Posts Tagged ‘dark art’

Annabelle’s Got Nothing on These Strange Dolls

Vermont artist Beth Robinson is not your usual doll maker, and her uniquely grotesque “Strange Dolls” are not meant for kids.

Puking Princesses, Soul Eaters, Madonna Whores! These strange creatures and more are among the Strange Dolls that comprise Vermont artist Beth Robinson’s unique collection. Robinson created her beloved Strange Dolls in 2003, after a close friend opened her eyes to the art of Japanese doll making via a twisted fairytale-themed exhibit.

“The doll artists were creating characters, and capturing moments and expression in certain environments,” Robinson says. “But the environments were played down. I felt like it was more about the interaction between the characters. It was the first time that I had seen a childishness that was paired with the grotesque, so that really clicked in place for me in terms of where I wanted to go with my own work.”

A self-taught artist, Robinson played with several mediums before realizing doll making united all her artistic loves.

“When you’re doll making, you do bring them all together because you’re sculpting, painting, sketching, designing, sewing,” she says. “That’s another way that everything clicked into place. I could explore all these different things that I loved to do and combine them into one art form that made sense.”

Robinson’s dolls are made of polymer clay, vintage fabrics, acrylic paint, and—yes—sometimes real human hair or teeth. While some might find her use of human body parts repulsive, others find it endearing in a seemingly absurd and eerie way. Robinson has a personal connection with each and every Strange Doll because she molds human-like qualities directly into their characters and expressions, she says.

“My work is pretty intense, emotional, and self reflective.”

Beth Robinson, Strange Dolls, Vermont

Beth Robinson, Gator Girl

So where does the inspiration for each Strange Doll come from?

“It could be a conversation with a friend, or it could be something that’s going on in the world,” Robinson says. “It could be my own memories and reflections. I could be driving, doing laundry; basically doing something really mundane, and then, in the quietness of my mind, it all comes together.”

Robinson’s art does not try to make a statement about a controversial political event or create the next movie monster directly. Instead she feels that, “artists are introverts so we process things in a different way than most everybody else. I feel like making this artwork is a way for me to process… whatever that is.”

Beth Robinson, Hooks, Strange Dolls Vermont

Beth Robinson, Hooks

After moving around a lot, Robinson finally settled in the Green Mountain State at the age of 18. She and her Strange Dolls live in the quaint town of Essex, Vermont, where she has built a bit of a cult following. The influence of New England on Robinson’s work is especially clear in a new exhibit at Burlington’s S.P.A.C.E. Gallery called Conjuring: She Rises. In the exhibit, Robinson and 12 other women artists will use their art to reflect on the 325th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials relative to the current political and social climate.

Many thanks to Take Magazine and writer Gabrielle Head for this feature. The original article>>


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A multi media show organized by female artists for female artists, “Conjuring: She Rises”, came together in honor of the 325 anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials. Women throughout the ages have and continue to struggle with finding their voices as powerful agents of change within society. We created this show to honor a gathering of our vibrant and powerful voices as modern day female artists working and living in Vermont.

Participating artists include:
Christy Mitchell
Beth Robinson
Leslie Frye
Wylie Garcia
Meredith Muse
Sarah Vogelsang-Card
Morgan Stark
Nyx Black
Athena Kafantaris
Melaney Pettani
Leslie Roth
Nikki Laxar
Annika Rundberg

With administrative help from Abigail Feldman.


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These current sculptures are inspired by Freud’s Madonna Whore Complex. “Men with this complex desire a sexual partner who has been degraded (the whore) while they cannot desire the respected partner (the Madonna). In sexual politics the view of women as either Madonnas or whores limits women’s sexual expression, offering two mutually exclusive ways to construct a sexual identity.”

The final touch was finding Ann Sexton’s poem “Buying The Whore,” which is gouged into the bodies of each sculpture.

Each bust does not have arms or legs or ears and, with each stanza, grow more silenced and constrained. The first sculpture has duct tape over her mouth. The second sculpture wears a ballgag that buckles on the back of her head, the third wears a muzzle that covers much of her face and head. And for the final stanza, the woman’s entire head is covered with only openings for sight and smell. She wears a posture collar that forces her to ‘keep her chin up.’

The busts are quite large compared to my usual scale, coming in at 20 inches tall. Their core is made from foam and plaster. The outer clay is an air dry clay called “Premier” which sands down to a gorgeous finish.  So without further adieu…… here are the Madonna Whores.

“You are the roast beef I have purchased
and I stuff you with my very own onion.

