Tina Stormberg

By Kerri O'Malley

“What I’m probably going to wake up and do tomorrow is work on a muscle girl mural to go on the side of the store,” Tina Stormberg told me as we sat in her LA studio in March, taking turns petting a small dog named Stix she’s puppy-sitting.

“And I’m not quite finished with the Tina sculpture yet. She’s going to have a big ol’ ponytail, and I’m going to make her bikini sparkly. And I bought all of this clear tape because I’m going to make Lucite heels for her out of packing tape.” If that all sounds like beautiful, glittering madness, then you’re just beginning to experience the wonderful and surreal world Tina creates inside the storefront that used to be Dog Show—a mind-blowingly gorgeous shop that Tina and her best friend Anna Dewey Nance created and ran for four years. Today, 1361 Sunset Boulevard now hosts an even wackier enterprise.

I met Tina and Anna before Babe Squad launched. On little more than whispered word of mouth, I arrived at their Sunset store and immediately dropped my jaw in amazement. A huge unicorn head stuck out of the building above the Dog Show storefront. Inside, the room was styled as a lavender cave, with stalactites and stalagmites dripping down from the ceiling or rocketing out of the floor. One entire wall was covered with hair extensions and barrettes. A water fountain dribbled a calming splatter in the corner. In this environment, the two sold vintage clothes, love potions, glitter-covered rocks, and more beautiful oddities. “We really like making joyful environments,” Anna and Tina told me at the time. “It’s a reminder that you can do anything you want,” Tina said. “Do things with your friends. Express yourself.” Anna added, “We really believe in following whatever dumb dreams you have. Make them come true in small ways or big ways.”

The Dog Show dream was fully realized, and now Anna has left LA to return to the duo’s native land of Omaha (where she works as a fibers artist, does programming for the Omaha Arts Institute, and runs a fashion club for local refugee girls). Dog Show is over, but another store has taken its place. Seth Bogart and Peggy Noland teamed up with Tina to open up a Wacky Wacko/Peggy Noland shop at the location in February that’s just as wild inside, with giant leg sculptures coming down from a ceiling skirt made up of crepe paper fragments. Giant soda cans droop off the walls, and a bendy straw serves as a clothing rack. The store continues to be a peak inside the minds of great friends with crazy ideas. In the back, Tina has a studio where she can fabricate sculptures, work on her paintings, and otherwise make her strangest dreams reality.

Join Tina and I as we talk about the end of Dog Show, post-project depression, her drag king show LA Kings, strong ladies, being a successful renegade, and so much more.

Tina and Stix in her LA studio. Photo by Kerri O'Malley

Tina and Stix in her LA studio. Photo by Kerri O’Malley

What projects are you working on currently? What are you most excited about?

At the shop, I’m working on the Tina sculpture, the muscle girl mural, and a desk for the store, with a girl with eyeballs popping out and her tongue kind of slurping out. Her tongue’s going to be pierced. I’m also working on the unicorn because she needs a real makeover. She’s such a part of all this. She’s getting braces. I’m going to paint her skin to look like human skin, and then she’s going to get piercings everywhere. She’s going through a major phase. [Laughs]

I’m also working on a portrait of my mom, which I’ve been wanting to do for years. She is a major babe, and she’s the coolest mom! She took these pictures back in the day…she was a one-time hair model, and it’s amazing. Let me show you. [Tina scrolls through her phone] Wait until you see this shit—oh yeah, here they are! [Shows me]

Oh my god yes! She is such a fox! Look at her!

That’s my mom! Isn’t she such a fox? And her last name is Fox—her maiden name!

No way, it’s not. [Laughs]

Yes! Isn’t that bonkers?!?! So I’m going to use those. I’m going to do, like, a glamour shot painting of my mom, and I’m just in general working on this body of paintings and sculptures for a show. I just finished a cactus sculpture for The Standard Hotel in Hollywood that’s like—I don’t know. It’s okay. It’s a cute, like, monstrous cactus that’s at their poolside. It’s actually pretty cool, but I don’t really want to work with fabric anymore. I’m kind of over sewing right now.

