A Conversation with Artist Daniela Fullam

She Rides by Daniela Fullam Interviewed by Matthew Dean Hill
Conducted via Telephone on March 17, 2011
Posted on March 28, 2011

Whilst perusing the main vendor's room at the Monster Mania XVII Con in Cherry Hill, New Jersey from March 11 - 13, 2011, I met a great number of artists. As could be expected, it was a mixed bag, ranging from the relatively uninspired rehashing of standard styles to the starkly original and terrifically interesting genre art. Fitting comfortably into the latter category was the work of Daniela Fullam (with some assistance from her husband, musician/artist Justin). My first impression of her was that above all, she was confident in her work. It's important for an artist to be in love with their own work, to one degree or another. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to buy any of her art at the show; I just didn't have the bag space to carry it on the bus all the way back to D.C. But I've since commissioned a custom piece from her; I love her work that much. Daniela was kind enough to get in touch with me after the show, and submit to an interview. Here's a full transcript...

Matthew Dean Hill: I'm here with Daniela Fullam. Along with her husband Justin, they're fine artists and also run www.littlepunkpeople.com. There's a very interesting ethic and outlook that's clear in their wonderful work. I'm going to let Daniela take it away now; Daniela, could you give me a little bit of background about how you got started in the industry, and what some of your core influences are as an artist?

Daniela Fullam: Sure! I went to FIT for fine arts, and I've been painting ever since. I did a few shows in the city [New York] when I was living there; at Roxy, Tunnel, Limelight, and Giant Steps. Then I moved to [New] Jersey where I met my husband, Justin. He's also an artist, as well as a musician. We've just been painting like crazy ever since. We did a few Jersey shows, and we said, 'Hey, why don't we try some conventions?' We started the website last summer. We did Chiller Theatre in October; that was our first convention...that was fantastic. We met a lot of very nice people, and a lot of customers. We got a lot of customers after Chiller as well, which was really great. So we decided that this year, we would just try as many conventions and shows as possible; Justin being the person that actually finds the shows and conventions, as well as doing the T-Shirt designs based on my paintings. My influences, as far as subject matter for my paintings, are pretty much everyday life, people, dreams, charicatures of people that make me laugh. I guess whichever type of show I'm doing next, I try to theme my work around that. So for Monster Mania, I did more skulls and "monstery"-type things; I did a "Bride of Frankenstein", that type of thing. At a bar or other type of show, I'll do a wider range of subjects; some nudes, and a selection of smaller paintings, some skulls and crazy characters, and I'll also have a "family" section as well. My newest thing, though, is doing customs. People have been placing custom orders [and] will send me pictures of family or other subject matter, and they want me to do my take on their pictures. Those are really fun, because I'll get to see somebody's pictures...somebody's family...and get to interpret it how I want to, which is really fun. [laughs] I've had a good response with that.

MDH: It would seem like, in those situations, that you're literally taking these images at face value, in the most literal way possible, and you're being paid to do your own interpretation of what face value means for you. That's a pretty exciting prospect for an artist, particularly a painter.

DF: Yeah, I love it.

MDH: It's worth noting that not all of your art is, particularly, "horror themed". That said, while all of your art has a unique look to it and you have your own voice, the horror or horror-related output that you do produce really captures whimsy, which is really key for a lot of people. What you pull off there is really amazing stuff. Now, in terms of your nudes, I took a look at a lot of the stuff on your site, and the nudes are quite good. I did kind of feel an odd but almost idealized feminine form in a lot of these. Is that something that you do conciously, or is it something in your background? What's the story behind your nudes?

DF: Well, actually, that is a funny story. That got started, when I got asked to do a show in Ridgewood, New Jersey, which is kind of a fancy town. There was no "theme" behind the show, and I was asked to put up some paintings. So I thought, "what would shock 'fancy' women the most?" And that would be to see these...I call my nudes "the sluts"...for these 'fancy' women to come into the gallery and see these big, pointy boobs, and butts sticking out, and funny teeth, and funny looks on their faces. I pretty much started it for shock value, and I had so much with it that I just continued on, which I still do. I don't even categorize them anymore, because it's become part of my usual subject matter. I just love doing it. I don't know if you've noticed, but most of the paintings are exaggerated; one boob will be sticking out one way, and the other will be kind of sagging another way. It's pretty much, while some of them are very pretty as well, I just try to focus on "not everybody's perfect"; everybody has imperfections, but they're still beautiful no matter what. It could be that someone's too thin or too big, or a tooth is lopsided, or an eye is looking the wrong way, or the hair is a little frizzy or extra curly...there's beauty in the most ugly, disturbing-looking things. I find that showing that in a form of a nude; on a girl who's showing her body and doesn't care whether people are staring at her lopsided boob or not, I just like that. It's a strong point to put out there.

