It's funny when you meet a brand owner, or go to an indie event or market, and just connect with a brand and the things they feature and sell. A bit ago, when I asked Chelsea of Witch Baby Soap who she recommended be a part of my series, she mentioned a really familiar name. It wasn't until I creeped IG to find out that this very person Chelsea was recommending me, was someone I was actually trying to remember!
I first stumbled upon Meagan Meli at The Oddities Flea Market last winter. It was at that event that I bought a couple of patches for my bf, got the most bad ass witches broom pin, and fell totally in love with the aesthetic and designing behind the brand. I was so unaware who Meagan was, and looking back now, I wish I had, and would have formally introduced myself. What an honor to be surrounded by so many talented people all in one room. And to be blessed to have Meagan on my series in general.
You're really in for a treat with this one!
When a customer stumbles upon your art, what do you want them to feel and experience?
When someone comes across my art I want them to question it, and pick it apart. I want it to be an emotional experience, facing mortality and fears. Themes of death typically scare people who have a hard time accepting the thought that we all die someday, so I want my artwork to be an experience for those who need to challenge that thought process.
I have a playful approach to death and its symbolism, so it makes it easier for some to take in haha! It’s cathartic to create work that hits emotions so strongly. Especially when symbols carry so much power, our feelings and memories are easily tied to objects. It makes mourning our losses easier knowing that we can find peace in simple icons whether it’s a bird, a cross, or an upside-down torch!
As an artist, who are some of your favorite artists that you look up to or draw inspiration from?
As soon as I read this question, Caravaggio popped up into my head. Caravaggio had an incredible way of utilizing light in his work. Each piece I’ve ever seen of his is incredibly exciting since he just has so much drama in his paintings. I adore his artwork and his lifestyle. He had such an amazing heir of badassery, it’s so hard to not love him.
Some of my other favorite artists were anatomists first, which makes their work especially powerful. For example, Frederik Ruysch, was a 17th century Dutch botanist and anatomist that created these wonderful dioramas using real human parts from his own specimen collection that he processed. One of his most famous pieces is an etching of two fetal skeletons weeping amidst a beautiful arrangement of human blood vessels that look like a floral arrangement wiping their tears away with human skin. His work was dark and whimsical. I absolutely fell in love with that, which is a huge inspiration to my work today. Taking from Caravaggio’s dramatic lighting and color choices, and Ruych’s whimsy, you have…my work I guess!
How did you get started with drawing death positive illustrations?
Creating death related imagery wasn’t always my focus artistically. I was always morbid, but not in the same way. I began drawing monsters and wanting to make the most anatomically “correct” monstrosities. As I delved into anatomy and the history of anatomical illustrations, my obsession became medical illustration, specifically anomalies in medicine. Basically another type of horror. In the past 3-4 years, my fiancé and I went through intense losses in our families. One very recently in our home. With each devastating blow, I sunk deeper and deeper into the history of memento mori imagery. I visited cemeteries on the regular because of these losses, and subconsciously my work just made a sharp turn into learning about death positivity, death symbolism, the history of cemeteries in New England, and many more death related topics. My fear of death also fuels my need to create death positive imagery, it helps me face my own mortality.
With the rise of brands focused on witchcraft, death, and spirituality, how do you differentiate yourself from all the others?
The rise of the interest in death culture and the occult is truly a sign of the times we’re living in. I just try to avoid taking inspiration from living artists. We all have an opinion, our life experiences, and our morals that define us, it is incredibly important to make sure you stay in line with what is important to you when it comes to these themes. You can tell immediately what brands or artists are trying to “exploit” the themes of witchcraft/spirituality, and which artists truly feel the emotions that they’re putting in their work. It’s all about being honest to yourself as an artist and as a person. I create images that are important and exciting to me and I just hope that the public likes it too!
With all the illustrations and pins you've created thus far, which one is your absolute favorite and why?
Oh man, definitely Facing Death. The painting of a woman wearing a nightie getting too close with a green-ish skeleton. I created the image for an art exhibition called “Phobia”. Upon reading the exhibit name, I IMMEDIATELY imagined this in my head. It quickly was burned into my mind’s eye. I had just went through a rough patch with a family member that literally came back from the dead, and another family member that passed. That certainly had a lot to do with the imagery. Death comes in so many forms, and it comes with such an intensity. I wanted to represent this in the literal sense so it was visually striking, but then the viewer can spend time thinking about it figuratively.
If you were to ever collaborate with another artist or person, dead or alive, who would you choose and why?
This is a hard question, but I really think I would love to work with Frederik Ruysch! His dioramas were so incredible; I would have loved to draw from them. If Ruysch was able to make a diorama for me to paint from and create my own vision of his work, that would be such an amazing experience. His specimens must have had such interesting colors since he would process them on his own. Most anatomists had their own methods of preserving remains, and the chemical mixtures would always create beautifully strange color palettes. Now I am just day dreaming about weird colored mummified flesh and blood vessels…
What is your illustration process like when creating a new piece?
When creating a new piece, I tend to focus on whatever seems to be lingering within the walls of my mind at the time. For the past month I’ve had this image of a screaming skeleton within a coffin, so when I have an opportunity to build on the idea and bring it to life I’ll be able to hammer it out in a week or less. My usual process for a larger piece used to be frustrating before I got my drawing tablet, since I layered tracing paper to build my drawing. Now I begin with a loose drawing by hand, I then scan it into my computer and just work on it digitally to save paper since I tend to use too much. Once I feel that the image is complete, I print my final image at a low opacity on watercolor paper so I don’t have to transfer it. That is where I ultimately make final choices with my piece, and then I paint!
