skeleton doll on the doorknob from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas; the Dali clock; and creations from the low-brow artist Mark Ryden, “which you can find in every room—walk around, he’s everywhere.” “I’ve always been a fan of the surrealists, like Dali, and I’ve always been a huge Warhol fan too. My favorite Warhol quote is here on the wall and I always tell people this: art is what you can get away with. I’m a firm believer in that,” Joe says. But where does Jellykoe art come from? “Joe just has a crazy mind,” Kelly confirms. Joe’s paintings, of a “lowbrow” style influenced by pop culture, old cartoons, the theater of the absurd, and tattoo designs—“all the stuff that I really like”— originate on the backs of restaurant order sheets from Ruth’s Chris Steak House, where Joe works. One side reads ‘Table #, server;’ the other reveals a wildly creative sketch. “When I’m at work or anywhere and I think of an idea, I immediately sketch it out. If I like it well enough, I save it in my folder. I never sit down and stare at a blank canvas, like, ‘what should I paint?’ I flip through my folder to see what sparks my attention that day.” Joe pulls out an accordion folder and leafs through some drawings. He’s organized the folder by category, including heartwarming topics like blood, skulls, and cannibals. But the sketches aren’t scary. The bald, nose-less cartoons with the odd tooth or two sticking out of their grins induce much more laughter than fright. The paintings capitalize on word-play: one entitled “Stockholm” depicts a wide-eyed creature smiling benignly at the happy pewter ball chained to his leg; “Heart to Heart to Heart” shows a joyful skull atop a long rib cage containing three red shapes. The couple recalls another painting: a creature wearing a dunce hat holding poop on a stick. “We’ll have that one for a while,” Kelly had said, but it sold at its first showing. A woman in her thirties pointed to it exclaiming, “I want that one! This reminds me of my son!” Joe used to do impressionist cityscapes, like the primary-colored painting hanging above the living room couch. His work shifted towards surrealism, eventually settling into the lowbrow style, which is also known as pop surrealism. Kelly’s plush toys have a similar look to Joe’s paintings. “The dolls cross over into folk art, just because they have a more primitive aesthetic, with unraveled seams and stuff like that,” Kelly explains. This keeps the dolls from appearing too polished. Impressively, each of the 500 dolls Kelly has made is different. “We never do the same one in the same fabric twice. We want people to have something one-of-a-kind.” This is one factor that separates the dolls from mass-produced toys—each is a special art piece. Though the Wonky Dolls first came into being as Christmas presents for the couple’s nieces two years ago, teenagers and young adults are the biggest fans of the plush toys. “From the start we didn’t really have kids in mind,” Joe says. The dolls, like the paintings, have a cute but creepy
construction, which is based on a background story. Kelly and Joe are in the process of publishing a book compiling each doll’s personal history. Kelly holds up a plush rabbit made of two mismatching patterns. “His story is that he was cut in half and then sewn together backwards. If you don’t know that story you’re like, what the heck is wrong with this bunny?!” Tales of Wonk and Woe will combine Kelly’s dolls, Joe’s illustrations, and the couple’s degrees in English. “Yes, our degrees!” “Mom and Dad, we did it!” Besides the book’s eminent release party, the Jellykoe duo has some exciting gallery shows approaching. On September 17th, “Lower than Lowbrow,” a solo show hosted by Café Chartier in Lexington will take place from six to ten. Joe and Kelly also will be involved with First Thursday, a monthly event to revitalize Main Street and promote Columbia artists. On October 6th, local artist Amanda Ladymon will fill S & S Art Supply with Jellykoe creations, as well as hors d’oeuvres, wine and a DJ. “We’re making huge five to six foot tall plushes to decorate her store front window,” Joe says excitedly. This show, called “Cartoon Love/Cartoon Violence,” will last into November. “We’re just thankful we’ve come so far,” Joe exclaims earnestly. “You never want to set your sites too high, but every step’s been a step up, and it’s exciting to think how far we could go with this. If this could be our whole life it would be a fun life,” Joe says, and then laughs. “Already is a fun life!”
Published on Sep 10, 2011
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