Interview By Frank Forte
Kristen Phillips is an artist, sculptor and designer from Los Angeles who recently started making beautifully bizarre jewelry under the name floridxfauna.
Her first collection, ‘Crystal Ossuary I’, was released in 2014. Kristen is influenced by horror, anomalies and mutations. With a background in designing dark rides and haunted houses, Kristen brings her style and love of the macabre to the jewelry industry, and may we all be adorned with dangling skulls and chokers made of crystal and bone.
Kristen grew up in Scranton, PA and moved to Philadelphia to attend Drexel University for Film and Video Production. At Drexel she started teaching herself the fundamentals of special effects makeup, mask making and prop fabrication. After graduation and a year spent as a video editor, she was hired by Eastern State Penitentiary as tech crew for Terror Behind the Walls, a seasonal haunted-house attraction. She eventually moved up to Costume and Makeup Designer, and exposure to the haunted attraction industry inspired her to start her own mask and prop company, Safari Anomalous, in 2007. In 2013, She moved to Los Angeles to pursue new opportunities, and has since worked on several projects, including Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights as a sculptor and makeup artist. She currently lives and works in Culver City with her husband Kris and her cat, Holmes.
What’s on the design table today?
There’s a lot going on right now. Late summer into fall is always a busy time for me. Right now I’m building nine two-headed vultures for a haunted house. I’m filling orders for floridxfauna, as well as designing a few new pieces to round out the collection. I’m almost done prototyping crystal vertebrae earrings for floridxfauna. I’ve also got a few creatures patiently waiting to be finished: a bust that’s sort of a Hieronymus Bosch tribute, and a half mask that looks like a face over taken by mutant antlers. Disfigurement caused by unchecked growth has been on my mind a lot lately.
Can you tell us a little about your jewelry?
I launched floridxfauna last year with my first collection, Crystal Ossuary I. The designs in the collection are a hybrid of crystal and bone. They are cast in eco-resin, a plant-based, more sustainable alternative to traditional petroleum based resins. I’m trying to use sustainable and ethically sourced materials whenever possible. The Crystal Ossuary collection represents where I’m headed, taking some of the aesthetics of creature design and my experience as a sculptor/fabricator and applying that to jewelry and accessory design. In the past I was operating primarily in the Halloween/horror scene with my prop and mask company, Safari Anomalous. I’ve always had a love of avant garde fashion and designers with a dark aesthetic, and around 2011 I started working on my own concepts for jewelry and accessories. In 2012 I released a collection of monocle prosthetics under the name S. Anomalous. I feel like that enterprise is a stepping stone to what I am doing today. My ambitions and aesthetics have quickly evolved over the past few years, and after leaving a prop shop job last summer, I felt the time was right to start working on floridxfauna.
Along with jewelry collections, I still design creatures, and soon I intend to produce a hybrid of both, a “creature collection.” I will design a creature, and then create a jewelry collection based on the anatomy of that creature. I’m hoping to have the first creature collection ready for early 2016.
Your work has a very beautiful and macabre quality to it. Are you a collector of strange and creepy things?
Oh thanks! I collect paper skeletons, and I also have a little bone/skull/bits of nature collection going. I tend to collect things with interesting shapes and textures so I can use them for reference when I’m designing/sculpting.
Who are your influences in the sculpting/jewelry design realm?
In the realm of creature design/sculpture, I’m a big fan of Takayuki Takeya, Steve Wang, and Simon Lee. In fine art sculpture, I admire Lee Bontecou, David Altmejd, Diana Al-Hadid, Jan Manski, and Patricia Piccinini. I don’t have too many influences from the jewelry design, but in fashion I really appreciate Alexander McQueen, Thierry Mugler, Jean Paul Gaultier, Rick Owens, Iris Van Herpen, Gareth Pugh and the costume design of Eiko Ishioka. I would say that I’m inspired by these designers and sculptors, and now I’m trying to bring their influence into jewelry and accessories.
What types of clay or materials do you use for sculpting? Are your pieces one-offs or cast?
