Gigi Deluxe and Ugly Shyla made names for themselves as artists who give us a glimpse into the macabre and delightfully dark corners of art. Their work grants us a perspective into subject matter that is often imitated, never replicated. Gigi DeLuxe lives in Chicago, where she is a tattoo artist, painter and jeweler. Ugly Shyla originally hails from Louisiana and has now moved to Austin, Texas, where she continues to craft dolls and jewelry.
Aonie Anfa: What is your personal mission statement or mantra as an artist? Both of you work in the realm of the occult or traffic in the delightfully strange. What recurring themes or images present themselves in your work and how do those subjects resonate with you personally?
Gigi DeLuxe: I don’t have a personal mission statement or mantra but I do have a favorite quote from Gustave Flaubert that I set as an ideal goal for my daily life. “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
My work is very surreal and dream based. Throughout all my paintings, sculptures and jewelry, many reoccurring themes do show up time and time again. Twins and teeth are a few. Twins are very important to me. I always had dreams about twins even before I gave birth to my own twin son and daughter (who are also Gemini’s) . To me, it always represented the duality of one’s self. When I was a little girl, I would constantly have dreams about teeth being ripped out or falling out, I would wake up checking to see if all my teeth were still intact. I told my grandmother, who was very superstitious, about this and she said that dreams about loosing teeth meant someone was going to die. This stuck with me and made quite an impression.
Ugly Shyla: I think being an artist is a vocation for me. My mission statement is that I don’t have a mission statement. I’m just as clueless as everybody else as to why I am a artist. I’m a true surrealist in the sense a lot of my fine art work comes from dreams or sort of random visions…I’m a vehicle, I guess you could say, or an artistic channel. I use a lot of recurring themes of the ghosts of murdered children, or ghosts of abuse victims in general.
I feel one of my tasks is to give a voice to the abused and also the disembodied. Occult,Voodoo and Catholic symbolism appears in most of my work. Since I have moved to Austin, I noticed even more Louisiana related imagery appearing in my work. Once in a while, I make something out of amusement for myself or as a self expression. Though I have recently started making more expressive art. A few years back, my home in Louisiana was destroyed by a tornado. In the same year, I dealt with death of a few of my pets and a loved one’s death as the result of drug addiction. It was very stressful to deal with, and I used art to work through it. The art that I made to express that was a exorcism of sorts, and the works themselves give off a very strong sort of spiritual vibration. They are repositories,or reliquaries for the turmoil inside of me that had to come out so I could survive.
Aonie Anfa: Females artists seem to receive a different sort of aggressive criticism in not only art circles, but in the general realm of entertainment and in society at large. Why do you think this is? Have you experienced any sort of online or public harassment? How did you deal with it? If there have been incidents, how did you re-affirm your personal boundaries and continue in your work?
Gigi DeLuxe: The art world is very much a boy’s club, still. As a woman, I use that to my advantage. I do use beauty and sexuality as part of my artistic expression. I expect to be judged for this, but I would be scrutinized regardless. I just choose to exploit myself to my advantage before others do it to me first. It doesn’t matter if you are male or female. Once you put yourself out into the public by sharing your art, passions and inner self, you make yourself vulnerable. You become an open wound and there will always be someone there, more than willing to rub salt into it. I’m aware of this, so I never let any public harassment or shaming eat away at me, I deal with any negativity intelligently, logically and sometimes with humor. I express my feelings and thoughts on the matter and move on. I would never let someone’s malicious behavior interfere with my work.
Ugly Shyla: Being a female artist has been a double-edged sword. It’s made me work harder so that I am not pigeonholed as only a “female artist.” I have dealt with harassment and stalking. I don’t know if it’s something to do with males getting upset by a overtly opinionated female or just insecurity in general. In my case, it is pretty stupid because anybody that knows me will tell you I’m kind of a tomboy, I don’t have a lot of what most people would consider feminine traits. Maybe some of it is because I have more machismo the males that raise hell about me . Even with alt modeling, I have never really flaunted my body or used the fact I’m female to get somewhere. So the anger I cause in some people is just baffling to me.
Generally the way I deal with it is to block the person if they attacked me on FaceBook or other media site. If the person escalates the threat or acts totally off the wall, I will cut and paste the threats on my FaceBook or website. I have had to file reports on people, so the situation would be on file in case the person’s behavior escalated. I have been an artist since I was 16 and online with my art around the same age. I’m 32 now and have had to deal with people trying to harass me online since then.
