You’re alone and the phone rings.
“Hello?” you sleepily answer, only to be told by a haunting voice that immediately sinks your heart into your gut that you’re going to die tonight.
“You realize the call is coming from inside the house! It’s you!” Angela Oster exclaims, a big smile on her face.
“But you don’t kill her; she doesn’t die. You just have to make friends with her. And then she’s not a monster anymore,” she adds, thinking out loud: “Is that the end of the story? I haven’t thought that through.”
Seated at the desk in her art-filled workshop, wrapped completely in sun-flooded windows, Oster shows off a tray of tiny dolls she’s been busy turning into “inner saboteurs … that tiny, irritating, incessant voice inside your head.” The nagging, insecure complainer that would be satisfied if you just gave up already and crawled under your bed to cry and eat an entire bag of chips.
These demonic wild-eyed monsters, witches, ghosts and who knows what other entities will be coming out for Oster’s one-night-only art party, Hang Up, on September 7. About 30 participating artists will interpret their own inner saboteurs — many transforming vintage TingaLing Tina dolls, encased in their very own plastic telephones. Oster salvaged an entire box of the dolls from Big Fun’s liquidated warehouse of treasures. The show will also include paintings, drawings and even dresses designed by Oster and artist/designer Krista Tomorowitz and worn by live “Hello Girls.”
Lovable ghouls and vampires are common characters in Oster’s paintings and drawings. She says she’s always been interested in things like Ouija boards, Halloween and horror films.
But a few years ago, she still drew mostly happy-go-lucky kids sporting cute swim caps and floating summer away in fun pool floats. Then, in 2016, she published a 24-page mini comic, Little Vampire Girl.
At first, the kids in the — which she still sometimes creates — went about their bright, cheerful summers as they always had.
But then they slowly started becoming monsters. Their sunglasses would turn into bats, or suddenly fangs would appear as Oster worked.
The cute, yet still wiry and interesting, characters were in demand. They were Oster’s ticket into arts fests that had always been lucrative for her, so they couldn’t all turn into monsters, she thought. But most of them did, eventually becoming Day-Glo ghouls surfing toxic algae blooms, creepy little “weirdies” and vampires releasing flocks of bats into the sky.
At the suggestion that maybe Oster is the monsters and that they’re really her true self emerging, her eyes widen and she shouts, “I am!” She laughs, letting the thought sink in for a moment.
Consuming her workspace, along with the sunlight and a constant symphony of birds singing in her backyard, are never-ending stacks of paintings and drawings, bright against stark white negative space; piles of in-progress monster and demon sculptures; random collectibles; an entire wall of empty frames and a collection of vintage flippers that look like something a radioactive sea creature might wear.
With thousands of social media followers, a consistent stream of new work and an instantly recognizable style, it would be safe to assume Oster can be considered a “successful” artist.
“But artists — and women, I think, in general — have this inner dialogue that is negative and just detrimental to your own art practice,” Oster says. “Even just to sit down, you feel guilty because there are a million things you should be doing.” There’s laundry, dishes and other mundane, repetitive tasks. Don’t forget day jobs, partners and kids. Plus, the inner saboteurs insist everyone else is better than you. You’re an artist, but not a real one. Not organized or good enough.
Oster has always fought for her work, though. Right out of high school she was accepted to the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA), but got kicked out because of issues stemming from substance abuse that quickly spiraled. Under the weight of what she always felt was a failure or unfinished business, she went back to CIA in 2000. After working diligently for five years, she finally finished before having her daughter, Sylvie.
“I think it took all that mess to get through,” she says. “This is just what I want to do — I just want to draw cartoons. It took me all this time, all that mess, all that heartache and struggle. Now I just feel like, just at ease.”
She says she probably didn’t really need to go back to school at all. Having done so doesn’t make her artistic career anymore legitimate, really. Her talent and drive was always hers in the first place.
“That is the thing with this doll,” Oster says, picking one up and straightening its hair. “You are your inner saboteur. You put these obstacles in your way. You are afraid of success or whatever it is. I don’t know what it is.”
“You are just a little demon.”
Hang Up will be a pop-up gallery, 15615 Waterloo Road, which will take place during Walk All Over Waterloo, Fri 9/7 @ 6pm. Artists include Mab Graves, Denise Farinsky, Missy Munday, Laura Dumm, Gary Dumm, Jake Kelly, John G and Nancy Cintron.
For updates, check the event.
[Written by Nicole Hennessy]