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Interviews & Features

Christine Fulton "Sea Monster"

Originally published in Synthesis Weekly: June 2014

I, like many others in Chico, first met Christine Fulton (AKA “Sea Monster”), through the CRUX art gallery on Park Ave. I say “met,” but really I just knew her from afar through mutual friends. She was such an enigma to me—this bold, effervescent, artistic-powerhouse of a woman. Whether it was walking her three-legged dog downtown or stomping the Chikoko runway topless, she always managed to carry herself with a seemingly impossible mix of both self- assuredness and whimsy. (Seriously, how is that even possible?) It was only after I’d conducted the following interview that I realized I’d had a myriad of preconceptions about what an in-depth conversation with her would be like. It’s hard to articulate exactly what I expected, but what I found was an incredibly kind, self-aware woman who also happens to be a stone cold fox. When we met at the Naked Lounge downtown, she greeted me with a smile, a Lotto scratcher, and a handmade dog tag necklace advertising her upcoming show at the Winchester Goose. We spoke about her show at the Goose, gangster rap, and cartoons from the ‘70s. Enjoy.

What was the inspiration behind this new Meow Meow series?

I always want to warm myself up by just painting heads. So I tried to think, “What can I make, how can I do these heads a little differently?” So I did a little series of them in glass jars, and I thought, “Oh that’s kind of cute.” They looked like little specimens to me, and I thought, “Well, we don’t really put people’s heads in glass jars, but we do put other things in glass jars, things that we don’t understand.”

For this series I imagined there were people that we’d never met and somehow we found them living among us. I pictured us saying, “I don’t understand you, I’m going to trap you in a jar for observation.” I imagined that we captured them hanging around with us, but tried to think what they’d do to blend in with us. I figured they’d think, “Well, humans are obsessed with really dumb things sometimes, like Hello Kitty—they have it on these gadgets that they’re playing with all the time. And humans really like tattoos, of sexy girls and stuff.” So I tried to make them have things that they’d think we would like.

That’s interesting. Do you think there’s any parallel to the idea behind your show of people putting things in jars or maybe sequestering them off for observation because they don’t understand them, and maybe you feeling not fully understood within your own life?

No. Not really. I mean, I like that explanation, but I wasn’t really thinking about that when I was painting them. I was mostly thinking about how we tend to put things in jars, or on shelves, and you look at those things all the time, and they automatically become really precious to you. That’s kind of the rule of most artwork. Even if it’s ugly, or pretty, or abstract or whatever… The only thing that makes it art is if one person considers it precious for some reason. Like I could find a chewed up piece of gum that looks like… who’s the religious lady… oh—the Virgin Mary. So I find this Virgin Mary piece of gum, and I put it on my special shelf, and then it becomes a piece of art at that point. I was thinking of the jar-heads like that.

What’s your process like when you paint? Do you have any rituals or things you have to have to get into a painting state of mind?

Everything has to be cute. (laughs) I’m serious! Like the jar I keep my paintbrushes in, it’s fucking cute. And I get a bunch of old frames, and I take the pictures out of them. I always pick the frames before I even start painting. If there’s something unique happening with the frame, sometimes I’ll try to mock that within the painting. For one series at the Ray Ray Gallery, the original pictures that I took out of the frames, I tattooed them on the girls in my paintings, and that really made me happy. So as long as everything is cute, and as long as I have music, I’m happy.

What kind of music?

Just all across the board. I’m really bad at picking music. I steal stuff from other people, but often I just end up listening to the same stuff over and over again.

Like what?

Like Gucci Mane. I’ll listen to it like eight times in a row. It’s so bad. (laughs) There’s this one song where he’s just talking about blow jobs. I’m kind of embarrassed about it, but it doesn’t matter because I just put it on low and listen to it. Gangster music. Anything singer-songwriter just puts me to sleep when I paint. Also cigarettes and coffee are really good. For breaks.

So what’s the “Sea Monster” thing all about?

When we were doing the CRUX, back in the day, we were doing all these open-entry shows. And people would submit artwork and sculpture, but we also wanted people to submit installations and performances. So we had a few shows, but no one was submitting performances, just paintings and sculptures. And the stuff we had was rad, but we wanted performances too. So all us CRUX people got together and we were like, “Well, we should submit either a performance or an installation each time.” Because first of all, there’s not enough room on the walls for all of us to put our stupid shit in. And we also thought maybe if other people saw us doing something  goofy, they might feel better about submitting a performance too. So I started writing a couple little performances to do, and I was super nervous because I’d never done it before, and Dragon Boy [David Sutherland] called me “C-Monster.” Like “C” for Christine; like a little pet name, because he was my boyfriend at the time. So I used that name for the performance pieces, and I’d wear something so it didn’t look like me, and then I’d meet someone at the next show and they’d say, “Oh I saw your thing,” and they’d call me Sea Monster. It just kind of happened like that; it was really just a way to cut the nerves.

