Mix equal parts old Hollywood horror, the occult, Beetlejuice, and add a twist of Lisa Frank: the resulting visual cocktail is the artwork of St. Petersburg Florida artist Irma Gerd. Punchy colors, tight lines, perfect brows, and an occasional sprinkle of glitter are hallmark elements to her adorable characters. This spunky Latina lovely took time out during Hurricane Irma (yes, hold your hurricane jokes, please!) to speak with Dear Darkling about her newfound passion for creating delightfully spooky creatures.
Dear Darkling: Your art is undeniably creepy cute! Can you tell us more about the story behind these creepy babes and how they came to be?
Irma Gerd: I started creating monsters for my own walls when I was in high school. I spent day and night creating until my walls were lined with creatures as weird as I felt I was. They were ugly, yet fun and colorful. My goal was to make you look at the dark and grotesque, and be unable to ignore it. After some time, I felt as though I had painted everything that was in my head. Years went by and I was so focused on my career that art took a back seat.
I found a bit of free time when I switched jobs to a less demanding career. In my newfound free time, I discovered an even stronger passion for creating than I had never felt before. Where paintings use to take me 3-6 months to finish when I was younger, I could now start and finish a painting in a weekend. I was expecting to be rusty, but what happened was something amazing: a new style emerged. I always avoided cuteness in my art when I was younger, focusing only on the sad and grotesque. Now I create pieces that focus more on “creepy cute” things that make me happy. I was in a completely new place in my life. I have since been creating so many fun pieces that embrace my feminine side and reflect more of who I am today.
So, is it safe to say that these are self-portraits in a way? Fashion and makeup appear to play a major role in defining the personalities of your characters and reflect a bit of your own personal style. (Brows and liner are always on point!) Is there an individual story behind different characters?
I have been pouring so much of myself into my pieces recently; it makes sense that my makeup addiction would play a huge part in the creation of my characters! I feel I do carry my spooky and cute personal style into each painting. Each of my girls have a special little something that represents all the things that I love.
While your characters are predominately female, there are some paintings where the portrait toes the gender line. Are these simply “bearded ladies”? Or is there a broader statement about the LGBTQIA+ community?
I have always had such a strong admiration for drag queens. They embrace creativity and are not afraid to show the world who they are. Recently they have had a new Bearded Lady trend that combines my passion for “Freak Shows” and drag. This makes me so happy and I love painting my own versions in honor of these fierce and fantastic ladies!
Who (or what) are your biggest influences? Where are you finding ideas for your work, and how do you take those inspirations and turn it into an original “Irmagerd” painting?
At the core of who I am lies a passion for all things weird and creepy. Every inch of my house is lined with paintings of monsters, Halloween décor, horror comics, and creepy toys. It’s a fun and creative atmosphere that has been very useful in making my beauties come to life. I choose something I love and build a fun portrait around it. What makes it into an original “Irma Gerd” is the attention to detail in the line work and the use of happy colors with macabre elements.
For inspiration, I love looking at old Halloween postcards and kitschy art to get my imagination going. I’m also a huge fan of horror movies and independent graphic novels, which always inspire new projects. The biggest way to ignite my imagination has been to draw, draw, draw! Sketching always fills my head with more ideas than I am able to get to. I try to imagine what things would look like in my own world and bring them out for you to see.
Your creativity isn’t limited to paintings – you’ve dabbled in making one-of-a-kind dolls as well. (And let’s not forget your wildly successful candle business!) Do you have a preferred medium you like to work with?
The need to be creating has always been ingrained in who I am. As a small child, I would create my own dolls out of 2-liter soda bottles and anything that I had lying around. I focused on sculpting for a few years after high school and created some of the creepiest art dolls I have ever seen. It was very satisfying and perfect for the life I had at that point. My preferred medium would be acrylic on canvas, and although it changes often, it will always be my #1 passion. I always have projects lined up. For every project I finish, I have 5 more to replace it.
Making soy candles was something that I took on to relax. It quickly developed into a passion and successful business, and after 4 years, is now the reason why I can work from home and have more time to focus on art. It was when I combined my artistic skills and candle making that Black Moth Candle Company emerged in 2016. I poured my heart and soul into the rebranding of my candle company. I am very proud of what they are today and am so grateful for the life I live now. I love being my own boss and having enough free time to create art whenever inspiration strikes.
What was the most powerful work of art you recall viewing? Where was it? How did it make you feel? Did it affect the art that you produce? If so, how?
I have a deep love and connection to the surrealist work of Salvador Dali and Frida Kahlo. When I started getting serious about art 15 years ago I felt as though they were the only people I had anything in common with, being a Latina with a weird imagination and tortured past.
Do you have a “dream project” you’d like to work on?
I have always wanted to create my own designer toy line, which is slowly what I’m working towards. I would like to sculpt my own original characters, cast them and make resin copies that are then hand-painted. Like any new craft, there are a lot of upfront costs for supplies, and time is needed to master your skills. I hope to get there within the next 5 years or so.