INTERVIEW • ALEXIS E. MABRY
“I love contrasting images working in the same world. My most favorite contrasting things are horror, death, and Americana. I believe that has to do with my up-bringing. Christian Baptist bible school by day, psycho killer movies by night. There’s something about the old ideas of an innocent American way of suburban life mixed with a hellish atmosphere that just feels like home for me. I’ve found the perfect way to express my mind is through collage.
I use collage, raw material, wood, and fabric, to cut apart and kidnap images from their original worlds and place them into my world. Using found materials for my work helps me create my own narrative for the images, and while I put bubbly images into dark scenes, I’m also bringing these materials back to life, giving them a new life.
Working with mostly only found materials is, in itself, a challenge I love to face. Being restricted to what I have in front of me allows me to be even more creative with the materials. If I feel I am missing a piece of the puzzle, I will go and put myself in a place, like near a dumpster, or at a thrift store, until that piece comes to me. Sometimes I find it, sometimes it takes months, sometimes something new catches my eye and the whole project takes a sharp turn. I am forever chasing an idea, that is usually right in front of me, that takes a long time to catch. That is when the real fun begins.”
Tell us about yourself, when did you get into art?
I grew up in Dallas, Texas, a huge city, but I went to a very tiny Christian Baptist elementary school that seemed to be stuck in time in the 1950’s. The teachers were elderly women, who only wore skirts or dresses. The playground equipment was very old and rusty, all made out of metal. We read from the bible daily, we put on Easter plays where one of the classmates would play Jesus rising from the dead! Then I would go home, and it was like entering another world. I was allowed to watch anything on TV, and my very favorite were horror movies. Blood and guts, zombies, psycho murderers, killer sharks, bad language, you name it, it entered my brain. The contrast between the two worlds I was living in were separated but with a very blurred line. To me as a kid, not only did all of these things exist, heaven and hell, good and pure evil, life and death, blood and guts, but they all existed at the same time. There is not one leading to the next, its all on the same plane.
I’ve always been into art, but more specifically, I remember the first time I ever noticed art. I was messing’ around in the garage when I was small and I came across my dad’s old sketch book. He used to draw women in a very cubist, geometric way. I hadn’t seen a person in shapes like that before, it was different, and weird. I needed to draw like that. It’s just been growing since then.
Do you have formal training in art or are you self-taught?
I think both. I started exploring on my own as a young one, but pretty soon I’d be signing up for after school art classes. I was a stubborn kid who didn’t think I needed any more art classes after high school, then many years later I finally started my college career.
As far as the collage work I mostly do, that didn’t come from school, that was a total, happy, accident. Just one of those things where exploring becomes experiment, and the experiment works! A lot of experimenting lead to my collage work. Then I added in things I learned formally, which helped push my ideas, for sure.
How would you describe your style and what themes do you pursue?
I don’t know what I would call it, when I describe to other people I call it funny, dark, but even they are still surprised by what they see. I love the ideal Americana life subtly turned on its head. I don’t like to make the horror super obvious (well sometimes) but I like having to look a little harder at something to see what’s really going on. Because underneath every cliché’, picture perfect surface is something much more grotesque. I like to let the gross out to play too, they are in harmony, so why not show it!
What do you hope the viewer will take away from your art?
A familiarity, a mixed feeling, or a question. Whether it’s a “what the fuck?” or a “ha ha ha”, I really hope the viewer feels one or both of those things. A warm, fuzzy feeling/confused.
Why the juxtaposition of images of young children and violence?
I think the children really reflect me as a kid and how I saw things as beautiful and gruesome. Because that comes from a mostly humorous place, I like using children. I always felt like if I used adults in my work, the context would be completely different, it’d be more serious, I don’t want it to be serious. Kids are always more fun, more forgiving, and more willing to step into the darkness without fear or a question.
Is there any thematic significance in the repetitive use of the severed heads?
I like to use severed heads for a couple reasons. It’s just plain funny to me. I think its funny to blow off children’s heads. Its also something you wouldn’t totally expect. The idea is not that they die after their head blows off, its that they are still alive and loving the experience, which to me makes it more imaginary. On the other hand, I think a severed head and the headless body represent a longing, or a need. Both ends still exist on their own in my world, but they need each other, thus, bringing back into play the cute adorable innocence of a kid.
