Loopyboopy: An Interview with Colleen Downs
FINDING BEAUTY AND STRENGTH IN IMPERFECTIONS,
INNER TURMOIL, AND NOLA'S SOUL-HEALING MAGIC.
Colleen Downs of Loopyboopy is an enigma of sorts. Creative, expressive, moving, and incredibly talented, Colleen, unlike most artists, does not have an exact plan when she creates her wondrous dolls. As soon as she starts the molding process, she lets her imagination take course and in a sense plays both an active and passive role as the doll takes shape and form. A New Orleans native, it's no wonder her doll creations exhibit a certain magical quality about them - how they just come to form and almost take on a life of their own. New Orleans is a magical place as most NOLA natives will tell you and so it only comes naturally that Colleen and her artwork would possess and display some of these magical characteristics.
I knew the first time I saw Colleen's freak show dolls that I just had to find out more about her and her art dolls. So you can imagine I was ecstatic when I received the opportunity to be able to get into the head of this wonderfully inspiring artist.
What inspires you?
Many things inspire me. I live in New Orleans and I think the city's influence on me is apparent in my work. I love the history and culture of the city, so many people from so many lands have passed through and left pieces of themselves here. The architecture, tradition and culture is so rich, all of which is an unending supply of inspiration Also, just people in general inspire me. I suppose that's why I chose human figures as my subject matter. While I enjoy nature and landscapes I'm much more interested in the lines on faces, expressions and emotion of human beings. So many people, so many characters with individual and unique characteristics and experiences, there is not enough time in an entire lifetime to explore it all.
How and when did you first get started creating dolls?
Ever since I can remember I've either drawn or sculpted figures. I used to work in papier mache making large figural sculptures. When I discovered polymer clay about 10 years ago I would say was the turning point into creating art dolls. I got involved in some online art groups and introduced to the concept of art dolls. I can recall exactly the moment I first saw Gail Lackey's art dolls, I believe I fell off my chair I was so blown away. I knew then that I wanted to make art dolls and have been doing so ever since.
What is the hardest part about creating your dolls?
I would say the hardest part is just getting started on a piece. Unlike a lot of other artists I don't sketch or start out with a lot of preconceived ideas. I typically just sit down with my materials and see what happens. Sometimes nothing too remarkable happens and that can be frustrating, other times it's like magic and the perfect character emerges before my eyes. Getting past the moments of 'nothingness' is hard. Over the years I've learned this usually means I need some time out of my head and into the outside world. As an introvert that much prefers to be at home with her clay I have to make myself get out and gather fuel for my creative motor to start working again.
Are you working on a new doll at the moment?
I'm always working on a new doll. I've been blessed in that I create art as a means of making a living. There are upsides and downsides to that. Of course who doesn't want to do the very thing they love so much most everyday of their life?
I'm constantly motivated and inspired by the human condition. Those with afflictions or abnormalities, for lack of a better word are infinitely more interesting than the rest of us.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
Well this is a little revealing but I know I'm not alone when I tell you I've battled with depression my entire life. Its an ongoing condition that I have to deal with on a daily basis. Creating art has helped in so many ways. Its the perfect outlet for expressing emotions and feelings in ways words never can. Art is the greatest therapy! I think that is the appeal of a lot of my work, sadly I fear many people struggle with depression and I believe my dolls speak to those people. It's a relief to know you're not alone when you are in the depths of depression. Lets see, what else, I don't like Disney characters, I'm not a 'goth gal'. I much prefer to listen to Cat Stevens than Depeche Mode and I am 100% a cat person.
Can you tell me a bit more about these creations - the process you took to make them and what inspired you to make them?
I wanted to come up with pieces that were more affordable to more people, so I started to make some smaller pieces, like the Zombie cake toppers or figures. I can rarely afford to buy art so when one of my favorite artists creates something I can actually own I'm thrilled. Also back when I made these there wasn't much in terms of alternative type decorations for cakes or weddings, so it was fun to make something unique for people. I have a blast making these smaller pieces. With my larger pieces I work hard for faces to be symmetrical, smooth, capture a certain emotion but on these smaller pieces I just smoosh the clay around a bit here or there and all of a sudden you have this great expression looking back at you. It's a lot of fun.
Okay..who doesn't love zombies? The whole idea of a zombie apocalypse is food for thought for the ages. The entire concept is gross, creepy, scary, campy and just plain fun. I have rheumatoid arthritis and cannot run, when the zombie apocalypse happens I am basically zombie fast food, easy pickings. Who hasn't considered their fate in the zombie apocalypse? The idea of children zombies is probably disturbing to some and fun for others. Yes if you were to get attacked by zombies in your first grade class....that would be unfortunate.
I don't do a lot of fantasy type dolls but every once in awhile it's just fun to play with the clay and add elements to pieces and see where it goes. I have this 1000 page picture book of mammals. When I get into this mood, I'll get it out and just flip open to a page and whatever animal is on the page I'll incorporate some of the characteristics into my piece and see what happens. That's how Fern came about. Again as I mentioned earlier while it may seem unorthodox for some artists who have very set ideas about what exactly it is they want to create, my mind just doesn't work that way. Trust me at times I wish it did. Some artists call it flow...I tend to let the piece tell me what its going to be rather than the other way around.
Can you tell me a bit more about what inspired you to create the Freak Show Nursery? Are you a fan of the tv series 'American Horror Story'?
Yes, of course I'm a huge fan of the American Horror Story series. I love it. While I've made 'freaks' in the past there is no doubt the circus themed season (though I haven't seen it yet) inspired my Freak Show series. I'm constantly motivated and inspired by the human condition. Those with afflictions or abnormalities, for lack of a better word are infinitely more interesting than the rest of us. While some may see deformity I see beauty, strength and depth of emotion. I've spent many hours reading about and watching documentaries on these subjects and am always so inspired by the strength and persistence of the human spirit. This is another one of my 'misfits'...
...they were inspired by this cat, who actually recently died at the old cat age of 15. What an amazing creature. So I guess I should say the persistence of the animal spirit too.
Favourite or most inspirational place (in New Orleans)?
I definitely could not name one place, to be honest it's the entire city that moves me on a daily basis. I've lived here for over 20 years and still while driving down St Charles Ave or in the 9th ward or just walking around my neighborhood, I'm constantly in awe of the beauty of New Orleans. Trust me, much of it is not 'beautiful' in the true definition of the word, but if you have that New Orleans bug you tend to see beauty in all of it. It's hard to explain, people have tried many times. There is a magic here that is so good for the soul.
What's the best piece of advice you've been given?
Not sure anyone has specifically given me this advice rather it's what I've observed from the works of those artists I admire most. When you create be true to yourself. I realize it's so cliche, forgive me, but its the best advice for any artist. I realize in the process of learning new techniques or mediums we can tend to be overly inspired by those we admire and I think that's okay during the process of learning but ultimately we have to eventually find our own voice in what we put out there. Regurgitating bad imitations of what we admire is not art and it's not satisfying or productive to your creative self. It takes time to find your artistic voice, don't rush it, enjoy the process. As I age what I want to say through my art changes, its constantly in flux, but I try to keep listening and attempting to be true to myself.
Colleen sees beauty in what may commonly not be considered by society's standards as beautiful. A true New Orleans native, she proudly attests there is just something about NOLA that is good for the soul - and like NOLA, her dolls in all their 'abnormalities and imperfections' convey an image of beauty and depth difficult to fully describe in words.