Jen Ferguson on Monster Mash-ups, Her Music and HBO’s Bored to Death

Monster Mash-Ups

This Saturday, October 30, marks the opening of Monster Mash-Ups (check out this video preview of the project) at Brooklyn’s Bergen Street Comics, a “collaboration between Brooklyn artist Jen Ferguson and Chicagoland writer Tim Hall. A hilarious and bizarro series of oil paintings and large format prints, MONSTER MASH-UPS update the classic movie and literary monsters of yore, including Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, the Wolfman, the Blob, the Mummy, and many more.” While I’ve interviewed Hall before, I had not had the pleasure of interviewing Ferguson. As noted at her website, Ferguson is “an emerging artist working in DUMBO Brooklyn, NY. Her focus is on epic & monumental oils, both architectural and figurative. She also is known for small delicate drawings and watercolors.” In addition to discussing the mash-ups, we discussed her art in general, as well as opening with getting background on her musical pursuits through the band, Cows Like Shrimp. I rarely get to discuss art and music in the same interview, so I appreciate Ferguson’s time.

Tim O’Shea: How long have you had the band, Cows Like Shrimp, and who else is in the band with you?

Jen Ferguson: Cows Like Shrimp is a band I’ve been playing bass in for about five years, on and off. Originally, we were called “The Seftones”, after Sefton Stallard, the lead singer and guitarist. Sefton, who I’ve know for almost 15 years, is the main driving force behind the band. In addition to myself and Sefton, we have a few drummers who rotate in and out depending on their availability, and strangely enough are both named “pete.” Lately we’ve added an additional guitarist, Doug Kennedy, so we’re a four piece playing original music. Since I work in the studio alone for many hours a day, it’s a nice chance to collaborate and do a form of art that’s social.

O’Shea: What can you tell me about your work for the upcoming MONSTER MASHUPS show?

Ferguson: Monster Mashups is a collaboration I’ve been working on with Chicago writer Tim Hall. We’re investigating the classic monsters. Tim Hall has been writing from the monster’s perspective about various aspects of themselves, and I’ve been interpreting those through images. It’s been great fun to paint subjects like the Abominable Snowman; images in the popular culture that are wholly fictive. There’s no right or wrong way to portray them, yet there are some commonly understood features that one needs to include, for example, vampire teeth on Count Dracula. Other than that it’s wide open to reinvent! We’ll be exhibiting large versions of the images with words and some oil paintings as well. During the creation of these, I’ve been learning a great deal about the origins of many classic monsters, for example, Dracula is based on the real life Vlad III, “the Impaler,” a 13th Century Prince from Romania, known for his cruel habit of impaling his enemies with wooden stakes.

O’Shea: How did your collaboration with author, Tim Hall, on MONSTER MASH-UPS [debuting at Bergen Street Comics on 10/30 just in time for Halloween] come about?

Ferguson: The project was inspired by something silly; a photo of a very unshaven Tim Hall on his facebook page; he commented that he looked like the Werewolf. Tim and I had already been collaborating so I said “write me a riff on the Werewolf and I’ll draw it.” He did, and then we realized it would make a great project: written, first person confessionals of classic monsters, accompanied by visual interpretations. We did a some more, and then contacted Bergen St. Comics to see if they would be interested in showing the series. Once we had an exhibition commitment we got down to work. I think it’s important as an artist to give yourself projects. It’s a way to keep your work propelling forward without being beholden to someone else giving you an opportunity. You can make your own opportunity.

O’Shea: Am I correct in understanding that you contributed to season two of HBO’s Bored to Death?

Ferguson: Yes, I have artwork hanging in Jonathan’s kitchen in the show. There are two Brooklyn Bridge paintings propped up on a bookshelf; so far there has been one long scene where Jonathan’s character (played by Jason Schwartzman) is pacing back in forth of my art while his girlfriend (played by Jenny Slate) is telling him she wants an open relationship. People have told me they noticed my art in the show. To me it stands out but then again, it’s like only seeing your child in a group school photo. I’m extremely honored to have my work included in the show. The show’s creator, Jonathan Ames is very inclusive has made Brooklyn, with all it’s uniqueness, it’s own character.

O’Shea: A question spinning out of your recent profile at Seth Kushner’s CulturePOP: How is it that the Brooklyn Bridge has “emotional resonance”?

Ferguson: People tend to project and invest their emotions, identity and ideas onto architecture. Ask anyone who’s ever lovingly renovated a house. Think of all the iconic architecture in the world; the Brooklyn Bridge, the Chrysler Building, London Bridge, the Pantheon, Notre Dame- and countless others, as well as buildings in other countries that mean nothing to us but have the same resonance in their own cultures. Structures that achieve this kind of fame typically symbolize some strong identity, a technical breakthrough or the perfect manifestation of an aesthetic ideal. In other words, it’s relevant, and not only in the time of their creation, but across time. The World Trade Center buildings achieved this more post-humously than when they were standing. Usually, iconic buildings are recognized cross-culturally; during the World Wars, certain parts of old cities were spared bombing by both sides. Many people seem to have an attachment to the Brooklyn Bridge of some sort of another. It may represent something different to everyone. But there’s a reason that so many people choose the Brooklyn Bridge as a place to propose marriage. The Bridge becomes more than an object; it’s meaning transcends it’s physicality.

O’Shea: As noted in the profile, one of your paintings required a crane to install it in a person’s house. How hard was it to move out of your studio for that matter?

Ferguson: Lucky for me, my studio at the time had an enormous freight elevator- the kind made a long time ago for hauling giant machinery. The painting just barely fit with only a few inches to spare. I love to work big but since I’ve spent so many years doing everything myself, the idea of making things that I can’t personally move is a big hangup that I’m trying to overcome. It usually doesn’t occur to me to ask or hire people to help. My first instinct is to ask “how will I be able to lift that?”

O’Shea: Given that the bridge is an endless source of inspiration, I’m curious did you garner any bridge inspiration from Kushner’s photo shoot itself?

Ferguson: Seth did this really interesting sequence on the walkway; as I walked towards him he took multiple frames and it was like a Muybridge photo. That made me think of the idea of doing a series of the bridge from slightly different angles and hanging them together so the viewer can imagine movement. It was fun that day to get out on the bridge; even though I work only a few blocks away sometimes I tend to stay holed up in the studio. The best way to paint anything is to go out and experience it directly.