Art Whore

‘Lost Merchandise of the Dreamlanders’ Group Exhibit – Interview with Artist and Curator Tyson Tabbert

“Fake” is all the rage right now – what with Mr Trump and his ‘fake news’, Damien Hirst and his recent art show comprising of ‘fake’ artifacts from a made up lost civilisation, the rise of unpaid internship aka ‘fake’ jobs and now, added to this list is Mr Tyson Tabbert and his brilliantly curated travelling John Waters tribute art exhibition full of ‘fake’ pieces of pop culture trash.

We at ‘Art Whore’ were exposed to the ‘Lost Merchandise of the Dreamlanders’ John Waters tribute group show and immediately blown away! Here was a show devoted to one of our favourite directors – Mr. John Waters – and featuring a whole slew of amazing pop art pieces. From toys, to bed sheets, Halloween costumes, ash trays and more. The show itself featuring thirteen artists working both collaboratively and independently, all under the loving eye of curator Tyson Tabbert.

(Photo below of artist and show curator Tyson Tabbert)

Coming to the end of the exhibit’s first showing at ‘LaMaMa’ in New York City (May 25th to June 24th), and just about to travel to Lethal Amounts in Los Angeles (July 8th to July 28th) – we thought it would be good to have the exhibit’s curator Tyson Tabbert explain it all, so we asked him a few questions. From who the other artists involves are, how they all came to connect, if there had been any legal issues, potential John Waters sex toys and much more.

Read it all below…

(i) For those at home – please explain your obsession and love for the works of trash-king John Waters.

To be honest, I was never obsessed with John Waters’ films. I was so straight-laced as a kid that John Waters wasn’t even on my radar. I was a prude, and still am for the most part.
The first time watching one of his films was in 2001. I remember a boyfriend of mine at the time screened it for me and my very close crew of straight housemates. They still talk about how horrifying it was. I wasn’t horrified, but put-off by the chicken sex scene maybe?  Never the less it eluded me – I didn’t really understand it all until almost 12 years later. I moved to New York and in 2013 a guy I worked with, Vaughan Alexander, introduced me to Female Trouble.  Female Trouble changed everything. Suddenly the humor, shock, and irony of John Waters’ movies made sense, and easily became the inspiration for something I”d been wanting to do for years anyway – make action figures.
Vaughan is Australian, so I sort-of blame Australia for all of this.

(Photos below of the ‘Ben Cooper‘ knock-off John Waters tribute Halloween costumes and masks – as featured in the show)

(ii) You are noted as the “curator” of the show, and many of the works featured are collaborative… Were all the works the ideas of a lone artist, or full collaborations?

The show is a real group effort. We conducted initial meetings where we hashed-out ideas and brainstormed concepts.  Although the premise of the show was mine, many of the individual items were conceived by the artists themselves.
I consulted on all of the work but each individual ultimately made the final decisions regarding the overall creative direction of their pieces.

(Photo below of a John Waters ‘Multiple Manics’ tribute toy gun – as featured in the show)

(iii) You have spoken about meeting with representatives from Warner Brothers to formally license John Water’s creations… what happened at these meetings and why didn’t the formal licenses transpire?

I was specifically seeking licensing for the Female Trouble action figures only – this was happening before the art show was even an idea yet. The whole thing came down to money and experience.  It was assumed that a line of figures wouldn’t be lucrative enough to justify the time and costs incurred in opening merchandise licensing, which is an intensive legal process (and which had never been done on Female Trouble before).
Also, I don’t have the manufacturing experience nor established distribution channels to qualify for such a license, even if it had already been in place.  It could happen, some day.  It just won’t be me doing it.

(Photos below of the Divine dolls featured in the show)

(iv) Have any lawyers come at you with cease and desists for any of the products in the show – and if so, how did you respond?

No!  I have had cease and desists on other projects I’ve worked on in the past, but not this.
I’m not sure how I feel about that – maybe I just haven’t done a good enough job.

