Our reactions to the world around us is a reflection of what’s swirling around inside. Whether it’s a storm brewing in the back of your mind or a pleasant stream of thought, it’ll take shape in what we do in the real world. For creatives, those internal feelings and emotions flow through their art whether it’s music, fashion, or in the case of Kristin Tercek, art.
The NYU alum started Cuddly Rigor Mortis almost 15 years ago and what started as a darker expression of what she was feeling at the time, has into some of the most recognizable art out there. Having been featured around the world and back again, it was a true pleasure to get a chance to exchange a few words with the talented Kristin Tercek.
Kendra: Learning to paint when you were a kid, why did you take on the world of sewing in 2005 when you started Cuddly Rigor Mortis plushies instead of getting right into art?
Kristin Tercek: was in need of an artistic change at that point in my life and I was so inspired by the designer toy movement. 3-dimensional art was so different from what I had created my whole life, it was exciting and I thought I’d give it a try. I wasn’t thinking it could be a business or I would sell them, I thought of it as a hobby in the beginning.
Kendra: Who or what has continued to inspire you to be so self-sufficient when it comes to teaching yourself new skills? First painting as a tween and then sewing after college?
Kristin Tercek: Art was always my outlet from the time I was very little until today. I always sketched and doodled and loved to watch anything I could find that had to do with creating. When I was young, that was Bob Ross and more importantly, William Alexander (Bob’s fiery, Austrian counterpart) who both had painting shows on TV. Seeing someone create a finished oil painting in 30 minutes really inspired me to get my own paints and canvases. My parents were very encouraging with my artistic endeavors and made sure I had all the tools I needed. This sense of artistic exploration has just naturally continued until today.
Kendra: You’ve noted that you started out on the sort of spooky side of design but have since softened the edges just a bit. Was that growth just an artistic one, or was there also something going on inside you that wanted an aesthetic change?
Kristin Tercek: I’ve been dealing with clinical depression since I was very young. My art has always been a reflection of my feelings, whether I realized it or not. At the beginning of my Cuddly Rigor Mortis career, I was still depressed on some level and dealing with suicidal thoughts daily. My art was dark and tongue in cheek. Then in 2010, I went through a year-long severe depression that ended finally when I received ECT.
I try to be open about it because it has such a negative connotation in most people’s minds. Then once I was well, I found I couldn’t treat my characters the same way. I didn’t want to see them hurt or sad. So I just naturally started to put smiles on their faces and people responded with a giant, “yes!”
Kendra: I have to admit that I did get a little off track when writing these because I got lost in your work. The pop culture ones especially. I just kept scrolling and saying, “Want. Want. Cute! Oh, my husband would like that!” Being that you went to NYU for film, pop culture isn’t something you paint just because. You seem to not only enjoy it but have a respect for it. With that, is there any movie (TV show, pop culture icon, etc.) that you are intimidated to interpret?
Kristin Tercek: Well, thank you so much! I really appreciate it when people get excited about my work, keeps me going. To be honest, I’m always intimidated more by the fans of the work I’m about to tackle. I like to research as much as I can to make sure that I get all the details right. Whether it’s The Big Lebowski (my goodness, his sweater was a treat!) or Lilo and Stitch. Of course, my work for Disney’s WonderGround Gallery is my biggest thrill and always the most stressful because I don’t want to disappoint anyone.
Kendra: You also paint a lot of food. As the former secretary of her friend’s Fat Kids Club, I appreciate it. So if you had to have one famous chef make a real-life replica of one of your pieces, which piece and which chef would it be?
Kristin Tercek: I am loving your questions and I do love food! Since I just came back from L.A. the only food on my mind is Howlin’ Ray’s and SLAB. Dear goodness, I need to paint The Sando from Johnny Ray and Trudy’s Special from Burt Bakman! I know that wasn’t your question, but I love both these places so much.
Kendra: Right now you’re all about plants and animals with your current exhibit at Gallery 1988 going on. What was the inspo behind Botanimals?
Kristin Tercek: Since this is my sixth solo with G88 (they are the best!) and I’ve done food for most of those, I felt a change was in order. I struggled with a theme. Then looking through some botanical reference I keep, it occurred to me that I needed to get back to painting plants. What better way to combine my love of nature than by putting plants on animals heads.
Kendra: Between studying film and your artistic hand, will we ever see an animated movie of sorts staring some Cuddly Rigor Mortis characters?
Kristin Tercek: I never say never. Every day brings something or someone new into my artistic life and I’m thankful for that. But I do think it will take a team of creative people to help push me in that direction.
Kendra: The Botanimals exhibit is going now. Any other exhibits or projects you can tell us about?
Kristin Tercek: I’m taking a bit of a break after my solo. I do have more paintings in store for D23 this year in Anaheim though. The good folks at Gallery 1988 have also already asked my husband and I back for next year to do another side by side solos. Other than that, I’m keeping myself open!