An artist who created a ‘wrinkle and shit’ doll of the Queen using a Barbie doll insists her intention was to reflect reality in a fun way, rather than disrespecting the monarch.
Lou Gray began using the Barbie and Action Man figures to create artwork during the Covid lockdown in March 2020. The 61-year-old former theater designer from Bristol said the Queen’s official Barbie does not was just not realistic.
She said: “I saw the Queen’s official doll and just thought, ‘That’s not what she looks like. I didn’t mean to be disrespectful, because I really love the queen. I think she’s pretty wonderful, but I wanted to do something funny.
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She added: “In my head, I imagined her with this half-naked man in his garters holding her purse, as her private and personal purse holder. So I made it of a man action to go with it too. I was sitting there in my little studio at home, laughing.
The queen isn’t Lou’s only potentially controversial creation. His political endeavors have depicted mermaids dying by the ocean or Ukrainian soldiers at war.
She displayed “protest dolls” in the windows of her home, often giving environmental messages. She said, “My dolls give me a voice. I also love the fact of using those unwanted dolls and saving them from the landfill.
How Lou embraced Barbies for art
Inspired by a 2018 commission to decorate a Mexican Day of the Dead-themed nightclub, where she painted old Barbies to look like skeletal figures and hung them from the ceiling, she launched a Facebook appeal for people’s old dolls during the 2020 lockdowns. And the Bristol mum-of-three was quickly inundated, saying: ‘When the lockdown happened the theaters closed and there were no parties for which I could produce design drawings so I needed something to do.
“I asked people for unwanted dolls and one woman said she had a whole house of them. She would come on her mobility scooter and drop them off outside my door.
She added: “It was so exciting. I started by creating drag queens. The Action Man dolls were so macho, I thought it would be fun to turn them into these amazing drag queens.
Lou, who lives with her 17-year-old daughter Katie Lawlor and builder husband Scoob Lawlor, 58, says her doll portraits were quickly in demand. And she now spends five hours a day, four days a week, designing and creating people from dolls, which she sells from £50 each through her online business, Lou’s Decorium.
Despite her unflattering Action Man doll of her husband, based on a photo of him dressing up as Superman for a fancy dress party, she says he’s a big fan of her work. She said: “I made him like Superman because everyone calls him ‘Super Scoob’.
“He always solves people’s problems, so I created him in his Superman costume. He loves it – although he thinks I’ve been a bit mean with his hair, which is starting to thin.
Lou’s process and his money-making ambitions
Today Lou, who has made 180 dolls to date, hopes to make enough money from her portraits to allow her husband to retire, although she admits she struggles to part with them. She said: “When I make a doll, I get very attached to it. I don’t really want to put it up for sale at first, because I want to enjoy it for a while.
Lou has a degree in theater design. Until the 1990s, Lou worked with theater companies across the country, designing sets and costumes.
She then went part-time as an artist working in schools while she raised her children. But now she devotes many hours to her dolls.
Her detailed process involves first shrinking the dolls by stripping their factory paint to make faceless mannequins, before painting and molding them into shape. “Once they’re clean, I can start painting them,” she said.
“I always do a lot of research and sketches before I start too, looking at photos of people to capture their essence.” She added: “Sometimes it’s hard to make people look like a doll.
“I recently created one for this handsome French actor and singer, who had quite an unusual look – very tall and very thin. It was hard to find the doll I wanted, so I used a sander to remodel one and make it stylish.
Lou sets her sights on the Boris Johnson doll
Ironically, as a child, Lou never had his own Barbie doll. She only had one Sindy, whom she considered “second best”. She said: “I desperately wanted a Barbie, but all I got was Sindy.
“I always went to my friends and played with them. I’m definitely catching up on that now!
As well as portraying some of her favorite figures, like drag queen Baga Chipz, she has transformed dolls into everything from circus performers to eco-warriors – reflecting her own views as a member of Extinction Rebellion.
She said: “I love creating the dolls. They are my little people. As I paint them, their stories come to mind.
Now happily lined up with portrait commissions, there’s a public persona she’s still keen to give the doll art treatment.
She said: ‘I am very keen to do a Boris Johnson doll. I want it to be squishy, so I can stick pins in it!