As they say, an artist’s work is a window into their mind. For our dear friend and collaborator Mishka Westell, that window looks onto a wildly psychedelic utopian landscape. In so many ways, Mishka is out of this world. When she’s not designing coveted show posters for some of the world’s best musicians, she’s working to help interesting brands build their visual identities. She probably designed the matchbook (and way more) at your favorite hotel.
We Love Mishka with a capital L. She has been an integral member of the Far West family for over a decade and we’ve been proud to collaborate with her on everything from abortion rights campaigns to your favorite t-shirt. Her designs for the Trans-Pecos Festival of Music + Love are cult classics. We’ve spent a lot of years working and sitting around the campfire with Mishka, and we’re grateful for every minute of it. Beyond our friendship, the whole city of Austin is enriched by her artistic presence and that of her beloved, Jesse Ebaugh – front man of the Tender Things, Playboys teammate, all-things-with-strings wizard and genuinely awesome dude. Mishka and Jesse are at the top of the list of people to be stranded on an island with.
I arrived to Mishka’s house for the interview wearing a t-shirt she gave me for my birthday – an early 90s Grateful Dead shirt from one of their annual Halloween shows in Oakland. Mishka and I both live at the intersection of goth, hippie and punk. We walked through her delightful, wilding garden (I mean, she is British) to her studio. It took a while to focus due to the walls being lined with her work, awesome art books everywhere, and a whole garden of plants she asked me not to mention. When we finally got around to the interview, it felt like a freak family picnic. So many walks down so many memory lanes. It was a good time.
Has your art always been trippy?
Always, always, always been like that since I was a teenager. I mean, I think before I even discovered psychedelic music and culture, I was into all the surrealists and Hieronymus Bosch and stuff that I learned about at school. And I had friends in this small town where I grew up in England who had amazing record collections and they had 13 Floor Elevators, which was an Austin band of course. I got into them at 16 years old, not knowing that decades later, I would be making posters for them.
So in your teens you went all in on psychedelic culture?
Yes, you could say that.
Were you playing music at that time?
No. I mean I was really into music and collecting records. I would DJ through my twenties and thirties, but I didn't really pick up an instrument until I was in my thirties. Really late start. I hung around with so many musicians who were really talented. I was always put off. I had no confidence to do it.
Well I’m glad you pushed through that. Tell me about what you play, and who you play with.
I play bass and theremin. Yeah, sometimes. Well, I used to play theremin with the neck of my bass. But I couldn't stop playing bass to do the theremin solo so now it’s just bass.
So yeah, I was in this garage rock band called the She Creatures. We would dress up in silver outfits with blue wigs - you can see our video on YouTube. It was very much a performance art as well. Steven Van Zandt [member of the E Street Band and Silvio on the Sopranos] wanted to sign us to his record label and also Kim Fowley. Oh yeah. He was interested.
Was he the creepy one?
Yes, creepy. He was the one from The Runaways. He's that guy. Now I'm in a band called Genital Panic, started by Tina Shlieske, which I guess you'd call feminist punk, but basically we’re speaking out against any oppression of any peoples. It came out of the Trump years.
Pussy Grabber is one of your songs. I love that. And sometimes you have backup dancers wearing vagina costumes. I remember the first time at Trans-Pecos Festival 2018. Excellent.
Tina's wife. Justine acquired them. I don't think they were handmade that time. We had a whole formation of them, like six in front of the stage dancing. And then the next day on the Sunday or the Saturday afternoon, we did a photo shoot outside. Is it the post office where there's the crossing? You know where the one four-way stop is from the police, the police department. And we did Abbey Road, that Flappy Road. There are some good pictures of that. It was wonderful. Anyway, it felt like everyone needed it. I think it was 2018 and it was the same year I got my citizenship.
That was the year I had to leave Marfa, take a Greyhound to Austin, be sworn in as an American citizen, and then get driven back to finish working at the festival.
[she shows me a picture of herself with her citizenship paper in hand, in front of flags with some elderly gentlemen wearing powdered wigs and tri corn hats]
They have actors there. Yeah. Like founding fathers.
Wow. America. Tell me about camping and road tripping. You go for at least a month every year.
I just love exploring the American landscape. What's great is that we make a point of not taking highways, go back roads most of the time, which takes a lot longer. But you see so much more of, I guess the real America, sometimes bad, a lot of Trump signs, but really cool.
Also in the last few years, there's a website - the Spaces Archive - which lists all the weird visionary art environments all around the country. They're everywhere. People who are considered outsiders, whatever that means, build their whole house into wild things. There's Pasaquan in Goergia….
Do you want to be one of those people?
Last year we were driving through the south, visiting all these places, and then ended up staying with Butch [our mutual good friend, artist Butch Anthony] and going on his pirate ship looking for alligators.
What are you talking about?
He's got a pirate ship.
What do you mean?
He just built it recently and it's got skeletons all over it.
This seemed like the right moment to wrap up the conversation. Right here, in a magical garden studio, with my otherworldly friend, talking about the amazing weirdos we know. What a life.
Photos: Carter Johnston