Angela Oster described a visit to the cemetery with her mother and a friend of the family, who was an amateur photographer. The idea was to shoot some film. As the women traipsed the graveyard, Oster's mother turned to look for her daughter and recalled finding her tap dancing on a grave. Cute and spooky—quite evidently—is a thread that has been running through the Ohio-based artist's life for some time, and it’s something she chases in her ethereal works of art, a selection of which will be on display at Stranger Factory in Oster's most recent exhibition, The Lady is a Vamp, which opens on Oct. 6.
“My goal,” Oster said of her works—largely pencil and ink drawings, filled in with gauche and day-glo paint, “is to tell a story or see how I could make somebody laugh with just the minimal amount of marks on the page.” And so, wispy vampires glower from their frames, delicate monsters languish across fainting couches and all manner of vampy creatures march across the body of Oster's work. “Spooky and cute, yes, that's the sweet spot,” Oster affirmed as we spoke over the phone. “I want it to be both of those things at the same time. They're not scary, they're just slightly creepy.”
It's a style that took Oster awhile to settle upon—despite her childhood predilection for grave dancing and a local late night horror showcase called “The Big Chuck and Little John Show” that aired old monster movies. While as a child she frequently drew “things with giant eyes … [and] little ghosts that had sharp teeth” a tenure at art school shifted her focus to different art practices. “I was into the whole cerebral art theory kind of stuff—performance art, digital media and all that. Then, I got out of art school and I got away from that kind of built-in audience that you have there, and I didn't make anything for a long time,” she explained.
What galvanized Oster's work in illustration was the discovery of several Instagram accounts, and specifically Mab Graves' (@mabgraves) Drawlloween Club, which challenges artists to create supernatural drawings for each day in October. Several years ago, Oster committed herself to completing the challenge. “I found this group of people on Instagram that were very encouraging and they were a bunch of cheerleaders. This all came about through that, finding other people that like the same stuff that I do,” she explained, and by connecting with like-minded artists, she was able to allow herself to pursue the kind of art she had long wanted to make. “I realized I just wanted to draw cartoons, and I gave myself permission to do that and not feel like I had to have some big reason behind it.”
One of the first big projects that Oster threw herself into was a mini-comic book called Little Vampire Girl. The character—who just seemed to turn up again and again in her work—was in part inspired by Oster's daughter “she's cute, but she misbehaves at times, and [there's] humor in that,” she said, but also arose from Oster's own younger, grave-dancing alter ego. Oster sent Little Vampire Girl to several galleries, her “dream places where she really wanted to show,” which included Stranger Factory. Soon enough, she was invited to participate in their 2016 annual Bewitched group show and then Winter Salon, and will now head back for the third time.
In The Lady is a Vamp, Oster placed herself in the tradition of early 20th century artist Nell Brinkley, whose iconic comics and drawings of the “Brinkley Girls” inspired fashion styles and many generations of artists who followed. “She drew these independent, fun-loving ladies,” Oster explained, “they're beautiful and so delicately drawn. I love looking at her work … [and so] I started drawing these dainty vampire girls in these elaborate costumes, vamping it up on the page.” Oster emphasized that they're not vampy in the sense of being evil, just “fun-loving, delicate little monsters.”
Despite raising a kid and holding down a day job, Oster sits down daily in her studio and draws—usually in the space between dinner and bedtime, “that's my window of opportunity,” she said. With that tireless commitment, she was able to produce the totality of the work for The Lady is a Vamp, and participate in another exhibition in Ohio in October. Oster said she's making up for the time she lost post-college. “I didn't draw for such a long time, there was this creative inertia,” she explained. While she never stopped taking in the kind of art she liked, she spent years not making any. Now she “has this momentum going, and I can't turn it off,” she said. “I don't have enough time to get everything I would like to down on paper. … There's no difference between my artwork and my free time and what I love to do.”
Oster's love of the process, and her very evident love of what she creates, bubbles over into her aspirations for viewers of her work. Thinking about what she hopes to give to visitors of The Lady is a Vamp, she very succinctly settled on a single feeling she'd like to create: delight. “I want people to be delighted and entertained. And maybe slightly creeped out … just a little. But delight is what I'm going for the most.”
Drop in to Stranger Factory between Oct. 6 and 29, where you can take in Oster's work, as well as Dark Town Sally's Of Longing and Otherness solo exhibition, and Bewitching VII, an annual group show. The Lady is a Vamp, in combination with these, is bound to produce the sort of pleasure Oster is aiming for—and maybe give you the creeps, too. Just a little.