-You mentioned an interest in children’s books and sci-fi stories. What particular fantasy characters and tales have inspired your work?
There’s a beautiful economy of structure and wealth of symbolism in children’s stories and old myths that I find completely appealing. And while I love the range of possibility that science fiction and fantasy stories have to offer, I am especially compelled by the way their boundarylessness is always tethered by a camouflaged truth—I try to evoke that tension in my characters.
Three great female characters that I admired growing up were cartoon “Princess of Power”, She-Ra, the neutrally-aligned witch character of Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” played by Bernadette Peters, and Sarah from Jim Henson’s “The Labyrinth”. I also adore Jim Henson’s proclivity for making friendly monsters, and other unconventional creatures that are never quite what they seem to be. Though I read and was read to a lot as a kid, many of my favorite stories are actually movies, and I think I’m especially drawn to the coming-of-age tale and the emphasis on duality and transition. The characters in these stories have an inherent liminal quality to them that feels kind of mystical to me. Most of my female characters are young women who are inhabiting two, or multiple, realms of possibility at once.
-Can you talk a little about the special bundles your monsters carry?
I started giving the monsters their bundles after reading the Popol Vuh, a Quiche Maya origin text that mentions sacred bundles in several of its stories. There was this vague implied association between the bundle and the (Jungian) Self that really interested me, but also, I responded to the gesture of carefully wrapping and protecting your most sacred and treasured objects, thereby fortifying their power. The beautiful thing about painting these bundles is that the viewer gets to breathe a whole complex narrative into the monsters by imaging their very own sacred objects and ideas inside of the bundles, reinforcing the power of their own personal myth.
-What can you tell us about the diverse, emotional expressions of your “Grumpy Butterfly” series?
The “Grumpy Butterflies” are the ridiculous result of doodling my feelings out. I seem to deal better with sadness and rage through a veil of humor, and I love that the butterflies can be totally unrestrained even when I can’t be.
-“Pretty Girl” is such a compelling, vibrant piece. Are you commenting on the social behaviors of human flirtation?
This one began as a simple character study, but became a strong statement about the sexualization of girls and the infuriating and destructive messages dominant culture sends to young women about their bodies. That is, the emphasis on physical beauty, and the narrow definition of those terms, and the idea that as a woman you are obligated to be “pretty” for other people, and that the sum of your worth is embedded in your ability to preen yourself to ridiculous and harmful standards. It makes me beyond grumpy!
-What’s next for your adventurous, quirky women?
I would love to see them in the pages of books for young people to digest. Even better, to eventually transition to the world of motion pictures—that would be the biggest dream come true of all. For the moment, I will continue to paint them, venture further into the realm of 3 dimensions, and do my best to assure they continue to tell important stories.
-written by Emily Alessandrini