Kool Kat of the Week: Poppin’ in with Dante DeStefano on Her Way to DragonCon’s Comics and Pop Art Alley!

Posted on: Aug 27th, 2014 By:

dante_heroes_tableTo some, Dragoncon (Aug. 28-Sept. 2) is a five-day visual feast of costumery, to others a cosplay playground. A chance to meet, listen to and get the autograph of a favorite celebrity. Or the ultimate marketplace for all things phantastique. Sooner or later, however, all the Kool Kats find their way to Comics and Pop Art Alley. Two levels beneath the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Atlanta.

Here you’ll find not only top nationally known comics artists but some of Atlanta’s finest creative talents from Kool Kats Chris Hamer to Derek Yaniger, aka DerekART, who designed ATLRetro’s swingin’ logo.

One of our favorite local artists who’ll be lurking in the Alley this year is Dante DeStefano, the dark art mistress extraordinaire of Rag Bone Studio. Dante began her art career as a freelance illustrator focusing on painting with traditional media and illustrating children’s books. She developed a signature style of spooky-cute art, which she displays in galleries and conventions around the southeast United States.

ATLRetro caught up with Dante to find out more about what attracts her to creepy things that go bump in the night, what she’ll be doing at DragonCon and her latest excapades honing her skills as an animator and visual development for film, television and new media.

ATLRetro: How did you get into art and comics?

Dante DeStefano: Like many artists, I’ve been drawing and making things since I can remember. I’ve never been one to stick to any one medium for very long. I love creating and I want to try everything. I’m an illustrator, painter, animator, sculptor, puppet builder and seamstress. I got into making art because it feels good to create and to enjoy the creations of others. My brother, Nic, is also an artist, cartoonist and game developer. He helped foster my love of drawing. I got into comics by visiting comic book stores with him when we were kids.

giant bunny lrWho are a few of the artists who inspired you then and now and why?

My favorite comic when I was a kid was Walt Kelly’s POGO. I didn’t get a lot of the political jokes then, but I loved copying the characters from the strips, and as a native Georgian, the fact that it was set in the south resonated with me. Around that same time was when I heard my first Tom Waits album, THE BLACK RIDER. The imagery that danced around in my head was so vivid. I still draw inspiration from those daydreams and his music. Synesthesia is a great tool for me.

As far as comics go, I discovered Dianne DiMassa thanks to Charis Books when I was 15. HOTHEAD PAISAN is still my favorite comic book. It was my gateway into underground comix. As a young, queer, Italian myself, Hothead became a sort of demented role model for me. DiMassa and Allison Bechdel were great queer cartoonist trailblazers for the pre-web-comic era.

I also admire Wayne White for his uncontainable body of work and multiple careers. From puppets to animating to sculptures, I love artists who to do everything they can get their hands on.

How would you describe your own work, and what might ATLRetro readers be familiar with?

My own work is definitely on the cartoony side. I’m all about designing original characters. A lot of my characters have a heavy Fleischer animation influence. A lot of my paintings and animations feature monsters, freaks and spooky things. I have displayed paintings in some local galleries, including Homegrown Decatur. Readers might be interested to know that I illustrated album covers and T-shirts for Blair Crimmins and the Hookers.

StateHotel_cover webMany of our readers indeed are big fans of Blair Crimmins. Any story behind how you met him and your work with him?

I heard “Old Man Cabbage” on WRAS a few times. Whenever I heard that song, a brilliant haunted house scene that looked like it came right out of Fleischer Studios would play in my head. I didn’t catch who the band was until I heard an interview with Blair on that same station. I bought that album and immediately began drawing and painting the characters that popped into my head while it was playing. I emailed him pictures of the paintings that were inspired by his music. Before I knew it, I was meeting with the music man himself and painting a cover for STATE HOTEL featuring those characters.

There’s so much to do at DragonCon. Why should attendees be sure to visit Comics and Pop Artist Alley?

Everyone should visit the Artist Alley because that is the heart of the so-called “comic convention.” Before costumes, movie stars and parties, there are the artists who come to show you their original content. This is where the creators are, newbies and old pros. Artists’ alley is where you can meet and support artists directly. We come out to table at these cons because we are excited to meet you and to show our work. It’s especially a great way to discover your new favorite artist. Plus, you might be able to get a custom commission right at the con!

style_frame_001_lrWhat are you bringing to Comic and Pop Artist Alley?

