Azita Gonzalez (2017)

Let me set the scene for you: Texas Frightmare Weekend, clown costumes, stilt walkers, little taxidermied animals, Udo Kier shouting lascivious taunts into the crowd. There I was-- drifting in the kind of pleasant haze only over-priced beer can give you, trying not to bump into the Evil Priest (again) or get too lost in the gravitational pull of Wilford Brimley’s mustache-- when I saw it.

At first, I thought it was another baby (there are more and more little fright fans at this con every year), but a second glance revealed dainty claws on slender arms, skin so white it had an ethereal blue cast to it, and, best of all, a head that sprouted into five wicked looking petals, curving in around a yawning mouth fringed with dangerously cute little teeth. A baby Demogorgon. Torn between a desire to flee and the almost irresistible pull of wanting to snuggle the gorgeous, fragile creature, I could not help approaching its mother.

Before you accuse me of being a little more than generously buzzed, let me reassure you: The glorious little Demogorgon was a doll, and its maker, Azita Gonzalez, the proprietor and doll artisan of Cosmic Encounters Nursery, is a master of making baby dolls into works of art. Whether she’s crafting otherworldly aliens, brilliantly hued crystal babies, or mixing her love of the horrific with all things cute and cuddly, Azita Gonzalez’s work shifts genres and redefines common conceptions of “adorable.” After having a closer look at her lovely Demogorgon (complete with all-too-realistic hot glue gun saliva strands leeching from its delightful maw), I begged its creator for an interview which she graciously granted.

Pennie Sublime: How did you become interested in making dolls and how long have you been doing it?

Azita Gonzalez: I’ve always loved dolls and enjoy how they inspire imagination. When I was young I collected many different kinds of dolls including dolls of famous people, porcelain dolls, and clowns, as well as sci-fi action figures. So as an adult, I would often buy dolls as gifts for my daughter and nieces, so I was often looking at dolls on eBay. In looking at the various dolls available, I soon found myself wanting to re-do the dolls to make them look like specific people or characters, and from there it escalated to wanting to make realistic looking dolls because I came across “reborn dolls” and found them fascinating, and from there it went on to wanting to create alien babies and other fantasy dolls because it is a way to really get creative and have fun with colors and the imagination. I started creating characters from pre-existing dolls in 2010 and started “reborning” and creating my own alien dolls in 2011, so that makes it about 7 years now.

PS: Your dolls are so diverse: crystal babies, monsters, aliens, etc. Tell me about your wide selection and why all these different "types" inspire you.

AG: Some of the variety of dolls that I have made include aliens, crystal babies, werewolves, mermaids, fairies and other fae, dragons, angels, avatars, elves, monsters, famous people, characters –cartoon, movie, video gam—deities,… and even some humans!  The main thing that I started creating were aliens, but when I found that the dolls that I made were having therapeutic effects on people, I became inspired to create a new kind of doll, “crystal babies,” which allowed me to combine my love for energy healing and crystal healing with my love for making unique dolls. These are dolls that I incorporate therapeutic crystals inside and/or on the outside of the dolls. That’s when I started making baby dolls that had colors that reflected specific crystals like Amethyst, Rose Quartz, etc. Many people didn’t quite know what to make of my strange creations such as purple babies with purple hair back then (2013), but now babies of all different colors and species can find some appreciation somewhere.

Many of the fantasy dolls that I started making such as the “Cosmic Divine” beings were inspired by my interest in the diversity of spirituality and even some by my own personal spiritual and metaphysical experiences including Archangels,  Buddha, Quan Yin, some of the Fae variety, and even Quetzalcoatl… most of the monsters that I make are purely for fun. For some reason, they are one of the most fun types of dolls to make. The first werewolf baby that I made was at the request of my sister, who is a fan of monsters, werewolves and all things creepy, and once I made it, it was so cute and loveable that I ended up making more and still do. Some people are scared of my dolls, others absolutely love them- it’s quite a mix of reactions from being creeped out to finding them irresistible. As for the aliens, which kind of started this whole process- they are a way of expressing the mysterious and diversity of life in this big Universe. Can you love something that is so very different from you? Or do you fear it? By creating alien babies, in a way I am confronting the ego of the individual observing- it is a small, innocent being – it’s just different. Will it creep you out, or will you want to hold it? And on a deeper level- can you embrace the mystery that resides inside of you? –that which makes you “different?”