I use a variety of clays, usually depending on the scale of what I’m doing. I usually use a water based clay called WED clay for masks and 1:1 scale sculptures because it’s soft and you can build it up/make drastic changes with it very quickly. For smaller pieces like the jewelry I tend to use either Super Sculpey or Monster Clay, which is oil based. I’m especially fond of Monster Clay because it’s not as sticky as other oil based clays.
Most of my pieces are molded and then cast, the exception being the Birdipedes, which are constructed from scratch using taxidermy bird claws and real feathers.
Where can people buy your jewelry?
How long have you been doing art?
I’ve been into art as long as I can remember. According to my mom, I completed my first “drawing” around age 2 or 3, titled “Casper the Friendly Ghost on Rollerskates”. I was a super low maintenance kid, you could just leave me in a corner with some crayons and paper and I’d draw for hours. I filled sketchbooks throughout my childhood and adolescence. I didn’t really start sculpting until the later half of college. I hadn’t really had many opportunities to try it out up until that point, and also, honestly, it intimidated me. Once I tried it, I was immediately hooked, and these days I mostly sculpt and only occasionally draw.
Aside from the jewelry it looks like you’re creating one-off art sculptures for sale in galleries. Can you tell us more about that?
In the past I did a lot of work for haunted attractions, and also tried to get work in film. While I’m still interested in operating in those realms I’ve also started digging deeper into my own universe. A gallery seems like the best venue for those ideas. I’m currently developing a body of work around the concept of memories taking a physical, almost mold-like form, and “growing” on common objects like furniture and clothing. Getting my work into more group shows and eventually having a solo show sometime in the future are definitely on my goal list.
What inspires you to create your artworks?
I’d say my biggest influence is nature and the myriad forms that life takes on this planet. Other sources of inspiration include 80’s horror, the work of Hieronymus Bosch, Ernst Haeckel, Matthew Barney, David Lynch, David Cronenberg, J.G. Ballard, and ’90s music videos—specifically the videos of Mark Romanek, Floria Sigismondi, Tarsem Singh and Chris Cunningham.
What does “a normal day of artist” in your life look like?
I get up, make coffee and breakfast, handle emails. Then it’s into the studio, usually for 8-10 hours. Eat dinner, chat with the husband. Sometimes after dinner I end up going back into the studio for a few more hours, or I have to deal with more emails/computer stuff, or I’ll call it a day at that point and watch a movie with the husband. Somewhere in there I try to squeeze in exercise, reading, and a brief meditation session, but that varies from day to day. Rinse and repeat.
What’s your background? Are you self-taught artist or did you study art?
I have taken art classes in the past; when I was in middle school I took a bunch of cartoon drawing and animation classes. In high school and college I took painting and photography classes. When it comes to sculpture, special effects makeup, jewelry, and prop building, I’m completely self-taught. I relied on books, videos, the internet, and most of all, on trial and error.
Can you describe your typical workflow when you’re working on your art?
Concepts tend to marinate in my brain for up to several weeks before I set out to work on them. Something compelling will pop into my head, and I’ll spend a lot of time ruminating on it, taking it apart and putting back together in different ways, approaching it from different perspectives. I’ll make a bunch of little sketches, or sometimes I’ll write out verbal description of what I’m thinking about.
I have a “serial killer wall” in my studio for all my ideas. I call it that because, in just about every psychological thriller ever, the deranged serial killer’s home always has a room with walls plastered with bits of paper-drawings, newspaper clippings, writing, etc. That’s how they know they’ve found their guy! Anyway, that’s how one wall in my studio usually looks, covered in post it notes with concepts on them, little scraps with phrases that only make sense to me, reference pictures from the internet, rough, hasty sketches. When I set out to sculpt something new, I’ll often sculpt a maquette first. I’ve found doing a quick maquette can be very informative in making the transition from 2D, murky brain vision to three dimensional object and they save me a lot of sculpting time. When I’m happy with the maquette, I start the sculpture, and 40 to 100+ hours later I have something that’s ready to be molded. After a mold is made, the piece is cast, seamed, painted, and any finish work (hair punching, adding teeth, etc.) is done.
