Interview with Cristina Tillotson of HAG Hangout

Cristina Tillotson is yet another amazing lady who we've connected with through instagram. She is the organizer behind the LA-based art collective HAG Hangout as well as a painter herself. She's also a horror movie enthusiast so I got to talk to her not only about HAG and painting, but about the perception of feminism and misogyny in various films, the Bechdel Test, the unfortunate pervasiveness of stereotyped female characters in scary movies (you know the silly girl running frantically in ridiculous circles to evade the crazed serial killer), and the movies that strive to portray more. Take a look!

Can you tell us exactly what HAG Hangout is all about? How did you first conceive of the idea?

HAG Hangout is a group I organized that meets approx. once a month in a garden or park to paint/draw/craft. Generally we don’t organize activities because I intentionally want the group to be very easy to organize and to come and go easily. It's just a time and place to meet, and being outdoors in nature and painting are also my favorite things to do. It’s mostly a way to treat myself once a month to paint/draw in a beautiful environment, but having friends around, and making new friends is extra great. 

We do share ideas and advice - my favorite medium at the moment, gouache, which is between watercolor and acrylic paint was introduced to me at a HAG Hangout by my good friend.  One of the HAG artists is great at oil plein air painting and shared her oil paints with everyone. The texture is so buttery and amazing, and we fell in love with it. She also teaches us about safety with oil paints and that we should wear gloves due to the toxins in the medium. That's just one example of how we share with one another. 

I read an article recently on etsy’s blog about Galentine’s day, one of the celebration suggestions was “Host a 'plus-one' brunch or dinner. Invite your girlfriends and have everyone bring a friend they think is amazing. It gives everyone a chance to meet each other and leave with a whole slew of new friends.” I think that speaks a lot to what HAG Hangout is about. I've made a lot of new “friends of friends” and introduced rad interesting ladies to other rad interesting ladies in a really mellow low-pressure environment. 

 What motivates you to create your work? What things inspire you?

I’m really interested in paint mediums. I love talking shop like what brushes, canvas, paints people are using.  Right now, I think watercolors and gouaches are so fun.  I love dropping some paint into a watery surface and watching it expand. I try to paint at least a little every day and sometimes it hits and feels right and other days it’s just some doodles. 

Also, my husband and I have been watching a lot of horror movies together lately, which influences my work. My favorite director is Dario Argento, and his most famous movie is Suspiria, which was written by him and his girlfriend, Daria. The whole movie is scary and also so feminine and classy. It takes place in a ballet school, it’s a great starter horror movie, and it’s so visually beautiful. Suspiria is based on a scary story Daria’s grandmother would tell her when she was young. It takes place in a ballet school, and there are mysterious murders. I don’t think it gives too much away to say it has to do with witchcraft.  Suspiria is actually the first movie in a witch trilogy, The Three Mothers; Suspiria (Mother of Sighs) takes place in Germany, Inferno (Mother of Darkness) takes place in New York, and The Mother of Tears takes place in Italy.  A cool thing about Suspiria is there are hardly any men in it, the few men that are in the movie are errand boys and butlers. The hero, villain, friends, and enemies are all women. The idea of strong female characters in horror movies is really inspiring to me at the moment, and I’ve been doing a ton of paintings based on these movies.

 

When you say strong female characters you mean like instead of being portrayed as the damsel in distress or the unintelligent girl being chased by a serial killer and just running in circles? 

Yes! Horror movies definitely have a cliché of girls running around in nighties, but I think there are many examples of multi-layered women or women in different roles than the norm. The movie Possession is about divorce, and it definitely captures a great drama and intensity. It’s an arty movie, and the actress plays more than one roll (the wife and a teacher). It also has some scary and sci-fi elements that don’t appear until you are submerged in the couple's sadness.

What are some examples of other horror movies with strong female characters?

Well, Suspiria, and another movie called Alucarda - both have a primarily female cast and are visually awesome. Another one is Phenomena, which stars a young Jennifer Connelly. Her character has a special connection with insects so it's a little on the fantasy side, which I like! Also the Legend of Hell House, it's kind of like a scarier Scooby Doo. The most interesting character is a lady psychic whose style is on point. I find a lot of movies with women characters that are interesting or admirable, or simply with multiple women characters in a book I own called House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films. It's like a text book and High Fidelity merged (the movie because I never read High Fidelity, the book.) The first half of the House of Psychotic Women has movies grouped autobiographically, on how it affected her life and during what time in her life she watched it, and the second half has them indexed alphabetically with a small synopsis.  The whole book is curated to only include movies that have a woman in the leading role and that has a psychotic aspect.

