We had the good fortune of connecting with Abby Rocha Carlisle and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Abby, why did you pursue a creative career?
As far back as I remember I’ve always wanted to be an artist. I’d spend hours looking at any book with paintings in it. The most memorable for me as a small child of 5 was the Bible believe it or not. I come from a Mexican immigrant household so we had this tome of an illustrated bible with these beautiful old master paintings depicting all the stories from heaven to jonas and the whale to the four horsemen of the apocalypse. They terrified me and fascinated me and when it was explained to me by my mother that these pages were made by people and it was their job I was in awe. I wanted to be that person and learn to create images that made people feel. I don’t think I had that purpose crystalized until much later but that was the seed that grew in me and took root. To do anything else was never really an option. Nothing drew me like art did and despite the many jobs I’ve dipped my toes in, it is what makes me happiest and most fulfilled.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My art involves a lot of skulls. I joke that I’m a failing goth in recovery. My daily wardrobe is mostly black, my playlists are filled music about death and love, my library is a bit esoteric and my art reflects that. I’ve always been drawn the unknown and the greatest unknown is death. A lot of my personal work is centered around it. There’s almost always a skull somewhere in my art, a Memento Mori of sorts. In death there’s fear, beauty, balance, mystery and I’ve always been curious about what happens next. I like to credit my love of all things death to my cultural upbringing (celebrating Day of the Dead) and growing up in my formative years next to the owners of The Museum of Death in San Diego who in exchange for pet sitting, grant me free admission whenever I wanted. The owners were not doom and gloom as you would expect. Instead they were more YOLO saying “Live life to the fullest since you might get hit by a bus!”. This is my own approach to death now too I think. My art is not morbid as most people tend to think. Also impactful was my sister teaching me how to build altars to our ancestors on Día de los Muertos. It really gave me an appreciation for life, death and made me wonder about the afterlife. I’m not religious but most every culture and religion has something to say about it and there’s a long tradition in the arts to interpret that. It’s the greatest mystery. Professionally there are 2 things I’m most proud of. I curated a show about death in SF a few years back called “The Good Death” as part of a city wide death and life symposium. I invited artists of all types to create artwork about how they felt about it, their own personal experience with it, or just an image inspired by death. It was a fantastic body of work, filled with raw, beautiful, touching and even funny artwork. The second thing is my series on Victorian Death customs. I got really interested in this period of time where the Victorians were just obsessed about everything death and after much research I was inspired to illustrate 6 large illustrations reflecting the various customs I was drawn to the most. This project really crystalized artistically for me a subject that I now know I’m not going to be done exploring anytime soon. In fact I have 2 more series that have been percolating in my mind. One is about deadly Flora and Fungus and another about Day of the Dead.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
OMG ever since shelter in place I’ve been daydreaming about where I’d go with friends. Also I’m a new mother of a 5 month old which right now is very isolating so I’m dying for some regular, safe, grown up conversation and fun. Also I grew up in San Diego but I live in Berkeley so in the bay I’d take my friends to my favorite beer bar with a large to go box filled with chinese dumplings. Then a live show in SF followed by a midnight donut and taco run. The rest of the week we’d go to estate sales in vintage homes and dig for antiques or quirky items and eat at little hole in the wall spots. Probably hike in northbay and if the conditions are right go mushroom hunting. If in San Diego we’d be more laid back. I’d take them first for a sunrise and breakfast burrito by the sea. Then make our way south to a taco and beer crawl in Tijuana because of nostalgia. Then go home and nap before meeting back up for pool and kareoke. Then home because we’re all old and tired nowadays. The rest of the week we’d play it by ear, dining at the best taco spots, playing the latest board games, and hitting the beach. I hope most of these places are still around after Covid.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My goodness. There’s so many people who have helped me at so many times in my life. I’m very lucky! My buddy Chris Koehler however is probably who has helped me out the most, professionally and as a good friend. He was my Illustration 1 professor and totally kicked my ass into high gear and was real about what it took to make a career out of art. He taught me to visually think smarter, be more intentional with my artwork and is really dedicated to the hustle which is inspiring. And he’s a really funny guy, encouraging and just a great friend to be around.