Higher Education and I did not work out, mainly due to finances. I went through a period in my early-twenties where I was uncertain what I wanted to do. I worked on novels that I could never finish. I made weird dolls out of old clothes, not thinking of them as art, but as something to keep my hands busy while I watched tv.
At some point I began studying the Feri Tradition of witchcraft. As part of an assignment I was asked to create a work of art that expressed the experiences I was having with a deity named 'Starfinder' who was a guardian of the Eastern Gate. I decided to do a sculpture of that being. When I sat down to do it, the end result amazed me. I showed a lot of skill at sculpting, a medium I had never even experimented with. I was an experience that is difficult for me to describe, but it was as if suddenly I remembered that I was an artist, and that this was the sort of thing I needed to be doing. So I kept creating art just to fulfill the need in me, until in my early thirties I suddenly found myself forced into a new career.
My mother had brain surgery, several surgeries actually, and when they were done she required fulltime care. She was reluctant to live with her son and son-in-law, but my partner and I insisted. This meant us leaving our old jobs, and forced us to build a business from home. Thus Carnivalia was born. Now we are focused on promoting our art and designing various items from dolls, hats, talkingboards and more.
Moira: Who is Chas? Who are you as Carnivalia?
Chas: People who are familiar with my work, especially those drawn to my talkingboards or spiritually themed pieces, often contact me expecting that I am something of an authority on communicating with the dead or performing spells. It's interesting because I pride myself on being something of a slacker, so I'm not certain where the guru perception comes from. I have been inspired by many things spiritual, having taken part in Pentecostal revivals, Spiritualist gatherings, New Age Channeling sessions, Pagan extravaganzas and those experiences bleed into what I create, but I don't have any set ideas about how the universe works. Although I've had many uncanny experiences, I know not what is at the core of such phenomena. Life is strange and inexplicable, and that's all I attest to. Each of the groups I listed above had their own lens through which they saw and defined the strangeness in the world, but I'm not comfortable trying to define such things. I enjoy having my glass of wine and being able to peer up at the stars and wonder if we are alone in the universe, if perhaps life just evolved through happenstance. There is a unifying factor to existentialism, the notion that we are all in it together trying to deal with a world that is less than satisfying and quite often cruel, and that makes me feel no less connected to mankind than does the New Age paradigm of interconnectedness. If the answers to the universe are out there then I don't want to know them. It's more fun not knowing.
To deal with those who write me to ask 'what happens when we die' or 'can you exorcise the spirit from my Ouija board' I have created something of a persona for myself. It is the persona of a Carnival barker, a charlatan, a snake-oil salesman. The advice I publicly give is often meant to be outrageous and disingenuous, and if I do it with enough irony and pizzazz then hopefully people see it as such. I have my personal ideas on how to address the dead and lead a spiritual life, but I don't feel comfortable directing people to do likewise. Sometimes I feel like sharing aspects of my spiritual life; most often I don't. To deal with questions I have begun adding more tongue-in-cheek content to my website, such as 'Carnivalia's Asylum for Haunted Objects and Wayward Ghosts' which deals with how one should cope with ghostly disturbances (although hopefully no one will take such advice as true).
Moira: Why have you chosen 'Carnivalia' for a name? Is there a story behind it?
Chas: My partner, Storm Faerywolf, and I tossed around many names for a long time. We wanted it to reflect my carnivalesque themes, as well a stress our spiritual influences. One of us came up with the notion of a carnival setting up on a Faery mound. We thought about pagan celebrations, like Saturnalias and Bacchanalias, and at some point added the prefix 'Carnival' to come up with 'Carnivalia.'
Moira: Tell us your tale. When and why did you open your windows to a realm obscure to laymen? What kindled such a spark?
Chas: Earlier I mentioned my work with the Feri Tradition, and how that lead directly to me picking up a lump of clay and creating something beautiful with it. I do not know if the work I was doing at that time lead me to do such and helped open me up creatively, or if that skill would have been there had I happened upon a lump of play doe. Some say there are no accidents. But if you're looking for a good narrative, let's just say it was that work that opened the preverbal doors.
Moira: What do you call your art?
Chas: I don't have any one term to define it, or any terms at all for that matter. Part of the reason is that I'm a whore for different mediums. The work I do augmenting vintage photos is much different than the marionettes I sculpt, or altar patens I craft. I'm not fearful of definitions as some people are, for example I have no problem defining myself as a big homo, but I haven't really thought how my work should be defined. So much has to do with who is beholding it anyway.
Moira: What of your works? How do you pertain to its elements and character; its themes?
Chas: My work seems to always want to come to life somehow, to move and go beyond two-dimensionality. My sculpture becomes marionettes; my sketches are printed onto dolls; illustrations turn into talkingboards; and so on. While my themes vary, the common thing is that I like to make things that are useful beyond pleasing the eyes. That is one reason why magical items play a big part in my work, I don't just want a pretty box, I want one that purports to be haunted or to charge jewelry with magical abilities.
Moira: What inspires you to create such grotesque yet lovely works of art?
Chas: I don't know really. There are certainly recurrent themes in my work; things devilish or freakish, also a lot of flamboyant whimsy.
I am thinking now of a good story that pertains to the dolls I make.
Every New Years my mother would make another resolution to lose weight. One year, she joined some fat ladies group for support. Their method, weekly weigh-ins, followed by guilt. But these were your typical suburban housewives, cheating on their husbands and secretly wishing they had aborted their kids, so they were too familiar with guilt for it to work towards their advantage. Therefore, they came up with an alternative plan, which happened to involve several handmade octopus dolls.
