Rifling through the ridiculous four-digit number of unanswered missives clogging my In-Box like a steady diet of deep-fried dill pickles, KFC and biscuits slathered in bacon fat does the arteries, it took but a cursory glance at the last sacrilegious e-card Ugly Shyla sent starring Scooter (R.I.P.), her three-legged cat, and I was transported back to April of 2003. Convergence, an annual festival for those more shadowy in spirit, had booked me as a spoken word performer among that year’s roster. Jared, ever the trooper in terms of road trips, had joined me on this excursion to Las Vegas: convention capitol of the world, tackiest city in the country, and home of the flamingo-themed Hilton hotel where for four days it was as if a black cloud descended upon its fuchsia presence.
That’s when I first “officially” met Shyla ♥—
Why the quotation marks? A counter-culture periodical entitled Swag had premiered around this time, and both Shyla and I graced its pages. I’d read the feature on her and hence already knew about the ‘morbid fine art’ dolls she creates, her involvement with the performance art troupe (A-M-F), her wicked sense of personal style (fish-hooks through flesh used in lieu of garter belts), how her mom (known in the scene as ‘Goth Mom’) turned her on to the joys of John Waters, Satanism and transvestites. All of that was fine and fascinating, but—more than anything—I was intrigued by the knowledge that this remarkable creature hailed from a tiny town called Jennings, Louisiana.
My own history composed of 18 years in Nowheresville, Arkansas—where I grew up not on a street, but a ‘Rural Route’ consisting of dirt and gravel—I can’t help but be drawn to other southern-fried freaks. Not so much for the sake of sharing tear-stained stories of persecution, but rather because some of the most fascinating individuals I’ve ever met have sprouted from completely random spots among The Fly-Over States’ detritus. While it sucked with sharp fangs during those days of puberty and pimples, I’m grateful to have developed as an individual without a clique to inform or guide me. Said another way? There was no “Check-List of Cool,” no tables in the caf polarized by those who fit within the parameters of Punk, Goth, Mod, Ska, etc.
When there’s no need to conform among the non-conformists? That’s when the aberrant has an opportunity to define itself.
But I digress. Ugly Shyla is aberrant, if anything—and sick, sick, siiiick in the best sense of the word.
We clocked each other in the (ahem) “Bizarre Bazaar”: me in a custom Liz McGrath pinstripe suit adorned with gaping wounds and open sores oozing with red glitter; she in a pristine white baby doll dress that’d been ripped apart and re-stitched with thick black thread to match her full-eye black sclera contacts.
Sure, there’s the blue hair, the fishnets: this is familiar territory for most of us.
But once we made it past the “Don’t-I-Know-You-From…” social pleasantries?
That’s when I began to learn the good stuff.
Don’t just take my word for it, though.
Stop by her self-proclaimed “trailer park of the internet” ( Ugly Shyla Dot Com ); peruse her on-line gallery ( Ugly Art Dot Net ); give her Etsy marketplace a gander ( Ugly Art On Etsy ) and come to your own conclusions.
Rather than a welcome mat, you’ll be greeted by an image of your hostess bound in a warm, fuzzy straightjacket. It might be hard to make out what she’s saying on account of the Hannibal Lecter-Lite safety guard that obscures her mouth…but if you look deep into those eyes eclipsed by contact lenses a ruptured shade of red, there’s an inherent sense that in Ugly Shyla’s world—complete with gauche magenta-on-pink animal-print wallpaper and the royal proclamation “Mental Illness With Style” scrawled in a gorgeous font rife with manic intensity—this is her version of an invitation to step inside.
Then, once you ease into the nascent stages of dementia via multi-sensory bombardment,
once you abandon all distinctions between what’s extreme and what’s extremely absurd,
it’s hard not to feel immediately welcomed…and at home.
➡ C L I C K — for — ➡