Spotlight #9: JL Schnabel of Blood Milk on her jewelry and favourite art

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It’s time for another instalment of the ‘Spotlight’-series: a series in which I feature the work of an artist and ask him or her to share some insights on their work and inspiration with you as well. This ninth part is a special one: it’s the first main feature on a jeweller!

I can’t remember when I first got introduced to Blood Milk Jewelry, it must have been years ago. Since then I’ve been following the brand and blog of artist JL Schnabel closely: I love the aesthetics of the jewelry and how the brand always comes up with a new collection that surprises me. Inspiring woman like Kat Von D and Chelsea Wolfe regularly wear Blood Milk and if you check #bloodmilk on Instagram you’ll see lovely people from all over the world rocking their favourite pieces. I asked JL Schnabel, the artist behind Blood Milk, to share some insights on her jewelry work and her favourite artists with us today. Enjoy!

Blood Milk website

Bleaq: Could you introduce yourself and Blood Milk shortly?
BM: Blood Milk is a small jewelry company that I started in 2008 after I suffered a strange storm of personal loses. I work as independently as possible, keeping my company small and personal. I utilise nearly all local resources and work closely with my casters, who are also a small, family run business. 

As for me, I’m a bit of a shy, awkward lady who enjoys escaping into books.  I appreciate genuine kindness above all else in people and I try to apply this to everything I do, and with anyone I encounter. 

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Your work has been worn by many great artists/style icons (Kat von D and Chelsea Wolfe for instance), and has been featured in artwork by several talented artists. Is there someone you’d still love to collaborate with in the future? Who would you like to see wearing Blood Milk jewelry?
BM: I have been lucky to have strong, talented women wear my jewels, as well as to have artists who I have admired incorporate visual representations of my jewels within their own work. These are certainly things I hadn’t fully considered possible when I began my line, but I am very grateful and humbled by them. 

I regularly collaborate with my romantic partner, fine artist and graphic designer Paul Romano. I have a more introverted personality within my tangible life, so collaborating is often something I struggle with. Paul and I are still working out establishing a natural rhythm to the projects we work on together. With all of that being said, I suppose I am a bit of a nostalgic, there are many artists who are now long gone that I would have been interested in collaborating with, mainly the small handful of female surrealists: Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo & Leonor Fini to name a few.  I admire their strength of vision and how they forged careers within an art movement that was male dominated, with their odd yet deeply rich works.

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– ‘Babes in Blood’, Blood Milk clients. Images from the Blood Milk Facebook page.

One of your collections is called ‘Victorian Mourning’. How does the Victorian era influence your work?
BM: The Victorian Era has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. The older I get the more facets of it appeals to me.  It was a great time for craftsmanship, there was incredible attention to detail and beauty applied to even the most mundane objects during their making, everything was ornamented and exaggerated and carefully made. There was a reverence for curiosities, an obsession with preserving and admiring ‘the object.’ I love to collect clothing, furniture and objects from this time period and admire how, despite being 100+ years old, they are still relevant to my aesthetic and still withstand the tests of time and wear.

The Victorians dealt with death in an interesting way, their intense and drawn out rituals insisted on remembrance. Mourning was a public statement rather than how we deal with it now, (in America) which is to battle with our grief privately. The rise of the Spiritualist movement during this time seems to underline this obsession with death and is also something that greatly informs all of the mediums I work in.

Despite all of this, the Victorian era was also a time period that repressed women in so many ways. This reminds me to be grateful to live our current time period, in the part of the world that I do. 

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A returning shape in your work is the planchette, it’s even featured in your logo. Can you explain what the symbol means to you? Do you have a favourite piece?
BM: In essence, many of my pieces are the products of grappling with grief and my obsession with the ideas of the afterlife. This all stemmed from the personal losses I mentioned previously ( & that really was the catalyst for Blood Milk) and the realisation that everyone I love or have loved, will die. The planchette became a potent talisman for me during the intense, early days of my grief. I was thinking about whether or not it was possible to continue a relationship with the dead and the planchette seemed a fitting symbol of this ‘imagined’ communication. It remains my most personal piece, and also, a favourite. I wear one daily as a reminder, as a kind of perpetual mourning ritual. I never expected the huge response I got to them, but really enjoy that so many people are as attracted to the symbol as I am.  

