Sheri DeBow creates emotive and intricate dolls and sculptures from clay and various mixed media materials. Every detail is handmade, never using molds or taking shortcuts, each piece is a unique result of meticulous creation. As a student, she worked and studied under sculptor Franco Vianello, Phil Cornelius, Michael Maday, Professor Sakaguchi, Richard Carter and Sensei Kusakabe. She now works as a full-time artist and mom to five children in California’s Napa Valley. Sheri DeBow’s work has been featured twice on the cover of "Art Doll Quarterly" and her dolls have received accolades and honors across the globe.
We had a chance to talk with her about the inspiration behind her debut solo exhibition Daydreams and Nightmares from Beyond Toyland at Modern Eden Gallery.
ME: What was your inspiration for this show and how did you select your subject matter?
SD: For this show I was really excited to be able to dive in and truly explore the wonders and sometimes fears that go from childhood on up into adulthood.Even though those fears may change many times I find our adult fears are just as unreal or unfounded as childhood fears. We have all spent time stressing about things that in the end worked out!
ME: There are a lot of monsters in the new series. What is the significance of those in your work? Is there any underlying symbolism there?
SD: I believe we all face "monsters" on a regular basis- and each monster is something different to each individual person. What is scary for one, may not be scary for the next person. I began to think about how as an artist I often say "sleep to dream? Or dream of sleep?" And also "I'll sleep when I'm dead" is a phrase I often use because I just have so many things I want to do and always a looming deadline. As an artist sleep escapes me, and this is "my monster" I began thinking of the things that rob children of their sleep. I came to the conclusion that kids create monsters in their minds, their closets, under their beds- they aren't real, but for the child they are definitely there. As we grow older I find that the things that occupy our minds can get our wheels spinning and also rob us of our sleep and become our own personal monsters. We all have things we have to handle. So many times I have found that when you face your fears or struggles you actually do triumph or "Make Friends with your monsters" . The monsters represent a scary event that turns out to be not so bad. Like a child who is afraid of the dark, you grow and realize there is nothing menacing hiding in the shadows. Many times we just forget how strong and resilient we are as human beings!
ME: Daydreams and Nightmares from Beyond Toyland is in part inspired by dreams. Have you had any crazy dreams that have inspired you?
SD: Yes Daydreams for sure because for me, this is a time to sketch or just muse over my family or friends or a great book I have just read. My nightmares only come into my work in the way of comedy because humor is generally how I deal with stress. But I think many times you can see the pieces with the more somber faces and for sure it is how I have felt after a nightmare.
ME: What’s your daily life like? What are some things you do when you’re not making art?
SD: I love to read, I truly do not get enough down time for this. I am a huge Jane Austen fan but I love a great mystery with a twist as well. I have to admit that I feel like I have been a very "good girl" if I have free time and I have NOT gone to an antique or thrift store. All those old things are an Achilles heel for me. I am truly a hoarder in the way of dolly things, art supplies and sparkly old trinkets.
I love to geek out on great movies and the great thing about this is since sculpting is such a passion I can do two things I love at once. My tastes are everything from Moulin Rouge to Crash and Legends of the Fall.I am an action fan and Comics freak having four boys and a daughter who loves all that too but I am truly a sucker for a GREAT musical. Luckily even when I'm sculpting I can get my fill of Downtown Abby, Dexter, Breaking Bad etc.- Even if it is only playing in the back ground, I love seeing well made work of all mediums. I have to be careful that the awesome cinematography doesn't distract me from my work- but I'm pretty driven so usually I can stay on task. I know there are always ticking deadlines but my dolls are sincerely a labor of love!
ME: What is your art process?
SD: So my basic process stems from a couple different places. First is that I always have way too many doll ideas spinning in my head. And second is unless I have a bunch of things to work between, I quickly get distracted and move on to something else. Because of this I have forced my self to work assembly line style, like a one woman machine. That way, once I have a small army of the beginning sculpts, I can switch back and forth between characters and work on what is striking my fancy that day. Plus it helps to lay things aside and come back to them with new fresh ideas and inspiration to be able to tell the story I'm trying to tell within each character. So as long as I have the wire armatures all hinged together, a ball jointed piece sculpted and strung and base sculpting starting in the German polymer clay I use, I can move easily from doll to doll and before you know it I have an all new collection created.
ME: The subjects are often wide-eyed and innocent. As a mother of 5, are you inspired your children and by motherhood?
SD: I am sooo inspired by my kids. It has been such an interesting life watching all five of them be all raised by me but with such completely different, talents, fears, strengths and hopes. They have some similar traits but they are each sooo individual it floors me sometimes. I think it is a huge part of why I have always loved creating such different dolls. They all have a little part of me and I think you can tell they are mine, but they all have attributes that make them different from the other dolls. Also because my kids had such different things that would have been their "Monsters" growing up, it was really fun to sculpt little creatures that would represent that "Monster in the dark"," Monster in the water", or "Monster under the bed" etc.
ME: What artists inspire you?
As a sculptor of course generically its a given that I die over all the Masters who sculpt in marble in Rome, Florence and at the Louvre in Paris. But as a doll artist there are four that come immediately to mind. First is Elaine Carhartt who is a sculptor living in Southern California. As a child my parents took me to one of her first big solo shows in L.A. Her life size sculptures made such an impression on me. They were bigger than me and made in ceramic. They almost looked like clowns that were sleeping sitting up. She used these pastel tones that made them seem to glow and at that moment I was just in awe and wanted to become a sculptor. I think I was nine.
The next is an artist that was introduced to me by a friend, Kiki Smith. She is a current artist that works in beautiful feminine themes. Her ethereal style is very fragile works in paper, scultping and painting. All her works have incredibly strong themes that speak straight to me. Her storybook pieces are especially fond to me.
Susie McMahon is a sculptor and doll maker living in Australia. I will be forever grateful to her because she took the time all the way in the land of Oz and her busy schedule to talk to me about the importance of structure. She not only answered questions to a no name little doll maker years ago but she pointed me in the direction of free tutorials on her website that explained how to even get rolling. She was so kind and her work is museum worthy . To this day I am still floored at her kindness and generosity of patience and information.
My final artist that is forever inspirational and completely close to my heart is Jennybird Alcantara. We have been friends since we were still playing with dolls and she is the only person that knows all my secrets! She has the most intense work ethic of any artist I know. She has been my biggest cheerleader which is insane since she is always working up against some crazy deadline on her own insanely intricate master pieces. We spend hours discussing everything under the sun and even after all these years I am still always struck by how hard we can laugh and cry and not run out of anything to talk about. She truly is the deepest person, just a fountain of talent and never ending encouragement. I Probably have as many dolls and art inspired about our friendship as I do about my own family. She is the person that believed in me to submit to my first gallery and I will be forever thankful!
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