"I’m not the best with words, so art is my way of communicating what I’m feeling, what I love, and what I’m afraid of. It’s sort of like a form of therapy."
Each of salieske’s dark and dreamy works tell mysterious stories. His gentle, lonely characters seem to be seeking something unattainable, yet embody hope and power. With a touch of anime style, salieske utilizes a dramatic light in his works, creating emotion and grit. I spoke with salieske about his style, influences, and his current wishes to find time and funding enough to finish his digital graphic novel.
How long have you been working as an artist?
I’ve done commission work on and off since I began college in 2009, and since graduating I’ve been working at a local company doing graphics for app games. But I’ve been making art my entire life, and what I do for money has very little to do with my personal work. It’s always been my goal to eventually make a living off my own creations, but for the time being I’m grateful to at least have work in my field, and the free time on the side to do what I love.
You’ve got a bit of a cute and creepy thing going on. How did your style develop?
It was kind of subconscious, I guess. After high school I immediately moved out of my home in Michigan to attend art school in Oregon, and the sudden change was jarring. I was forced to grow up very quickly. My childhood love of videogames and anime collided violently and clumsily with the fears and anxieties of adulthood. I’m not the best with words, so art is my way of communicating what I’m feeling, what I love, and what I’m afraid of. It’s sort of like a form of therapy.
Many artists see the action of making art as being cathartic. Are there any artists you can relate to in this respect?
A few of my close friends are artists who feel similarly. Beyond them, I couldn’t say. I don’t really feel like I relate to most artists my age. I’m kind of disconnected from the community in general. I probably know the names of more musicians than I do visual artists.
Tell me more about your interest in music and how it influences your artwork. Are there any particular musical artists who stand out?
I think I’m even more enthusiastic about music than art. Most of my paintings are directly or indirectly inspired by a song or album and subsequently entitled as such. One of my favorite things to do is put on headphones and take a walk, and it’s during these walks that I’ve come up with a lot of my ideas. I usually do them pretty late at night when I’m having trouble focusing or sleeping, and they help clear my head a lot.
Artists like Boards of Canada have had a tremendous impact on me, and in a lot of ways I’ve tried to make my art give off a similar feel to their music. The subtle layering of ambiance is like listening to a memory or a dream. Some of my other favorites are Oneohtrix Point Never, The Flashbulb, The Knife, iamamiwhoami, and too many others to name.
Tell me a little bit about Homunculus. The first few pages look wonderful.
It’s actually an idea I’ve had since early high school. It was originally a little series I was doing in my sketchbook, entirely in pencil (it was very bad). The initial inspiration came from a manga called Hibiki’s Magic, where the characters create a homunculus for a woman who has lost her child, and they’re afraid it’ll grow unstable and disappear. I was also really influenced by Lord of the Flies, and liked the idea of a bunch of children left to their own devices in an isolated environment, and the eventual alienation and paranoia that ensue. So my Homunculus is sort of a combination of those ideas. It has grown darker and more abstract as I’ve developed the story and characters over the years, and has come to embody a lot of things I want to express about life in general. I began creating those pages you see now during my junior year in college, but it has taken forever due to various life obstacles. I expect to have a full chapter ready this year, and then I hope to get a Kickstarter going or something.
Can you tell our readers what a Homunculus is? (Full disclosure: I had to look it up.)
It’s essentially just an artificial person, usually created through some kind of alchemy. It varies from work to work. The idea has been around for centuries and most authors have their own take on it. In my story, homunculi lack souls, and have to be created using a fragment of their creator’s soul. This means they are essentially living on borrowed time – for each day they live, he loses an extra day of his life. And if he dies, they all die as well. The homunculus is an extension of its creator’s life, although that doesn’t prevent it from having individual thoughts and experiences.
I picture you doing a comic book with Neil Gaiman or the like. Is there an ideal author you’d illustrate for, or might you prefer to work on your own stories?
I’d definitely prefer to work on my own stories – There are so many I want to do that I’m worried there will never be enough time to do them all (I’ve hardly scratched the surface of just one). Storytelling is very important to me – almost all the art I’ve done relates back to a story in my head, and most of the characters I paint have names and identities that tie them to one or more of those stories. Although I guess if I was going to do anything else, I’d consider doing a graphic novel adaptation of one of my favorite books or albums.
"I like employing commonplace symbols in this kind of abstract way, where they’re removed from any recognizable context and take on a completely different meaning."
Do you work exclusively as a digital painter, or do you dabble in other mediums? What do you enjoy the most?
Most of my work begins and ends in digital space. I’ve been using computers since I was very young and the Internet has always been where I’ve felt the most comfortable sharing my art. I do also like traditional painting though – I’ve tried to incorporate elements of it into my digital process, but I’d like to eventually get proficient with oils as well. I’ve worked with them a little in the past and really enjoyed it.
Tell me what you enjoy about each medium, digital and oil.
Digital art is definitely less messy. Beyond that, I stick to it mostly for convenience. I have a comfortable workflow that I’ve developed over the years and when you’re already at the computer you have quick access to all the resources you need. That is actually part of my interest in traditional media – I want to break that comfort zone a little. Some things I really love about oils are the smells, the feel of the brushes, and the fact that when you finish a painting, that painting actually exists. It isn’t just data that can be copied, it’s a tactile object that has mass and texture and has been touched and formed by human hands. It has physical presence. That’s something that I find really appealing.
Can you tell me about one of your characters?
Well, the red-haired girl that appears in several of my paintings (“Humming,” “Dissolved Girl,” “Running to the Sea“) is named Nelly. She’s essentially the protagonist of Homunculus, and being one herself, struggles with identity and individuality. She comes to understand that she is not a human being, and the resulting sorrow and resentment she feels drives her to hurt people she loves. Nelly has become something of a vehicle for my views on morality. She is not a bad person, but does bad things and comes to regret them. The irony of her existence is that her actions and feelings are very human. I like writing morally ambiguous characters because I feel that all people have some evil inside them, and how we choose to deal with it helps define who we are.
“Brighton Beach” is one of my favorites of your works. It’s so different from all your others, yet it has some details that connects it to your style, like the X shape hovering above the figure. Can you tell me how it came about?
It’s interesting that you noticed that piece is different – it’s actually one of the few things in my portfolio based on a live model. It was an assignment for a costumed figure drawing class I took while still in school. After sketching the models in class, we were required to adapt one of the sketches into a finished illustration for that week’s homework. I ended up turning it into one of my characters and fitting it into a narrative. The title references a song by Télépopmusik, whose music has inspired a lot of scenes in Homunculus. I remember the teacher remarking that the X above her head made him feel concerned for her safety, like it was some kind of bad omen. I like that. I like employing commonplace symbols in this kind of abstract way, where they’re removed from any recognizable context and take on a completely different meaning. Our brains are trained to recognize these characters as certain things, like how an X typically means to cancel, to close. But when it’s floating over someone’s head, what does that mean? I’ll let you decide. I don’t fully know why I do that, it just feels right. It’s not a thoughtless design choice, but it’s something I can’t really put into words. Maybe using seemingly nonsense symbolism is my way of saying I don’t really understand anybody.