MDH: Absolutely, I would tend to agree with that, and I think that you make the point quite well.

DF: Heh heh, thank you.

MDH: It's interesting to me that even when you're doing your more "straightforward" pieces, your nudes, that are ostensibly "beauty" pieces...you still set out to shock. Certainly one of the core strengths of "art" as a concept is its ability to evoke an emotional response. That's kind of what defines art to me. So the fact that you set out specifically to evoke that emotional response, even in what some people might consider to be your more "mundane" non-explicitly "horror" pieces, that's really impressive and admirable. So what do you like to paint? I mean, what's your favorite subject?

DF: My son!

MDH: Your son?

DF: He's in a lot of my paintings. If you go into my website, the Elliott bug, the "buzz" with the little wings; he's on a lot of the T-Shirts. That's my son. A lot of the paintings that we don't have on the website, that we keep to ourselves in the house, a lot of of them are of Elliott in different settings. You know, scaring somebody, being scared, the first day of school, crying...I have a family portrait that I did that is me, Justin, and Elliott when he was just a little guy. He gives me the most inspiration. The "Boo Crew" that's a line of shirts, that's him and his little neighborhood friends. I did an original painting of him and his neighborhood friends, and it's supposed to say "The Gang's All Here"..."the Boo Crew is here". So yeah, my son and my husband give me the most inspiration.

MDH: ...and that's, perhaps, as it should be. You paint, literally, what you know. Again, I think that really comes through in your art. There's a certain personality or personability, if you will, that comes out. It's definitely unique. That said, you're certainly going to have "favorite artists". Not that you ape anybody, by any stretch of the imagination, but you're going to have favorite artists who, while not necessarily influencing your art in any any measurable way, but they're still people who you greatly admire. So who are some of your favorite artists?

DF: Well, "dead" artists, #1 would be Vincent Van Gogh. He's the first person that made me want to pick up a paintbrush. I do like Picasso...some...a little bit...but I would have to say Van Gogh the most. I love Jackson Pollack, he's crazy. Love that...love his whole general way of being. Keith Haring, as well. Living artists? Tara McPherson...I think she's awesome.

MDH: I guess I wanted to talk to you about one particular piece. It's hard to look at an artist's output, or at least a representation of their output on something as meager as a website, and just pick one out of a bucket and say, "this is who you are" or "this is completely indicative of you", but that said, one of the more striking pieces that you've done is called "She Rides". I wanted to get your take on that. Again, there's that more standard "askew nude" ethic there, but with the addition of the cow skull and the spiraling eyes, it appears that you've kind of dispensed with your typical use of brighter if not more "primary" colors in lieu of a very specifically grey-skinned creature. Tell me a little bit more about that piece.

DF: My husband's in a band called "Killed by the Bull", that's the bull skull. As far as being a little bit more muted, I do that sometimes. The girl herself, she's a little crazy, she's got crazy teeth, she's hiding behind that big mask over her head. Maybe she's a little shy. She's crazy, so that's why she's wearing the mask. But she does want people to see her...she does want to be noticed. The red background makes it pop out a little bit. Underneath, you can see just a little itty-bitty peek of the crazy eyes. I got inspired by this necklace that I got from Chiller [Theatre], Martha Rotten was casting these beautiful necklaces out of real bones. I bought a bat skull pewter necklace from her, and it was so pretty that I said, "I've got to do a painting of something kind of like this. I couldn't get enough of her jewelry; it was beautiful, so I really needed to do something with that type of look to it. I think maybe my husband's band was playing in the background, or something, and I just started sketching the girl with this big mask over her head, and it just went from there. I either have to accentuate the eyes or the teeth, and in this one, I kind of did both. If you think about it, you can only see a little peek of the eyes, but that's why I did them in yellow, so that they pop out.

