[Rue Morgue intern Dillon Goldsmith recently clawed his way out of the House of Horror for a few hours. We assumed he'd go to the police, but it turns out he was just conducting a Sinister Seven. Whew.]
Lurking in a dark art studio in Chicago, American horror artist Miss Monster (a.k.a. Melita Curphy) is creating the most shocking, terrifying and cuddliest nightmares this side of Hades. Working as a freelance artist since 2008, Miss Monster has been creating monster-oriented pieces ranging from dolls to masks to T-shirts. But it was the Krampus-like, full-sized “demon rug” that she designed that first caught the attention of the Rue Crew and inspired our need to get some Q&A time with this spine-tingling talent. I was able to catch up with Miss Monster for an interview to discuss her life, influences and the art of making monsters.
You taught illustration techniques at a community college for almost four years and worked as a graphic designer for Motorola. How did you get into making monsters for a living?
It was a combination of not being cut out to work for or with others and getting fed up with working jobs I wasn’t really that passionate about. But you can’t just jump into your dream job… it’s just part of growing up and I was okay with paying my dues for awhile. I did actually like teaching but left to work on A Scanner Darkly. I have worked a number of retail and service jobs over the years as well, but always did my art when I had time off. It was all I could think about while working – I could not wait to come home and paint or sculpt. I took freelance jobs on the side even if I had a full-timer. I had a twist of what seemed terrible at first but was the best thing that could have happened to me when I was let go from Motorola. After that, I knew I just could not go back to another “real job” and became very determined to make this work.
Since I had been consistently making and posting art, my audience continued to grow even when I had full-time jobs. Thanks to a combination of working my butt off, a large and growing group of supportive fans/customers and some amazing opportunities given to me by other artists or art directors who dig my stuff, the monster business has been fantastic… and continues to grow!
As an artist, you are known to use a large variety of mediums, from dolls to masks to paintings and even a demon-skin carpet. Is there any style that you prefer?
It’s weird; I go through phases where I’m really into one medium even though I like to work with several. Right now I’m into sculpting, after a long period of doing mostly painting and digital inking. I think sculpting is always my favorite, though. I get the most enjoyment from projects like the demon rug and my dolls, since they allow me to combine all of my skills: sculpting, casting, painting, sewing/fiber art and adding details and bells ’n’ whistles using various tricks and materials. I like to make work you can physically hold and touch.
As a horror artist, what other artists or horror icons have influenced your work?
Oh man, [there are] so many. Growing up seeing movies like Aliens, Predator and An American Werewolf in London totally changed me and how my monsters looked. My mom, a very conservative, religious south Texas lady, actually encouraged my interest in movie monsters by taking me to a special effects exhibit as a teenager. That was a pretty big impact on me, seeing these things that looked alive and could bring such a sense of awe. I just wanted to do… that. Somehow! I wanted the little creatures in my head to be that believable and have that ability to stir other people the way they stir me. Nowadays, horror artists like Paul Komoda and non-horror folks like Grimey or James Jean are my kick-in-the-ass art influences.
It’s always tough to gauge the time I put into projects since I usually work on several at once to be efficient. For example, I may paint the parts for three or four dolls at once and while the parts dry, I might go pour some casts for barrettes or sketch out a couple ideas or paintings…or I might pack up orders or start a new sculpture. I work very ADD. Getting the details precise is important to me because details can really make a piece work…and the lack of a certain flare can make it look ho-hum or generic. Sometimes just the addition of an extra element can bring something to life and give it that extra something. I finished a tiger doll recently and figured out how to make whiskers work. The addition of the whiskers just added that extra life-like “oomph” that the tiger needed. Also, like most artists, when I look at a finished piece a few weeks later I see all the details I could have adjusted and improved had I just spent more time really looking at it, so I try to push myself with each piece so I see less and less that I dislike in a piece.
With your wide array of extremely detailed works, what has been your most ambitious piece of work?
Probably the demon rug! It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever made. I made it knowing that it wouldn’t be a moneymaker, since it was too large and pricey. But I wanted a piece to really show off on and lavish serious time into, just to see if I could pull it off and see what I could learn from the project. At that time, I had been churning out quick, easy pieces to pay bills and make sure income was dependable. I needed something self-indulgent and time-consuming to offset the boredom I started to feel…the demon rug delivered! It also changed the way I looked at what I was doing with my business. After that, I started moving more towards art and unique pieces than churning out handmade “merch.”
I love seeing people put their own personality on something that I myself put my own personality and love into. Especially when I see something a customer did to a mask and go, “Man, I would have never thought of it that way! Cool!” It’s also really neat to see how people build around the masks with a costume or outfit or even make a character based around it. I just like being able to provide a jumping-off point for people to riff on. It’s really neat and makes me feel like I’m doing something that encourages creativity in other folks.
What is next on the horizon for Miss Monster?
Lots and lots of dolls! More masks! I’m collecting my art from 2011 for another self-published art book soon. I’m also going to be at Monsterpalooza in April. I just love that convention. Speaking of which, I’d better get to my basement studio and get to work on pieces for that!
To learn more about Miss Monster and to check out her artwork, go to www.missmonster.com