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Amanda’s Circus

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Amanda Tollefson was born on April Fool’s Day. Considering her playful personality, it seems like a fortuitous date for this 24-year-old. A glance around her 400-square-foot studio in Bay View’s Lakeside Building, confirms she’s clearly nobody’s fool.Look around. Books abound. Philosophy, psychoanalysis, poems by Plath. Gray’s Anatomy. P. T. Barnum. Paul Bowles, Anais Nin, and Salinger, are among her fave authors. We settle on a couch near a large square collaborative painting of Rocky Dennis, a character in the Mask flick. It’s plumped out with glued-on cheesy fabrics. An afghan. Remnants of a shirt. A snow-white Brother sewing machine (a gift from her mother) sits in a corner, threaded with red. When Amanda moved here from Manitowoc in 1999, it was to attend MIAD on a partial scholarship. Her experiences there were “up and down,” but she graduated after 5 years with a BFA in painting. Soon she hooked up with two guys and they became a trio, possibly to fight the conservative establishment she says was “a bit out of touch with today’s discourse.”On the day we meet, her long legs are clad in hot pink tights from T.J. Maxx. Pink, a very hot pink, is a color she uses lots of in her painting/collage work, along with hefty dollops of turquoise. It’s hard to imagine her laboring in the coffee shop/book store at our downtown library, but that’s where she is when she’s not in her studio. During her junior year at MIAD, she wanted to run away and join the circus. Maybe sweep up after the elephants. “I went to the Shriner’s circus and was completely mesmerized,” she admits. Roadside attractions, outsider art (she says she’s on the fringe of insider stuff), freaky faces…they attract her like magnets. She talks about a character, “The Rhinestone Cowboy,” whose work is at the Kohler Art Museum in Sheboygan. We leave the couch, and walk across a wood floor strewn with colorful paints, fabrics, and a tumble of ideas. When making art, she sits flat on that floor, like a kid in a candy store, with lots of things to tempt her mind. She shows me spiral images drawn in black Sharpie. “It’s about a nightmare,” she says, “about a waterslide in a park,” adding that yes, she fears deep water. Five collages, recent ones carefully worked, are propped on the north wall. “Colors of love,” torn from a book, are glued to a board nailed to supports she has hand-built. Mr. Potato Head, a Bergman-like landscape photo, a Starburst game with pegs fitting holes, motif her art. Puzzle pieces wait for assembly, and when the kooky image of pretzels and beer is complete, it will form a background for a future painting. “Children’s drawings are free, unrestrained,” she says. “I was an only child and had the whole hundred box of crayons.” Piles of stuffed animals, weird fabrics, and quaint afghans on stretchers are stacked in a corner. She’s not happy with the results of trying to paint on the afghans. What’s in the future of this lady who not so long ago wanted to join the circus? She’s considered moving to Manitowoc to be close to her grandma, but doesn’t think she could actually live there. And the circus? Truth tell, she’s already joined it…in her inventive head, and perhaps physically, as her self seems to be constantly in motion. It’s easy to imagine her as a high-wire flyer. Before I leave, she hands me a copy of “Uniroyal Gal,” a big bold zine she’s constructed. I think about coloring books, but am pulled up short by a quote above a line drawing of her grandma: Serious things cannot be understood without laughable things, nor opposites at all without opposites. (Plato)
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