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Can you tell a bit about what you’re currently working on? What’s coming up for BloodMilk?
BM: I always feel like I am juggling different ideas. Mostly I am focused on the completion of wedding bands to match the rings in my line that people often use for engagement and commitment. This too has been a bit of a surprise for me, that so many people would choose my work to show their love. I am inspired by these romantic notions and am flushing out designs and working on early stages of production. I also just released my newest planchette incarnation, which are tiny ( to me anyway) version of the two planchettes I have available. Paul and I also have other ideas in progress, we are branching out a tiny little bit into non-jewel related items that still bare the aesthetics and philosophies of the brand. 

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You’re active on social media: you have a blog and accounts on Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram among others. How important is the internet for you as an artist?
BM: Social media has become important to me. When I started out on each of the sites you mentioned, it was purely for me; I love to collect images for inspiration. Both Tumblr and Pinterest  are really great tools for this habit. Instagram was a way to more widely share my interests and collected images, freckled with personal images of my life:  my crazy cat, my living space. As I mentioned I am a fairly introverted person, but seem to have a more extroverted presence online.  It has always been important to me to remain authentic, I do not accept advertising, so everything I post I post because it inspires me or excites me & I share it in hopes it will incite similar feelings in others. 

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On your blog you often feature artists. Who are your favourite artists? How do they inspire your work?
BM: For a while I worked as an arts writer for Hi-Fructose magazine and I have also owned a gallery in the past, so finding new artists and sharing them is a passion of mine. There are certainly too many favourites to name, but a few I’ve been going back to again and again recently are painters Nicola Samori and Agostino Arrivabene. I’m mostly interested in work with a darker nature that has an ‘old world’ feel to it. Obscuring of the body or the body being used as an ‘other’ . . . (i.e. when there are flora growths or other ‘alien’ masses growing from the skin) is also something that attracts me to their work. I can’t really pinpoint how these paintings influence my work, but I try to stay inspired, to keep an environment of imagination and excitement around me. The world is hard and will try to wound you at every turn. Reading, truly listening to music and seeing visual artwork makes life more manageable for me as I tend toward being in some state of melancholy.

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Last but not least: can you recommend a book, movie or artist you’ve enjoyed lately?
BM: Again, too many I could list, but here are recent favourites:

Books

  • Erranty: Strange Stories by Elizabeth Hand ( really all of her short stories are strange and lovely)
  • Anything by Laird Barron, I started with ‘The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All.” Many are hailing Barron as being one of the more successful writers to work in the Lovecraft style and I wholeheartedly agree.
  • Many of the offerings over at Cake Train press are strangely fantastic.

Movies

I’ve recently been obsessing over ‘Only Lovers Left Alive,’ ‘Under the Skin,’ & ‘Stoker’. The first two are still in theatres and I recommend viewing them this way. All are strange and beautiful and perhaps not ‘perfect’ in terms of the writing or story but all really touched me in some way. For ‘Under the Skin,’ it wasn’t until the final moments of the movie that I really lost my breath. I saw this twice in the theatre. The soundtracks to these films are also what I have been listening to in my studio lately, aside from the ever present ‘This American Life’ podcast, which makes me feel more connected to the world since I’m a bit of a hermit.

Artists

Aside from the two I mentioned earlier, I recently had the chance to see the new work of UK artist Stephen Mackay at Arcadia Gallery. His work has a nostalgic, child-like feel but yet strange & foreboding details that strike my heart.  I also have plans to see the Swoon exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum when I am able to make time for the trip. 

I would consider the patron Saint of my work to be surrealist artist Max Ernst, in specific, his collage pieces. I truly love collage and in many ways consider Blood Milk to be just that.

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Bleaq: That’s all for today. A big thank you to Jess for being so kind to thoroughly answer my questions, I really enjoyed reading them! You can buy Blood Milk Jewelry on the website or on Etsy. Thank you for reading! What do you think of Blood Milk’s pieces?

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