I tend to have small strikes of inspiration and just make “coat of arms” like imagery using death related symbolism. I like telling small stories with basic symbols within my tiny paintings. They may look simple, but that is the beauty of using cemetery/death symbolism – they immediately read to the viewer.
What are some of your favorite artists, creators, and shops you recommend everyone check out?
I was hoping I had an opportunity to talk about my coven! My coven is made up of tattoo artist Dana Glover, jeweler Arcana Obscura, illustrator/print-making queen Cat Coven, and stained glass artist Riven Barrow Glass. All of them are so unbelievably talented, I am so fortunate to have all of them! Our artwork drew each of us closer together, and the fact that we are all business owners makes the bond even stronger. I highly recommend checking them all out. We all approach occult and death related themes in our own way, it’s wonderful.
Besides your illustrations, you're also the lead administrator behind the Oddities Flea Market. Tell us about the market and how it aligns with you and your craft.
The Oddities Flea Market is a macabre, but elegant take on the classic flea market. There is a level of grace that is integral to how the flea market is curated. Ryan Matthew Cohn, Regina Marie Cohn, and I saw that the odd scene was dying in New York City. The scene was dying but there was a need and want for it! We felt that we had to bring it back so it was accessible to everyone that was interested in the dark and bizarre. For a long time someone like me who has obscure interests in the dark arts, oddities, antiques, occult, and death had a hard time trying to find somewhere to belong. Creating the Oddities Flea Market wasn’t just an opportunity for us to bring the odd scene from the dead, we were able to give artists and businesses a platform that they were looking for.
I am included within those businesses that wanted and needed to give the odd community what they looked for. I mean, I’m able to sell t-shirts and tote bags with conjoined twins on them! I never thought I would have the chance to be able to sell my weird, grim artwork. It’s so inspiring to meet the people who truly enjoy my work, and at the end of every single market I remember why I go through all of the trouble I do to make my craft my career.
It’s truly fulfilling to play a part in the community. If I was able to tell my past self I would be doing something like this now, I wouldn’t believe it. I was so desperate to be a part of the community in the smallest way, now I can provide small businesses with the opportunity to be a part of something greater. I find myself pinching myself often.
In addition to creating and leading the Oddities Flea Market, what do you do on your down time?
I laughed out loud when I read this question, my first response was “what down time?” I am currently planning a wedding (happened October 13th, 2018!), planning events in NYC and LA, and running my own business. There is a lot going on, and I feel that I am playing Tetris with my calendar every day. When I do find a moment to take a breath, I try to spend time with my fiancé, my best friend, my Coven, or play video games. I miss playing video games so much; I wish I had the time to play World of Warcraft for hours into the night as I did 10 years ago. I intermittently play The Binding of Isaac or Animal Crossing when things slow down.
What are your top 3 most influential albums?
Ah! This is difficult! The first that came to mind was The Fragile by Nine Inch Nails. I know it’s not Pretty Hate Machine, which is one of my favorite albums ever… but The Fragile got me through some of the hardest times of my life. “Somewhat Damaged” was a song that defined the end of my teenage years.
Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven by Godspeed You! Black Emperor was an album I listened to on repeat when I painted. There is some sort of magic infused in that music that forced me to focus. I painted my favorite pieces in college to that album. Maybe I should revisit it more often as a whole, haha!
Last but certainly not least, Selected Ambient Works Volume II by Aphex Twin defined me, my artwork, and my life as a whole. I packed so many memories and emotions into that two-disc album. There were nights that I had to listen to some of the songs on repeat to get through bouts of deep sadness. It’s just a roller-coaster of sounds and experiences with that album. I wish everyone would take the time and listen to it entirely. It’s eerie, disorienting, but calming all at once. I highly recommend trying to get through it.
Ask someone to describe you in 5 words.
Bahaha. This one made me laugh a lot: “Super smart, hot, sassy b/witch” – Edward Chimera of Riven Barrow Glass. Thanks Edward!!!
Where do you see yourself and your illustrations in 5 years?
I’m not sure if I confidently envision this or just plainly hope – I see myself with a full-fledged online store with not just art prints and apparel. I plan to expand to house wares, different types of apparel, and most importantly – stationary! I really want to dabble in making stationary. I hope that by then I have really fleshed out my death positive work, and have a place in the death positive movement started by Caitlin Doughty and the Order of the Good Death.
What is one thing no one knows or would guess about you?
I have to go with something no one would guess about me before they knew me… I am obsessed with Disney Parks. I sometimes wish I was exaggerating. I know the history of the parks inside & out; I go to Walt Disney World almost every year. This year I am going to Tokyo Disneyland for Halloween as part of my honeymoon. My apartment décor is entirely inspired by the Haunted Mansion. To say I love the Disney Parks is an understatement. You can ask any of my close friends about that…
Lastly, what is advice you can provide for those that are into this lifestyle and get judged or criticized for it?
Honestly, to not give a fuck. Do not give any fucks about what people think!
Unfortunately, we all say things that will upset someone else’s morals or politics. There will always be someone who doesn’t like what you like. I have a hard time following this advice. However, when I find myself focusing on what I personally want with my artwork or my life – people tend to avoid to mess with that and the best results come from it. Own your interests, own your style, and own your life. Don’t let others take that away from you, because you only truly have one chance with it.
There's no way you're leaving this interview without wanting to support this amazing artist.
I was lucky enough to have Meagan send me some more pins, because I'm pin obsessed, but I totally want so many of her things in general. I am SSOOOO looking forward to stationery, because I love so many of her designs.
I actually got Chris some patches at the last Oddities Flea Market, and I’ll be picking some more things up next time I go.
What's on your wish list?