Death Becomes the Wounded (In Conversation with Daphne Deitchman of Little Wounds)

Little Wounds by Daphne Deitchman released its very first pin one year ago, in July of 2016. Since then, Daphne has attracted a following of those who endear themselves to death-oriented subjects. Her art often focuses on what she calls ‘little deaths’ – fragile and beloved critters and creatures. She seeks to not only memorialize their small and beautiful lives, but to conjure intimate contemplations of our own mortality.

patch_dissectedrat
Dissected Rat Iron-On Patch.

Part of the reason why Daphne’s work is so captivating and distinct is because it mars the line between the beautiful and the grotesque. She disarms some of the more gruesome processes of death without sanitizing them, and preserves the integrity of her subjects while allowing them to be admired and honored in a non-fetishized way.

It was my pleasure to interview Daphne for Something Eldritch. Read on for our conversation to learn more about Daphne’s muses, her philosophy on the intersection of life and death, and how Little Wounds continues to evolve.

Something Eldritch: Your work deals heavily with death, decay, and dissection, but often, you use a pastel palette to portray death, which is so lovely. It’s very feminine, too, and there has been a long history of the close relationship between the feminine and death. I’m particularly drawn to this subject because of its simultaneous violence and beauty. Can you talk about this juxtaposition and how femininity plays a role in your work? Do you consciously choose to juxtapose this, or is it something that has evolved naturally? 

Daphne Deitchman: I’ve always been attracted to beautiful things and at the same time, I’ve always been attracted to death and all of the things surrounding death. I think those contrasts have always been an intentional part of my work. Contrasts, in general, makes for really interesting artwork. Even before I got necessarily *obsessed* with death (laughs), I’ve always been interested in violence and conflict, between things like predator and prey and stuff like that – violence and innocence, cuteness and gore… As far as femininity, I definitely agree, my palette takes a feminine approach, and even my subject matter is, too. I tend to drawer smaller birds and rodents. I feel like those are innately feminine creatures, because they are more passive. Even just the feathers on a bird – they’re so luxurious and colorful.

I did initially rely heavily on pastels and on that soft palette. When I began articulating death in art, I wanted it to be as palatable as possible for the viewer. I was afraid that I would really alienate most people by drawing death, because it is still such a taboo subject in our culture. Now I am more interested in pushing that contrast even more: illustrating the contrasts of beauty with the grotesque. I want to be able to unnerve the viewer while simultaneously captivating them.

sticker_decayed bird
Decayed Bird Sticker.

And speaking of how people deal with this subject matter – what has the reception of your work been like?

My friends and family at this point are not surprised at all. But acquaintances are often surprised. I think sometimes it can be a little bit jarring for people – but doing the work that I love helps me meet people who who also love it. I find that I connect with people almost immediately who are also into this subject matter. It’s been an outpouring of support and excitement from people, which is really wonderful.

I think many people are surprised that there are those like us who are interested in what is considered morbid subject matter. I dragged my friend to the St. Louis Cemetery in New Orleans on our girls’ trip and her friends were like “Oh did she make you do all these death-y things?” Your work deals with subjects that people don’t want to often contemplate.

I agree. And maybe it’s because I’ve thought about these things myself internally for so long. But now I feel like this should be more of a dialogue that we have openly, that it’s okay to think about what’s going to happen, and that maybe it’s healthier to think about these things rather than suppressing it.

Exactly. Your work seems to touch on all stages of birth, death, and decay, from your fetal animal prints to your blowfly and botfly pins. The decay stage is interesting to me because it seems often unexplored in art. Of course, there are always a plentitude of skulls and skeletons as memento mori, and everyone loves skulls, but I think the actual decay process is often left out. You recently launched your Decomposing Sheep Enamel Pin, which you said is the first in your decomposition series. Can you talk more about your study of decomposition and why you were drawn to explore it with your decomposition pin series?

Yes. I agree that for whatever reason, other death positive or death-focused artists don’t really illustrate decomposition and to be honest, it is very jarring, seeing this subject matter and actual images of it. It’s very grotesque. So I understand why it’s hard for people to look at. But I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m so interested in pursuing it even more, not only by making pins but by delving into it with my painting and my pen work, is because I think there is a way to make it look beautiful. There’s so much life that happens in the early stages of decay, and when you get past that and into the skeletal remains – that’s when there is a complete lack of life, in the last stage. You don’t have the organisms and bugs and small animals feeding off the animal. I enjoy the contrast of the freshly decaying organism and all of the life surrounding it – they’re sustaining themselves, which is really a beautiful thing. That idea, of life and death simultaneously, is very cool to me.

I’ve also come to believe that the lengths we go to in order to preserve our bodies is not the best thing for us or for future life. So maybe I’m trying to share the idea that it’s really ok for us to decay, that it’s actually a wonderful part of nature and aids in future life.

pin_rafflesia
Rafflesia Pin.

 

You’ve also chosen to focus on other forms of life, especially these flora that are really odd and death-y. I’m thinking of your enamel pins of both the beautiful but altogether foul Rafflesia and Titan Arum, which seem to be a bit of a departure from your other subjects. What about these corpselike plants inspired you to portray them in your work?

 I don’t tend to gravitate as much towards flora as I do fauna, but because these plants literally smell like death and decay, they draw in all of these carrion insects, like blowflies, which is another pin I have in my series, to the plant itself. So these bugs, because they are attracted to the plant, pollinate the plant; the smell of death is propagating this plant life, which is the coolest thing. I think these kinds of interactions that creatures have with nature – we’re so detached from that. It’s a way for me to connect to nature, too, even though I myself am in my studio all day long (laughs).

pins_titanarum_3flies
Titan Arum pin with three blowfly pins.

