"Art not only correlates with, but really is life, something all people have in common, and I truly believe that that’s what makes art one of the most powerful forces in the world."
I am very, very excited to introduce Mia Franscesca (she/her), artist name Baby Skullcrusher, to y'all today! Mia's strong, open-hearted, unapologetically creative spirit is so special and we are so lucky to have her!
DECADENT: A lot has happened in the past year! How do you feel the events of 2020 (and 2021) have shaped your creative outlook? Do you have any big life or art plans plans for 2021?
BABY SKULLCRUSHER: 2020/2021 has been pretty much all reflection and little to no movement. I’m constantly reminding myself that in the current state of things, productivity on any level should be expected to be a struggle, so I have been taking this time to slow down and plot the future. It's the set up for some good stuff coming.
Initially it was tough trading out projects I had started or collabs I wanted to work on for trying to “take it easy” and be kind to myself about it, but picturing where I want to go with my work and practicing it has been really beneficial not only for my work but also my mental health.
I don’t feel like a new person, I feel even more like me, just pure me, so reconnecting with myself has been a major 2020/2021 development that I’m really excited to see amount to something.
I’ve been focusing on developing design and sound production tools so looking forward to launching those on my website eventually!
DECADENT: You told me earlier that the pandemic led to you finding more time to make art for yourself, has that at all changed the way you make art or the kind of art you make?
BABY SKULLCRUSHER: I think I’ve always approached the way I make art pretty consistently, projects spend the majority of the time in my head, usually they make their way into a voice memo or my notes app only to be revisited and rewritten over and over again, then onto the actual creating phase.
With making art for myself though, some projects start off that way, but recently I have been trying to get more comfortable with just diving in rather than calculating. I’ve been playing around with lots of different mediums and sounds. Some things I do just to try once or twice, but I’ve started implementing a few of these things more into my regular work.
It’s a good practice in letting go and it’s always cool learning something new, whether I stick with it or not.
DECADENT: You're a musician! What are you listening to these days?
BABY SKULLCRUSHER: I’ve been playing around with different guitar effects/tones so I’ve really been into the OG experimental/prog/psychedelic greats. Zappa, Andromeda, Rush, Captain Beefheart, T.Rex, anything Yngwie Malmsteen for inspiration.
I rediscovered my love for Depeche Mode’s “Some Great Reward” and “Music for the Masses” albums, so cold/dark wave goth is always good. (Robert Smith if you’re reading this I’d love to hold hands sometime.)
DECADENT: So I want to start with the idea that art can teach an artist things. You said,
Art has taught me so many invaluable lessons; learning to let go of the idea of perfection, how to be vulnerable, allowing inspiration to be unexpected and that even on days when I'm not creating and I don't "feel" like an artist (whatever that's supposed to feel like) I AM AN ARTIST.
Do you think that these lessons spill over into your life? How does being an artist define who you are? And have you always felt that way about yourself, or did you realize it over time?
BABY SKULLCRUSHER: They absolutely spill over. Going back to what I said earlier about using this time to reconnect with myself, I realized how ideas, thoughts, and habits from my personal life were spilling into my work and vice versa. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, of course, but regardless of how it impacts my life, I just kind of learned to throw up my hands and say, “fuck it, it is what it is,” which on paper sounds easy, fun even, but is definitely hard to implement at first.
To me being an artist is all about learning, adjusting, trial and error, having an appreciation for the expected and unexpected, so I try to let the lessons that art teaches me tell me more about myself. Growth can’t happen without making a mistake or being uncomfortable (usually a combination of the two) and sometimes the work we create can turn out kind of shitty and it sucks. It sucks when something you envision and are excited about doesn’t go to plan, but I’m learning to grit my teeth and move on, move on with whatever lesson I needed to learn in that moment and try again at my own pace (or don’t try again! I can do whatever the hell I want!)
On the better side of lesson learning, when something does go well, I’m learning how important it is to be your biggest fan.
All pieces have a point at which you absolutely need to STOP working on them, like, full stop, no more overanalyzing, no more little tweaks, just hands up walk away, chill out, and that’s something that’s been hard habit to break. But now, I can finally let go, step back to take a look at what I’ve created, and do my best to love my work flaws and all because it’s an extension of me.