Over the years, I have tried my damnedest to be vocal about telling people and especially younger females that you do NOT have to put up with bullying. My boyfriend has seen some of the mess I have to deal with and is also working against online bullies and stalkers. I think if more people would participate in citizen journalism, that it would cut a lot of that crap out! As far as people trying to bother me in person, most of them are computer “badasses” that hide behind a computer or phone. I was raised in southern Louisiana and because of that I’m a very big supporter of our second amendment rights and I exercise those rights. If somebody keeps harassing or threatening you, record and document it! We still have the freedom to be citizen journalists, so USE IT BEFORE YOU LOSE IT, and put it to good use.
Aonie Anfa: As the occult continues to gain ground in popular culture, it often brings with it a demand for “dark” art and taboo themes, which can turn into a field day for artists and retailers looking to turn a quick buck. Both of you have been very vocal about your distaste for “cookie-cutter” dark-themed art and the cannibalization of antinomian philosophy. Have you ever been approached by a design company to “sell out”, or received commissions that you were unable or reluctant to fulfill because of your personal views?
Gigi Deluxe: I believe that the current fascination with the occult and Satanic symbolism is a passing fad. It always comes and goes in waves. I find it both amusing and sad. At least in the past there was still the veil of mystery, and a desire for knowledge. Now it’s just all about image and a facade. The desire and devotion it takes to be a witch or understand the philosophy of Satanism is virtually nonexistent and rarely incorporated into one’s everyday life. Satanism and witchcraft is like the new boy band. Those who aren’t sincere will grow bored and move to the next fad. Regardless of it’s popularity, it still remains an esoteric art form that few will devote themselves to.
In regards to “selling out” I think all artists are asked to alter their art for financial gain at some point in their careers. I was once told by a gallery rep that if I “toned down” my work, I would be able to sell my paintings easily in their gallery in London. If I toned downed my work, it’s no longer my work.
Ugly Shyla: Thankfully I think some of the subject matter of my art is seen as too morbid or too serious to have somebody want to approach me about wanting to make mass marketed dolls. Especially ones that touch on the themes of beaten or murdered children. I also think that because of my being so vocal about things, people know better than to approach me about doing something that would be against my beliefs.
Aonie Anfa: As artists, do you feel that you have any sort of responsibility to present culturally dissonant views and work, in an effort to either present your own agenda or bring about any sort of cultural awareness? Or is it a more personal, archetypal journey for you?
Gigi DeLuxe: My art is my escape from the reality of the world. It’s my own reality. So it is very much personal, private and mine. My art has no political or cultural agenda. It’s utterly selfish. My art is full of some obvious and not-so obvious symbolism, should any cultural awareness seep through, and open someone up to something new, that’s wonderful. My goal is to move my audience emotionally first and then intellectually. If my work invokes any emotions, dialogue or contemplation, of any kind, then I succeeded.
Ugly Shyla: I think that the reason I make things and bother to put them out there is that, in some ways, it’s a spiritual message that has been given to me by the other side. Even if you are doing imagery that is 100% gifted or “sent” to you, it still turns into a personal journey.You just can’t avoid that, even if you were to hide in a cave and make marks with rocks. It still transforms you. Art is one of the highest forms of magick.
Aonie Anfa: How do you separate the internal desire to make art and the banal need to pay the bills? How does it balance out for you?
Gigi DeLuxe: Making a living is a necessary evil. I do other things to supplement my income in between art and jewelry sales. I’m certified to do permanent makeup and medical tattooing. I also do traditional tattoo work for a small, private clientele and on occasion I get hired to do professional makeup, ect. I like my independence so I keep my options open and stay busy. By doing this, my art is always my own.
Ugly Shyla: I have always been fairly lucky with my art selling. Again, it goes back to the fact that a lot of it is me bringing imagery and messages into this existence from the “uncanny valley.” Because of that, I think my work does sell because without the income, I couldn’t make the next piece of work. I have also always been an extremely hard worker. I also come from a long line of self-employed folks which certainly doesn’t hurt either. I also do smaller works with my jewelry and wearable artwork. Jewelry and fashion are some of my enjoyable, “for fun” art pieces. It helps if you are between selling more expensive items. I also think that the fact I have always tried to support various charities with income from my art is why I have been I’m blessed to have my work support itself and me.