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Featured Artist: Mae Horak

Awe-inspiring costume design and fantastic story-telling.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mae (she/her) at her fashion show at Out of the Blue Too which I covered for Boston Hassle

Mae Horak

A costume designer, photographer, and filmmaker from western Massachusetts, Mae shares her insights on art and her eclectic sources of inspiration with us in this interview.

Persephone. Model: Stephanie Espinal. Mae Horak.

I asked Mae about the way that 2020 has affected her art:

Despite the mess that 2020 has been for the planet, it has not been all bad personally. I have heard this from a few other people -

that 2020 gave them time they didn’t know they needed to heal mentally, physically, and to ground themselves.

We’re always rushing around from thing to thing, and being forced to do less of that has been a silver lining.

Marie Antoinette

Music is also a huge source of inspiration for Mae, so I asked what she's been listening to lately:

The “Desperado” album by the Eagles has been on repeat the past two months. I love that it’s sort of a concept album about the Dalton gang. Like it isn’t but it is. I feel like I’ve been re-listening to some classics recently. Maybe it’s a result of the times being so chaotic and wanting to find comfort in familiar things. The Stones, The Velvet Underground, The Cure, Gram Parsons, TRex, Mott the Hoople, Neil Young. I’ve been into any sort of dark Americana (think Johnny Cash) and outlaw country the past summer.

I also made a playlist of throwback songs from my mp3 player in 2008. It started as a joke but now it’s over 7 hours long and I dig it.

Sun Witch

I love to know how other artists start their days because I think that we all approach our daily lives with a unique artistic intentionality. Mae commented on the consciousness that should to be inherent in a creative life.

How do you like to start your day?

With coffee, always haha.

I actually have been working to educate myself about how my choices in what I buy and consume affect our planet, so I got rid of my keurig machine and have been brewing ethical/sustainable coffee. It’s really important to buy coffee that is shade-grown if possible, because it means that they don’t cut down rainforest and other important habitats for animals and birds.

If anyone ever has questions about this or sustainable fashion or anything please DM me!

What do you do when you’re feeling uninspired? Has that changed because of quarantine?

Go work on something else. Like, if I’m writing and I’m feeling uninspired I’ll go work on another project, or on my homework, or clean my house.

It’s important for me to give things time.

I also moved out of the city back in January.

I am not a city person, and It’s been such a relief to be able to get out for walks in the woods. If I’m stuck on something I’m working on I usually will try and go outside, because nature is my biggest inspiration.

During quarantine I bought a nature photography lens, so I’ve been getting into taking photos of birds and animals near my house. I had a long time where I couldn’t photograph people, and it turned out to be an equally enjoyable alternative!

Disco Daze

Mae gave me the run-down on her current projects:

I’ve been working on some long-term projects.

I actually wrote a short film that’s going to be made in London in 2021. It’s about Syd Barrett (founder of Pink Floyd) and about sixties psychedelic culture and mental illness. We’re still getting together a cast and crew but we have some insanely talented and accomplished people on board. Honestly I’m having a huge case of imposter syndrome.

My friend Lena Vani and I have been working on some smaller scale films in the meantime through our production company Off Hand Co.

I’ve also been writing a western. It’s about a woman who turns to bank and train robbery as a response to living in a culture where women have little to no autonomy. And then there’s a parallel story of this other woman who teams up with a newspaper reporter to hunt her gang for the bounty. I had no idea how fun it would be to write something like this. You can make it so over the top and corny and full of action.

It would cost sooo much money to make and will never be made, but it’s really fun to write.

I also wanted to do another Taiga-like costume book but it’s impossible to get large groups together right now, so it’s on a back burner for the time being.

In its stead, I’ve been doing a smaller scale project creating reimagined scenes from pop culture.

So for example last month I did one that was like Moonrise Kingdom - but fashion. I’m doing another one in November that’s going to be CRAZY! I’m so excited for it. Can’t give anything away, but it involves old cars.

