Los Angeles-based illustrator Elza Burkart merges the romantic with the deadly: her gamine, playfully-funereal aesthetic features skulls, bones and babes, incubated in her mind and birthed in pen, ink and softcore pink. Like a latter-day Gerda Wegener, Elza embodies the spirit of contemporary literary Bohemia—she reads Anaïs Nin and Oscar Wilde, adores 1920s Hollywood Regency and Art Deco, collects 1970s Playboy magazines and listens to obscure dark-wave and 1960s French pop. No matter where she is, no matter what’s happening around her, she seeks out beauty.
Elza was born in Corsica, France, to nonconformist parents. Their passionate romance was cut short by the untimely death of her father when she was 7, exposing Elza early on to the two most powerful forces in the world: love and death. She’s been observing the strange dance between them ever since. “In art and in life in general, the dark things can sprout ideas, moments in friendships, or forward motion,” says Elza. “I realized, it’s not worth trying to spend your life avoiding those moments.”
Amid the change and loss around her, Elza found refuge in art. For a long time, she had no boundaries in her practice. “I grew up in a very soft and sweet environment where like people were very encouraging, but there was no criticism, no self-reflection.”
When people asked her what her work was about, she didn’t know how to respond. And that freaked her out. She attended an art studio where the emphasis was on technique, and there, learned the importance of self-imposed limitation. Now, when she meets a creative block, she whittles everything down to black, white and maybe one color.
Currently, Elza is working on a series of pen-and-ink sketches called Boyfriends, delicately-rendered drawings of women and their somewhat sweet, clumsy skeleton boyfriends. She’s also working on sketches for Pansy, a graphic novel about a very juicy, pink-haired girl “who just loves everybody and sees beauty in everybody and is on a sexual mission to find a part of herself … unfortunately, she’s on a completely sterile planet where sex and anything sensual is taboo.”
In life and art, she says one should “be really kind to yourself,” because there is a whole world of people out there who won’t be. “For the longest time,” she says, “I was my own worst enemy. No one criticized me harder than I did, and I’m still my own harshest critic.”
Perfectionism is a double-edged sword, one that can help us push ourselves, or, can equally stop us in our tracks. In those moments, she lights a candle, has a slice of cake and a glass of champagne and tells herself: “‘It’s okay. You’ll figure it out.’ Sometimes you just have to be your own best friend.”