PS: What is the most challenging part of making your dolls?

AG: The most challenging part of making the dolls has been doing custom orders. With a custom order, I cannot just do whatever I want, but have to fit within the desires of the customer and many times those specifications can become challenging to fill. It’s not easy finding hair of a specific color in a specific texture that will work when it comes to fantasy creations. For example, there are a variety of shades of brown hair available, but not so much when it comes to green, pink, or blue. So I would have to say that finding the right materials to create something out of the ordinary can be somewhat of a challenge at times.

PS: You talk on your site about using dolls for loss, therapy, etc. Can you share a story about a time someone contacted you about making a doll to meet these needs?

AG: I once received a custom order from a lady that involved a miscarriage of a Down Syndrome baby. The couple was no longer able to conceive after the miscarriage, so this was going to be a very special doll for her. It was a beautiful experience to work on this baby as I used my “sensitive” abilities to receive imagery of what the child would have looked like, the color of her eyes, the color of her hair, and the coloration of her skin tone, and what her personality might have been like--to choose what sort of clothing and accessories would have fit along with that... the entire process helped to give her closure, and in addition it gave her a 3-dimensional memorial that she could have in her home, hold in her arms, and remind her of the beautiful spirit of her child.

PS: Why horror icons as babies? Monsters are usually ugly and mean, but you turn them into adorable, but still uncannily menacing, babies. What is the creative process behind this?

AG: To me, monster babies are fun to make. I guess it has to do with my own childhood- growing up, Halloween time was a very fun time for our family- for several years, we would even put up our own haunted house for neighbors to go through. I’ve always enjoyed costumes, theatrical makeup, and scary movies were my favorite kind of movie to watch while growing up. So I suppose there is an inner child that receives that connection to past fun times that causes me to enjoy making monster dolls.

When I received a custom order request for a baby “Freddy Kreuger,” at first I wasn’t quite sure how that would work out as a baby, but after spending some time thinking about it, I was able to envision how I wanted him to look so that he would still have the cuteness of a baby, but still be “Freddy” enough. As it turned out, surprisingly, he ended up being one of the cuddliest babies I’ve made. The lady who ordered him, who lives in the UK, even had her young daughter snatch him from her to snuggle and sleep with at night!

There is something appealing about being able to view a monster as cute and innocent. It transforms something once terribly frightening and reminds us that we all start out as innocent. A Demogorgon, Predator, or werewolf is just another species of being - and hey, everybody’s got to eat!

PS: I know you can't pick a favorite, but if you could, which one is it and why? Or alternatively, what is your biggest selling baby and why do you think that is?

AG: Yes, this is a difficult question, because I usually end up loving whatever I create when it comes to dolls in baby form, but the first thing that comes to mind is the little Predator baby that I did as a custom order in 2015. It was very challenging to come up with how to make a Predator in baby form, but once I did, he took on his own personality- which is often what happens when making realistic baby dolls including the monster and fantasy ones. I suppose it is because of the challenge, the extra work put into the creation of him, as well as how satisfied the customer was, that contributed to him being one of my all-time favorites. She still sends me photos of him in different outfits now and then.

PS: Anything to add?

AG: I am often asked why I make weird dolls, so I thought I would add this:

I do it for a number of reasons, the main one being that it is a creative outlet. I enjoy being creative, and what’s more, being able to create something that brings people joy. I recently made the Demogorgon baby specifically to take with me to Texas Frightmare, and although it has sharp teeth and claws, people still said it was adorable and I can’t tell you how much joy that little beast brought with us! As long as people are receiving joy, and often times healing, from what I make, I will continue making them – and, even better, I will have fun in the process!