Do you consider it an alter ego or just a nickname?

Sometimes when I’m talking to myself, to pump myself up, I’ll say, “C’mon Sea Monster, you can do this,” but I wouldn’t say it’s like an alter ego… I think it’s just a boost to get me to do something that might make me a little uncomfortable. And I can always just blame it on the other person. Like, “Sorry that I took my underwear off and threw it in your face at that show, it was Sea Monster.” I think it’s just to help me feel not embarrassed or insecure about stuff that I want to do.

How much do you think what goes on in your life dictates your work?

I’m not sure… I remember Erin Lizardo had a chola clown party for her birthday, and it was so goofy… and I looked at so many pictures on the Internet of chola clowns, and I went to the party and it was really fun. So I made a chola clown piece for this show, totally because I went to that party. That’s pretty plain and simple, I went to the chola clown party, and then I painted a chola clown picture. I think in general it’s more about what’s going on. Definitely me trying to be part of pop culture a little bit; not actually doing it on a day-to-day basis, but knowing that it’s very relevant and very present. I guess I’m just trying to highlight things that I see. So I don’t think it’s an escape at all, it’s more of a response to the clues that pop culture puts out there.

Do you feel like Chico as a community accepts you? Like you can do what you want without fear of rejection or dismissal?

I don’t know that I could do all the stuff that I’ve done if I weren’t in Chico. It’s just out of control. Starting the CRUX when I was still in college… we were goofy. And some of the stuff I’ve worn, and some of the performances I’ve done downtown, I wouldn’t be able to do that anywhere else. It just wouldn’t be safe. It’s just not. Chico just has such a hippie, loving vibe, which I secretly hate, but also am very appreciative of. Sometimes it’s frustrating, because I’ll work on something that I think is really smart, but it gets the same credit as someone just making a hula hoop. And at the same time, they are equally valuable. So I get kind of pissed sometimes at Chico, because everything is accepted, but I’m appreciative of that at the same time. It’s complicated. It’s not cutthroat here. It’s not competitive, and I don’t have to think about that when I’m making art. But I think that’s both a crutch and an advantage. Like, look at the cover of the News & Review, it’s some hippie girl praying to sticks. and I think it’s cool, but it’s a lot of bullshit. And I love the News & Review, but I think there’s a lot of hippie bullshit that wouldn’t fly in other cities. Because they don’t have time for that in other places. Like, can you imagine seeing that in like, Chicago? And some of the quotes in there, like “Community has to exist within nature,” like no. No it doesn’t. Community can exist within some stupid contest that I have, and it could have nothing to do with nature.

Is there any medium you haven’t worked with that you’d like to?

I’d love to do oil painting, I just think that I haven’t exhausted watercolor yet. But that’s what I’d like to do next. But before I get into that, I’d also like to try Egg Tempera painting. It’s a big thing, you have to mix your paint and keep it refrigerated, and I’m just not prepared to do that. But if I ever got super situated somewhere and I knew I had a lot of time to fuck around, I’d want to do Egg Tempera.

What are your top two non-human influences?

Oh my god, non-human? I don’t know… That’s such a hard question!

We can come back to that one.

Ok good, let’s come back to it.

If you had to watch one movie every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Probably The Point. It’s a cartoon movie from the ‘70s, it’s fabulous. It’s about points. (laughs) Its about this boy that grows up in Pointsville, or something like that, and everything has a point… this is so dumb…

Like literally a point? A sharp edge?

Yeah, a sharp point. Basically an edge. So the boy is born, and he doesn’t have a point, and his parents give him a cone shaped hat, and then the evil mayor exiles him to the pointless forest, and the boy goes on all these adventures. It’s just good. That’s the only one I could stand every day.

If you were a dinosaur, what kind would you be?

One of those giant crocodiles. One that doesn’t go extinct. Like a giant turtle. (Laughs) I’d be a giant turtle.

So how about those non-human influences?

Let’s say… Typewriters and sealed envelopes. I love the possibility of a sealed envelope… Also any type of contest.

Do you enjoy competing?

I like the idea of contests making you do something that you wouldn’t normally do. It’s kind of along the same lines as an open entry show, where someone sets a theme. I don’t know. That question is really hard. Maybe rainbows. I like rainbows.

There you have it! Come to the Winchester Goose on June 12 at 6pm to see Fulton’s newest series: “meow meow.” 

Arielle Mullen