When Mom brought the doll home I instantly fell in love with it. It had big, felt eyes that looked at you in a really goofy way. I named her Jenny. All week long I played with her, then, when it came time for Mom's next fat meeting, she told me that she needed Octopus Jenny for that night.
Later, when Mom returned home, I found that one of the Jenny's legs had been lopped off. I started crying, and Mom explained that this was the rule for her dieting club, that if you gained weight, your octopus doll would loose a leg.
Seriously, this is a true story. What sicko came up with this idea I've no idea? Not only did someone conceptualize this, they also made several handmade dolls for the group. Anyway, from then on I really watched what my mom ate, not wanting Jenny to loose more limbs. Weeks passed with no problems, then one night, snip, another leg lost to too many poolside daiquiris my Mom had tossed back. Mom saw that I was getting too attached, so she took Jenny away from me. When I finally found Jenny months later, at the bottom of Mom's dresser drawer, Jenny was down to just one leg. Due to my mother's inability to stick with a program for any length of time, Jenny never lost that final leg, since Mom stopped going to what she had come to term the 'Chub Club.' But the damage was done, and Jenny wasn't much fun to play with anymore. I came to think of my mom's dresser as Jenny's crypt.
I suspect this history had something to do with why I make strange, slightly tormented dolls. I wish I knew what ever happened to Jenny's head, as I would sew her some prosthetic legs were she still around.
Moira: Which are your personal favorites? Do those favorites have stories to go along with them?
Chas: My Punch puppet is my favorite thing. There is something about his face that I love. You turn him sideways and he appears happy, tip him downward and he looks menacing. Different angles create very different effects, and I think that is what makes him such a great puppet. Also, he was one of the first puppets I did. Originally he was meant to be the Devil, but once he was all done I realized he was undoubtedly Punch. The great thing about this is that puppeteers of Punch and Judy shows are traditionally referred to as 'Professor,' which allows me to call myself such despite the limits of my education.
Moira: Do you sell your works? If so, where can we see and purchase them?
Chas: Most certainly, it's how I make my living.
I also designed the entire website, which I'm quite happy with. Lately I have been thinking that I will print up still from my website and do a collage with them and some sketches that evolved into product. I'm not satisfied with my website art remaining inside the computer. I need to bring it out.
Moira: What else keeps you pre-occupied? Have you another job? The typical 9-5?
Chas: I couldn't work outside the home unless I hired someone to care for my mother while I am away, and that costs more than I would likely be making at whatever place might be incompetent enough to hire me.
I do like to get out and do some gardening when the weather permits. I have a love/hate relationship with nature. I've had horrible allergies my whole life. I think nature is sacred and all that, but every summer it poisons me. Even so, I like looking out my windows and seeing a tended yard.
Moira: Why have you chosen to be an eccentric slave of art? Do you like defying the norms?
Chas: I'm not sure there was much choice involved. That probably sounds clich, the whole 'I must create or I will go mad' bit, but there is truth to it.
I'm an antsy doodler with a tendency towards obsession. I can't be in a room without thinking of how I might go about redecorating it.
As for defying the norms, sure. I'm not hostile towards normalcy though. I live in the suburbs because I like the peacefulness of it. I don't dress up in black unless I'm going to a Goth club, and even there I tend to be underdressed. When I was younger I raged against the bourgeoisie, but now I find them comforting.
Moira: What severs you from other artists?
Chas: I think that would be my need to take art and make it do something, make it move or be useful. Well, somewhat useful. I'm not designing the new tea kettle for William Sonoma. My stuff is only useful if you believe that a piece of wood with numbers on it can contact the dead, or a veil can help you be ridden by the spirit of a crone goddess.
Moira: What is your concept of Aesthetics?
Chas: For my work, I look for things to be strange, something that removes you from the mundane. That can be beautiful or grotesque, so long as it isn't common.
Moira: Write down the first thing to seer into your thoughts:
Love them. Everything has a metaphorical side, which vary with each person.
Are you kidding me?
I'm pretty liberally minded, so there is little that I find perverse. I wish there were more things that I found to be perverse in a titillating sort of way.
Anathema of Corporeality:
That's it, 'Anathema of Corporeality' is so going to be the name of my Goth band someday.
I can't always see the line between innocence and stupidity. I suppose that if you are at a tender age then being uneducated about things is innocence, but if you are old enough that you ought to have learned better then it is stupidity. I think the whole subject of innocence is twisted.
The Great Beyond:
I wonder how 'great' it actually is. When I worked with the Spiritualists, their mediums would talk to folk who made it wound like the beyond was one long game of checkers. Heaven often sounds equally boring, I mean, even an endless orgasm would get tiresome after a while I would think.
Boring. I want us to genetically engineer new sexes, not combine the ones we already have.
Sometimes good, often awful.
A wonderful endeavor. But I only like raising questions, not getting answers.
Unnecessary, and often more harmful than good.
My faith in humanity depends on my mood. I see both sides. People can be awful and kind. I use to wish we were more like dolphins, until I saw this documentary about how these males dolphins separated and female and her baby from their pod, murdered the baby and raped the female. I wonder if all of nature is savage. Barnacles wishing they could do harm to the crustacean on neigbors.
Not much you can do about it.
Can be healthy in proper doses.
I try to avoid it.
Can be healthy in proper doses.
Quote for 'Wild Palms:'
"I have an awful case of mood-poisoning, must be something I hate."
Moira: How would you like to be remembered? What would be written on your epitaph?
Chas: I would like for my corpse to be taken by carnival freaks, sewn together with animal bits, and put on display. I think I may want to be displayed as 'The Enigmatic Slothman' or something like that. Yet I have a lot more living to do before maturity determines what manner of sideshow freak I should be.
All images © Carnivalia, 2004