The finished muscle girl mural (left) and Tina in front of the new store (right). Photo on left by Jessica Collins

The finished muscle girl mural (left) and Tina in front of the new store (right). Photo on left by Jessica Collins

The main thing that I’m excited about is painting. Painting is real soul work for me, and I feel like I haven’t done it for a long time. Like, since I moved to LA, I haven’t at all. People that knew me before this knew me as a painter and here, no one even knows that I paint, which is kind of cool…talk about being a Scorpio. [Laughs]

Oh, and I have a monthly drag king show called the LA Kings that I’m pretty excited about. We just had a show last night. There were, like, six performers, and they were all girls just kind of doing gnarly shit.

[Laughs] So “drag king” means it’s girls dressing up like dudes? The other side of drag queens?

Well, it’s loosely that. Nothing makes me happier than calling any woman dressed up with makeup on “drag.” [Laughs] I oftentimes go to the show as a woman. Sometimes I go as a man. I usually do both. I have a Channing Tatum look that’s pretty recurring, but I usually open the show as a Barbie.

The whole idea of the show is that it’s for performers who aren’t really performers. To be able to call it the LA Kings, which is a hockey team here, just felt beautiful, like, perfect. You know you’re doing the right thing when you’re excited about it. As soon as we get one show done, I’m already planning the next. The ideas are endless.

Yesterday, the theme of the show was Cunt Crush, so we did all of this crushing. I crushed a watermelon between my thighs. I put an egg in my butt cheeks and did, like, this move [slams fist together]. I host the show with my friend Bruce Bundy. She’s also a really physically strong woman, and she’s a performer. She does all of the talking, and I do the…[laughs] DJing! Then we do mini-performances between the performers, so everything we did yesterday was, like, crushing things with our heels on and smashing crackers and Twinkies and stuff. Then I did this Ronda Rousey number where…do you know who Ronda Rousey is?

No, who’s she?

She’s a MMA fighter who is really amazing…like the best in the world. She’s from California, and she’s such a fucking badass. I really like her. Anyway, she had just lost this fight to Holly Holm, and that was the first time that Ronda lost. Two days later, she was in LA, walking from this downtown restaurant to her car at, like, 11 o’clock, and she got jumped by five muggers. They were threatening to kill and rape her and steal her car and all this shit. She beat them the fuck up, then gathered all of their broken bodies into a pile and sat on them while the cops came. [Gasps] [Shrieks] Can you believe that?!?! [Laughs] It was just this small story that was written up in the paper that I happened to read. I had my friend who’s a casting director find me a voice actor who read the story as a newscaster. Then I put it to R&B music and did a Magic Mike-style dance to it at LA Kings. I’ve done that number a few times now. I’ve never been a performer before, so this is really new for me.

Tina and Bruce Bundy at LA Kings' Muscle Mania show. Photo by Jessica Collins

Tina and Bruce Bundy at LA Kings’ Muscle Mania show. Photo by Jessica Collins

You’re super into muscle-bound ladies right now. What got you into that?

I’ve always been into it. As a kid, I was a jock. I was a soccer girl. Like, all I cared about was soccer. I was secretly also into art and dance and stuff…I kind of just kept all of those things separate. I didn’t want to tell my soccer friends that I went to dance class because I thought it was, like, prissy or whatever. All obviously gender binary stuff—I can look back and see that struggle now.

But yeah, I just like how gross and beautiful muscular ladies are at the same time and how they evoke a weird kind of old school feminism where it’s like, “We’re going to fucking crush you with our hands!” There’s also an erotic element to that…everything about it is really fascinating to me. I’ve been really into the idea of buff toddlers, too. I keep drawing the Powerpuff Girls as, like, buff Powerpuff Girls. [Laughs] It’s been a recurring theme.

I do boxing now, too. That’s how I got into Ronda. I go to this fucking sweet ass gym called The Yard. It’s a fighter gym with a matted ground and a boxing ring. I’m one of the only girls, which is a weird experience but…cool. When I was little, they would put me on the boys’ soccer teams sometimes, so I am comfortable training athletically in a male environment.