Art really does imitate life, every roadblock I’ve encountered in art can easily translate into something complicated in my personal life, specifically those related to being kind to yourself and learning to let go.
I think I have always felt this way whether or not I’ve been fully aware of it, it’s just been a matter of working through life to fully understand why I feel the way I feel and do things the way I do. Such is life, such is art.
DECADENT: Speaking of different aspects of yourself intersecting, you are both a visual artist and a musician! That is so dope!! Do you see these two talents of yours intersecting in any particular way, or do they exist independently of one another?
BABY SKULLCRUSHER: Thank you! I wouldn’t say that they intersect directly, but the majority of my artistic inspiration in any medium usually comes from (other artist’s) music.
Music tells a story, paints a picture with bright colors, opens the doors to new perceptions, so letting that source of inspiration flow into my work is definitely something that my music and visual work have in common.
DECADENT: Can you say a little more about the places and things you find inspiration in?
BABY SKULLCRUSHER: I try to find as much inspiration from things I just happen to encounter. Life's a drag sometimes and if I don't get out of bed and catch a fuzzy feeling from like.. a frog or a dirty old t-shirt or frost on my windowpane or Nu metal or whatever's going on that day I'm gonna get bored and fast.
If I were to seek anything out for inspiration though, I would probably have to say I look to countercultures, not just for their sense of originality but more so as examples of others being themselves unapologetically, especially when it's in defiance of mainstream expectations. That's what's really inspiring to me.
The world is made up of colors and shapes and textures and sounds. Do some funky math and put stuff together that might not normally go together and the outcome can be really fun.
I spent my teen years (and I still do this) collecting books, cassettes, comics, CDs, games, vinyl of pretty much anything that looked or sounded even mildly interesting only to stay up all night discovering Siouxsie Sioux for the first time, how to draw every single one of Matt Groening's characters, why Ronald Reagan sucked so hard, how the Punisher collected books too, and plenty more from a catalogue of obscure, self-taught courses.
I look at the pictures in the books, or listen to the words being sung and the instruments being played, or think about the words I read. Then I put all that down and I make my own version of whatever that made me feel, however that may come out.
DECADENT: Who would you say are your favorite artists or key sources of inspiration?
BABY SKULLCRUSHER: Growing up with a lot of punk, I have to give a lot of credit to Joey Ramone. I think if it weren't for the Ramones, I'd probably not have found it as badass to be as invested in social issues as I am today.
When you're a kid listening to "My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)" for the first time and realizing how cool it is to shit talk a sucky president, it makes you wanna learn more about the why behind the suck and what people can do to make a difference.
Punk doesn't put up with shit: not racism, not homophobia. Prejudices or judgements of any kind are shit, but beyond that you don't really have to give a shit about anything else, and I really love that and apply that to life in general.
DECADENT: People expect artists to be countercultural and yet there is still a thriving underground culture for artists and musicians, because artists will always be creating things that make society feel uncomfortable. What are your thoughts on this? And what do you think this says about art's ability to call for social change?
BABY SKULLCRUSHER: I love the concept that artists are expected to be countercultural, because everyone in one category is countering something else. Doesn’t that in some way make everyone the same?!
I wholeheartedly agree that there is this expectation that each artist has to have something that sets them apart, almost as if the more it stands out the better. But that is not quite the case. Society, more often than not, has this desire to be instantly captivated by whatever media they’re consuming. They curate this idea of “the perfect artist” (see also: marketable!) in their head who is supposed to serve up content that is just dazzling enough to be appealing, maybe even a little provocative, but safe and comfortable enough to be palatable for the “mainstream” to absorb.
Naturally then, when someone steps onto the scene with maybe a little bit more to say a little bit louder with a little bit more bite, someone who’s used to digesting a steady diet of that sweet, safe, mainstream nectar might feel uneasy.
Let me be clear, in no way is this meant to invalidate mainstream artists or to say their work can’t be compelling, their work is just as relevant and worthy of appreciation as those who might go a little more underground, but there is something to be said about the artists who aren’t at the forefront of the media or even of their respective scenes.
