Lazy Voodoo: An Interview with Aleisha Chapman
THE ART OF SURVIVING, RIDING THE LINES,
AND LEARNING TO CONNECT WITH THE WORLD
It isn't everyday you see a stuffie that makes you gasp in wonder at its amazing detail while at the same time entice the usual warm feeling one gets when looking at a cuddly stuffed toy. Unlike most stuffed toys out there, there is nothing common or ordinary about Aleisha's work. Sinister yet loveable, macabre yet adorable, monstrous yet cute - Aleisha Chapman of Lazy Voodoo manages to combine these contrasting elements beautifully into her beloved creatures. Aleisha's attention to detail and love for her craft translates well into her voodoos with their wondrously animated goofy expressions which seem to take on a life of their own.
Inspired by Tim Burton, Aleisha developed a fondness and appreciation for what can be deemed as dark and creepy works of art at a young age. She is not particularly found of pretty things, and one can even say her voodoos are 'ugly' in the traditional sense. Ugly as some of them may be with their wickedly crooked teeth, pointy little ears, and irregularly-shaped heads, they are a glorious sight to behold. Their 'ugliness' are what make them into these truly one of a kind phenomenal-looking creatures. One cannot help but smile or chuckle when one looks at them. One cannot help but be drawn to their kooky yet dark-like qualities. One cannot help but observe in awe and wonder at their painstaking intricacies. It is not every day you get to view such works of art that successfully combine spookish elements with just the right amount of cute-ness. Aleisha's army of stuffies convey a combination of these elements quite flawlessly.
How did you come up with the name Lazy Voodoo?
The idea for the dolls came from a series of paintings called the “Loose Ends” series, which I had developed in art school. The figures in the paintings were little, lost, and well loved toys, which were discarded in this “lost doll” landscape. During a mixed media course, I physically started making the soft sculpture dolls. I felt like the name Loose Ends didn’t fit the dolls as well as the paintings, and the name needed a revamp. Looking at the first dolls, they resembled voodoo dolls. I then found myself perusing a random phrase generator using the word voodoo. The phrase “slow voodoo” populated, and “lazy voodoo” popped into my head. It seemed like the perfect fit. Voodoo dolls that are too lazy to actually serve any voodoo purpose.
What inspires you?
Almost everything and anything inspires me. In the beginning, I found a lot of inspiration from the unique characters in my family, and trying to translate what was so loveable about my family to these little burlap beings. Once I started to get the hang of giving my dolls genuine expressions and feelings, I found myself being inspired by animals (real and imaginary) and giving them individual personalities so people could connect with them. I now find myself being inspired by Aesop’s Fables and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. These are stories that my mother and grandmother read to me. I feel like they have the perfect level of creepy to fit my aesthetic. Not to mention, it gives me the excuse to make very interesting, anthropomorphic characters. I am constantly inspired by stop motion animation and how those artists perfectly capture a mood, feeling, or expression, no matter how subtle.
Making art is my therapist, my sense of accomplishment, my entertainment, and my connection not only to me, but to the rest of the world. I was diagnosed with cancer the last year of art school, and because of art, I had a reason to focus on something other than myself.
How and when did you first get started creating your dolls?
The idea of my dolls came from a painting series I started in art school in 2008. My painting professor Tom O’Flanagan at Algoma University was so excited by the series that he encouraged me to make them 3D. They started as simple large burlap triangle heads and bunny characters, and after art school turned into tiny gremlins, and triangle heads with sculpted teeth.
What inspired you to incorporate a sinister theme to your artwork?
I have never been attracted to “pretty” art. I love artwork that evokes multiple feelings all at once. I grew up with Tim Burton and a brother that loved and collected Spawn characters. There was always a healthy dose of creepy hanging around. I find if there are many different ways to see a piece of art, you will want to keep looking at it. I think my most successful pieces unnerve people, while making them chuckle.
What is the hardest part about creating your dolls?
Getting the facial expression just right. If the expression doesn’t convey some kind of emotion I’m scrapping the whole piece. Also, riding the line between too cute/too creepy can be challenging at times. However, I am more likely to scrap a piece if it is too cute. I find cute can be very one dimensional.
Are you working on anything new at the moment?
I am currently working on a series based off of Aesop’s fables for an art show in Pittsburg in July called “Dollirious The Art of the Doll”. The fables that I am most excited about are “Frog Desiring a King”, which I plan on making a three foot stork, “The Ant and the Grasshopper”, with an emaciated grasshopper, and “The Asses Brains” where I want to make a sly fox serving up some brains for dinner.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
Most of my art career was spent focusing on depicting reality. I loved portraiture, and landscapes, and before Lazy Voodoo made most of my money drawing photo realistic portraits for people.