MDH: They do, and the fact that it's a mask is not necessarily immediately apparent. They're crazy eyes, that's for sure; you see "spirally" eyes, that's what that's going to indicate, but the fact that they are in fact her eyes that are peeking out from under this object, it's both eerie and eerily attractive in its own way. When I looked at it, I thought it was kind of Georgia O'Keefe by way of Basquiat by way of Tim Burton...

DF: ...and I'm sorry, I just completely forgot to mention him in my influences! [Burton is] One of the most...top influences of mine. I do listen to the Edward Scissorhands soundtrack a lot while I'm painting. It's on repeat on my iPod...top of the list! [laughs]

MDH: You could do a heck of a lot worse, that's for sure. Well that definitely lends some perspective to that piece...makes me love it that much more, frankly. So in terms of horror as a genre, the cinematic side of horror. We're chiefly a horror cinema website, and despite the relatively recent foray into the "art world...I have to look at this from a cinematic perspective. To what degree does horror cinema and horror cinema influence your work.

DF: It definitely does. While I'm painting, I do tend to watch a lot of horror movies; there's always something on the TV while I'm painting, either that or music as well. If you look at even some of my "nicer" pieces, there is a little bit of an evil undertone, no matter what [laughs]. There is something a little sinister, whether it's in the positioning of the head, or the twinkle in the eye, or a [strange] tooth, or the hands are being hidden behind the back. If you've noticed, you don't usually see hands in my painting.

MDH: I did notice that...

DF: There's gotta be a little hiding in each painting here and there [laughs]...I'm sorry I'm laughing, I just think it's funny sometimes that people don't understand that with me...they'll look at something and get a completely different interpretation of it than what I actually meant. There is a little bit of sinister...of evil in each one o f my paintings, even if it's somebody's family, there is a little twinge in there. It's just the...just my style. I don't know how else to...

MDH: ...and I know it's hard to quantify, but what if I take a stab at it?

DF: Ok...

MDH: I did notice the almost entire lack of hands. That is almost...I won't say it's a common tactic, but it's a very cinematic tactic...I found that interesting from the get-go. What I get from it is, if you're showing an odd, askew person or character or whatever, and you don't see that hands, what the viewer is missing entirely, or at least what becomes inherently suspect is the motivation. What they may or may not be doing with their hands. It kind of becomes a conscious but subconscious awareness of a lack of a motivation, or perhaps a sinister overtone. That's what I carry away from it. I don't know how correct I am...

DF: You're pretty much there...there's always a little something hidden in each painting.

MDH: Would you go so far as to say that there is an almost "Anton LaVey-ish" quality? One of his favorite habits was, as I understand it, bringing his guests into a great siting room, but having one angle in the room be just a little bit off. Just enough to create a sense of discomfort, or of being in a surreal atmostphere, or an atmosphere that you can't completely trust. Does that in any way describe your work? Is it a conscious thing that you do?

DF: It definitely is a conscious thing that I do. It just automatically goes that way when I'm sketching or painting. If somebody is very specific and says, "I want my hands sticking up", that would probably be the last part of the painting I did, and the part that I would be dreading the most, just because I want people to come up with their own ideas as to why the hands aren't showing. Why are the hands behind their backs? What are they hiding back there? Are they holding something? Even on the kids...I mean, who knows? You never know!

MDH: I've seen that ethic portrayed with varying degrees of success, and certainly, again, in movies. Kubrick was famous for doing that kind of thing, and there are a few other directors that are known for that type of thing. They're really hiding as much from you as they're showing to you. So anyway, I just find that very interesting. So, what are your plans for the future? Is it just kind of business as usual until you get your "big break"? Is getting a big break not the goal? If somebody came to you tomorrow and said, "I want you to paint exclusively for a living, and I will completely fund you for the rest of time..." What are your aspirations.

DF: Well, for the future, that is something that I would most definitely like to do...paint full time, or create artwork full time. As crunched as my time is now, I enjoy it just as much with deadlines, and numerous customs that are due, and a convention coming up soon. I would say most of my stuff sold at Monster Mania and we've got Horrorhound in like a week [as of this interview]. I'm replenishing the stock of stuff, and I'm trying to be as creative as possible, and even with working a nine-to-five job, a young child, a husband, family, getting up early, whatever...I'm very happy with the painting. If somebody were to come to me tomorrow and say, "I'd like to commission you until the end of time to paint", that would be fantastic. As far as getting my big break is concerned, again, if that happened, that would be great, but I enjoy doing artwork no matter what. So if I get a big break, that would be fantastic, but that's not how I have my mindset. My mindset is "come to the conventions and check me out...if you like it that's fantastic, if you don't, I mean, everyone's entitled to their own opinion...but..."

