Bedraggled bedheads tug at your heartstrings with their pleading, pitiful, bloodshot eyes; eyes replete with the dark circles of an insomniac. With mouths turned over in a simple toddler’s pout, the dejectedly darling dolls seem to declare, “Poor me,” while we are left wondering what’s gone wrong in their world.
Although the deep-set eyes of Kylie Dexter’s diminutive “Dolldrums” speak from a troubled place, their wild hair, soft woolen “skin” and adorable miniature accoutrements keep the atmospheres surrounding them fairly lighthearted. These intriguing little (twelve to fourteen-inch) dolls give us an experience that is both sad and sweet – through them, we feel both concern and consolation. Regardless, our inclination is to give the Dolldrums big, warm, smooshy hugs (though it’s typically the doll’s job to do the comforting).
Perhaps it is the absence of cheerfulness in a typically sunny object of affection, coupled with our need to comfort something so sad that adds to the appeal of the Dolldrums. Their fuzzy little visages catch us off guard, catering to our tastes for the unexpected.
Beautiful Bizarre Magazine Online Author, Jennifer Susan Jones, interviewed Kylie about her bittersweet little beasties. So grab a coffee and your favorite stuffed animal, and prepare to enter Kylie’s world.
Let’s start with your childhood. You are a self-taught doll maker, and you mention in your bio that you had a very early start at it, modifying your childhood dolls to create “darker versions” of their former selves. Can you tell us more about this?
Wow, you did your homework! I was never happy with the dolls as they were, I liked to modify the typical 70’s dolls. Every one had a teardrop or something to make it more unique. I did love a biro (common Australian term for “pen”) — my parents did not.
You’ve said that you’ve always had a vivid and “very real” imaginary world that formed early in your childhood. Do you feel this was something you were “born with” or was it parental influence (going to museums, looking at picture books, exploring in nature) – or a bit of both?
I had very typical upbringing, in a loving and stable home. Where did the imagination come from? I have no idea. I think I would guess that I was born with it. I have very few ‘real’ memories but I have many from my made-up world. I saw very unusual things as child, talked to creatures and remember wandering around physically a lot at night. I lived in my head, I spent more time making up stories and escaping reality. I have had an imaginary friend, well it’s a whole world actually, for many years. I’m 45 now and I still have them all ‘nearby’. I realise this makes me sound a little crazy, but this was very normal for me. In fact, most of my life decisions are discussed with them first… they have yet to steer me wrong.
What about pets – did you have many pets as a child? How about now?
I had a wonderful dog when I was younger, we went on wild adventures together. In my later life, I had a beautiful Alaskan Malamute called Hendrix who was a gigantic 85 kilos. We had some fun times on our walks, mostly amusing for others who watched me sit on my bum from a standing position anytime he saw another dog. If I didn’t sit down, he would take off so fast that if I was on my feet, he’d just pull and I would land flat on my face! Funny… I once did that in a park on grass very early on a misty morning and he pulled me like I was a sled for a few metres! I didn’t even stop when he reached his target — I keep going. Luckily, a guy grabbed the lead as I was flying past him. My favourite little man was Storm, our most recent dog; he passed away at Christmas. I still can’t talk about him without tearing up. He was a wonderful soul and an amazing companion.
I remember when I was young, I’d climb to the top of a tall tree in my backyard when I was upset. The tree would sort of rock me back and forth and that motion, combined with the shift in perspective and height, would soothe my soul. When you were a kid, what did you do to comfort yourself when you were sad or angry?
Oh I love your story. I’m struggling to remember what tool I used in these moments. I guess for me it was the world that I created. People would be added as necessary to that world. I now realise I added them as they were ‘needed’.
I’m curious about your materials and process. How are your (decorative, non-toy) needle felt Dolldrums art dolls made?
The dolls are made from 100% wool roving using a technique called “needle felting.” You begin with a ball of fluffy wool then jab a felting needle into the wool thousands of times until it firms up and shapes into the object you are forming. In my case, a head, body and arms! The eyes are polyglass and acrylic. The clothes are all hand made/hand sewn. Clay pets, shoes and accessories are made from polymer clay and paper clay and are all hand sculpted and hand painted.
Is each doll one of a kind?
Yes! All one of kind. I got asked recently if there was a way I could make them faster by mass producing in some way, but they are literally born from fluff. I don’t think I could copy another doll if I tried. Some people request a “similar” doll but no two will be identical.
At one time, a good majority of your work focused on caricature and custom made dolls that were often creepy, strange and zombified versions of the clients themselves. Are you doing any custom work these days?
I will only take on custom work if I have time and unfortunately the last year or so I haven’t had much of a chance to take on commissions. I have been focusing on gallery shows and MONA in Tasmania keeps me really busy throughout the year.
What is one of your favorite dolls you’ve created? Was it hard to part with it?
I have to admit, I have kept a few of the dolls I have made. I have made just over 500 dolls and I think I have about 6 that have stayed with me. Sometimes it’s a particular face they have or expression, some are a reminder of a new direction I took.
I’m curious about your influences. You are from Melbourne Australia. What do you do (or where do you go) locally to inspire your creativity and to recharge?
