Dolldrums: An Interview with Kylie Dexter
AN ILLUMINATING DARKNESS, "DOOVOO", AND
AN ONGOING BATTLE WITH SELF-DOUBT.
Kylie Dexter's artwork perfectly combines dark and morbid elements with that of cuteness overload. I dare you to look at her doll's sad expressions and not want to reach out and cuddle them. A fan of "Dark Crystal" and "Never Ending Story", Kylie's love for puppets ultimately lead to the beginning of Dolldrums. There is just something about Kylie's dolls that make you want to love them to pieces. Their adorably sentimental expressions and the fact they are made out of soft and cuddly felt lends them unique characteristics rarely seen among other doll artists' commonly fragile creations. And that is one of the characteristics which set Kylie's dolls apart from the rest - they just make you want to reach out, hold them oh-so-tightly, and never let go.
Once told her artwork was too morbid, she let others affect her perception of herself and her craft. She has since, however, broken from this mold of limiting expectations. Through the creation of her dolls, she now unrelentingly expresses her love for the darker side of things. Kylie's dolls, however, do not just convey dark elements. They also incite feelings of warmth and happiness. It is hard to look at her felt dolls without associating them with the tender and soothing memories of childhood. I was a Jim Henson fan so when I see her puppets, I cannot help but feel a welcoming nostalgic feeling. Born out of Kylie's desire as a counselor to help people accept the aspects of themselves they are unhappy with, her dolls connote a splendid oscillation between perfection and imperfection. Adorable and amusing, Kylie's felt dolls are also poignant and moving.
I had a chance to interview Kylie for Circus Living and found this artist, like her dolls, exhibits just the right touch of darkness with an uncanny sense of humour and refreshing positivity.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by anything a bit dark, or unusual. I really love the mysterious and strange. I guess that's more mainstream now, but I've always been this way. I think the dark can be illuminating.
How and when did you first get started creating dolls?
As a child I customised every doll I had! I always altered them to suit my personality. I studied art at school and was told my work was "morbid" so unfortunately I let that affect my desire to create what I really wanted to for many years. After my son was born (nearly 18 years ago now) I started to ignite that passion again whilst watching bizarre cartoons in the early 90's. We were also obsessed with Tim Burton. Watching "Nightmare Before Christmas" thousands of times ignited my love of creatures and puppets again.
My favourite thing is to hear from people afterwards that I had somehow captured the spirit of the person in the doll. I try to focus on the doll being with them and bringing some love into their lives. We call it DooVoo (reverse voodoo).
I love the concept of your dolls (how they are made of felt and on the softer side). What inspired you to create dolls in this fashion?
I was obsessed with the "Dark Crystal" and the "Never Ending Story" in my teens. I adore puppets. I spent a long time trying to create something unique that represented my personality but also made you feel warm and fuzzy, to sort of draw you into the creepy and make you want to embrace it. I was a counselor for many years and the recurring theme that seemed to cause grief was that people don't like to embrace the less desirable aspects of themselves. The darker parts, but when you do it creates some freedom. I wanted them to look sad but make you feel happy, I would encourage people to look deeper than "why are they all so sad". Things aren't always as they seem. Most people get a good feeling from the dolls so I just continued with these faces.
What is the hardest part about creating your dolls?
Breaking felting needles. I am a naturally fast moving person with a little too much energy. Needle felting requires a lot of jabbing. I work cross-legged with a mat on my lap, and try and do other things at the same time, like watching The Walking Dead or American Horror Story. Hahaha.... can also be a dangerous exercise when working with needles.
Are you working on a new doll at the moment?
I am always working on new pieces, I have been going back to work with clay a little bit and am trying to have the pieces tell more of a story. Many years ago I taught workshops in Australia for American scientist and author Melody. She sort of wrote the crystal "bible" - I am thinking of working with stones again because I have so many rare and wonderful pieces to use but just trying to figure a way to incorporate them in without an overly spiritual vibe - not that there is anything wrong that, I just want them to find a place within the art without overpowering it.
