“You know Kelsey Schwarz, right?”
“No,” I replied. “Who’s that?”
“You have to know her,” my friend said. “If you don’t know who she is, you’ve still seen her art.”
I turned and looked in her direction, bemused by her response. At the time I didn’t think that it was realistic to assume I had seen some semi-local chick’s art. It was about my junior year of high school, and I was in and out of all ages deathrock clubs and shows, but I didn’t keep tabs on every fucking person out there’s endeavors.
It wasn’t until I came across her piece “Goth Club” in my newsfeed for the millionth time that I noticed who had signed it.
The angular Jhonen Vasquez-esque style appealed to me, and the detail in it was more than enough to be an accurate depiction of the types of people you see all gravitating towards the corners of deathrock clubs, trying to out-angst each other with crossed arms, solemn glares, and heightened aesthetic.
The thing about the traditional goth subculture is that everyone wants to make themselves look like darkened, beautiful, works of art, and Kelsey had captured that in comic form. As I looked through her other pieces, it was clear that aside from being an absolute well of creativity and stylistic artistic vision, she also possessed technical artistic skill, which basically meant that she had (and still has) unlimited potential.
It recently came to my attention that despite having her work practically gone viral a few years ago, Kelsey had never been interviewed. So I got on that shit.
Did you expect “Goth Club” to go viral within dark subcultural communities?
KS: Not really; it was the first time my art dove into the deathrock scene, and it’s a much more lively subculture than where my art usually is categorized in, so maybe that took part in my piece getting more views. A lot of people related to it, and some saw it as a caricature of the scene. When I created it, I did it in a way where whatever people think of goth culture, they would think that way towards my piece.
Is a result of that experience what led you to your work for Dead Born Babies?
Yes! Dead Born Babies found me online once coming across the Goth Club piece, they thought my style would fit their unique twist of deathrock, and I agree. I was very glad to have that opportunity with them. Their music went hand in hand with my gothic comic style. You are almost able to tell what their music would sound like by the album artwork! It was a perfect match.
How do you feel about your reputation as an artist having been so heavily affiliated with the deathrock scene?
I love contributing to a scene that has been around for decades. Putting out new art, literature, music, and other forms of media is something that really keeps the scene alive and growing. Out of all the different genres and styles of artwork I have done, deathrock is what’s most relevant to my personal life, the music I’m around on the weekends and people I am close with; so putting artwork out into the subculture feels right.
Do you still relate to your earlier work?
I do definitely relate to my earlier work, seeing as it’s a reflection of myself and my vivid imagination at the time, I see my older work like a memory. Anything I would create was actually a very lucid vision in my mind, it would stick in my imagination till I let it free into a painting. I would say my work has surely evolved, as my daydreams have. Being an artist involves constantly evolving, whether it’s in my style, inspirations, or the median of my work. I’m always looking for ways to express my current imagination. Currently, I’m obsessed with fantasy artwork, so I am experimenting with ways to express my new interests.
Has your focus changed in terms of your future artistic endeavors?
I would say yes, my endeavors have changed. I used to solely have an interest in animation, especially stop motion, but as I’ve grown older I’ve realized it’s not truly the path I am headed towards. I am presently getting training in a tattoo apprenticeship, and would love to work to make it into my career. I have also really grown to enjoy doing charcoal portraits; I find the detail and realism the most rewarding in the end. To draw something and have it come out as clear as reality, but with an ethereal or nostalgic sensation, is why I continue to draw portraits of some of my favorite characters and people. Lastly, artistry is something I express in many forms, one of them being through music. I have played the harp for 5 years now; I chose to learn this instrument because, honestly, the amount of strings excited me. The immense amount of strings I pluck makes me feel as if I am weaving music from the instrument; it’s a very organic feeling. I see my harp as being a part of my art because it’s an imaginative experience I get to live that isn’t flat on a canvas or paper. I can feel this art and hear it.
Do you plan to include art as being part of your career path?
I love tattoo art and the culture, and how meaningful it is to get artwork on your flesh; and I also realized the only way to make a decent living from being able to draw portraits was to learn how to tattoo them. My decision to pursue this career has provided more reason to create new artwork, and learn new skills, like watercolor flash art, and calligraphy. There is so much for me to learn, and room for me to grow as an artist in this career path.
Hopefully Kelsey will continue to make culturally-enriching pieces. I look forward to watching her grow even more prominent in today’s art world, on both the canvas as well as the flesh.