We are so lucky in Melbourne to have some incredible art galleries and the NGV recently had the triennial. I’m sure everyone would have seen the giant skulls by Ron Mueck now. That show was truly mind blowing, street art is huge in Melbourne and galleries like BeinArt (my favourite), Backwoods, MONA and Outre have unique things to offer. To recharge, I live in the wine region on Victoria, so that’s handy.
You’ve said you are a fan of Jim Henson’s early work. I love puppets too! Are you still a fan of puppets, and do you have any favorite contemporary marionette artists you follow?
Jim Henson is my hero and a massive inspiration. I am a huge fan of puppets now more than ever. They have a life in them! I have to say I really started enjoying and appreciating marionette puppets more after reading your article on Handsome Devil puppets. They are amazing!!!
According to your Instagram profile, you are an art collector. Yay! Tell me about a couple of your favorite pieces in your personal collection.
I almost had a panic attack having to choose one artist. I cannot express the joy I get from each and every piece I own. I have an insane amount of art and no wall space left! I’m now friends with many of the artists who made the work I own. I respect all of them deeply. They are always very moving to me and not just paintings. Each is significant in its own way, they represent something important to me so choosing one, I guess would depend on my mood! But, I want to answer your question, so I will go with today’s ‘feels’. Jeremy Mann’s ‘Luna’ is special, a gift from my husband and I to each other for our 25th wedding anniversary. The second, I was gifted a painting from Hieu aka kelogsloops a few weeks ago. Hieu and I have become very good friends, he is a truly unique human being. We always talk about our love of music and how we could live with headphones on! We talked about a piece for his upcoming creation process in BB magazine, I was honoured to write the intro for him and then he blew me away with the piece itself a few days after.
Now a question about movies: You wrote in your bio that when you first saw puppet-filled movies such as “The Dark Crystal,” “The NeverEnding Story”, and “Labyrinth,” you wished to ‘bring life’ to puppet-like characters. Fast forward to the present, where we have Wes Anderson brilliantly adapting “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (his favorite childhood book) into a stop-motion film, and now in 2018 making the eye- candylicious “Isle of Dogs” (amazing dog puppets with bright eyes and bristling fur coupled with stunning costuming) in a similar style. First, have you seen the two Anderson films I mentioned, and second, are you a fan of stop motion?
I love Wes Anderson films and I haven’t had a chance to see “Isle of Dogs” as yet (but plan to soon). Stop motion is an incredible medium. “Kubo and the Two Strings” was a recent one that I loved but I am also obsessed with small independent stop motion movies and the art associated with them. I have some pieces from Isabel Peppard that did “Butterflies” and other big projects, her sculptures are incredibly lifelike and moving.
One of the best films I’ve seen recently is the sublime and haunting 2015 supernatural horror film “The Witch.” I saw it in the theater and the entire audience was dead silent from start to finish – we were all completely spellbound. What are two of the best films you’ve seen in the past 10 years and why did you love them?
Oh, I’ll do a movie and quote rather than explain the film. “Ink” by Jamin Winans: ‘Hello Dirt, how are we today.’ And “Mr. Nobody” by Jaco Van Dormael: ‘You don’t exist. Neither do I. We only live in the imagination of a 9 year old child. We are imagined by a 9 year old child, faced with an impossible choice.’ Ok ok, I need to add a ‘special mention’ here from the same director for his brilliant movie “Le tout nouveau testament.”
“Deadpool!” “Dr Strange!” “Fantastic Beasts!” “Annihilation!” How many can I sneak in? Lucky it was just the last 10 years because there is a long list prior to that.
Let’s talk about jobs you’ve had in the past. In a 2015 interview with Circus Living magazine, you mention that you were a counselor for many years. What did you find most satisfying about doing that work and what modalities did you employ (journaling, art therapy, etc) with your clients? Do you work as a counselor now?
I did holistic counselling and also taught Author Melody’s workshops in Australia. I focused a lot on belief systems and energy work and later incorporated physical training. I’m not sure if I would say satisfying, I believe you can just give people tools and the rest is up to them and I equate satisfaction with me having ‘done’ something.
I feel I was so blessed with so many incredible people around me, my intermediate family is full of wonderful souls that are generous and loving. My husband and son in particular are the most wonderful people I have ever met. That are the truest kind of people, it’s hard for me to express how lucky I am. Because of them I am able to be generous with my time and love, so I want to have other people feel special the way I do. Everyone deserves to be treated with love and respect and kindness and I want to make people feel that. I want to be a good person, not an arsehole, put it that way, I try to keep myself as inoffensive as possible and integrity is very important to me. Oh, I went off topic!
Your dolls have been shown in local and international galleries, including Dollirium Art doll emporium, ArtBoy Gallery in Prahran, MONA gallery shop in Tasmania, Arch Enemy arts in Philadelphia, Cactus Gallery LA, and The Old Jaffa Museum Israel. Tell me about a favorite show your work was in and what made it extra special for you?
I really loved the monsters I did for Marie Larkin’s curated show at Weswal Gallery in September 2017, and I’m pretty excited about my progress for the upcoming Modern Eden show “Ephemeral” curated by Beautiful Bizarre. It opens September 15th, 2018.
Tell us about any upcoming exhibitions.
I am participating in the Modern Eden Show ‘Ephemeral’ curated by Beautiful Bizarre Magazine in September and continuing with MONA as always. I’m going to take some time off soon to work on some other projects I haven’t had time for this year too!