Alter Egos is a column that highlights talented geeks in the Chattanooga area, tracing the origins of their favorite pop culture obsessions to their present-day hobbies.
For artist Amanda Arp, literature was her initial gateway to thinking outside the box.
“My first memory of actually reading a book for enjoyment was in high school,” she remembers. “It was ‘The Elfstones of Shannara.’ I must have read that book 10 times that year.”
However, she always knew she was a geek, feeling more comfortable hanging out with so-called outcasts even though she navigated a variety of social groups. Classic science fiction films like “Blade Runner” and “Dune” also played a role in expanding her visual landscape — but ultimately it was art that provided creative escape and personal expression.
“Art for me was an outlet for my emotions all throughout [junior] high to college. I … came from a dysfunctional home, so books, movies, and art were a way to escape,” she explains. “I went to college for an art education degree to help others learn how to create and release some of their feelings through art.”
After completing her art degree, she opened her own shop called AArt Creations, which specializes in whimsical paintings and prints of pop culture characters, featuring everything from Boba Fett of “Star Wars,” Edward Scissorhands, Teenage Mutant Turtles, and Max and the monsters from the much beloved “Where the Wild Things Are.” Arp sells her art at various fandom-filled venues like Con Nooga and DragonCon in Atlanta, Georgia, but her favorite venue is the Chattanooga Market.
“I have been selling art at the Chattanooga Market for four years now,” she says. “I can reach a more mainstream audience there who may not get exposed to this kind of art. These are the people who do not attend cons, but maybe after seeing what art can be like and talking to me may attend in the future.”
Creating a Connection
For Arp, interacting with customers and other attendees is her favorite part of setting up at the Market.
“I like to talk to the people and listen to what they like. So many artists stop listening to their audience,” she explains. “I would like to always be there to lend an ear and encourage the next young artist to follow their dreams.”
Going the extra mile has provided her with positive feedback for her creations and has allowed her to take on commission work which she handles between painting popular characters or other pop culture references that take her fancy.
“I have had an overwhelmingly wonderful response so far,” she says. “I like to think I am showing people that it is ok for “art” to be about what you like … not uptight all the time.”
The medium of painting provides Arp the proverbial blank canvas where she can create — and go back to the drawing board if needed.
“Painting is my favorite because if you mess up or end up not liking something, you can just paint over it,” she explains. “I also think everyone needs a little color in life.”
Ensuring people have access to the arts is important to Arp, and she wishes there were more ways to enjoy and create art.
“With most art classes being downgraded or removed all together from schools, I would love to see the local arts culture be more open to teaching at fair prices or free to teens interested in outlets of expression,” she says. “Libraries could do more to appeal to the teen grouping of kids to get them unplugged and together.”
One of Arp’s favorite ways to unplug is to go to fan conventions. While she serves as a vendor at local cons, she’s gone to San Diego Comic Con for the last seven years and has no plans on stopping.
“I prefer larger cons. There is just more to see and do so a larger selection to choose from,” she says. “I love that one year you can canoe race or do an escape room. The next year, you’re inside [an immersive experience] like ‘West World’ or ‘Stranger Things.’ Smaller conventions do not have so many activities crammed into one week.”
At the end of the day, Arp feels fandom is a very good thing because of the connection it brings.
“Whether it’s … sports … or geeky fandom, … as humans like to know we are not alone,” she says. “There are people out there that enjoy the same things as you and it can be a beautiful thing to be a part of.”
Rachel Stewart grew up in the ’80s on a healthy diet of pop culture. In 2005, she discovered “Doctor Who” and never looked back. Since then, she co-founded the Tennessee Who Authority — a “Doctor Who” fan group — and has served as a panelist at fan conventions across the Southeast, including Chattacon, Con Nooga, Wholanta, Hurricane Who, and ConGT. She also reviewed “Doctor Who” novels and Big Finish audios at “The Oncoming Storm” podcast. Want to be featured? Email Rachel at [email protected].