Faith Elliot’s music video, “Katie,” offers a peek into the artist’s colorful life. The singer-songwriter and visual artist stands in the middle of an apartment singing a sweet but dark song: “Oh Katie, in you I see someone I recognize/you’re cutting yourself/and shoplifting wine.” The camera pans across the space, where decor suggests an ice cream shop, a curiosity shop and a giant shrine. Among the lit candles, string lights, knicknacks and art (including a painting of a man eating a heart with the word “angst” written across the bottom), are Elliot’s sculptures, constructed of pink goo, sequins and googly eyes. The artist lives in Missoula but grew up in Minneapolis and, at 13, moved to the UK. In Scotland, Elliott, who prefers the pronoun “they,” ended up both working in the DIY scene and getting an education at the Edinburgh College of Art. Elliot just opened a small exhibition of their work at Butterfly Herbs this month, and we asked the artist a few questions about music, art and deep time.
What sorts of themes do you find pop up in your work often?
Faith Elliot: One of the things I seem to keep coming back to is the idea of microcosm versus macrocosm. In my drawings, that tends to be represented by people or animals being inhabited by tiny worlds, or being taken over or attacked by tiny civilization. If I was going to psychoanalyze myself about why that theme is so recurrent, I would say it’s probably something to do with that feeling of struggling to find self-objectivity. Like, not feeling like you belong to yourself, or that there’s this whole world playing out inside of you that you can never quite get perspective on. Other than that, I’d say some of my staple themes are deep-sea creatures, medieval bestiaries and the color pink.
Tell me about all the types of media you work with. Do you have a preference?
FE: I’ve definitely jumped around different types of media a lot. For a while, puppetry was the thing I wanted to do with my life, then animation, then taxidermy, metalwork, printmaking, beading, etc. I came to songwriting a little later, but that seems to be my central focus now. It works out well, because I can do all my own album art, and make posters and videos and things. So it’s like the hook I hang everything else from. But I still feel like each medium serves a different purpose on a more personal level. Songwriting is a more immediate catharsis, where printmaking is methodical and process based, and beadwork is repetitive and calming, like a meditation. I don’t want to give anything up!
Tell me about some of the pieces in your Butterfly Herbs show.
FE: About half the pieces in the show I made a year or so ago. The other half are things I’ve been working on over the past couple of months here in Missoula. I recently discovered the awesome print shop at the [Zootown Arts Community Center], so I’ve been doing some silkscreen printing there. The drawings of prehistoric creatures and the “Geological Time Scale” chart are some of the newer ones. Lately, I’ve been sort of obsessed with learning about deep time. I love imagining ancient landscapes and animals. For instance, in the Ordovician Period (about 450 million years ago), the moon was around 40 percent closer to the Earth, so it would have been huge in the sky and caused extreme tides, and the most prolific species on earth were things like 11-foot-long Nautiloids. Or in the Carboniferous Period there were giant dragonflies with 2-foot wingspans! There’s the dinos too, obviously, but everyone knows about them. They’re like the celebrities of geological time.
How do these themes and creatures relate to your present life?
FE: I think I get fixated on this stuff because I find learning about the volatile history of the earth strangely reassuring, because no matter how crazy things get, and how bad things are environmentally, I can remind myself that the earth has been through all kinds of changes and mass extinction events. So if we humans destroy ourselves, maybe it’ll just be another species’ turn to proliferate. Like Tardigrades and cockroaches. Of course, I still believe we should try our best not to obliterate ourselves and the planet.
I enjoyed your video for “Katie.” What sparked this song? Also, what is that magical space you’re playing in?
FE: Thank you! Well, that was one of those rare songs that just tumbled out whole, Kimya Dawson honesty-rant style. I wrote it after meeting someone who was having a hard time in a way I could really empathize with, so in the song I’m partly addressing them, but partly my younger self. The video was made in my old bedroom in Edinburgh.
What’s your musical background? What do you like listening to, and what sorts of songs do you feel like you end up writing?
FE: I’ve always loved singing and used to be in lots of choirs when I was a kid, and then in various friends’ bands as a teenager. I started playing guitar and writing my own stuff about five years ago, around when I finished university. I think the most important thing about songwriting for me is storytelling. I get fixated on lyrics and like to have a narrative and be really descriptive.
Some of my favorite songwriters are artists like Richard Dawson, Diane Cluck and Sun Kil Moon, whose melodies seem to follow the pace and delivery of the words most of the time. I find that really inspiring. But I listen to all sorts. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Big Thief, Palehound and Feist.
What are you working on right now, and in your wildest dream, where would you be headed next (geography-wise or just in the realm of your work)?
FE: At the moment I’m halfway through recording an album and making an illustrated lyric book to go with it. I’m hoping to release that later this year. That’s about as far as I’m thinking ahead at the moment. But in my wildest dreams, I would really like to go back in time about 400 million years and ride a giant Orthocone.