Photos: Richard Lovrich
Studio apartments at the Albany Barn are a tidy, well appointed blank canvas for the artists lucky enough to create and live in them. The space occupied by Tabitha Spectra exudes a vaguely alchemist charm. Rabbit, fox, bobcat, skunk and deer skulls are on blanched display on many available surfaces. There is also one, very small brown bat skull measuring less than half an inch in length that Spectra keeps in a velvet lined jeweler’s box where it fits, in every meaning of the word, perfectly. She proffers this weightless treasure gently, with both hands, serving it up in the manner of a beaux making a diamond-ring proposal.
“This bat skull will become a necklace pendant soon,” she says.
People who come across these remains know just which friend to collect them for, who to give them to.
Runic symbols cover blackboards, easels display finished paintings and books rim shelves and inhabit every nook. If an object at Spectra’s Albany Barn apartment is not art or a tool to create art, then it is ready inspiration in her art’s creation. That would go for her two very friendly cats. One, Merlin, took a special interest in me, attending to every aspect of our interview.
There is an elvish air to the place and it inhabits her work, which she describes as ‘Psyfi’ fantasy art.
Although she marveled at the play of natural, afternoon light in her space as we spoke together, Spectra creates when there is none at all. Beginning her work day at 10 p.m., she paints on easels and sketches at a book-trimmed table. Spectra finds many of the references for the figures in her work within these books and they are everywhere. I met Spectra years ago at the opening event of the Barn, where she was applying glow-in-the-dark paint to the body parts of willing volunteers. Already working from fantastic themes, her work has progressed since then, in detail, depth and sophistication.
The world of Spectra’s work is inhabited by feminine forms, curvaceous bodies captured floating among stars, perching on leaves and lounging about in other-worldly boudoirs. Eroticism is a common theme and if the concept of “space elf bondage” intrigues you, enjoy.
Having no Capital Region faeries as reference, her figures are inspired by a variety of sources and people. A body from a book of nudes here, a gesture suggested by the head tilt of a friend there.
The environments she introduces us to through her work are in outer space, inner space, middle space–any space but the mundane world in which we must tolerate pesky gravity, restrictive clothing and strictly human features. Her pieces tell stories of these universes outside our own, but in fact prefers that her viewers derive their own personal narratives from her work, cued by elves, intrigued by symbols and set free by sweeping lines and vibrant pigments.
Spectra works both on her own pieces and on commissioned work. Her current sketches, redolent of conte crayon, but more fine lined, are, to my surprise, drawn in pen. Her work is priced reasonably and as is the case for most locally produced art, If you can afford an occasional dinner out, you can own it.
There has never been another option for Spectra, nor was there any doubt that she would become an artist. Her father, for one, pointed out that being a doctor might pay better, but that was not to be. She works part time at Painting With A Twist for steady income, but sells enough of her work to support herself, which it is a matter of pride for her. When she posts a piece online it often sells within the hour.
Born in Santa Fe, Spectra was raised in Owego Apalachin, not far from the Pennsylvania border. Small town USA pretty much defines her upbringing and she would describe herself as shy. This shyness melts away when she performs, whether costumed as a ghost or demon at a haunted hayride, dancing at a UV light event or performing her fire act.
Fire performance is a challenging mind/body puzzle for Spectra. Meditative and freeing, it is far less stressful for her then publicly selling her art “because people are paying me to be a character.” Does she ever burn herself? Yes, of course, from time to time, but finds the risk of twirling flaming staffs exhilarating.
When not trailing flames, Spectra works music and other festivals, vending, live painting, helping to build galleries, lending a hand, building a stage—at locations as far away as Maine. Last year she worked Hijinx in Philly, at which Bassnectar headlined, which she dug. Spectra gravitates toward the welcoming vibe of the underground psychedelic dub community. In this festival world, Spectra finds an environment rich with an inherent drive to create, which nourishes her. If there is a seeming contradiction between her need for exposure and anonymity in these spaces, it is a contradiction that defines her, that she revels in. The world of performance allows Spectra to physically represent and inhabit her creations and she distinctly enjoys inviting others along for the trip.
Spectra is booked into an increasing number of upcoming festivals but I for one hope that she also continues to paint, to draw and to craft fantastic spaces for us to peer into. The hypnotic allure of her vision is deliciously addictive.