When did you get into collage work?
I got into collage work about 5 years ago. One day I was in a thrift store looking through some old children’s books. I noticed these children’s books had a very familiar yet creepy undertone of their own. I loved them, they really struck me. I felt I didn’t even have to do much to them art wise, they were telling ME what to do. I took them home, cut them out, created a new world where I thought they would be more comfortable, and I was hooked.
Does your art have any underlying political undertones? Or would you say your art is apolitical?
It’s apolitical, I don’t add any political undertones in my work, I’m just in general not too versed in politics. I just like to keep it fun and bloody.
You seem to have broken away from the use of the traditional canvas. What do you use instead, and how do you decide on a medium?
I’ve never really liked a traditional canvas, myself. I love other peoples work on canvas, I could just never figure out how to sort the images I wanted to compose on canvas. So there was a lot of trial and error in finding what surfaces work best for me. Wood has been the surface I use the most. When I want to work large I’ll sometimes use old blankets and scrap canvas to get my ideas out. Most of the time I picture what I want to do, and start by seeing what I have laying around the house. When I exhaust that effort, I hit my favorite place on earth, the thrift store. I have a certain level of pride when it comes to using only scrap and found things to use as my surfaces.
What role do the spectators of your art play, if they do play a role?
I love feedback. I am always changing and evolving so I definitely feed off of what people think of my work. My favorite is to stand back and watch peoples faces. I get laughs, confused looks, and disgusted mangled faces, and they are all perfect. I feel like I’m always just testing the waters of what my art could potentially be, so I do enjoy hearing what anyone thinks about it.
How has social media (especially Instagram) affected your artwork?
Instagram is an interesting world. It can get pretty murky in there if you’re not careful. I follow a ton of amazing artists that inspire me constantly, all day long, but I’ve learned to not scroll so much anymore. There is so much to look at, that subconsciously, little bits of other people’s ideas in art were leaking into my own, convoluting my thoughts and art until what I was making felt like it wasn’t mine. I had to back off a little. I’ve found that when I don’t check out what everyone else is making, I make better art. But also I LOVE seeing what everyone else is making! It’s a vicious cycle, that Instagram. I do enjoy all of the support and comments I get from insta viewers, the feedback is terrific. It’s a great place to showcase the things I work on, because I love sharing my work whether it be just for fun or a serious piece. I’m just thrilled and amazed that so many people like it as much as I do!
Is there an artist or a particular art movement that influences or inspires your work?
I am a big big fan of the Dada movement. Anything that lives in surrealism. As far as artists that inspire me, the list is long and pretty all over the place. Two artists in particular that come to mind are Arturo Herrera and Allison Zuckerman. I really love the work of Arturo Herrera. I feel like his view of contrast is similar to mine, with his deconstructed Disney characters. The familiarity of a loved childhood character completely destroyed and put back together in a different way is very cool to me. And Zuckerman for how she uses large scale painted collage and photography, in such a different, but familiar way. They both inspire me in very different ways, but greatly.
What are some adversities you had to overcome either individually or as an artist? Do you have any advice for other people trying to pursue a creative life?
I think for young artists there may be a lot of pressure out there in “finding your style” and voices all around (social media especially) can be hard to tune out. I’ve gone through several different “styles”, I’ve pandered to particular crowds, I’ve been a servant to other people, drawing what they wanted, not what I wanted, and none of that felt like anything or made me happy. I found, what I now love to do on accident, in my late 20’s, in a thrift store, in a town that I was new to!
My advice would be to just slow down, its going to take a long time so take your time finding what you like to do. Just let it happen, be open, it’ll come to you.
Is there anything outside of art that has influenced your work thus far?
A big influencer my whole life had been horror movies. Especially the really really bad ones, like early 70’s to 90’s, terrible special effects, blood that looks like Kool-Aid or ketchup, god I love those! I grew up on that stuff, as well as real crime shows, I have an obsession with detectives, and forensics and serial killers, but who doesn’t, right? I do think growing up watching this kind of stuff on TV while at the same time attending a very tiny, 1950’s minded, Christian Baptist elementary school had a lot to do with how I see things existing, and at the same time.
Any upcoming projects?
I’m always working on things. I am currently experimenting with a new kind of paper I want to throw into the collage mix.