Through her stellar, groundbreaking work in the more extreme realms of heavy music — first with Starkweather; more recently as a member of Below the Frost — Michelle Eddison long-ago established herself as a unique and uniquely powerful artistic force.
It turns out her brilliance is not restricted to — or contained by — a single medium, however: Back in January Eddison launched both an Instagram page and official website dedicated to a jaw-droopingly gorgeous, highly affecting array of her visceral, visionary paintings.
“Art and music have always been at the center of my world,” Eddison tells Decibel. “Growing up listening to punk rock, hardcore and metal definitely influenced me both musically and visually. Making music…creating art — it all just kind of flows in and out of one another.”
Eddison was kind enough to recently answer a few questions via email about her creative journey and processes, her professional work in a “therapeutic art setting,” parenthood, and tapping unorthodox influences that “set fire to a piece of art” — in a positive way!
I’m curious — considering the caliber, vibrancy, and amount of work that is suddenly public — whether this is a particularly fertile period for you as an artist? And if so, why do you think that is?
Timing is right for me at the moment. There are so many people who are talented but life doesn’t present them with the gift of time.
I have a little spare time and access. I have an art studio at home and in my life I am surrounded with creative people who want to collaborate.
There have been many years when I was busy working on life. I know how valuable this time is and I’m trying to take advantage of it.
Can you tell me a little bit about your path to art and music? Intertwined? Staggered?
I come from a creative, supportive family and had access to art in high school and college. That’s when I began to draw/ paint. I also started playing music at that time, learning guitar eventually switching to bass. I still play guitar. My sister lent me her beautiful 1960’s SG and I like to play that.
You write your work is “grounded in personal narrative; informed by nature and emotion.” Can you describe a little bit what that’s like in practice?
When I start to make art I have a general feeling or emotion. When I look at a finished piece I see what is happening and what it means. It shows the personal narrative of my life. Many figures are silhouetted and abstracted. For me it means something specific. For a viewer they might bring their own ideas.
Nature is something I pull from because the best designs, patterns and color schemes are out in nature. You just have to notice it.
I once interviewed Kirk Hammett about the ways the horror centric art and films he collected and loved affected in some sort of ineffable way the atmospherics he brought to his music. I wonder if your experience playing music and immersing yourself in composition and performance and all the peripheral stuff that comes with doing that similarly broadened your aesthetic and/or creative horizons in a similar way?
Most definitely making music has informed my approach to making art — mostly in the process and approach. I can also see how film can be a profound influence. The moving images have timing like music does. I can write a part and envision what might happen in a movie to that part. Also listening to music is a tremendous inspiration. Feeling what is going on in the song may spark an idea that wasn’t there before. Things emerge from sounds and lyrics. It can sometimes set fire to a piece of art.
I love the variety of approach in your work — it seems as if you are inclined toward experimentation and mixing up mediums to create the desired effect. Is that accurate? What is your — sorry for the stock term here! — process like? What guides your hand and how do you know when you’re getting close to where the muse is leading?
Actually my art is mostly process oriented. I have a vague feeling when I begin. It’s a discovery through the process. I love playing and experimenting, just seeing what happens if I do this or try that. It’s important for me to make it interesting, without rules and fun to create. If not, I get mired up in fear and pressure — two surefire ways to squash anything positive or good that might happen. In art and in music I apply the same tactic. In writing a song I sit down with the same approach. Just start with a curiosity and a vague feeling and be willing to take risks.
You’ve earned a degree in Art Therapy from New York University and currently work in “a therapeutic art setting.” Is it fulfilling to apply your skills in a way that makes a real, immediate difference in people’s lives? Has that work informed your personal work and/or changed your philosophy as an artist?
I’ve always thought that underground music is therapy for all of us on the periphery: listening to it or making it. I also believe the process of making art, like music, is inherently therapeutic. I pursued my Masters so I can bring some of that to the world. I work with senior residents in a health center. They are amazing people who have taught me so much. From listening to them and watching them create, take risks and talk about regrets in their own lives. The job has definitely propelled me to look at my own life and make sure I do everything I want to do while I’m here. Some have Alzheimer’s/dementia. Making art is medicine for all of the ancillary problems that arise with this particular population. You can watch someone transform from combative and anxiety riddled to peaceful and content as their art is unfolding. It is truly amazing. Truly fulfilling work.
You have two children. Parenthood, I’ve found, can be a very motivating force — you have less time, which means what you do with that time counts more. There’s also a real desire to model a full and fulfilling life as well as to leave behind a legacy. Not to put words in your mouth, but does that track with your experience?
Not having time… Again, a topic that is such a big concern for creative people. You do have to take it while you can and use it wisely as it is a rare commodity. I agree that as a parent you want to model that experience of doing what you are passionate about. I think it’s also important to just let people be what who they are. All you punk rock, hardcore and metal parents are probably so much better at really seeing the people your kids are and just letting them be who they are without judgment and pressure.
Finally, it was great to hear you playing again on these completely amazing Below the Frost songs. Is it exciting to be back in that zone of creation at the same time your fine art is also at such a peak?
Playing in Below the Frost is great. It has helped me create more and look at things differently. Matt Byrne, Mike Score and Mike Usifer have been great to collaborate with. They trust my vision and bring so much talent to the table. We have an EP ready to come out on the label Sonic Disorder when the world gets back to some semblance of normal. There are currently songs up on our Bandcamp page.