Interviews with Artists Stephen Blickenstaff, Isaac Bidwell, Todd Gardner, and John Detrich on their Pop up Gallery Show at ‘Shocked & Amazed Presents: Strange For Hire’

This Saturday, January 31st, Shocked & Amazed Presents: Strange For Hire will perform at the Artisphere in Rosslyn. Accompanying the performance art will be a pop up gallery art show featuring artists Stephen Blickenstaff, Isaac Bidwell, Todd Gardner, and John Detrich.

Give us a little bit of your back-story – where do you hail from, how long have you been working as an artist, and what is your chosen medium? 

Stephen Blickenstaff: 'Cramps.'
Stephen Blickenstaff: ‘Cramps.’

Stephen: I was born in Frederick, MD in 1961. I grew up collecting horror comics and monster toys. I’ve been having my illustrations published since around the late 70s while I was still in high school. I like working in a particular medium for a while and then moving to another. I might mainly work in pen & ink for a couple of years and then work in acrylics for a while. I won’t stay with one medium exclusively, but I tend to go through extended periods where the majority of work will be done in a particular medium.

John: I’m an artist and graphic designer living in Ashburn, Virginia. I’m known for my monster hot rod artwork which has appeared on trading cards, t-shirts, magazines, CD covers and show posters. I’ve designed Halloween masks and a toy car line called the Creepsters which were distributed nationally.  I’ve working at this since the ’90s but, I’ve been drawing ever since I can remember. I’m happy working with a range of mediums from water-based to digital.

Todd Gardner: 'Elephant '
Todd Gardner: ‘Elephant ‘

Todd: I’m originally from Indianapolis, Indiana, but am living currently in Charm City:  Baltimore, MD. I’m an acrylic painter, and have been an artist for over 20 years.

Isaac: I work out of Syracuse, New York (where I’m from) and I’m mainly and illustrator. I tend to work digitally, or in pen and ink.

Each of you has a very distinct and unique style. Where do you draw your largest inspiration from for the pieces you create?

Stephen: I was influenced very heavily by several artists whose work I admired when I was a kid, artists like Basil Wolverton, Ed Roth, and Bernie Wrightson. As a kid I was a huge fan of horror comics and monster movies too. My work is influenced by all of that kind of stuff.

John:  My work is greatly influenced by comic book and hot rod monster artists from the ’50s through the ’70s, notably Wally Wood, Jack Davis, Basil Wolverton, Frank Frazetta, Basil Gogos, B.K. Taylor, Stanley Mouse, Bill Campbell, Robert Williams, and the two Eds, Ed “Newt” Newton and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth.  Fellow artist appearing in this show, Stephen Blickenstaff, is a huge inspiration as well!

Todd: I draw my inspiration from the circus, carnivals, burlesque and variety shows, and freak show posters from by-gone eras.

Isaac: My inspiration comes from comics, the circus and cryptozoology.

What little-known-fact do you think patrons and fans of your artwork should know about you, as an artist, or individual?

Stephen: Music and visual arts are equally important in my life.

I’ve played drums in several bands and I currently play the theremin with the instrumental surf band the Atomic Mosquitos.

John Detrich: 'The Monkey Escapes.'
John Detrich: ‘The Monkey Escapes.’

John: I graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in biology and worked in laboratories for a decade until I realized I wanted to be a mad scientist and create monster art!

Todd: I’m currently a sideshow performer, an emcee, a photographer, and a producer. All of these pursuits give me a unique perspective in creating art on both sides of the curtain.

Isaac: My goal over the summer is to travel all around the country and look for all the weird stories and oddities I can find.

How do you feel about your art form being exhibited in conjunction with a live performance, and one of circus-sideshow, no less?

Stephen: I love it! It’s a nice blend of over the top, beyond the mainstream entertainment. I can’t think of a better venue for displaying my work.

John: This is a first for me and it should be an exciting, memorable experience! Some of my paintings feature circus-sideshow imagery so this is a great fit!