I think that’s a great point you make – we’re sanitized. Nature is very violent. As a side note, I just watched the Grizzly Man (2005) documentary, which asserts this as a central theme throughout.

It’s on my watch list!

Well, I won’t spoil it for you, but Timothy Treadwell loved being around bears because he thought human society was too violent, too appalling.

Wow. That’s very interesting.

And as you watch the documentary you realize we forget how violent nature is, how hard it is to survive, and how resourceful nature is, like how these carrion insects pollinating foul-smelling flowers are the same insects that are eating the flesh off of decaying animals. It’s very efficient, and without these processes, the world would be a lot uglier.

It’s so interesting because you have this gross process that is really beautiful. I think it’s very common for us to sanitize, like you said, nature, and make it this innocent, carefree world, because we’re not living so much in it anymore.

Your work brings it out, the reality of nature.

Definitely. I try to do that. I don’t want to clean it up so much that people aren’t getting what really happens.

 Another departure from your main canon, I would say, is your scalpel pin. It’s one of your only non-organic pieces so it immediately caught my eye. It’s a very clean, crisp, antiseptic pin, and it contrasts so wonderfully with your dissected enamel pins. Why did you decide to make this pin? Do you plan on exploring various medical tools in the future?

I’m glad that you asked about the scalpel because it’s sort of this under the radar pin that I have, but I think it’s a fun way to tell a story. I love to create stories with my pins.

pins_dissection_set
Dissection Pin series.

It was also a way to make my pins more interactive- since I do have my dissected animals series, I thought it’d be really fun for people to ‘perform’ their own dissections.

On Instagram, I’ve seen photos of people wearing your scalpel and other dissected pins on their lab coats.

Yes, and not only is it great for dissection fans, but also for doctors and nurses – I think they really get a kick out of it as well. I think for me, too, since I really do just draw organic life, it was a complete change from that.

I definitely would like to do a pair of scissors, or tweezers, to complete that set.

I like how you brought up the interactive component to your work because recently, you launched a project on Instagram where your followers can send you images of deceased animals (pets/road kill and/or natural death in nature) and you will draw them. These illustrations are stark, and the ones I’ve seen are often done in black and white. I thought this was fascinating. How did you decide to launch this? What kind of reception has the project had? 

This is one of my favorite things that I’ve pursued in my art. I was at an art residency last fall (Vermont Studio Center), where I met so many great artists, and I began thinking about and talking with them about the photos that we take of dead animals. Even though death is so highly avoided in conversation, we are clearly fascinated by it and the effect it has on other creatures. There was this turkey we saw on a hike and it was on the side of the road and we got to see some of it decay over the weeks that we were there. I kept thinking about why do people photograph these little deaths? I do it. Every time I come across something like that, I take a photo. But I’m not the only one. So I thought this would be a great way to connect with my Instagram followers because not only am I giving them this moment where they can think about death, but they can give that to me, too. And we can inspire each other. It’s really been great. I was nervous when I first started it, that when I asked for images I wouldn’t get anything at all, it would just be crickets (laughs). But I received these beautiful reference photos and stories along with them, which is really cool. And I’ve been able to message and communicate with my followers.

dead crow
Dead Crow.

In addition to that, it’s been great for my art practice and technique. As you said, these images are often done in black and white and the technique is called stippling – so it’s just these tiny dots that I use to render the feathers or the fur or the shadows. I’ve been really, really happy with that technique. It’s something that I just started doing over the last few months, and it really helps me to slow down and to just get into this meditative mindset. It’s a highly observant process because I’m looking to get every little detail down. By doing that, I’m sort of trying to take the bias out of it – I’m not telling people to react a certain way. I think color can be very biased and can be used to elicit a particular emotion out of people. By taking that away, I just leave the essence of this little tiny death that has happened.

pendrawing_bunny
Bunny.

 

A lot of the small animals that you depict, people even have them as pets, too, so I think that’s closely related to why we’re drawn to these little deaths. They’re so fragile and vulnerable.

Yes.

I’m still looking for the answer as to why we’re so drawn into these tiny deaths, but I think that there’s a reason for that. And maybe it’s because it creates a moment where we can appreciate the animal and the life that it had. I think, too, by spending so much time with these drawings, I memorialize the creature, in a way. It’s special for me.

And this series is so cool because it is an exchange – your followers get to inform your project but you are still making it your own. So I want to ask you what future projects you might have planned for Little Wounds that you’d want to share with our readers?

I can tell you that I do have another dissection pin coming out soon, as well as a collaboration with another pinmaker! I really want to work more with other artists, especially death positive ones, to open up the discussion on death and maybe start changing our culture’s views on death (for instance, our practices surrounding burial – why the extreme lengths to preserve?). I’d also like to start exploring diseases and illustrate the physical effects diseases have on people and animals. That means I may be drawing human forms in the future, which is entirely new for Little Wounds!

 

I’m always thinking of what’s next and always have lots of projects in the back of my mind. I would like to have a pin series articulating the different stages of decomposition. That’s something I’ve thought about for a long time, and I think it’d be a great opportunity for me and my followers to learn about these stages and what goes on at each point. I also want to do more fashion accessories, besides pins. I’d love to work on silk scarves or have little compact mirrors – fun things. It’s okay to celebrate our beauty and to want to be beautiful. Life can be fun and frivolous, too! I definitely want my art to be a moment where I can educate people on death and create a dialogue but I also want to create high quality goods, too, and things that people can enjoy and have fun with.

If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area this weekend, catch Daphne at the Renegade Craft Fair in San Francisco on July 15-16! Look for the Little Wounds booth.

 You can keep up to date with all of Daphne’s latest projects by following her on instagram: @littlewounds.

All photos in this interview courtesy of Daphne Deitchman and Little Wounds. Featured Image is Daphne’s “Mummified Rat.”

 

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