Photo by Jessica Collins

Photo by Jessica Collins

Are lots of people turning out and responding to LA Kings?

Yeah! It’s still a young show—I think this was our fifth show—but we’ve got a lot of positive feedback. Everyone’s always super-jazzed about it because I don’t think that there are other shows like that. It’s kind of like a weird variety show where people do lots of different things.

For this one, all I told people was, “The theme is Cunt Crush!” And they just did what they did. I showed a video that I made with Abbi Banks called Power Moves Only, which is a video of me destroying the Dog Show cave. Sophia Cleary has a music act called Childless, so she did a song, and Diana Joy did a song. I did my Ronda Rousey number. Bruce does more almost kind of burlesque-y stuff. Then there was this act called Witch Dick where they acted out different coaching scenarios, like they’re learning to swing the bat, but then they just hit the coach in the dick and run away. There was all of this, like, “Here’s how to swing the tennis racket.” Hit him in the dick and run away! “Here’s how you do karate.” Kick him in the dick and run away! [Laughs] It was so fucking funny.

Posters for LA Kings show by Tina.

Posters for LA Kings show by Tina.

[Laughs] I just want to say that I’m glad you mentioned Magic Mike so many times in this conversation so far, by the way.

[Laughs] Oh yeah that is a POOL of inspiration for me, for sure. [Laughs]

I’m also glad that you seem to have had the same reaction to it that I did, which was like, “I just want to be one of the guys in it. Can I dance like them?!”

Yeah, yeah, yeah. At LA Kings, you can! Yes, that’s exactly what I’m trying to facilitate. [Laughs]

I recently invented a Magic Mike XXL drinking game with the other Babe Squad founder, Kayla. My favorite rule from it was, “Drink whenever the hippie one says some hippie shit.”

AUGHHHH!!! Was it the hippie one that made the painting and then threw glitter on it?!

No, that was Tarzan.

[Screams] He’s my dream lover. Fucking glitter throw painting. That’s like—

Didn’t it say, like, straight up “GODDESS” on it, too?

[Screams more] Oh-ho-ho! [Laughs] Dream man. Oh god.

Seth Bogart, Peggy Noland, and Tina inside the new store on opening day (left), and a peek into the work it took to build (right).

Seth Bogart, Peggy Noland, and Tina inside the new store on opening day (left), and a peek into the work it took to build (right). Photos by Tina

[Laughs] Well I could talk about Magic Mike for days, but I wanted to ask more about Seth Bogart and Peggy Noland and you. How did you all find each other? How did the new store idea evolve?

Seth actually did his first pop-up at Dog Show at our old location. But Peggy and I go way back. I was her intern in college! She’s been a longtime hero of mine. She had just opened her store in Kansas City not too long before I started working there, so I was a big part of her installations there. She’s a fashion designer and an artist, and her store is this ever-changing, amazing installation. I would help her build things, making her store for a few years. I was a college senior when I started working there, and then I lived in Omaha for two years after Kansas City, and I would just kind of go back and forth, working with her. We both moved out here at the same time kind of, like, coincidentally. She’s one of my best friends. She’s amazing. Such an inspiration all the time and such a mentor…both she and Seth are such big parts of my life. I love them both so much!

Seth and Peggy used to live together, and they painted their whole apartment like a mall. The kitchen was the food court. The bathroom was all perfume…the whole thing was amazing. So we talked about all four of us—after the Dog Show transition—working together to make a mall here. Then, for whatever reason, it just kept getting pushed back and pushed back. Then Anna left, so she was obviously out of the picture and…you know, just as humans and artists and whatever, your ideas are always changing and availability is always an issue.

So, finally, the alignment has occurred. And in that whole process, I realized that it would benefit me to be more of a recluse right now. Last year was, for sure, a soul-searching year…a contemplative year…dare I say depressed? Dog Show was so public, and I think it’s more conducive for fast work—something you can make and continue to put out. I am just missing slow work so much. That’s what I want to make right now. If I had a store, it would take away from that.

