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Big headed art: ‘I’m motivated to make art that … basically moves the audience to let their freak flag fly’

By on July 23, 2018 in Arts with 0 Comments

Austin, Texas

By Susan Lagsdin

Mega-monsters with two-foot diameter heads and goofy grins, knobby noses and improbable ears, goblins and goofuses and pirates and wazzats all prance around voguing for the camera and catch even their creators unaware.

After one of Sara Hasslinger’s art workshops, nobody shows restraint, and everybody’s the star of the show.

Sara’s lifework is varied and artful, but her greatest pleasure comes from helping people make big paper mache masks.

She firmly believes making and wearing those big costume heads — notice the “monsters” are all rather benign — can be therapeutic, not just a bunch of fun, and she has a master’s degree in art education and 17 years’ experience and success in educational, corporate and community settings to prove it.

In Austin, Texas, where she lived and worked before moving to Chelan, she was employed by major corporations like Samsung and Smirnoff to use her pet project, Monsterlove, to enrich company functions and encounter groups with zany art and play; she also did community workshops, facilitated a divorce support group, traveled to Kenya to help village children under the auspices of CTC, Comfort the Children.

Artist Sara Hasslinger makes — and teaches students how to make — wearable big heads that when donned, allow for an unfamiliar freedom of expression.

“OK, I have to admit,” Sara said, “At first I fought tooth and nail not to come to Chelan.”

In Austin, her career was exploding with potential, and her circle of art contacts and art peers was huge. But to fully escape an abusive relationship, one night in 2015 she needed to flee, baby in her arms, back to the safety of family. Her mother lived in Chelan and so to Chelan she went.

Sara had lived here for a few years previously and was not eager to return, especially not on those terms, broke and unknown. She thought her career had collapsed. “It was like a death,” she said.

In the three years since, however, her creativity has burgeoned, she’s familiarized herself with the regional arts community (most notably she cites taking Scott Bailey’s Art 202 class at WVC), and she is close to supporting herself with her artwork.

Especially In the last year, Sara said, “that constant little flame of grief has dissipated. I thought this was the land of no-opportunity, but what Chelan has given me is quiet time to express what I want to — I realized that before, in Austin, I was chasing after my project, trying to keep up.”

Monsterlove heads are more fun than scary.

And still today her art is mostly about the big paper heads. She crafted her first one as an art school project; named Oh Gee, he still lives on a top shelf with four more not scary, mostly silly-looking characters. She keeps a troupe of them, some re-gifts from students. “These guys are almost indestructible, and they’re really easy to repair if they get banged up,” said Sara.

What is so alluring about making outsized monster heads, all paper mache and paint and protuberances? Or figures, as in a recent class, “Things That Grow and Things That Fly?”

Well, they come from cheap and easily-assembled grade-school ingredients: Elmer’s paste, any kind of recycled paper, a reusable beachball and paint. They’re easy for everyone to make (though tricky for anyone to make really well, said Sara), and they allow for myriad mistakes and nonconforming experiments.

And when the heads are on, they allow an unfamiliar freedom: No one can see me; this is not me.

Acting out new roles and dispelling phobias are a few of the therapeutic uses, and through her ongoing community-based project, still called Monsterlove, Sara’s recounted some touching stories of revelations about body image and finding a sense of belonging.

With resourcefulness always in mind, Sara calls herself a “rearranger, upcycler and hunter-magnet for cool finds.”

But her art is rarely about the medium, and mostly about freedom. She explained, “I’m motivated to make art that provides therapy and transformative experiences and basically moves the audience to let their freak flag fly.”

Some of Sara Hasslinger’s monsterlove heads — including this one — are on display at The Gilded Lily Home store in downtown Wenatchee.

Her own art is not all monsters.

In her studio, just a few steps down from the two-level living room of her funky downtown house, she also does photo/paint assemblages and oil paintings, but not conventional ones. One large photo-collage grew from the ripped-out pages of a “How to Breakdance” book. A portrait of her grandparents is no oldtime parlor pose; they’re sexy, propped by their elbows, laughing at the side of a swimming pool.

Sara makes collaborative paintings with her artist partner Joss (he’s a long-time, long-ago friend she reunited with on her return to the community), her colorful landscapes and murals dot downtown businesses and galleries, and currently in her studio a six-foot wide commissioned mountain scape oil painting has shackled her attention.

 But with a busy blended family (her toddler and Joss’s teenager) and picking up new work all the time, Sara still forges on with the heads. “To me the purpose of art is healing, it’s creativity, it’s community. My monster project feeds all those realms seamlessly.”

If you have a hankering to see her paper mache figures this summer, stop by Chelan’s Riverwalk Restaurant display of her students’ creations or enjoy her fish-ladies in The Gilded Lily in downtown Wenatchee.

To see photos of her two-dimensional paintings as well as happy monster-lovers in full regalia, go to Sara’s website: monsterlove.org.

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