Do you admire any artists?
I admire so many artists. Amanda Louise Spayed, Laura Colors, Lauren Ceval, and Lana Crooks have been my most recent artist crushes. Prior to discovering the designer toy craze I really admired and am still in awe of Chuck Close, Evan Penny, and Anselm Kiefer.
Can you tell me a bit more about these creations - the process you took to make them, what inspired you to create them?
I’ve wanted to create this sculpture for years. I first fell in love with the Angler Fish while watching “Finding Nemo”. Recently I took time off work to focus on Lazy Voodoo and during this time I did my research, made some mock ups, and finally made Archie a reality. I start each idea with a sketch and breakdown of supplies, and armature (if needed). When I study the anatomy of the animal, creating them in 3D is so much easier. Next I make a mock up until I get the body shape and pattern that best expresses the feeling I’m going for. Once the pattern is solidified I carefully choose my fabrics and begin fabricating. Once the body is sewn, turned, and stuffed, I position the light, wiring harness, and battery pack within the sculpture. Next, I choose the eyes, position, and expression of the eyes. After that all that was left was to sculpt, sand, finish, and epoxy the teeth into place. Layering the jute on his face to give him more texture was an afterthought. He wasn’t interesting enough without the jute.
The idea of the Gremlin came to me after art school. I had a rough break up and I made a doll of my ex. He was my first gremlin and I’ve loved the idea ever since. After I age my fabric with tea, I choose the fabrics for bubba and made sure the colours add interest. Bubba has wires in his ears in order to add some personality, which was added before they were sewn into the doll. The hardest part and the most important part of the gremlin pattern is the mouth. The way the interior of the mouth is sewn into the body determines the lips of the doll and therefore determines how I can place the teeth. The inside of the mouth is hand sewn in order to give the gremlin that hunched over look. I usually finish a doll with hand painted fabric paint to accentuate its features and mood.
All of my dolls in the “Triangle Head” collection are usually made in pairs. Frankie and Mimi were made for Halloween. I love the aesthetic of old black and white movies. I start by aging the white fabric, I cut out the pattern, and when I sew the doll together I make sure to place the hair carefully. After I turned and stuffed Frankie, I hand sewed the features of his face by folding material of the lower part of the triangle and placing strategic stitches, in order to make a pocket for the teeth to sit in. The teeth are hand sculpted out of polymer clay, sanded, and painted before being placed on the doll. Most of what makes Frankie interesting is the hand painted details on his face.
Favourite or most inspirational place where you live?
My two favorite places, which inspire me daily, are my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and my current home in the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto. My natural, earthy components of my work are born in the Sault. The abundance of nature is the perfect background for my dolls, which is why most of my dolls are photographed in nature. There is also a blossoming arts community there, with great people, and interesting collaborations. This is also the birth place of my confidence as an artist, which allows me to create the work I do every day. The Junction in Toronto’s west end is a very special place, filled with artists, musicians, and an appreciation for a vintage aesthetic. Every store, bar, and restaurant in this neighbourhood has its very own beautiful, and, familiar quality. This neighbourhood made my transition from northern life a lot more comfortable, and has allowed my work to grow and be taken seriously on a much larger scale.
What does being an artist mean to you?
I have always been an artist. I can’t remember a time where I didn’t enjoy making art more than everything else in the world. My father and my brother are both artists, and my mother has a deep appreciation for art. It was always what I wanted to do with my life, even when I believed I would never make money doing it. Making art is my therapist, my sense of accomplishment, my entertainment, and my connection not only to me, but to the rest of the world. I was diagnosed with cancer the last year of art school, and because of art, I had a reason to focus on something other than myself. Art gave me the opportunity to say out loud what I couldn’t say with words.
Hardest lesson you have ever had to learn as an artist?
Just because I can connect emotionally to a piece doesn’t mean anybody else will. I had to learn to turn my personal experience into a relatable emotion, which clearly expressed itself to the viewer. If you perfectly render an image doesn’t mean anyone cares. Find how you best express yourself in the most interesting way, and develop it.
What would you say is the best complement or constructive criticism you have ever received as an artist?
The best constructive criticism I ever received was during a mixed media project. It was a collage. I had thrown in every image that suited my feelings at that moment, and my teacher looked at me and said “every part of a piece should suit a purpose, if it doesn’t, discard it”.