Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Jennifer Strunge Interview

The first time I was exposed to Jennifer Strunge I freaked out. I couldn't stop staring at the monsters and wondering who is this Jennifer person and will she be my friend? Her work is very inspiring as she takes monster making and sewing to a totally different level. Her inflatable monsters are too good to be true, her monsters for exhibits and sale have so much personality that you could easily be fooled into believing that when they are done they sit around and yap it up with Jennifer in her studio. Perhaps some drink whiskey, they definitely tell good jokes and you will want to invite them over for a nice dinner and good conversation. In a perfect world, this would all be very possible. Thank goodness we have Jennifer in the world.

S- I was reading about you in American Style and they quote you saying you have been "a practicing artists and puppeteer since preschool". Do you remember some of your "early" pieces you worked on at such a young age? Any favorites?

JS-Ah far back as I can remember I was making things from scraps and trash, and more often than not, they turned into characters of sorts with names and stories of their own. Mr. Weiner was a very early memorable one, he was basically a three foot strip of foam padding that I drew eyeballs and a mouth on...but as simple as he was, he provided many days of fun, until one day I brought him into the local pool, and he was never the same! I made some pretty rad sock puppets back in the day too! My mom was a school teacher, and also used to take me to this place that sold factory salvage things by the pound, so there was always tons of weird stuff around to be used for creations.

S- You were in the fiber arts program at MICA. As a trained artist, did you feel that your schooling was supportive to your kind of work?

JS- MICA was a great experience for me as an artist. It allowed me to experiment with so many different mediums and interact with tons of people with totally different views. I found the fiber department conducive to the kind of work I was drawn to making...things that were tedious, time-intensive and repetitive. My senior year I started making these three dimensional quilts, and eventually giant monster puppets, it was something that no one else was doing at the time, and I got fantastic feedback and support.

S-One thing I find so appealing about your work is the color schemes. Your monsters don't have a lot of patterned fabric going on or anything too distracting so that you really just feel like your monsters are almost alive. The colors go together beautifully so that they are really pretty monsters...if that's possible, you are the one for the job. I know you use mainly recycled materials so is this a big challenge for you or is it a pretty organic process?

JS- It definitely takes time. Each monster is different, and made from recycled clothes and materials, so I never have one set color palette to work from. Basically when I'm making monsters I have a huge heap of clothes/linens piled up in my studio, and I just start pulling out colors that I find pleasing together, sometimes they are the first things I pull out, sometimes it takes a while to find just the right arrangement, and sometimes I have to stop what I'm doing and take a trip to the thrift store, or my closet! I really let the materials, in form and color, help dictate what the monster will turn out to it's important to me that they are recycled, and in a way given a new life.

S-In the issue of Urbanite, they say "Even in Strunge's apparently friendly monsters, there is a conflict between what is approachable and safe for the viewer and that which is distant and dangerous." To me they look more friendly, like they would be the perfect thing to tell your secrets too because they would keep them. Would you say your monsters are more friendly or dangerous?

JS- Definitely friendly. I like to think that they are on my side...but would protect me from any real scary stuff that may come my way. They are protectors of your secrets, and your toes.

S- Your inflatable monsters are truly amazing and seem like the hardest thing to make. What was this experience like for you in making such large scaled monsters that are also inflatable?

JS- I basically just had to think about things differently, as these monsters were given form by air, not fiber-fill. Usually I work intuitively, making it up as I go along...but for these guys I definitely had to do some planning. One is made from an old army parachute, so I used some of the original shaping and seams to help guide the shape of the monster. It was a totally fun project since these were the biggest monsters I've ever made, but also challenging for sure. If those guys had been stuffed, they would have to be moved with a construction crane!

S-When I look at your work and know that for one, no two pieces are ever the same as you do not work from a pattern and then for two, I realize how long some of these processes can be, how are you able to price your work so reasonably? It really is impressive.

JS- Well, I've come to realize that I should be charging more, and will eventually have to if I want this to become my main source of income. Right now I work at a puppet theater and in school programs. I want people to be able to afford them, but now am realizing if I can only make 1-2 big monsters a day, then they need to cost more. I'm still figuring out the business part of my Cotton Monster venture...and I'm definitely an artist first, so it's a struggle managing everything else.

S-I am not sure if it is obvious on this blog yet but I am a HUGE fan of Craft magazine. I love what they are doing and how they have really helped to grow the craft community and to help expose so many crafters. I really loved the monster bra featured in the last issue and I really love the costumes you have made, how often do you make wearable monsters compared to the more cuddly kind?

JS- I love the wearable monsters; those were really how the Cotton Monsters began in my senior year of school. I haven't had too much time to make them as of late, as the online business of making the little monsters has taken so much time. The monster bra was made last year for a breast cancer foundation fundraiser, and I've done a few big commissions recently...but would love to have an extra day in the week to work on bigger projects! There's nothing like walking around the city with a big old monster hanging over your body! Luckily Halloween is here, so I got to allot some time to make a monster bunny mask of sorts.

S- As far as having a full time job goes, your job at Black Cherry Puppet Theater seems really ideal for you. How has this job helped to foster your creativity and exposure?

JS- It's been great. I love being involved with different communities, and working at the Puppet Theater has taken me to all edges of Baltimore, that I may not have had much access to before. I really love working with kids and just seeing the awesomeness that comes out of their creative projects is always inspiring to what I'm working on. Kids have such a fresh eye sometimes they can make you re-examine how you've been thinking about something. I also perform with the theater's marionette shows, and it's always fun to be on that end too...manipulating something and making it come alive. I recently got to work with another local group, Nana Projects, as a guest monster artist, cutting out monsters and skeletons for a "magic lantern show". This job has definitely opened lots of doors for me!

S- I think one of the most satisfying things as an artist is not just the recognition you might receive from fellow artists, colleagues or the press but to actually see how much joy the actual work brings to the viewer or buyer. It seems like this is also very important to you in your work. What has been some of the more satisfying moments you have had in making your monsters for exhibits and festivals?

JS- Totally. I think that's what keeps me going. To know that whoever is getting this box that I'm mailing out with a monster inside, whether they are young or old, is going to get a giant smile on their face and not be able to resist hugging it! It's great at craft festivals to watch people's faces as they approach one, or they immediately pick one up and refuse to put it down. The last installation I did, I spent probably a couple hours arranging all these monsters, giant ones, big ones, and little ones. Within the first half hour of the opening, they had all been completely moved around and re-arranged. So even being an artist in a gallery, where you traditionally are told 'not to touch', the Cotton Monsters just cry out for that human interaction. And I think it's awesome!

S- If your monsters had advice for all of us, what do you think they would tell us?

JS- Not to take ourselves too seriously. It's hard to be in a bad mood in a room full of Cotton Monsters. They surely help me put things in perspective.

S- What is on the horizon for Cotton Monster?

JS- Oh man, more breeds are always developing. I would love to make more giant and wearable monsters too. I'm excited to begin new work for gallery installation projects...hopefully in the not too distant future. And there is this quilt I've been dreaming of for years, which I will make entirely of eyeballs, that's next!

1 comment:

fixedgeargal said...

i love jennifer's work!