(Photo below of a John Waters tribute night light – as featured in the show)

(v) Of all the possible licensed items, i was surprised their weren’t any marital aids / sex toys included… any reason for this?

This experience is a big ‘what if;’ not only what if these products had been made, but what if John Waters’ films had been mainstream enough to justify it. There are mainstream movies with questionable moral content that make it to toy shelves, watered-down of course.  Vina from Star Trek and Oola from Star Wars landed in the toy department, and they were sex slaves!
I wanted to see what John Warters-themed products would look like on a shelf in Sears at the eye-level of a six-year-old. John Waters’ movies were shocking, and I wanted our show to have it’s own shock value as well.
I think a classy brass ashtray based on a lobster rapist innocuously sitting on your grandmother’s coffee table, or even a child’s cute fish shaped breakfast cereal you would only understand is fish shaped because Divine simulated oral sex with a fish in the movie that it’s based on, is MUCH more shocking than a crucifix-shaped dildo in third drawer down in someone’s nightstand.

(Photo below of the John Waters ‘Multiple Manics’ tribute lobster ashtray – as featured in the show)

(vi) So… we at ‘Art Whore’ gotta know… If you could license and produce a John Waters inspired sex toy – what would it be and why? **Please also include a mock up of your design**

It would have to be, from my favorite movie of course, a gag-ball in the shape of a carrot (that doubles as a butt-plug) paired with a dildo that looks like a pair of needle-nose pliers.
They would come as a set in a little cardboard tool box which reads ‘Go Fuck a Garage!’

(Photo below of the John Waters ‘Female Trouble’ tribute fish flavored cereal and cereal ring prizes – as featured in the show)

(vii) How do you know the other artists in the show and what was their involvement?

‘Team A’ for this show has really been Naz Horner, Lauren Genutis, and Lana Wharry.  They have devoted so much of their time not only to their OWN pieces, but to the development of the show overall.  They lent their talents to many different aspects the show.

* Lauren Genutis ?

Lauren developed the fantastic Desperate Living Tea Set, which was her idea as well.
She is an expert sculptor and mold-maker I met while working at Asher Levine when I first arrived in New York.  The rat and salad are scratch built by her for the set.
I never would have thought of  adding a tea set to the show initially, but it actually turned out to be one of my favorite pieces.  It is so elegant and thoughtful.

* Misty Greer ?

Misty was commissioned by Kyle Lords to fabricate the outfits for the Divine doll collection.
She is a fashion designer who is now a doll clothes designer.

* Sarah Hedlund ?

I contacted Sarah to have her do the graphics for the Ben Cooper costume jumpsuits. This was after seeing some of her work online. It was a perfect fit.
She created this great illustration of John Waters wearing 3-D glasses, surrounded by characters from his various films.  I saw that and I knew that’s what the costumes had to look like.

* Nazareth Horner ?

Naz made the Pink Flamingos bed sheets.
She is a professional graphics designer who I also worked with at Asher Levine.  She was also involved in the development of many of the other graphic elements for the show, such as the packaging for the action figures, cereal box and tea set.  I also met Naz working at Asher Levine.  She and I shared a similar direction for this show.  I really couldn’t have done it without her.

* Asher Levine ?

Asher Levine is my boss at Asher Levine.  He made the mock-up Taffy outfits displayed next to Matthew B. Simpson’s Simplicity pattern.
He is a designer, expert crafts-person, and visionary who maintained such dedication to this show for the past 3 years.
This show should read ‘produced by Asher Levine.’

* Stela Ličina ?

Stela is responsible for the stellar hair and  make-up on the Divine dolls in the Divine doll collection.
Another of those loyal and crazy-good John Waters fans from Canada commissioned by Kyle Lords.

* Kyle Lords ?

Kyle is the biggest John Waters fan in this list.  He was working on these dolls before the show, and probably will be working on them long after.
I thought nothing was more valuable than his enthusiasm for the subject material, until I saw that he could also actually concept and realize beautiful pieces for this show.  His impeccable attention to detail has really made the Divine doll collection so stand-out.

