Back in June, as it seems to happen every single year, I accidentally stumbled upon the Gold Coast Art Fair in downtown Chicago. The event is usually not on my radar because of its odd inconsistency in applicants; some years there’s a wide variety of studios and artists to see and marvel at, but other years, it seems like the same tables you see at any other expensive vendor’s hall. I will say that I ended up glad to get lost in the crowd this year, as I also conversed with one of the most humble and artistically energetic and honest people I’ve met in a long time!
It didn’t happen that Hillary herself caught my attention, but rather the paintings and prints she created spoke volumes on their own. These little hamster-like minotaurs and billy-goat bearded rodents were not only cute as cute could get, but they had adorable little peens to go with them. As in penis, yes. The sight was so terrifically out of place among the deep sea photographers and barn couple portraits, I just had to know the story on these guys, one that the artist was very happy to share.
The creatures you paint are adorable, yet there is one blindingly obvious trait among them; their genitalia. They are innocent, yet knowingly dirty. It comes across as humorously natural, and with the colors you use to represent each little being, there is a purposeful hint at their sexuality. Together, we briefly discussed that almost all living things are born with them, but what drove your decision to accentuate each one in such a playful way?
I’m always really pleased when people are so on-board with the naked creatures, because they are very precious beasts to me. My decisions with these characters come from a couple of places—I think part of it is a comedy bit where I’m showing you a little flaccid penis or a butthole to make you laugh, but I’m also using that humor to bring a little levity to what is an otherwise sad or pathetic looking scenario. Take “Lost” for example, thank goodness for that little weener poking out from under his belly flap, because he’s just out in the middle of nowhere with absolutely no clue, and he’s sad and scared and completely exposed—I think the more vulnerable I make these characters, the more endearing they become, and that pathos is really important. So, in a weird way, the body parts act as sort of an access point into the psyche of the creature.
Secondly, as a little bit of an homage to Jim Henson, I like to be able to shake up the idea that a monster is grotesque, or villainous—I see these guys as troubled protagonists. It seems that culturally we’re quick to jump to discomfort when we see body parts that are usually covered by clothes, but these creatures aren’t human, so I guess that sort of provides a buffer. I think they’re totally approachable. Even with their nipples and testicles on full display, I don’t think anyone is really inclined to sexualize these creatures. That alone feels like a triumph to me, to be able to normalize bodies and body parts, especially to an audience of kids, if kids are looking at my paintings. I think they’re simultaneously edgy and child-appropriate, and that’s because they’re not sexually edgy, they’re emotionally edgy & they just happen to include a penis every once in a while.
The comparison between your illustrations and your sculptures is a super-cute battle, and the two seem to act as their own entities. The color schemes vary significantly, and where your choice of pose and subject matter is loosely designated in your paintings, the sculptures are inherently uniform. The birds all stand out among each other regardless, but it begs the question of creating different animals as well, either as a part of that series, or for a wholly different project? Also, do you consider these sculptures paired to your work as an illustrator?
Oof, I’ve done such a bad job of making time for sculpture outside of the birds and owls lately! But you know, people’s faces light up when they see those little birds—I love that so much about them, that they’re happy ambassadors. In that way, they are definitely of the same cloth as the illustrations, but I think you’re right—they diverge from the paintings in a pretty major way, which is that they are more about design and craft than storytelling. I’ve been a pretty huge nerd for the art toy scene (see Jon Knox, Yoskay Yamamoto, Gary Ham) and while the birds don’t exactly lump into that category, they’ve sort of been my foray into that world. It’s my goal to do some more serious sculpting over the next few months and have my first resin cast art toys finished by the end of the year. Sadly, I have a lot of unfinished sculptures… I started sculpting a “Mama” in ceramic and she was pretty gorgeous, so I’m thinking about revisiting that character… we’ll see! I’m excited!
The grumpy butterfly series is another favorite selection of your work. Were they inspired by anyone you knew, by yourself perhaps? Or was it just a bit of good fun?
The butterflies are all about unrestrained emotion. They are weird, angst-riddled assholes. I started making them during a time at SAIC when I felt like I was floundering a little. There was this thing I did—and this is such an asshole thing of me to do—but every time I’d hear someone say something really dumb or affected in a critique I’d write it down in my sketchbook and just sort of stew about it. Around the same time I started making all of these cartoony face-parts, just like, stoner eyes and whiney mouths and stuff, and I guess it was those two experiences that gave birth to the grumpy butterflies, since they were floating around together in my sketchbook pages. It’s a little bit of a bummer to admit it, but the butterflies are as much me as they are the art-school assholes I was trying to poke fun at. I guess that makes me an art-school asshole, too, but we’re all assholes sometimes, right? How many times can I say asshole in this response?
Your work caters to many possible futures; do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to tell the world about?
I’m definitely still getting into the swing of things career-wise, but I have been lucky to have little projects cropping up fairly regularly. I just did a coffee t-shirt for Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters in San Francisco that they’ll be releasing soon. I’ve also sort of weaseled my way into some stop motion animation projects with my friends at BAWSY Animation here in Chicago; I’d love to be able to make some of my creatures come to life with them. My hope is to do some more illustration work, specifically for children’s books—maybe even write my own? Doing things independently can be really challenging, but I have a lot of optimism and feel a lot of support! If you’re into Facebook pages, I post most of my updates there pretty regularly, so stop by on Facebook to say hey, and see what I’m up to.
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