The idea is to re-cast iconic figures as a more diverse group of people. And put the power that we give to those figures in the hands of women, people of color, or LGBT people. (But also editorial fashion, of course.)

The Forest Prince

I like the juxtaposition of the three artists you listed as sources of inspiration for you: Wes Anderson---quirky and colorful, Anne Brigman---spooky, seductive, and Gerard Way---emo, punk. Would you say that these are three distinct aspects of your creativity? Or do you feel like your sources of inspiration meld with each other to produce the awesomeness that is you??

I guess what I am attracted to and relate to is Visual storytelling. You can tell that Gerard and Wes Anderson are so fully immersed in the worlds that they create that they become part of it.

I love that feeling, of being immersed in something of my own imagination and then expressing it visually.

And music - music is the key because it is inherently so emotional. Watch how Wes Anderson uses music in his movies. I don’t think I’ve ever done art that wasn’t inspired or fueled by music.

The reason Gerard Way came to mind is that I’ve been forever obsessed with his “Killjoys” universe, which takes place in the Mojave desert.

The last place I went right before quarantine was Nevada - one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I miss the big, big skies out west. So that part of the world sort of represents freedom to me, and a world without COVID. And the world he created is such a fun, colorful mental escape.

I think it’s important to be passionate and weird. Like, I was on this zoom call concert with Colin Meloy, the lead singer of the Decemberists, and he just sort of went off about this book he was reading about Henry XIII and how his reign related to modern day politics.

I love people who dive into their interests and obsessions. Not everyone does that. When I am interested in something I get really into it. I have read seven books about Bonnie and Clyde. And I know a ton of random facts about seventies glam rock. And when I was younger it wasn’t “cool” to like things, so I always thought there was something wrong with being that way.

But now I love finding other people who are the same way, and who didn’t let the world beat them down for being themselves.

Cheap Queen

Mae told me that,

“I am inspired to tell stories. Specifically I am drawn to drama and tragedy. I aim to invoke emotion”

So I asked her to expand on the way that she, as a visual artist, approaches storytelling and whether that impulse got her into filmmaking:

I’ve always been into the idea of filmmaking. I’m not really a cinema fan though - I can’t sit through movies or TV shows unless I really focus on them. I can take like, one a month. I got into film school and then quickly realized it was NOT for me.

Anyways, yes. The Taiga was essentially a film, but I didn’t have the technology to make it move. But most of the models were actually actors, and we did end up shooting some video to go with it. One day I’d like to go back and film more of those characters. We actually have an entire six episode mini series outlined for it. Maybe one day that will exist.

Everything I do has to have a story attached to it, or else I can’t make myself care. Like, my thesis in college was a runway collection titled “Hamlet” and each design was based on a different character from the play. That was easy, since Shakespeare is so well known the characters are so archetypal. You can put them into any time period or setting and people will just roll with it.

The Clouds

You also did an incredible job telling the story of the Taiga in your costumes and photography.

How do mediums like costume design and photography open up new possibilities for the way we interpret what it means to “tell a story”?

Storytelling is what differentiates costume from fashion. A costume tells a story, and is meant to be worn by a character, not marketed to a group of people.

When you design and make a costume, you put a lot of the story into it. Like, when I was doing my Hamlet series, I tied the characters together by color palette. Ophelia wore a pale pink dress and had white details, and her brother wore a pale pink shirt with some of the same details to visually tie them together.

Or for the movie about Syd Barrett, I made a costume that is inspired by these sixties designers called The Fool. But the character is sort of grimy and creepy and wouldn’t be able to afford those clothes, so I have to wash it a bunch of times and bleach it a bit to make it look second hand. And she’s a smoker, so I have to add cigarette burns to it.

It’s stuff like that that makes something a costume and you’re supposed to do it in a way that’s subtle enough where you only pick up on it subconsciously.

Death of Spring

Thank you so much, Mae!

Go check out Mae's personal website here

Visit her Etsy shop here

And follow her on Instagram!