Monsters and Imps: Geeky Art for All

This is a guest blog post written by Imei Hsu.

No matter where you go in the world, whether staying in a four-star hotel in a world-class city, or accepting the invitation of the owner of a hut in the poorest of towns in a third-world country, the soul of humanity expresses itself in art. That art can be found in antique, handwoven tapestries, or mass-produced “kitty plates” replete with flashing Christmas lights. Nonetheless, it beautifies, and changes the feeling of the space in which it lives.

When first-year college students prepare to move out of their parent’s home, they not only go through the process of collecting what they need for their college dorm rooms, they are decorating that room for form as well as function. Granted, some do it with a bit more elegance or taste than others, but whether the wall poster is a print of Michelangelo, Warhol,or Betty Boop, the person tacking it up on the wall is declaring to the viewer what speaks to him or her.

Classes on art appreciation are useful in helping non-artists learn more about the world of artists and their messages in their mediums. But when befuddled people say, “I don’t get this piece of art,” I ask them, “What do you feel when you look at it?” This is almost always going to be a subjective process, but so is the determination of what one wants to surround herself with. Art is, in the end, what we make of it.

Ever since I heard the song, “ Darkness” by Peter Gabriel (Up, 2002), I’ve had a renewed fascination with monsters. I’ve never enjoyed movies about zombies, nor have I gone out of my way to see horror movies. There are enough things in real life to make the hairs on the back of neck stand up! But a reprise in the lyrics of this song put me on a search for representations in art that would make the feeling accessible, if not almost tactile:

walking through the undergrowth, to the house in the woods
the deeper i go, the darker it gets
i peer through the window
knock at the door
and the monster i was
so afraid of
lies curled up on the floor
is curled up on the floor just like a baby boy

The monsters we are scared of are not always “out there”. Sometimes, they are “in here”, and other times they are among us, facing circumstances of which we are all too familiar.

Last year, I bought a felted monster toy for my friend Chris Pirillo at Christmas from a store in West Seattle called Twilight. Twilight features hand-crafted art and original works from Northwest artists, and the owner appears to like geeky art in particular.

Through this store, Chris later found the work of Justin Hillgrove of ImpsAndMonsters. I recently ran into Justin and his painting pal, Mike Capp, who he credits for encouraging him to return to painting after being burned out in the world of design.

Filmed and published with permission by Imei Hsu.

Chris has his own reasons for enjoying Hillgrove’s work, but mine isn’t tethered to the nostalgia of recognizable childhood images; those images are more likely to be those of “Hello Kitty” and the characters of Japanese anime show, “Starblazers” for this Asian American kid. Instead, I love how Hillgrove allows us glimpses into the less loveable parts of life — skeletons, death, predators, monsters with teeth and claws — and invites us to own them as we see ourselves in their vulnerable and awkward life situations. Even a monster-avoidant person like me finds amusement in the world of HIllgrove’s creatures and cartoons. it makes his work a kind of geeky monster art for all.

I bought the print, “Empathy” for my psychotherapy office. To me, it represents both the ability for monsters to identify with others, and for the monster within us to to see our need for love, connection, and even — oh no! — a cuddly moment. It’s a reminder to me that our inner monsters can and do freely roam the earth. Some of them are simply waiting for us to notice… and smile.

Do you think humans can resist the appeal to make and surround themselves with art and artful design? What’s your favorite art?

B. Imei Hsu, RN, MAC, LMHC, is a nurse psychotherapist, Yoga instructor, professional dance artist, and occasional guest blogger for Lockergnome. She is the founder of, matching performance and visual artists with people who want to hire them and raise money for good social causes and charities. She’s also a musician, and is currently learning how to yoddle her cat, Charles-Monet. Imei lives in Seattle, WA. You can find her on her blog, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.