Detroit-based artist Bailey Scieszka describes her relationship to Old Put, her performance persona, as Jekyll might talk about Hyde. “Old Put lives inside of me,” Scieszka says. “It’s not an alter ego. I see Old Put as this real, shape-shifting character. She is a clown, but she can also be an alien and a demon.”
One could say Old Put was born in New York but grew up in Detroit, when the artist graduated from Cooper Union and returned home to the Midwest. “When I first moved back, I would dress everyone up as Old Put and we’d have parties,” she says. “For me, it was this Jack Smith thing. I don’t care if the audience is four people I can still put on a show. I have the time and space to do that here.”
An avid fan of Wrestlemania and Hobby Lobby crafts, Old Put might be the penultimate expression and critique of unfettered Americana. “I draw inspiration from wrestling because, if you listen to what they are saying, it is all about this American, inspirational drive to be the best,” Scieszka explains. “I kind of think of Old Put as that, this dreamer who believes they are going to win this belt and be the champ. It’s really about heartbreak.”
Old Put enters the physical realm through live performances and Sciezska’s prolific work at her studio, which usually begins with drawing and often ends in elaborate craft projects, such as costume design and mask-making.
The work that Scieszka produces under the guise of Old Put mix historical and pop imagery with an emphasis on taboo—think: Confederate flags, poppers and tiki torches. “I think it’s interesting to engage symbols that make me uncomfortable,” she says. “I always think you can say the darkest things in the brightest colors.” This January, Scieszka will unveil her ruminations at the University of Michigan.