Todd: It makes all the sense in the world, given the nature of my work. I hope the love I have of shows and variety entertainment is evident in the pieces that I create.

Isaac Bidwell: 'Fiji Mermaid.'
Isaac Bidwell: ‘Fiji Mermaid.’

Isaac: I’m excited. I’ve done circus/sideshow themed art in the past, and we had great music, but sadly no performers. I think having them all together will really enhance the event.

Venues like Artisphere provide an environment for artists of all kinds to showcase their chosen medium in a stylized and professional setting. What impact do you feel it has on a community at large when spaces like this are shuttered? 

Stephen: I think it’s a horrible shame. I think if more of the community really knew what it was all about, saw it and experienced it first hand, they wouldn’t allow for it to be taken away.

John: It’s always a loss when a venue fostering the arts closes.  It devalues appreciation of the arts. Experiencing works of art in person is always richer than seeing an image or video on a screen. Closing an art venue robs the community of this experience.

Todd: I think it’s a sad commentary on the values of those communities. Folks are in favor of the millions of dollars in taxes used in subsidizing failing casinos, and/or sporting arenas that may only be used a dozen or so times a year, while those same folks balk at the costs associated with the creation, programming, and maintenance of creative spaces. I believe the NEA used a postage stamp as a visual symbol what the actual cost of their budget cost the taxpayer in a year. A community without art becomes soulless, and withers.

Isaac:  Sadly it happens all to often. Here in Syracuse, all my favorite art venues have closed. When that happens it’s up to the artists and art aficionados to do their own shows. If they don’t take the initiative, no one else will.

DJ Steve EP of FYM Productions

DJ Steve.
DJ Steve EP.

Steve- you’ve been involved in the DC music business for some time now- tell us a little about your history in the scene (both as a musician and DJ).

I moved to Washington in the late 90’s to play baritone saxophone with DC ska band Eastern Standard Time. During my time spent with EST we toured Europe several times as well as parts of the US. Since then I have played in a variety of bands: Manual (indie rock),The Opposite Sex (death rock), The Goons (street punk), and I currently play in a dark synth-wave band called Technophobia. My DJ career started at the after-hours club Kingpin that used to reside next to The Velvet Lounge in the early 2000’s. I used to do guest spots, playing everything from Ska to Soul, and The Smiths and Depeche Mode. I started throwing parties at the Metro Café that used to be on 14th Street and then moved them up to the main stage of the Black Cat, and I have been there ever since!

Your highly successful DJ nights at the Black Cat are legendary. How do you create the immersive experience your audience enjoys beyond the musical curation? 

I’m not sure I would say legendary, but thanks! I have always thought that visuals were incredibly important to any dance party, or to any performance for that matter; theatrics are key! I have always endeavored to have our stage set up at the Black Cat be exciting, interesting and engaging. One time we had eleven analog televisions on stage of various sizes and shapes playing, split between three different 80’s video and Atari video game feeds; it was pretty crazy. I have also honed and crafted the utterly useless talent of recreating 80’s video game characters out of foam core; you should see my storage unit!

What is your experience (if any) with the sideshow/ circus world, and what are your thoughts about getting to provide the musical atmosphere for a large part of the event?

I have always liked creepy carnivals and sideshows. I remember when I was a kid and saw the movie Freaks for the first time and being totally fascinated with that world. So I am really stoked to be able to provide the background.

What can people expect from your set on January 31st?

I plan to spin a diverse set of punk, weirdo new wave, minimal synth, and post-punk. I’m stoked; I rarely get the chance to play anything like this!

Shocked & Amazed Presents: Strange For Hire will perform for one night only on Saturday, January 31 at the Artisphere in Rosslyn.


An Interview with the ‘Strange for Hire’ Sideshow Duo Frankie Sin and Donny Vomit by Michael Poandl.

An Interview with ‘Shocked and Amazed Presents: Strange for Hires’ Producers Alex Doll and James Taylor by Michael Poandl.


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