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Flowers Grow Through Skeletons: Art of Kathleen Lolley

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Kathleen Lolley’s paintings feel like a fairy tale gone awry. They feature flora growing from skulls and troops of children with paper cut wings. The scenes are uniquely feminine and dark, and you’ll find soft, flowery imagery reminiscent of our grandmothers’ antique sofas. Her pictures are disturbingly solemn with muted pastels pasted to dark, starless backdrops. Her characters almost seem to know that they are living in a dream. Their eyes say, “What horror has befallen me here?”

Drawing Down The Moon, 2016

Combining the natural with the supernatural and humanity with the mythical, her work features children dressed as birds or bats, faces from which poppies grow, and jars filled with stars stolen from the sky. Animals are often personified or combined with other creatures. Skeletons sporting clothes strung with flowers take journeys by foot and disguise themselves as rams and sheep.

Kathleen’s work includes a number of themes relevant to womanhood: the reality of sisterhood in life and death, rebirth in transience, and the togetherness that comes with mourning. There is community in the impermanence of life and what we will eventually leave behind. It is present everywhere: in the people that we have already lost and in the woods we pass each day on our way to the grocery story.

A Very Still Life, 2013

More specifically, her collection titled “Secret Garden” deals with the death lurking under our noses. Insect imagery and surreal combinations of skulls and forest creatures are depicted in long, soft strokes. One is led to wonder what morbid magic lurks in our familiar woods.

Flower Sorcery

Kathleen’s artwork takes our mortality and centralizes it within her storybook scenes. Her compositions do not feel morbid but rather honest. Death is final, but it is a part of our natural world and therefore also beautiful.

The tone of these paintings relies very much on the colors used. None of the hues are outwardly violent. Rather, they are diffused in such a way that looking at Kathleen’s paintings often feels like looking at a framed picture through decades of dust on glass. The soft pinks, muted greens, and dirty yellows coupled with the pure, deep blacks lend to the idea that though final, death is not the end-all be-all. It may take, but nothing truly goes away, which is not sad or horrifying, but rather the unifying truth of humanity.

A Spell To See Beauty In Life

The mediums with which her scenes are created gives them an organic, earthy feel, grounding the Victorian-style imagery in a world we can recognize. Kathleen works with wood and canvas, and uses found objects and dandelion wine to create mythical collages. She manipulates these techniques into charmingly ghoulish stop motion animations. They are coupled with haunting piano music reminiscent of silent films and vaudeville shows. If animation had existed in the 1800s, Kathleen Lolley’s films would have been sought-after.

Betrayed By A Beautiful Bird

There is something for every darkling in Kathleen Lolley’s work: the morbid, the hopeful, those scared of death, and those who have been around it all their lives. There is something hidden here for any mortal human being. Find more of it here.

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About The Author

Liah Paterson is a Queens-based freelance illustrator. She spends her days polishing up her knowledge of occult objects, destroying canvases, and trying to coax her cats into liking her. Her apartment is filled with piles of books, sculptures, and paintings of disembodied hands, and a partner who plays scary video games for her so she can watch them like movies. Find her on Instagram (@atenderwitch) or on her website (

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