it’s become a bit of the old airing of grievances, whoops.

In a rare and unforeseen circumstance, though, the subject of my questions might not really answer anything I’ve asked them at all! Which is a little confounding! But in certain wonderful instances, what they’ve chosen to share instead serves to open a door to a completely different way of thinking about the artist and their work. Such is the case with Robin Isely, this dear human and extraordinarily imaginative creator whom, true, I don’t know very well, and yet of whom I have grown incredibly fond– and this fondness, I don’t mind sharing, lends an extra layer of tenderness to how I view their art.

In any case, I am ditching my questions and eschewing the traditional Q&A format to share with you Robin’s words, as they shared them with me.

Describing themselves a “something of a hermit, a completely unsocialized beast,” Robin wrote to me that they dropped out of art school to spend a life riding and training horses and dogs. Making art seemed stifling, they thought; they wanted to make something beautiful with other minds, animal minds. “It’s a more experiential, physical art form– dancing, if you will,” they divulged. Upon reaching a point in their career where they became physically incapable of working with and caring for animals, it was then that they were given the tools to access a new chapter in their life’s story, a portal to entirely new worlds:  an iPad!

Regarding their discovery and creation of digital art, and its strange and surprising similarities to a former life, they reveal: “I use a simple app and I much enjoy the feeling of my finger sliding across the glass; there’s a place on a horse’s mouth, you slide your finger there and they relax–and so it is with me.”

I had asked a convoluted question about themes involving frames and thresholds, pertaining to the notion of navigating between worlds in her art. In one sense, Robin candidly demurred to go there:

“You were asking about thresholds and frames, and that’s the thing with words, don’t you think? They force you to put a frame around an idea and leave out all the other possibilities. I must confess I like the idea of the pictures having the freedom to evoke any and all interpretations…after all, I do believe we see the world as we are.”

But they went on to illuminate most beautifully :

“The thing about art and thresholds is important…you have to cross over to that mind-place that forgets the names of things; remember Alice in the forest with no names? Of course, you have to surrender yourself, completely. It’s the being there and sometimes you come back with something of a bit of that place’s shine. That’s what you respond to in art, music, dance, really everything worthwhile: the resonance of the experience of that state of being.”

About their childhood and early life, Robin disclosed the following:

“I was an only child and lived in books. I memorized the Alice poems and was wont to recite them at inappropriate times. I absorbed the language and spoke like a proper Victorian child. Obviously, I had few friends of the human variety. My mother fed me a diet of Vogue magazines and Aldous Huxley. As a teen, I was quite prepared for the sixties in San Francisco and enjoyed dressing in thrift store velvet gowns and dancing at the Avalon Ballroom. I’ve shared a life with horses and dogs that a king would envy. Many nights have found me passionately debating the meaning of Meaning with the man who became my life partner. I lived a life and can highly recommend the experience to all of your readers.”

“So, for me,” Robin expresses in continuance to a previous thought, “the pictures are a memoir, a spiritual practice, and a way to quiet the tiresome narrative voice in my head. I was never afraid on a horse and if I can cross over to that place with the art-making, there is no fear there either. Most of all, as a child, I admired Alice’s bravery confronting the absurd, scary world she found herself in. If my pictures had any power at all, I would wish some of her courage to come through in them, to the viewer.”

And finally, a prescient and poignant conclusion to our communiqué:

I do not post the pictures beyond tumblr but I know they have wandered off on their own adventures. Perhaps one day I will find a more permanent home to provide them with.

I’d like to think that Robin Isely’s incredible art has a home here at Haute Macabre for a time and that there are those amongst you who wish to gather it all as close to your heart as I do, while we can. Continue scrolling for some of my personal favorites, and Robin, we wish you all the very best in your continued journey.


2 Comment

  1. I was so sad when sliplead disappeared on Tumblr! I love all of their works, I think they’re beautiful. Thank you so much for writing this article! It satisfied my curiosity and gave me hope. I hope in the future a platform will popup where I can follow all my favorite artists without the threat of censorship. What a dream…

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