Often times those who are the loudest about what people wouldn’t normally want to touch, those who present differently whether physically or in terms of ideals, those who dare to challenge standards of societal comfort are pushed underground.
What society wasn’t anticipating with artists though, was that art thrives on community. Push a bunch of freaks and weirdos underground, they’re gonna come together and be freaks and weirdos collectively and support one another, thus creating that subculture we love so dearly.
Mainstream norms rely on complacency. When someone’s comfort is challenged, often they turn away, which only feeds more into the idea of what “the norm” is and makes it easier to reject, but a lot harder to dismantle and change. Take for instance the norms we have created in the States. Why isn’t change happening faster? Because so many people are turning their backs, rejecting the sentiments of those fighting for justice and social change due to their unwillingness to let go of what they know for what’s unknown to them.
The attitudes towards artistic subcultures (and subcultures within those subcultures) operate similarly.
Dare to make a political statement in a song?
You might not get the air time you were hoping for.
Make an impassioned instagram post with cute and informative infographics discussing racial injustice?
The dreaded algorithm will bone you to the bottom of the newsfeed with under 10 likes.
Paint something with overtly sexual imagery?
Not as many people might want to put that on their wall.
But here’s the thing, there’s somebody, if not a handful of somebodies, who will resonate with your work so much so that it will move them and stick with them. Just like matters pertaining to life, when you’re standing out and boldly doing what others won’t, someone will see that and feel inspired and validated. Maybe they personally identify with what you’re doing, maybe they have a loved one who does what you do and seeing that represented more makes them feel even more proud, or maybe they just simply admire your work and it inspires them to go do whatever their version of that is.
Art not only correlates with, but really is life, something all people have in common, and I truly believe that that’s what makes art one of the most powerful forces in the world.
DECADENT: Let’s talk about being punk and taking care of others. What do you think it says about society that those who are considered “rebels” are often the ones who have to call for systemic change? Also….punk’s not dead, at least I don’t think it is (haha that might be my mohawk speaking). What keeps it alive/how has it been transformed in our generation?
BABY SKULLCRUSHER: Ha! Your mohawk speaks only in truths. Thinking back to what we spoke about earlier in terms of the discomfort that can come with moving away from the mainstream, those who deviate from the norm in terms of outlook on social issues/society as a whole are pretty much, and I’ll say it, more often that not gaslit into thinking they way they think is over the top and potentially offensive.
People love a rebel conceptually, but once people realize what they maybe saw as “palatable edginess” at a surface level actually has more depth to it and that depth might include standing against something that threatens a different way of life, that rebel can go from a source of amusement to an outcast real quick. How dare anybody question the standard of comfort that so many (at least in their little white bubble) have come to know so dear?
These days I’m thankful that we see more of this happening in the mainstream, artists are becoming more and more independent and aren’t afraid to speak out in a way that a label or manager (and of course the public) might have previously discouraged. Not to mention with social media being the way it is, it’s a lot easier to be exposed to subcultures and variety of perspectives.
With artists being more willing to speak up and speak out, naturally this generation and the ones to follow are going to be listening and watching intently, hopefully being inspired by not only messages calling for systemic change, but also the idea that speaking out about what’s important to you uplifts others.
The cool thing about punk is nothing is punk, yet anything can be punk (some dude in a Black Flag shirt somewhere just got mad reading that.) But really, the spirit of punk is in DIY-ers, in outspoken activists, in the people who pick up those who are put down and aren’t afraid to tell oppressors to fuck off.
Punk isn’t dead, it never died, but it definitely evolves and revives itself in different ways with every generation. The ones dismissed as “punks” and “rebels” are in our cities right now providing mutual aid, they’ve been in the streets protesting and screaming for equality, they’re using their work and platforms regardless of size to educate and inspire future generations.
DECADENT: Let’s talk about artists supporting artists! You expressed it to me in a very down-to-earth way earlier:
It makes me want my role as an artist in my community to be more than just putting my work out there, I want people in my community to know I support following dreams, being vulnerable and brave enough to put yourself out there, making space for ALL people to create ALL kinds of things, however it is they do it. If showing support in this world right now might include simple stuff like sharing a post, buying endless stickers and pins, or showing off my collection of various screen printed merch, then that's what I'm gonna do.