MDH: ..."but you're wrong!"

DF: ...that would make me a little sad. But stop by, take a card, have fun. That's the best thing. To come by and say "I like your work", that to me is saying that what I'm doing is worth something.

MDH: And that partially answers my next question. Two sides of the same coin. What would be the best compliment someone could give to your work, and at the same time, what would be the worst criticism?

DF: The best compliment, again, would be that you like it. If somebody says to me, "I love your work", that means it's worth something to somebody else besides me and my family. It means I'm headed in the right direction. The worst criticism would probably be...I mean, if they said they didn't like my work, that makes me sad, but people are entitled to their own opinion. I guess it would be if someone paid me and then just kind of left [the piece] behind, or threw it out! Or if I was in a thrift store and found one of my Pillow Goons just kinda hanging out for twenty five cents; that would probably be upsetting!

MDH: ...jeez, god yeah...that would be pretty awful.

DF: [laughs] But at least if I found it, it wouldn't be too too bad...[laughs]

MDH: You have it back, right? It found its way back home to you. It didn't belong to them to begin with, right?

DF: Exactly!

MDH: So just a couple more...if you could do a dream, large-scale piece, is there anything that leaps to mind? Given unlimited time and resources, do you have a dream piece that you would be absolutely thrilled to take part in?

DF: Wow...yes! I would like to do either a humongous scene of every person that effected my life to date...in my own style...somewhere where it would be seen by a lot of people. Maybe in the city or something. And each person would know exactly who they were [laughs], that would be ideal. Whether it be comical or not, but it would have to be the people that effected me the most, whether it was positive or negative. I do tend to paint better in the "negative"...if someone's given me a negative situation, I tend to get more inspiration...

MDH: I think that's only natural. Frankly, I'd like to see it, even in a comparatively small scale, I think it would be interesting to see all of the faces in that context. Obviously, I wouldn't personally be able to recognize any of the faces, but I think a lot of people would find that intensely interesting, if you ever got the chance to do it. So, what's next for you? What's on the horizon?

DF: I'm doing a month-long show at Maxwell's in Hoboken, NJ opening on Monday, April 4th. Then after that, I'm doing the Kearny Irish American; I think that's Friday the 9th, and I believe that starts at 9 PM in Kearny, NJ. Then I'll be doing Chiller Theatre at the end of April. I'm doing a monster show in Manhattan in the Toy Tokyo gallery...downstairs in their shop; it's a group show. In June, I have Saturday Nightmares in Rutherford, NJ; I think that's their second convention. Then in July is Days of the Dead in Indianapolis. September, we have Horrorfind in Gettysburg, PA. Then the October Chiller Theatre. In between we're thinking about some other shows here and there. We were thinking about doing the Chicago Wizard World Comicon, think that's in October as well. I would like to do the Rock 'n' Shock in Massachusetts. Other than that, whatever shows pop up here and there.

MDH: Other than that? I mean that's a fuller plate than I think I've seen a lot of the hardcore vendors have, honestly. So clearly, you're cranking out work, or you're gonna have to. I can only wish you the best of luck. Sometimes people at these shows, they can be a tough sell. Each show kind of has its own personality, and you do have to match what you bring with the show to one degree or another.

DF: Thank you!

MDH: So here's the last question, and it's one of my standard battery of questions that I ask everyone...so just answer honestly with whatever comes into your mind. If the Living Devil suddenly appeared before you right now in flash of smoke and brimstone, what would you say to him?

DF: Where's the party? [laughs]

MDH: Good enough! [laughs] Well Daniela, I appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule with work, family, and your art. Again, readers can see a lot of Daniela's work at www.littlepunkpeople.com, and also on her Etsy shop...

DF: Yes, I have an Etsy shop, and I'm on Facebook as well...

MDH: So make sure you all go look her up, and check out her stuff, and buy as much of it as you can possibly afford! Your walls will thank you.

DF: Thank you for even considering me for an interview! I really appreciate it! I had a lot of fun...lots of fun questions!

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