I have an exciting new line of limited edition art toys that my partner Colin and I have made by hand. Each one is based off of an original character and hand-painted. I will also have original paintings (large and small), a series of art prints, T-shirts and greeting cards. Most importantly, I’ll be offering sketches and commissions on-site!

Do you do commissions outside of conventions?

Absolutely! This is a great time of year for commissions. I do a lot of them around the winter holidays. One of my specialties is spooky skeleton portraits. I like doing portraits and caricatures in general. If you have any requests, you can send them to dante@ragbonestudio.com.

starlight_mural_screenshotWhat else are you working on now? I understand you have an exciting new animation project.

Yes! I am making a film called MUSEUM OF MONSTER ART. It’s a short 2D traditional animation, based off of MONSTERS, my first art show at Kai Lin Art (Gallery). In this version, a young artist meets a monster who helps draw a crowd of his monster friends to her show. It features a lot of my characters from paintings that I made for the exhibit, both in the characters and the backgrounds. My crew and I are finishing up the rough animation at the moment. I’ll be submitting my film to festivals in the winter, but ATLRetro readers can see more at www.monsterartfilm.wordpress.com.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Tracy Murrell Creates Retro Art For the 21st Century, Work Featured In Upcoming Exhibit At Lowe Gallery

Posted on: Feb 19th, 2014 By:

"Torchy" by Tracy Murrell. Used with permission.

One of Atlanta’s hottest rising visual artists and this week’s Kool Kat, Tracy Murrell, plays with pin-ups and cartoon pop art in her latest installation, part of the Fine Arts Workshop Group Exhibition, which opens Friday, Feb. 21 at the Bill Lowe Gallery in Midtown.

A minimalist painter inspired by vintage iconic photographs, Murrell reduces her subjects to their essential elements, eliminating everything until it’s stripped to raw imagery, exposing their most compelling details. Her latest work features female forms reminiscent of sophisticated pin-ups. But for Murrell they are much more. Inspired by the stunning images of pioneering artist Jackie Ormes (1911 – 1985), the first African-American woman cartoonist, Murrell explores racial and gender stereotypes. She reimages the original cartoons, sometimes morphing her own likeness with Ormes’ original groundbreaking female African-American archetype, creating an ‘avatar’ for her struggle for her own identity as an artist and a woman. Painted in high key color, reminiscent of Pop and Post Pop Masters such as Lichtenstein, Katz and Hume, Murrell’s work prompts the viewer to question their own beliefs about race and gender, as well as what is high and low art. Her bright, bold, provocative works are already causing a stir with private collectors.

On a recent weekend, while busily working on several large canvases in her studio at the King Plow Arts Center, Murrell is percolating with ideas while she talks about her work. “I always drew from the time I could hold a crayon,” Murrell explains.  “My dad was in the Air Force so we moved a lot and I took influences from different places. We spent four years outside Madrid, Spain when I was a child. I think the colors and flavors of life there greatly affected my view of the world and my art.”  After Spain, The Murrells returned to the states and settled in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Tracy Murrell in her King Plow studio. Photo credit: Shiela Turner.

“I took art classes in college but didn’t consider it a real career choice because I was studying to be a child psychiatrist. I got a degree in psychology and then got an offer in Atlanta in the music industry,” Murrell continues. “I landed a great job with Red Distribution/Sony Records which lead to a dream job with EMI Records. I needed something to balance the craziness of the music industry so one afternoon I went to the art store and bought a canvas so huge that I had to borrow a truck to get it home. I put it in the corner of my kitchen and painted and repainted on that canvas for two years until I liked what I saw. I realized I needed to paint or I would go crazy.”

By 2009, Murrell was at a crossroads and realized she wanted her work to have deeper meaning. She began the search for a mentor. Answering an open call to work with renowned artist Louis Delsarte on his 125-foot-long Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Mural introduced her to a collaborative artistic environment, which she loved. It also led to finding her mentor, Michael David and the Fine Arts Workshop.

Working with Michael and the artists who are part of the Fine Arts Workshop has been a life-changing experience for Murrell as she begins to establish herself as a professional artist. In the process she’s been tracing her family history with art and connecting the dots. Her mom is an avid art collector, teacher and curator. And she discovered that her great uncle Elton Fax is a significant artist and writer.