Obviously artists want to support each other because we all do awesome things and want to share the love and joy, and also pain, of our creativity. What do you think we will see in the future as younger artists pursue ways to continue to make meaningful work and support one another? Is there hope for the “mainstream” art world where works are sold for bloated prices just to end up in the homes of the very wealthy?
BABY SKULLCRUSHER: Thank you, it’s something I’m very passionate about! It’s hard to say what direction art communities and the artists within them will head in exactly. I think a great thing about the art community is that it’s so dynamic. Take the pandemic for example. Of course things are not ideal right now… (harsh understatement) but artists are adapting and doing the best they can with what they have. I think (similar to what I’ve been going through) people are taking this time to establish what they really want to be doing and how they can make it meaningful and fulfilling for both themselves and those taking in their work.
I’ve also been really proud to see the “shop local/small/support your friends and pay full price” movement really get moving and people seem to be doing their best to keep it going and make it sustainable. All artists are going through this change and younger artists who are just getting started during and after this time will see the scene change again and again as time goes on, and they will adapt the best they can, whatever that may look like.
While the pandemic without a doubt has had far more downsides than upsides, I hope that when we’re on the other side of this we can reflect on the things we learned that needed to change, continue the momentum of righting any wrongs, and creating an inclusive environment that’s uplifting for all creators.
In terms of the mainstream art world I think, just like with all industries, there will always be that upper echelon of consumers who are willing to pay exorbitant prices for pieces with or without any understanding their significance. Not to say all “high end” art is shallow, not at all, but there certainly are individuals out there who see the price and think it actually equates to a piece being somehow more meaningful or exquisite. Considering how in our society the majority of people quite literally can’t afford to live that way, I think there will always be a demand, and therefore a supply, of works (mainstream or not) that people of all income levels will enthusiastically support.
The beautiful thing about art is there’s something for everybody, so I think no matter where we are in life, if someone is being vulnerable, putting themselves out there, creating something intended to evoke a feeling or even just simple appreciation, somebody out there will love whatever it is with everything they have.
DECADENT: You named a bunch of artists as sources of inspiration for you, but said that what brings them together is that they are,
all evoking something you can connect to or get lost in which is something I'm really drawn to in a piece.
Why do you think you are drawn to that? And do you try to replicate that sort of experience in the art you create?
BABY SKULLCRUSHER: I’ve always been drawn to the fantasy world, whether in books, movies, games, any media really. Everybody enjoys escapism to some extent, and for me, sometimes letting your mind pretend you’re in a completely different world is needed. I appreciate a lot of non-fictional/realistic work as well, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a lot harder for me to really get lost in pieces like that.
I love when pieces give me a lot to think about, but I also love when a piece doesn’t make me think at all, I just feel good, appreciate the colors, maybe I can picture myself exploring that world, but overall it’s just kind of that "good butterflies" feeling, and it comes effortlessly.
For my own art, at least my visual work, I’ve spent a lot of time especially this last year practicing sketching fantasy-scapes and creature critters so that I can feel more capable of making art in the same style that I admire so much in others. For the work I feel most competent in, I try to make at least one element something that I would personally find captivating, usually focusing on color. I love vibrant, punchy, striking colors in both my digital and physical media. Creating digital color palettes is something I love doing when I’m in a creative lull (look out for downloadable color palettes coming to my website soon!) and mixing paints/inks/powdered pigments is such a fun experiment.
DECADENT: Wow! You are so cool! Thank you for this inspiring conversation:) One last thing: if you have anything you want to talk about that I didn’t bring up in the previous questions, here's your chance!!
BABY SKULLCRUSHER: I just want to let everybody reading this know, artist or not, if you feel like you aren’t being as productive or creating as much as you’d like or maybe as much as you used to, it really is ok. I know especially on social media we’re constantly being reminded “it’s ok to not be ok right now” but I really don’t think people can hear it enough. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t paint everyday. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t have the energy to make your work “perfect.” Don’t get down and end up resenting yourself or your work. Take many breaks. Treat yourself like you’d treat your best friend. Scream into the void. Recite ancient incantations and dance with demons. But please don’t doubt your worthiness, the world would be a shitty place if you didn’t exist!
Thank you so much, Mia!!