I noticed you create custom dolls. What was the weirdest (in a good way of course!) request for a custom doll you ever received? What was the most difficult request?
Hmmmm, nothing that I would consider too strange. I had one guy get a doll made for his fiancé - he wanted it topless with judo pants on and a dreadlocked wig that he liked to wear and his pet snake (a real snake lol) .She wrote to tell me how much she loved it - I always thought I would think it was a bit bizarre if my husband had bought me that as a wedding present - although in saying that he bought me a big red old fashioned telephone box and a star wars pin ball machine, so who am I to judge? I always find the caricatures hard, I really try and encapsulate their character and sometimes I just get a blurry head shot and half of their pet dog. My favourite thing is to hear from people afterwards that I had somehow captured the spirit of the person in the doll. I try to focus on the doll being with them and bringing some love into their lives. We call it DooVoo (reverse voodoo).
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
Um, I don't have too many secrets, so probably nothing. I have a lot of tattoos. Maybe not so surprising. I have collected Blythe dolls for the last 10 years; customs and the originals. I have about 30. I am a Taurean so I can never just have 1 of something. I need at least 2....or 30.
Do you admire any artists?
Oh, yes! Where to start? I collect art from around the world - a passion of mine. All of my sales go back into buying stock and to support other artists (which indirectly means I get pieces I adore) - Two of my favourites you have interviewed before, Colleen Downs AKA Loopy Boopy and Veronika from Dark Alley Dolls. Mahlimae is also incredible and a fellow Aussie. Trent Manning is my absolute favourite, I recently purchased a large piece from him and am awaiting 2 more, they are coming over in a crate to Australia. Not a cheap exercise but I resonate with his work. I am obsessed with his huge doll pieces, he uses recycled and found items to create his art. Incredible. I could write a very long list of who I admire, and why, it would be a blog in itself!
Can you tell me a bit more about these creations - the process you took to make them, what inspired you to create them?
My process always begins the same, with a big ball of wool and some armature. They really create themselves from there. I often decide on "who" they will be once they are standing in front of me naked.
This was my very first warrior doll. I was inspired to make the clay animal skulls from a Rubén Ireland print I have and also some painted deer skulls I have from a New Zealand artist (Rae West) I am obsessed with making the skulls. I love the thought of a warrior woman, fierce and cuddly, she will hug you with her awesome power.
Hahahaha. These are my Jesus in a box. So you get "your own personal Jesus" and no two are alike. My grandmother is Egyptian and really superstitious, her and my Mum were a little concerned about my "sad" dolls. So I made these, also my husband is obsessed with religious memorabilia. He has a number of them in his car.
Someone gave me some acrylic teeth. They looked cool, so I made a goofy Zombie. I have noticed artists use them a lot now and look very cool. This is my only doll with teeth she lives with one of my collectors in Finland.
This is my 'Nothing is ever black and white' doll, originally made for an ADQ challenge. This doll came from the struggle I was having as a parent and the archetypes of women as mothers and the choices we make and often the responsibility we feel for our children's happiness. It's a reminder to let go and not try to perfect something that is beautifully imperfect.
Favourite or most inspirational place (in Melbourne)?
Melbourne is a beautiful and cool place to live, known for really unique bars and restaurants. Two of my favourites are Naked for Satan and State of Grace (with a very cool "hidden" bar - if you can find your way in). I live on the Mornington Peninsula which is a beautiful spot people choose to visit from around the World, amazing coastline and naturally inspirational. Auguste Clown gallery and ArtBoy gallery are also very cool. :)
What would you say is the hardest lesson you ever learned as an artist?
Putting myself out there, realizing that not everyone likes your work and being able to accept the positive feedback when people do. I struggled to put my work out publicly, and still deal with anxiety every time I pack a doll to ship. People are amazing though and that has helped ease the "negative self" talk a little. I can't imagine doing anything else, I am so grateful that enough people like them so I can continue doing what I love.