Visual art / UK-based artist brings her vibrant spin on pop-art to Siem Reap

By: Thomas Brent - Posted on: March 22, 2018 | Cambodia

UK-based visual artist Grande Dame will descend on Siem Reap where she will host a month-long exhibition showcasing her psychedelic projections and pop-art style prints

Grande Dame is visiting Cambodia for the first time and is positive that the trip will leave a lasting impression Photo: Nathan Thomas Jones

Grande Dame, a versatile artist originally from the US, has previously had work commissioned by MTV and Facebook, created a phone application which topped the App Store for a week and produced a couture shoe line in collaboration with renowned designer Terry de Havilland.

The exhibition, titled Electric Crazyland, will show at One Eleven Gallery starting on 28 March. Here, Grande Dame talks about her new-found love of old Cambodian rock and roll, her transition from music to art and her kindred spirit.

Welcome to Cambodia. How did this trip come about?
My best friend Kirsten and I have our birthdays six days apart. We came to magical Cambodia for a special treat – a trip that we will treasure for a lifetime!

It is a bit of a change of scenery from the south coast of England, but Cambodia has a rich history and a culture full of visual imagery. Do you think your time here will inspire future works?
I’m sure it will! I made sure to watch lots of documentaries about Cambodian culture. I had no idea about the rock and roll scene here in the 50s, 60s and early 70s. I was really blown away by the sound and style. And of course, I am looking forward to the temple tours. I am sure that will leave a visual imprint on my mind.

What do you think the Cambodian audience will make of your work?
I hope they like it! I am lucky, I think because my colours are so intense and different, people who don’t normally appreciate art seem to respond positively to it. Colour is healing, it lifts you up.

You are a very versatile artist – music, ceramics, embroidery, prints, animations, shoes…how do you keep on top of it all?
I don’t – ha! To be honest it’s been ages since I’ve properly done music. I did one track for my animated short on Carson McCullers titled “A Star Named Carson”, but that was the first piece of music in eight years.

It’s been a while since I’ve done any ceramics or shoes as well. Prints are relatively easy for me, as I have my own printer. And embroidery I can do in bed, if it’s by hand. I like to keep busy. My mother always said “Keeping busy is the key to happiness” and it’s true.

You recently finished an animation short on the life of Carson McCullers, along with a graphic novel. Why did you choose to take on this project?
I grew up in the same town as Carson – Columbus, Georgia. My mother was the librarian at the local university. The Ballad of the Sad Cafe was my first “grown up” book I read, I think I was 12-years old. I was so enthralled by it, that immediately after I finished it, she brought home Virginia Carr’s biography on her. As soon as I read the first page, I knew she was a kindred spirit. She was a rebel and an outsider, much like the protagonists in her book. She never compromised – whether it be her art or fashion sense – no matter what.

It was quite bold to be such an individual and female in the deep south in the depression era. Reading about her life gave a young me a lifeline. I thought “she survived growing up here and went on to be friends with Dali, Tennessee Williams, and Marilyn Monroe. She left this small town and went on to achieve her dreams as an artist – you can too!”

Do you have different methods of finding inspiration for each branch of your creativity?
Yes! There is no method to my creativity! I definitely can see something and say “wow! I have to draw that!” I did a tour around the Mayan pyramids a few years back with my best friend (who I’m here with) which inspired the Mothership Connection prints. I am sure I will produce some images from this trip too!

Mothership Connection

You are mostly self-taught. Do you feel that allows you to be more original as you are not directly following other people’s advice?
I think it’s helped me stand out for sure. I’ve never been good with traditional type learning, my brain is wired differently. I never could concentrate in school, was always distracted. An art teacher would probably tell students that you’re not supposed to use the colours that I use – especially for animation. And a lot of times, you end up being influenced by the teacher’s style and taste. Teaching myself has helped me stand out as I have my own original style and colour palette. But it’s also been harder, as I have had to figure out how the business works on my own, with no guidance from a teacher.

You moved to the UK to pursue music, and your art and design career was something of an accident. Even if it was unexpected, has it been an enjoyable experience?
OMG – YES! I always dreamed of being a rock star as a child. My father made me sing and do cha cha lessons everyday. I thought music was my destiny. But after being in the business for a while, watching the industry pretty much dissolve, the art career has been a happy accident. I came to the UK in 2001 as I got signed to a record label – Tummy Touch – under my old moniker Crazy Girl. They didn’t have the budget to do the types of videos I wanted to make, so I began to teach myself animation. My first video, “High Tide Hell”, ended up getting in several film festivals, and it kind of took off from there. When I would make a video, I would take a still and send out a mass email with the still image linking to the animation. This was before Youtube or social networking sites. For years people would say “if you print that I will buy it.” So in 2010, I made my first giclee prints from my video The Shakes. That’s kind of my process – all my prints come from the animations.

You have achieved a lot in your career as a musician and an artist, but what would you say you are proudest of?
As the Carson project is my latest work, definitely that! An artist is always proud of their most recent work! Soon I will move on to the next project. I’m also quite proud of my Giphy page! By next week I should pass 100 Million views of my GIFs! Woo!

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