Beth Robinson is a self-taught artist whose technique and style have evolved since her start in 2003. While she has dabbled in a variety of media, it was the discovery of polymer clay that allowed her to combine her interests in design, sculpting, painting and sewing and gave her a concrete foundation of expression in the form of Strange Dolls.
Robinson’s Dolls have found homes across the globe from New York to Germany, from Russia to Australia. Strange Dolls have been featured in a number of art and collector series and publications.
“I’m attracted to creepy things, to mystery,” says Robinson. “What drives me is hard to explain; it’s raw. It’s not like I’m a dark and sinister type. My childhood was honestly pretty typical. My family has always been supportive of me; and no, I never really played with dolls as a child, unless you count cutting the hair off and painting the faces of my little sister’s doll collection. Something just attracted me to this genre. I started playing around … admiring the works of more fringe artists like Jan Svankmajer and The Brothers Quay. I put myself into my dolls, but not so much in the concrete or visual sense … it’s more that I put my feeling into them, and they evolve based on emotion.”
“To create my Strange Dolls I use polymer clay, vintage fabrics, acrylic paint, and sometimes real human hair or teeth,” says Robinson. “The pieces are often inspired by found objects like dried cactus or flowers. Common themes I play with are anthropomorphism, fantasy, wish fulfillment, social acceptance or varying perceptions of beauty, and social paranoia.”
When asked about her first doll, she says, “The first doll I made was an experiment in using polymer clay because I had never used clay before, let alone polymer clay. The first doll was a character I was using a lot in a ‘zine I had at the time called Hullaballoo. The character’s name was Annabelle. She was sort of imp-ish and did not have a face. Obviously this posed a problem with a doll. I had to give her a face! So I did in doll form. She was really, really crude and so poorly made but she was my first. I tried to create the Annabelle character again on a few occasions but I’ve never been able to nail down her character in doll form. I like her better in comic book form.”
And how has her style evolved since she first began creating the dolls?
“My skills have gotten a lot better. I have had more time to experiment with the many different clays that are out there and choose my favorites. I have also developed a process for making the basic structure of the dolls whereas before I was experimenting a lot more, trying to find a method that I liked best, in the past. I think that getting feedback at shows and seeing people respond to my dolls makes me more aware of how people interact with them and I can better hone in on what I want people to see when they discover my work. I want people to feel a push, pull when they experience my work. I want them to feel revulsion but also feel compelled to step a little closer and take a deeper look.”
You can learn more about Beth Robinson’s work here: Strange Dolls