Creepy, Kooky Phoenix Artist Tom Deadstuff Wraps Up Solo Show at Alwun House

Written by Wynter Holden Category: Visual Arts Issue: November 2015

Photo courtesy Tom DeadstuffPhoenix-based artist Tom Deadstuff found his macabre little niche late in life. Nearly two decades after dropping out of The Art Institute of Pittsburgh—and after turning 40 – Deadstuff started making zombie piñatas, and then transitioned to crafting sculptural dolls out of papier-mâché.

“I was always able to draw from the time I was young, but never to a level I considered of any great quality,” he says. “I lacked the interest in illustration to gain any discipline in that format.” With the popularity of Deadstuff’s dolls, he’s been able to make a living as a full-time artist for the past five years. That’s no easy feat in Phoenix.

From grotesque wall hangings of Jack the Ripper to creepy clowns and a 6-foot-tall circus-inspired doll, his 3D works seem fit for a B-movie scream queen. Deadstuff says most of his inspiration comes not from Hollywood, but from his own twisted mind. “I don't spend time watching movies and find most of pop culture disappointing,” he quips. “I'd much rather draw from a whole other imagined space inside my head. Most of my dark work, as any work I make, is inspired from being on this planet.”

Peep 40 of Deadstuff’s devilish creations at his premiere solo show, on display at Alwun House through this week. The exhibit’s finale kicks off a weekend-long culture blast that includes Native American dancing, the world premiere of a 3D video inspired by artist Hieronymus Bosch's "The Garden of Delights," and a vaudeville burlesque show with performances by Life Suspended and guest band Spider Hole.

Deadstuff’s preferred medium of papier-mâché makes for light, durable, movable sculptures that can be completed in less than a week. The downside? “It's a miserable medium… we all stopped creating with it at five years old for a reason. It's labor-intensive, sloppy, and isn't glamorous until the very end,” he says. Deadstuff’s process is one of slow revelation. In the same way that Renaissance sculptors like Michelangelo allowed slabs of marble to “tell” the artist what they should be, Deadstuff’s crafty creatures don’t fully come to life until the piece is finished. “There isn't a lot of over-thinking in my pieces,” he says. “Something in that process allows me to keep the overall concept to not be fully revealed until completion. Even I don't know what the end results will be.”

If you go:
Alwun House
1204 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix
602-253-7887, alwunhouse.org
Viewing Tuesday-Friday from noon-6 p.m.
Free admission