It was while researching Fax’s work during the Harlem Renaissance that Murrell discovered Ormes. The more she read about her, the more she felt they were kindred spirits. Among Murrell’s favorite subjects is Jackie Ormes’ famous 1930s character, Torchy Brown.  Murrell’s “Torchy” series pays homage to Ormes.

"Girlfriends" by Tracy Murrell. Used with permission.

Another step along Murrell’s artistic path has been working as a marketing consultant and a curator. Working in the music industry taught her valuable skills that she brought to the Atlanta Jazz Festival’s 2012 marketing team, in her current position with the National Black Arts Festival, and as the curator at Hammonds House Museum for the last two years.

“I love exhibition making,” Murrell says. “Instead of paint, I use an artist’s work as my medium. It has helped me grow as an artist. I study each of the mediums as we present them so I am learning constantly. I have become more sensitive to the partnership between art and the public.”

The opening reception at Bill Lowe Gallery is from 6-9 p.m. on Fri. Feb. 21. The gallery is located at 1555 Peachtree Street NE #100, Atlanta, GA 30309. To see examples of Tracy Murrell’s art visit her Website at: www.tracymurrell.com.

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Retro Review/Vintage Vacation: The Weird are Victorious: CUTE AND CREEPY Opens in Tallahassee, FL

Posted on: Nov 3rd, 2011 By:

Pop-surrealist/guest curator of CUTE AND CREEPY Carrie Ann Baade posed in costume besides Jessica Joslin's OTIS, bone and metal assemblage.

By S. J. Chambers
Guest Contributing Blogger

Something unprecedented happened in Tallahassee, FL, last October 14. Over 2,000 people, masked and unmasked alike, showed up at the Florida State University’s Museum of Fine Art for the opening of CUTE AND CREEPY, which runs through Nov. 20. Guest curated by FSU painting professor and pop surrealist extraordinaire Carrie Ann Baade, CUTE AND CREEPY is one of the first exhibits to look at the new surreal, grotesque and macabre dark art that is beginning to permeate popular art, and is exhibiting 25 of the most cutting edge artists working today like Kris Kuksi, Elizabeth McGrath, Jessica Joslin, Kate Clark, Kathie Olivas and Chris Mars. In addition to being the first exhibit to collect all the facets of the bizarre and strange under one museum roof, Baade explores what a “Weird” aesthetic really is, its cultural significance, and why now, as she writes in the catalog’s introduction, “is the time to revel in the macabre.”

Can you find the Diva-in-Sheep's clothing posing next to Kate Clark's mixed media sculptures?

And revel Tallahasseans did. On opening night, Professor Baade treated gallery-goers to not only art, but a dark carnival-like atmosphere where the weird, the cute and the creepy came to life and swarmed the space. There were acrobats, Goths, Steampunks and unclassifiable fabulous costumes, one of which was what I can only describe as a Were-sheep Diva. Even Professor Baade got into the spirit with a beautiful Steampunk/Surrealist vintage costume.

The FSU Fine Arts museum has never seen a crowd like this before. In fact the 2,000 attendees were four times the amount of any prior opening. At one point in the night, people were shuffling from one room to the next, gridlocked as though they were in line for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. But this was a show that people want to return to, and throughout the gallery, people began making rendezvous to return for more quiet contemplation.

Gallery-go-ers contemplate the cute and/or creepy aspects of one of Kathie Olivas's "Misery Children."

I, for one, am not surprised at the success of this rare and intriguing exhibit. It is in line with a prominent and emerging trend in the arts. In 2010, Tim Burton’s retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art became its third most-attended show in its history (Matisse and Picasso hold rankings first and second). Then, earlier this year, the Boston Athenaeum presented a very thought-provoking exhibit on the work and genius of Edward Gorey. What better way to bookmark the year than with Florida State University’s Museum of Fine Arts fall exhibit: CUTE AND CREEPY.

S. J. Chambers is a writer and native Tallahasseean. She is co-author of THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE (Abrams Image), which was just featured on CBS SUNDAY MORNING, and the editor of THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE, VOLUME 2.0. She can be found espousing ephemeral musings on her Twitter. Meet her on Sat. Nov. 12 at The Mechanical Masquerade Presents: A Paranormal Fantasy

All Photos by S.J. Chambers.

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