You are a boat I have rented by the hour
and I steer you with my rage until you run aground.”

“You are a glass that I have paid to shatter
and I swallow the pieces down with my spit.”

“You are the grate I warm my trembling hands on,
searing the flesh until it’s nice and juicy.”

“You stink like my Mama under your bra
and I vomit into your hand like a jackpot
its cold hard quarters.”


Where such men love they have no desire and where they desire they cannot love.
— Sigmund Freud



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I updated my etsy shop — and have new pieces to share! A variety of corpse paint dolls and some with a tribal aesthetic. All are heavy on stitchery and of course, lots of black. Check it out now!


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New doll offerings! Click on the thumbnail to see the full image and to order online.

If you are visiting friends this summer and are looking for a great gift to bring, my pincushions are a great choice! Order them online here

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The Aviary

Up-Coming Solo Show: “The Aviary”

Opening Reception:
Friday, July 19, 5:30-7:30PM

The show will be on display the second floor

Studio Place Arts (SPA)
201 N Main St
Barre, VT 05641

An Aviary is a large enclosure for confining birds. In the Strange Dolls’ Aviary you will find birds that have become so comfortable living outside of their natural habitat, that they have started to adopt certain humanoid traits. Enjoy anthropomorphic sculptures and prints of these dandies and ladies on the 2nd floor of Studio Place Arts in Barre from July 19 through August 13. 2013.

Hope to see you there!

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I just got back from a whirlwind trip to NYC to catch the Brothers Quay exhibit before it disappeared. We saw it on the 5th. It came down on the 7th.

The Brothers Quay were a huge inspiration to me when I first started making dolls. When asked, I often say that Japanese doll artists were my inspiration, but the Brothers Quay and Jan Švankmajer fall in line quickly as a second and are probably a more important influence because of the context of their work.

Being a fan of their puppets and stop motion, seeing their exhibit at the MOMA was profound. I walked away with a greater understanding of the Quays as, not only stop motion animators, but as extremely versatile artists.

So a few highlights of what I really adored about the exhibit:

  • The color of the walls and lighting. I know it seems silly but I recently had a conversation with a painter about the white wall trend in museums and galleries, his opinion was that white walls don’t flatter most work. I have to be honest, the color of gallery walls never occurred to me, but it was fresh on my mind when I walked into the Quay exhibit. The walls were painted dark grey and there was no strong overhead light, everything was spot lit. It was so atmospheric and fitting for the style of the Quays but really – hats off to the curators who had to find a way to incorporate films – which need darkness to enjoy them – and light – to enjoy the exhibit. It was easy to move between the films and the artwork.

  • I adored the sentimental touches. They made a display of the more personal objects in their studio: the Polish posters that they wallpapered their first studio with and would strongly influence their style.

  • A new understanding and appreciation for their stop motion film “In Absentia“. “A seated woman, alone… in a room on one of the top floors of an asylum, repeatedly writes on a piece of paper and sharpens pencils. The pencil point often breaks under her fingers’ force. She places the broken points outside the window on the sill. A satanic figure is somewhere nearby, animated and made of straw or clay, not flesh… She finishes her writing, tears the paper from the pad, folds it, places it in an envelope, and slips it through a slot that contains many more letters.” (wiki). The letters simply contain the words “Sweetheart Come” written over and over itself until it is almost illegible. The woman was Emma Hauck, a real woman diagnosed with dementia praecox in the late 1800’s. In the exhibit was the actual letter (which really did look like neat but demented scribbling) and photographs of the woman and the husband that the letters were addressed to.

  • An introduction to all of their sooty black, detailed illustrations and graphic design work for books and albums

  • The bunny and doll from the His Name is Alive music video “Are We Still Married” that the brothers directed.

  • We got to the MOMA on Friday evening and didn’t realize that between 4 and 8pm on Friday nights admission is free (sponsored by Target). Getting in free is AWESOME but our time frame to see the exhibit was short and the line to get in wrapped entirely around the building. So we stood in line for a half hour or more when we would have just as happily paid to get in. Closing time at the MOMA was like rats trying to scurry from a burning building. It was kind of crazy (shown above are the escalators filled with people trying to simply leave).

    Because of the crunch of people, the attendants were everywhere, constantly moving amongst us saying “No pictures! No pictures!” There was no choice but to obey. Luckily other folks were able to visit when the environment was less intense and they got some great shots of the exhibit. If you are on Pinterest, feel free to follow my “Brothers Quay” board where I have a collection of interviews, great shots of the exhibit, and video clips:


    Good way to start 2013!

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