So yeah, I just realized I don’t want to do a store anymore, so it was like, Seth and Peggy, you guys just do your thing! I’m going to make the move of having this back room as a studio. I moved out in October—I used to live back here—and Seth did the holiday store, and then Peggy moved in. Then we opened the new store in February!

Tina's studio. Photo by Kerri O'Malley

Tina’s studio. Photo by Kerri O’Malley

Going from something where it’s such a partnership and you have someone to bounce ideas off all the time to something where you’re making decisions and are making work alone can be pretty scary.

It’s so scary.

How are you dealing?

Oh my god! I spiral out of control every day. [Laughs] But you know, it is a huge lesson in trusting yourself. I just read in this book earlier today that there are some ancient ruins in Greece with these two columns. On one side, it says, “NOTHING IN EXCESS,” and on the other side, it says, “KNOW THYSELF.” It’s a proclamation of wisdom for all ages. It’s saying something about knowing yourself better so that you don’t accidentally spend your time putting all of your shit onto other people.

With Anna, there was, like, an open conduit between our two brains which was so fun and beautiful and such a cool experience to just…share so much. Now, it’s going from that complete open conduit to this different type of relationship where we’re writing to each other…it’s a different type of progress because you can get deeper into thoughts, which is awesome.

But it’s so hard to trust that people want to see your shit. It feels strangely selfish and self-indulgent to be like, “I’m going to spend all of my time making things and showing them to people as if they want to see it!” It’s really hard to convince yourself out of that mindset. Like, “Why would I ever make art? How is it helping anything?” Then add to that all of the crazy, gallery-museum type of world where money is insane and there are collectors and all of that…it’s really scary to me. A huge reason why we did Dog Show was because we wanted to avoid galleries. I knew that I wanted to just do whatever and make something that functioned outside of grant writing and galleries, you know? Something that’s accessible. Something that’s geared more toward girls, for once. Obviously that’s really taken off more since then, but four or five years ago when we started Dog Show, there wasn’t stuff for girls in that way.

Anna and Tina inside Dog Show when we first met. Photo by Kerri O'Malley

Anna and Tina inside Dog Show when we first met. Photo by Kerri O’Malley

Have you changed your mind about working with galleries? You were talking about working on a solo show earlier.

I certainly had to talk myself into it. It’s just stripping away the connotations around it. When you do that, what actually is a gallery? It’s just an empty space where you can do whatever you want. That’s actually really cool. Yeah, there are a lot of scary things that happen…obviously they can be sooooo pretentious. The money element is just so frightening because it’s like, “Oh! I’m going to make this thing for some rich white man to purchase?” Like, fuck no! But inevitably that happens…but those are all things that like I’m going to let go of for now, I guess, because what I want to do is make paintings. If I talk about it too much, I’m not going to do it, but this is what I’m going to do for now. After a certain amount of time, if it still feels relevant to you, you can’t ignore that voice.

And I’ve had such a good time over the past few months meeting with cool gallery owners and curators. Art is cool because it’s the only thing where there are no rules. It’s true experimentation. In that sense, galleries are actually the coolest thing in the world because they are just weird spaces that are giving the chance to ideas that don’t function in any other way. I have to take away all of my connotations because that’s just stuff I’m putting on it. I’ve just decided that it doesn’t matter where I show as long as, whoever I’m working with, their heart is true.

One of the things that fascinated me when I heard about the end of Dog Show was that you had a very definite stopping point. How do you really know that a project’s over?

Oh my god. I know! Well, Dog Show will live forever. But yeah, Anna and I both, individually and together, have done all sorts of rituals to energetically move on from it, one of those being a farewell video that addressed our friends and family, just saying goodbye. And just doing energy clearing and you know…the whole year last year was a transition from that. I don’t know if you have experienced this from ending a project, but it can be the most depressing thing ever. I didn’t really know why I felt that way, and then I started talking to other people about it, and it’s a thing.