I also keep a movie diary blog, www.covinamovieclub.tumblr.com where I take screen shots and notes on different movies I watch. I just did a post on Girl Gang movies from the 1960-70s!  It's funny because I didn't like horror movies growing up, and for the most part I don't like modern horror movies so my blog and art is very much a discovery of new - old things I'm excited about. Some recent horror movies that I’m pumped on are A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which is written and directed by a lady, Ana Lily Amirpour, It Follows, and The Babadook.

 Cool! Going back to your art, did you have any formal artistic training? How did you first discover your love of drawing and painting?

I always loved painting and drawing. I took AP art classes in high school and took one art class in college (I majored in business with an emphasis in marketing and international business). I moved from San Diego, CA to Guadalajara, Mexico the summer before 10th grade. Social media didn't exist back then and calling my friends back home was really expensive, we didn't even have a TV for the first few months due to moving logistics, so painting really helped me cope with being bored and lonely.  Ever since then if I don’t paint semi-regularly I feel out of sync. 

Who are some female figures that you admire? 

My mom is an amazing woman, and I really enjoy hearing stories about both of my grandmothers.  I painted a picture of my mom doing my paternal grandmother’s hair, and I have it hung in my bedroom by my side table. Women are so loving and caring! I can’t imagine capturing a moment of a man caring for another man in the same way (hair care or some other caring selfless act). Us women are so lucky that we can be tender with each other in that way, and I think men are finally catching on that being tender with a friend is a good thing.

What artists have influenced your work, and if you could collaborate with another creator, who would it be and why?

Some of my favorite current painters are Martine Johanna, Michelle Blade, and Kime Buzzelli.  Painters that influence me from the past are El Greco, Matisse, and Alice Neel.  If I could collaborate with anyone, I would love to do something I’m not used to, like a dreamy film with Sofia Coppola or a huge wall mural with the Puerto Rican art collective, Colectivo Morivivi.

 Where is your favorite place to work? In a studio? Outside?

My favorite place to work is at home with a puppy in my lap.  Working outside is a treat that I don’t indulge in nearly as much as I should, which is why HAG hangout is so important for me.

Where's one of the coolest places you've visited or traveled to?

I lived in Mexico for 3 years (10th grade to HS graduation) and took a road trip across Mexico with my parents.  It was amazing. I love how the culture can change so much from town to town. Oaxaca was one of my favorite cities in Mexico that I visited, the food there is out of control. It's the homeland for mole, and I remember people selling fried crickets at the mercados.  Mexico City is so colorful, even all the houses are colorful, and there are so many big murals of historical importance. I lived in Guadalajara, which is home base for Mariachi music and the town of Tequila is a hop skip and a jump away. I also visited Spain in my early teens and went to many art museums to see classic painters like Picasso and Dali and El Greco. The art of El Greco really inspired me, he did a lot of beautiful intense portraits.

Do you consider yourself a feminist?

Oh yea! I think it’s great how feminism has been in the media and conversations are really happening now. I’m interested in the roles women and men play in society and how feminine characteristics are represented.  I’ve been applying the Bechdel Test to the movies I watch, and it blows my mind and is pretty sad to realize how many don't pass.

[The Bechdel Test was a concept first coined by American Cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 and asks of the fictional work it is applied to: are there at least two women characters in the work, and do they talk to each other about topics other than the opposite sex? Virginia Woolf, ahead of our time, espoused the essence of the Bechdel Test in her 1929 essay "A Room of One's Own": "All these relationships between women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious women, are too simple. So much has been left out, unattempted. And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends. There is an attempt at it in Diana of the Crossways. They are confidantes, of course, in Racine and the Greek tragedies. They are now and then mothers and daughters. But almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men."]

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The other day I was talking with my husband and a male pal told us about an 80's parody slasher movie that was written and directed by women called The Slumber Party Massacre. When I previously watched this movie I thought it was boring and misogynist (a bunch of babes in nighties) and then after this discussion about how it was a parody and the director wasn't happy with the way it was marketed, it opened my eyes to a different perspective. It’s really refreshing to get support and knowledge from men on cool lady things. 

Another article I want to pump up is the shine-theory article in NYmag, a quote from this article: “When you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her. Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.” This can be applied to men and women, I think a lot of people get competitive instead of embracing badass people.  I think very highly of my lady friends and how interesting and awesome they are.  I try to be really supportive of their ambitions and feel really lucky to get support from them as well.