Artist Melissa Ebbe finds inspiration in the zombie apocalypse.
Working out of her Bay View basement, Melissa Ebbe creates craftwork that looks like it materialized from a surreal, morbid fever dream. Eyeballs and other viscera are lovingly set in metal frames, and masks of mutilated humans are molded from resin, latex and silicon. The basement is a lab of sorts where she works as a prosthetic makeup artist, a gig that allows her to fashion fleshy, lifelike body parts into costumes, jewelry and statues for her business, Feral Works.
She’s not in that basement much lately. Inspired at a young age by the macabre parade of monsters in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video, Ebbe, 37, is now a contestant on the 10th season of the SyFy channel’s reality show “Face Off,” where she competes against other prosthetic makeup artists to concoct full-body costumes. Cause and effect are apparent in retrospect, but Ebbe’s road to prosthetic fame was not without detours, such as dreams of medical school.
Ebbe planned to become a doctor, going as far as enrolling in University of Wisconsin-Madison’s pre-med program, but calculus became her undoing. Two fine arts degrees later, her interest in anatomy remains.
While art school sharpened her painting skills, it wasn’t until 2007 when she was writing her MFA thesis about a zombie apocalypse that she became interested in costume design. “I kept costuming personally, and as my costumes got more and more elaborate they started involving more and more makeup,” she says. “That’s what led me to ‘Face Off.’” A fan of the show since it began, Ebbe auditioned for season nine, but fell short late in the selection process. The producers encouraged her to try again for the 10th season, when she made the final cut. And she surprised herself by winning the seaon’s first challenge by creating an alien bounty hunter costume with only a rendering of a spaceship for inspiration.
“To get that win and show that I could hold my own was incredibly gratifying,” she says. And she hopes this forward momentum will continue in the form of support for her work, so that one day, perhaps, she can move her dark fantasy pieces out of her basement and into the daylight.