Whitehot Magazine

Hope Kroll: The True Story of a Mad Scientist and Her Tiny Scissors

 A view of Hope Kroll's studio interior


An Interview with Hope Kroll


Hope Kroll was born in Skokie, Illinois and moved out to California when she was 21 years old. She was first enrolled in art school at the age of seven, when she was trained in oil painting. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Illinois, Champagne-Urbana, IL in 1990. Hope Kroll obtained her Masters of Fine Arts in 1992 from the San Francisco Art Institute. 

Deianira Tolema: What kind of artist are you, Hope?

Hope Kroll: Often my work has been described as surrealistic because at its most basic my collages are an irrational juxtaposition of images. Some people have called my work macabre or disturbing, which I admit they can be, but I find beauty in odd and strange images.  I really have no desire to be labeled as working within a specific genre and certainly have never labored under any particular art agenda.

Tolema: Why do you spend most of your time collecting and cutting images for your collages? Do you have an obsessive compulsive nature?

Kroll: I definitely have a preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism and am admittedly dedicated to cutting excessively. In fact I need to be absolutely dedicated to collecting and cutting images, how else would I be able to produce increasingly larger collages with increasingly larger amounts of elements. I have a driving need to ensure I have an abundance of imagery cut out and available and ready to use. I store cut out images like an animal that ceaselessly acquires a cache of food to hedge against starvation. I never want to be in a position where I have next to nothing cut out and stored for future collages. To be in such a position would bring on a panic attack, so I cut and collect. I am always on the hunt for new materials whether online or in used book stores or through antique dealers. The kind of vintage books I use in my collages have become harder to find, so I’m currently in hoarder mode at the moment. I always used to break down and dismantle my books as soon as I acquired them, not so much anymore. Now books are beginning to accumulate waiting for me to take them apart and cut them up. 

Tolema: Do you have different types of scissors? How do you decide which pair to use according to your needs?


I have a wide variety of cuticle scissors I use from cheap drugstore types to German and Swiss made cuticle scissors which are much more expensive. The first step after removing pages from books is to roughly cut out the imagery using a pair of fat bladed scissors. I then move on to more pointed scissors as I start to actually cut the images out. Some scissors are pointed and curved, while other ones are pointed and straight. When I’m cutting I usually switch between three different scissor types depending on what I’m cutting out.

Tolema: Does your dollhouse have anything to do with your obsessions? I know that you enjoy designing and sewing clothes for your dolls, which reminds me of the movie “Even Dwarfs Started Small” by Werner Herzog. In a scene of the movie two dead insects are treated and dressed up like inanimate puppets from a dark fairy tale.

Another view of Hope Kroll's studio interior

Kroll: I am obsessed with miniatures. I put my obsessional and perfectionist behavior to good use when I built my dollhouse. Not only did I design clothes but learned how to do all aspects of building from laying bricks and wood flooring to putting up mini wallpaper. I love all kinds of miniatures. I love the challenge of working so small and I love the challenge of cutting out incredibly delicate and intricate images such as blood vessels or hair thin line drawings. I hate to waste anything when I dismantle my books so I save the book covers and spines. I have made about 800 miniature books for the dollhouse using the cloth from book covers and blank book paper I consider unusable for my collages. I create these miniature books exactly as a normal scale book would be made. 

I love minutia in all forms. I also create French Beaded flowers using seed beads, which are some of the smallest beads available. I make single flowers or even whole arrangements. If it is time consuming, small and impossibly complicated I’m there and interested. Werner Herzog is one of my favorite directors but I have to admit I have never seen that film, though it sounds like I would like it since I have a fascination with little people. 

Tolema: What do you feel, while playing with the subjects of your compositions, knowing that such images have no self-awareness, no control over reality and no say in the matter relatively to what will happen to them?

Kroll: You say the images are powerless, not always. I am inclined to deceive myself into thinking that I am in control and that I tell these images what to do, on the contrary, they actually tell me where to place them and how to use them. I am continually cutting out images and storing them so I can sometimes keep an image for years before using it. We sort of develop a relationship because I come across them so often in my searches and reorganizations of materials but no, I don’t feel it gives me absolute power over them. 


Tolema: Is it true that you collect reproductions of body parts in your drawers?


Kroll: Yes, it’s true I have 19 drawers of which many are dedicated to parts or portions of the human body. Eyes, hands, legs, heads, bones, B&W organs, color organs, veins and blood vessels and even wounds and scars.

Tolema: Does it make you a mad scientist or just a meticulous artist?

Kroll: Maybe a bit of both, I do consider myself a mad scientist of sorts in my juxtaposition of imagery and the analytical manner in which I use them. As to the dark side of human nature I am not afraid to dig in it and cut it up, bringing what I find to light. As long as I can remember I have been fascinated with the dark side of humanity - I love horror movies always have. When I was young, the bloodier the better, but as I got older I began to appreciate more psychological horror films. This fascination with the dark side of human nature grew to include an interest in serial killers and historical figures who engaged in macabre behaviors. I have several books on the history of punishment and torture devices throughout the ages and have been to more than a few museums dedicated this subject. I always find it interesting to see torture devices in person and of course to find them in books and cut them out. There is also a dark side to collage in its ruthless destruction and dismantling of books and photographs.

Hope Kroll, Gearheads, collage

Tolema: Is your work in a phase of transition? Is it evolving in a different direction? The new works appear to be more focused on the number of elements that you can fit in rather than the narrative aspects of each fragment.

Kroll: I consider my collages to always be in transition and evolving. I wouldn’t say in a different direction rather a more expanded and inclusive one. I want to expand on my hyper informational collages and push the size and amount of elements I can include in one piece.  I am not looking to tell the story of each fragment rather the fragment is telling my story. What matters is that the each element helps create the overall composition.  

Tolema: Are you attracted towards the concept of “metamorphosis”? How many times can we give new life to a piece of paper before we realize that the object of our obsession has been used and consumed to the marrow?

Koll: Metamorphosis is fundamental to collage. It’s the very core of collage making. I can use the same image in different contexts and it’s always new. To use your metaphor when I get to the marrow, I eat it on toast then make soup with bones. There is always some new flavor to extract. It’s endless the remaking of a well-used image. Metamorphosis as a concept is an idea that does keep reappearing in my work, literally when I use chrysalises, caterpillars and butterflies, and also figuratively when I alter my subjects and their reality.

Tolema: What about the tattoo on your right forearm? Did you get it to celebrate your first solo show in NYC?

Kroll: I have been wanting to get a Tattoo of my favorite cutting instrument the cuticle scissors for a while now and yes the solo show was the impetus to finally get that tattoo. The show at Joseph Gross Gallery highlights many of my larger collages and all of these are focused on portraits. These larger collages contain a hyper amount of cut materials. They are extremely dense. When working with portraits I consider and study the face of each vintage photo and the face and personality tells me what sort of imagery to place around it. WM



Deianira Tolema

Deianira Tolema is an Italian writer based in Williamsport PA.

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