* Bart McCoy ?

Bart is a friend from the way back in Reno, NV.  He is a master airbrush artist, but an even more masterful painter.
He did the digital artwork for all of the Female Trouble characters for the action figure boxes and cards. There are two parts to action figure collection as I see it – the actual figures, and then the box art. One couldn’t exist without the other.  I am so glad that he contributed to this show and, especially, to these action figure sets.

* Sara McCoy ?

Sara is a good friend from college.  We studied Theater costuming together at UNR.
One of my true contemporaries, Sara is the talented sculptor who made the porcelain Pink Flamingos piggy bank.  She added a new dimension to this show with the addition of a porcelain piece.
I am fortunate to have artists in my life with talents such as Sara’s that are outside of my own personal scope.  The piece compliments the show perfectly.

* Jaik Puppyteeth ?

Another of Kyle Lords’ commissions, Jaik is an accomplished illustrator who created the great images on the boxes for the Divine collection dolls.
These drawings, by the way.  How perfect are they?  What happens when Divine becomes barbie?  This is what happens.  The illustrations are smooth, graceful and show a soft and demure side of Divine.  They are part of the what makes the Divine doll collection so unexpected.

* Matthew B. Simpson ?

A brilliant illustrator, I contacted Matthew regarding the Simplicity Taffy Pattern project.  The results I got from him just blew me away.  The Taffy pattern was done with very little direction from me, and exceeded my every expectation.
The boxes for the Ben Cooper costumes were also done with little direction, not to mention a very limited time frame. The comic version of Divine on the Ben Cooper Raymond Marble and Connie Marble boxes is the classiest, funniest thing in the whole show.  I am lucky that I found him.

* Lana Wharry ?

Lana conceptualized, sculpted and assembled the very ambitious Lobstora ashtray!
The dedication to this piece was particularly astounding considering the amount of work that went in to it. Lana is a metal smith and jewelry maker I work with at Asher Levine. She has worked there for years and I have come to rely on her a lot for her vast skill set.

* Sung-Yong Ahn ?

Sung-Yong was actually my very first sculpture department intern at Asher Levine.  He is from Seoul, and unfortunately lost his Visa a year ago.  He is back home, but his Female Trouble cereal rings are here and finally on display.
He was always my most dedicated, and detailed, sculptor.

(viii) Any reason to limit the show to John Water’s 1960’s and 70s work only?

The show is about absurdity – it had to feel real but, in context, be absolutely unbelievable.
John’s early films are the most ironic choices. Could some company have made a Polyester lunchbox or Hairnet/Hairspray tie-in product?  Actually, yes.
The works in OUR show had to be clearly impossible…once you thought about it a little.  We have already fooled quite a few though.  The time frame is also important.  The 70s saw the beginning of aggressive television/movie merchandising.
I didn’t want the pieces to look like things you could find in Hot Topic.

(Photos below of the John Waters ‘Pink Flamingos’ tribute bed sheet sheet set – as featured in the show)

(ix) Has Mr Waters seen the show, or the works – and what was his response?

He has seen some of the pieces.  He didn’t come to the show yet, but I think he sent a spy.

(Photo below of the John Waters ‘Desperate Living’ tribute mini play tea set – as featured in the show)

(x) Any plans for a second ‘Dreamlanders’ exhibit, or further plans for the show and works?

We’ll be in LA at Lethal Amounts Gallery starting July 8th.
After that more items will be added – Pink Flamingos multivitamins, Lipstick Beauty Salon Playset, vintage record player.  Balitmore in 2017 for sure.
New York again.
Maybe Australia?

(Photos below of some of the knock off ‘LJN Toys‘ John Waters ‘Female Trouble’ tribute action figures – as featured in the show)


  • ‘Lost Merchandise of the Dreamlanders’ – site
  • ‘Lost Merchandise of the Dreamlanders’ – Instagram
  • ‘Lost Merchandise of the Dreamlanders’ – Facebook
  • Tyson Tabbert – Instagram

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