By ROCCO THOMPSON
Ew, Precious Moments. Whether it’s your grandparents, your younger sister, or your high school sweetheart, everyone knows somebody who has once or currently collects those delicate, somber-eyed figurines used to commemorate every event from birthdays to marriages to graduations and everything in-between. For Hamilton, Ontario-based recycle artist, Keith Busher, these revoltingly cutesy collectibles serve as the perfect jumping off point for a style of ghoulish sculpture that brings their inherent eerieness to the forefront. With clay and brush, Busher is able to turn these nightmarish miniatures into mutated monstrosities as cute as they are creepy. Below, he discusses the difficulties of maintaining a work/life balance as an artist, how he first got interested in the world of “upcycling”, and the interactive piece that makes him one of the most popular guys on the convention circuit!
Was there a moment when you realized you could combine your love for art and horror?
The first figurine I found and thought of mutating was of a young girl with this awkward stance. It was at the beginning of the zombie craze and I thought ‘yeah, I could totally work with this.’ It turned out so well not just because of that particular piece, but because most figurines are so wholesomely, sickeningly sweet that the best way to modify them is to make them morbidly, horrifyingly hideous. It just clicked, and ever since, the pieces that work best tend to involve something twisted or horror influenced. I don’t ALWAYS do horror, but my favourite pieces are always the horror ones.
What first drew you to the genre?
The imagination and the artistry! I’ve always been a villain guy. I want to know their backstory, why they’re made or insane, how they became disfigured and where they came from. I want to know their motivations and, most of all, I always wanted to know how they made all the special effects look so damn realistic! The more thought and work you put into the believability of the villain, the more effective he/she is.
What’s your favorite horror movie?
So many to choose from! It all depends on my mood I guess: I love the cheesy 80s slashers, but then sometimes you need a good psychological thriller. Mainstream go-to’s are ALIEN, THE EXORCIST, and POLTERGEIST, but then I love me some PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, DERANGED and EVENT HORIZON. As long as it’s got a decent plot I’m in. I love anything original and thought-provoking.
What’s your preferred medium?
Sculpting. Mostly because I’m not a good illustrator! Something about sculpting allows me to create depth and emotion in ways I just can’t bring out in a drawing or painting. I think of it the same way as practical effects versus computer graphics. There’s something about practical effects and sculpting that says, it’s here, it’s real. It exists in the universe and that gives it life. Don’t get me wrong, there are some AMAZING horror artists working out there working in two dimensions and I wish I had an ounce of their abilities, but alas I cannot translate it from my brain to paper/canvas. When I’m sculpting I can stop and look and see what fits, and what needs adjusting.
What does your creative process look like?
My trick is that somehow I’ve trained myself while doing something monotonous at my day job or stuck in traffic to start coming up with new art ideas. Instead of thinking about how bored I am, or how frustrating the situation is, I disappear into myself and start thinking about the pieces I have sitting around the studio and what I could do with them. I generally get myself so worked up telling myself that I’m going to make this piece into the biggest most messed up thing ever that when I get home and the figurine looks nothing like I remembered it, I have to scale back.
Other times, when I’m really stuck, I’ll just start mixing up some clay and force myself to start on a piece that I have no idea where I’m going with and somehow it all comes together in the end. I’m essentially self-taught. I go through a lot of trial and error, and when I get really stuck I will watch the occasional online tutorial, but I think the act of learning for yourself is far more beneficial…even though it can be frustrating at times!
Is there anyone else’s work you’re inspired by?
I wouldn’t be here doing what I do without David Irvine of The Gnarled Branch. His “redirected paintings” got me off my butt and into the upcycling game, and he’s also has been a mentor and friendly ear when I wanted to get my work out there and noticed. Sitting down and chatting and brainstorming with him is like discussing the universe with Stephen Hawking! He continues to challenge me to do bigger and better things, whether he means to or not.
What has been your greatest challenge as a maker?
I think it’s trying to figure out where I belong. What I do is weird and at times makes people uncomfortable, but to me, that’s what art is all about. I don’t think I fit in with the traditional “gallery scene” where people are seeking portraits, flowers, and landscapes and while I’ve had lots of positive feedback from people in the convention circuit, not everything I do is pop culture related. Attendees have no problem dropping one-hundred bucks on the latest Funo Pops, but they’re often wary of one-of-a-kind art pieces that aren’t branded or easily recognizable. Still, I have a pretty good following online and sell a lot through social media, but I think there’s something about seeing the pieces in person that really shows how special they are.
Which piece are you most proud of?
The Zombie Foosball table I made has definitely gotten me the most attention. It’s the piece that I have put the most of myself into. I don’t think I’ve put more work into a single project than I did with that one, and the best part is that it just keeps evolving! Taking it to shows and talking with people about it really boosted my confidence and helped me validate what I’m trying to achieve as an artist. I’ve met some really incredible people because of it, made some solid friendships, and even attracted some big names over to see and sign it!
Which three words would you use to describe your art style?
What’s your next big project?
I’ve been trying to keep my stock up for shows, so I’ve been making many smaller projects, but I’ve decided to take a step back and focus on some ideas I’ve got brewing that I’ve been unable to make time for. One is a Cthulu piece and another is another interactive game piece similar to the Zombie Foosball and my ALIEN version of Hungry Hungry Hippos. It will be a take on the kids game Kerplunk, but more like…Cannibal Kerplunk! But, I have to finish some commissions first.
When you’re not creating, how do you like to spend your time?
I work a nine-to-five on top of trying to keep my art business going, so for the last few years, it’s been working or creating. I’ve recently been shown in a few different ways how unhealthy this truly is to not take time for myself, so I’m looking forward to spending more time with my family, playing board games, hiking and hopefully some travel. Books, movies…finding new and inspiring art.
What’s the best horror movie you saw recently?
I thoroughly enjoyed watching BRAIN DAMAGE for the first time recently. It was one of those films that was so…odd, and yet it worked. Rick Hearst did a great job of playing that junkie on the edge, and John Zacherle’s voice as Aylmer just fit so perfectly. One of those films where the low budget and awkwardness just perfectly adds to the ambiance. It’s definitely a ‘leave your brain by the door’ type of film, but I loved it!
What would you like people to take away from your work?
I get a lot of random emails from people who tell me they are out at a thrift store or a garage sale and saw something they thought I could use, or bring pieces to shows and say they thought of me and what I would do with it. That’s enough for me. That means I’ve somehow made enough of a connection that even when they are not immediately faced with my work they are thinking about it and about how they would alter pieces. Whether they love it or hate it, they are thinking creatively, and looking at something boring and finding ways to make it more interesting. If that helps them get their mind off a shitty day at work, or the bleak news, or their anxieties even just for a few moments…then I’ve succeeded in my goal.
See Busher’s Precious Mutations at Frightmare in The Falls, October 26-27, 2019 in Niagara Falls Ontario