Our Lady of the Tutti Fruitti Hat
Our Lady of the Tutti Frutti Hat
cody Van Winkle
Interview by L. Valena
What did you respond to?
It was a piece of music that was maybe 20 seconds long, and the title of the piece had a strong role in my interpretation. The music sounded kind of like an ethereal, kitschy, 1960's exotica; it had kind of a tropical vibe. And over the top of the music there was the sound of some liquid being poured. The piece was titled 'Citrus Bliss', so my assumption was that liquid must be orange juice. So it had kind of an orange juice commercial vibe to it, but in a spiritual awakening kind of way. I don't know how I would have heard it if I didn't know the title, but because I had those words to work with- 'citrus' and 'bliss', it narrowed down what my perception would be, so that was fun to work with.
What happened next?
My first thought was psychedelic 60's/kaleidoscope imagery. Or maybe a Western appropriation of Eastern culture, like when white people say 'namaste'. And Ganesha was one of the first images I thought of, but not real Indian culture, more the way Westerners commercialize or sensationalize it. So I wanted to do something kind of religious looking, but kitschy, so it's not taking itself too seriously, and with some sort of tropical fruit theme. And that led me to some kind of animal deity. I was really interested in drawing a monkey god, because I really like drawing monkeys.
The problem was that all of the animals I could think of that come from tropical climes already have gods, and I didn't want to take someone else's god. I wanted to come up with something new. So I kept thinking of animals that I was excited about, and I would google it, and discover that it was already someone's honest belief. And I've never seen a penguin or a polar bear god, but that really wouldn't be thematically appropriate.
I'm glad it worked out that way, because it made me think of a few more avenues I could go, and one of them was Carmen Miranda.
She's a spirit animal.
Yes! She's an icon, and she's a humanoid woman, which means if I wanted to put a little more of a virgin Mary spin on it I could, and so that's what I settled on. And I got to watch some videos of her, and figure out what her fruit hat looked like, and what she was all about.
And then what?
I was thinking about those old Fruitopia commercials. Do you remember those?
Do you remember Fruitopia?
It was like Snapple, but different. And their whole ad campaign was- on the cap it said 'Shake well before experiencing'. So it was that kind of thing- that was the aesthetic I was aiming for. Some kind of like faux spiritual/fruit juice thing. I wanted the background to be some kind of kaleidoscopic array of fruit, and so I had to decide how precise I wanted to go. In the end I just drew it all on paper, but I feel like I retained a sort of life there. Like when Disney movies started integrating computer animation into the cell animation, and you could always see the difference. Now something kind of cold and electronic was happening. [Editor's note: Cody and I were taping this interview at Jamaica Pond, and at this point a large springer spaniel with bloodshot eyes got all up in our business.] Hey, nice to meet you- nope, someone else has to feed you!
That dog was high as fuck. Or it was like 17 years old.
Hey, could be a little bit of both.
That dog was rolling balls. So, I had to decide how precise I wanted my kaleidoscopic array of fruit to be, and I ended up drawing it with pencils and I'm really happy with the way it turned out. I think the colors are really nice, I think it looks like a commercial. And of course Carmen is wearing all white- and that's the only white on the page. She has more than two arms, which is a nod to some of the other imagery I was thinking of. And I titled it after a Carmen Miranda song- ‘The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat’. It's a fun song.
I'm going to look that up.*
This was fun. Last time, I wasn't really sure where to begin, and this time I knew right away that I had a few avenues to go.
Do you think that was the difference in the media, or the subject matter, or both?
I think it was the subject matter, and part of that might be due to the title being so specific or descriptive. In this case the title definitely gave me some guidance.
Do you think that was positive? Or do you wish that you had heard the music 'blind'?
This time I think it was positive. But I wouldn't want that to always be part of the prompt, because I also like to forge my own path. The last one I did I had much less of a clear prompt- at least the way I read it. This time, I was able to have a jumping off point much more quickly. What I think is universal about this project is that there's always a tight deadline, and that is good for me. I always like to know exactly how much time I have, because then I'm forced to act, instead of having time to lollygag. I was able to just jump right in.
Being forced to act, and having to make art as a path to survival, is kind of what we're going for here.
I've been dropped into the deep end, and I have to make art to breathe.
When I was illustrating children's stories for 826 Boston, it was really common for my deadlines to have a completed book cover would be... seven minutes. And I would have to start working on it while the children were still decided what the story is. When they're finished describing what's happening, I should be finished drawing it. I didn't have a completed story to start with. So even having a very very tight deadline can allow me to thrive.
Any new advice for someone else, now that you've done this twice?
This advice may not work for everyone all the time, but to have more than one idea to work with. If I had gone with my first idea, that would have been fine, but because I had thought through a few different avenues, I had more to choose from. So I guess my advice is to be flexible.
[* Editor’s Note: Check out a really amazing video of ‘The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat’ here. I feel pretty confident in saying that this is worth your time. It involves some pretty epic kaleidoscopic dance moves and oversized fruit props that are beyond the beyond.]
Call Number: C6MU | C8VA.vaOu
Cody VanWinkle spent five years illustrating children's books at the Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute. In 2017, he was published in And Lester Swam On, written by 21 rambunctious second graders. Someday, he would like to combine his passions for making ice cream and knitting.