Tell us more about your workspace/studio.
I use the spare bedroom in our apartment for sculpting/drawing/work on small pieces, and I use our garage for larger projects and working with chemicals. Working out of my home can make me a little cabin-fever-y at times, but I can’t beat the 5-second commute. Back in Philadelphia we had a 1400 sq. ft. loft space with 16 ft. ceilings. We built a “greenhouse” for my workspace and a two story cabin for our bedroom, storage, and home office. My husband had his own workspace as well for his carpentry projects. I wish I could have cut the loft out of that building, floated it across the country, and landed it somewhere in LA. Loft spaces like that are harder to come by out here, but I’d love to have a situation like that again if we find the right place.
What is the strangest thing hiding in your studio?
I have a catfish skull that sort of looks like a crucifix. I love the textures on it, and it reminds me of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. I also have a bunch of resin casts of chicken heads (molded and cast from real chickens) that a good friend gave to me.
What’s in your CD player or iTunes today?
I’ve been listening to a lot of Clark, Glasser, Autre ne Veut, and Autechre lately. When I’m sculpting or drawing I also like to listen to binaural tracks, there are 8 hour long ones on YouTube. They help me zone everything out and concentrate. I own one piece of vinyl: “Music Inspired by Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk” which I picked up at a yard sale because of its amazing cover.
What is the hardest thing on being an artist?
I think the hardest thing about being an artist is the financial insecurity. I tend to go through these feast or famine cycles, which makes it difficult to plan my life. Even when I’ve got a lot of work coming in I never really feel secure because there’s always this stressful low hum in the background of “What’s going to happen after these gigs?” or “What am I going to do if this order/project/commission falls through?” It can also be really hard to focus on your work and be creative if you’re in the middle of a money freakout. A close second would be the work/life balance. It’s easy to feel like you need to be working constantly, and you end up alienating friends, family, and significant others in the process. That also leads to burnout, and I’ve run myself into the ground more often than I’m willing to admit.
So true. Do you have any tips or inspiring words for others?
There’s a popular saying, “Do what you love and the money will follow”. I don’t think that’s completely true. Doing what you love is key, yes, but if you’re a one woman-or-man show you also need to get good (or at least competent) at self promotion and the money side of things. The hardest lessons I’ve learned in my years as an independent artist involved learning what I should really be charging for my work (and having the courage to hold fast when people tried to low ball me) and finding the confidence to promote my work consistently. I think a lot of artists don’t want to deal with that stuff because they think it’s boring or uncomfortable, and I still feel I could improve in both of those areas. For me, becoming more knowledgeable of pricing and promotion made the difference between becoming a full time artist and being one only on nights and weekends because I couldn’t afford to quit my day job(s).
Your favorite art or life quote is …
I like these two taken together: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it,” by Alan Kay, and “Reality is what you can get away with,” by Robert Anton Wilson
What are you doing when you’re not creating? What hobbies do you have?
There was a time before I discovered sculpting/making creatures and it ate my life that I was writing a lot, mostly short stories and screenplays. I still try to write when I have time, but I do it in fits and starts and progress is slow. I read a lot, right now I’m bouncing back and forth between The Vorrh by Brian Catling and Ancient Evenings by Norman Mailer. My Dad is a part time beekeeper and he got me interested in learning how to do it myself. I’ve been attending beekeeping classes all this year, and I hope to start some hives of my own in the next year or two.
It’s never too late to write that screenplay. Thank you for your time.
Kristen can be found on the web at:
floridxfauna.com – her jewelry and current creature designs
safarianomalous.com – haunted house props and monster masks
etsy.com/shop/SAnomalous – monocles and monocle prosthetics
Upcoming shows include:
Communion III: Midnite Masquerade, November 13th and 14th, at the Breakers Hotel in Long Beach, CA. (vendor)
Monsterpalooza, April 22-24, 2016 in Pasadena, CA. (vendor)