It takes so much to get a project going and get it done. It’s physically exhausting and mentally draining and emotional. And then it’s there, and people can see it, and you’d think that that would be great—because you’re just fighting to get to that moment—but I think what happens is that then you’ve poured it all out, and you’re empty. You’re left with just a shell of yourself. It just dawned on me last week that last year was post-project depression. I just mourned for the last year! I get it now. So that’s just good to know. [Laughs] I don’t know how to avoid it.

Do you know how to fill yourself back up now?

Well I mean…no! [Laughs] But I don’t know where that came from…what were we talking about?

Oh, how you know that a project is over.

Oh yeah, that’s a thing, too. Fear of finishing because you want to avoid the sadness or the fear of it being done, and then you have to do something else.

I maybe tend to hang on longer than Anna does. In that sense, it was easy because she’s concise in that way. But yeah, we were listening to our bodies and our minds and our souls. We noticed that we were getting tired, and we noticed that projects were getting more difficult. There was less laughing. We were both longing for other stuff.

We kind of got to the end of our ideas with it, too. We just saw the project through. Energetically, maybe we would have closed it sooner, but we weren’t done conceptually yet, so we forged through and made the last few things we wanted to make, including QVC, which I’m so glad we did. But we knew that would probably be it. And it was, and it was beautiful.

Photo by Jessica Collins

Photo by Jessica Collins

That’s awesome. Well, I’ll wrap it up, but I have one last question: how do you define success, and do you consider yourself successful?

Oh my god. Wow! I mean…this is a culture where success means lots of money, but I certainly don’t subscribe to that. There’s that pressure, though, when you think about the fact that money represents your ability to provide yourself food and shelter and clothing and stuff. When you’re not making that happen, it does make you feel like a failure.

But I have made it in Los Angeles for almost five years as a full-time artist, and I’ve never worked for anybody but myself. I can definitely pat myself on the back for that because that is hard. Every good memory and every photo that I can ever see of myself or Dog Show, I can attach to it what I did that day to make ends meet. I see this smiling photo of glorious pink and purple Dog Show, and then I know what I did that day to try to figure shit out.

For me, I think success is staying true to my vision, making that the priority, and making everything I do serve that purpose. I feel successful when I have a strategy that makes me able to work on that vision, whatever it is. Right now, I do feel like I’m prioritizing my work, and I don’t have to exhaust myself on other people’s stuff…I don’t have to be “corporate girl.” I don’t even know what I mean when I say that because I’ve never done anything corporate. [Laughs] I’ve stayed pretty renegade. I’m a successful renegade. A successful punk! [Laughs] But I think that’s like, right now, what feels successful to me. I think at other times it will feel successful to have a family or be…I don’t know. I think that things change.

I feel successful when I feel balanced—mind, body, soul—too. Working on the work, seeking enlightenment as best as I can every day…and a lot of that is also strategy. It’s really easy to say “yes” to all the jobs and just work for money—that’s easy. What’s not easy is to have enough time to paint or have enough time to meditate or have enough time to love yourself or love others. I feel successful when I can sleep, pray or meditate, box, paint, and pay the bills. That’s what feels successful right now. The hardest one is paying the bills, always. Because what happens in the process of paying the bills is that you forfeit one of those things. I’ll forfeit sleep, I’ll forfeit boxing, I’ll forfeit praying, I’ll forfeit eating well…success is when nothing needs to be forfeited. And man…we’re all just working towards that, you know? Trying to flow downstream.

But it gets easier because we continue to get to know ourselves. KNOW THYSELF! [Laughs] NOTHING IN EXCESS! The “nothing in excess” part is also about balance. It’s not about indulging too much or whatever. If you have excess in something, that means you’re off-balance, you’re lopsided. Balance. I made this vision board this year and one of the things is SEXY BALANCE. [Laughs] If I have sexy balance, that’s a success!

You can find Tina on her website (currently under construction) or on Instagram. Of course, you can also often find her at 1361 Sunset Blvd at the Wacky Wacko/Peggy Noland shop in Los Angeles. For more on LA Kings, including upcoming shows, like them on Facebook. Dog Show’s Facebook page lives on here if you’re interested in more on that project, too!

Feature photo by Jessica Collins.

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