I always say that Cats Like Us brings people together and I am very lucky to have met Derek Hendrickson one of the first days that Cats Like Us opened it's doors! He's the creator of Suffering From Elvis Disease, aka maker of satirical Elvis busts. About ten years ago we had him selling busts for an in-store event and I wanted to check in on him and see what's new in the world of Elvi, so here's a little interview...
Can you explain why Elvis busts?
Elvis, being the pop culture god that he was/is seemed like a rather easy target for my satirical onslaught....annnnd it didn’t have annnnything to do with one buddy finding an Elvis bust at a garage sale whilst, simultaneously, another buddy was offering to teach me to make polyurethane molds. The rest as we say, was just overactive imagination.
Suffering From Elvis Disease, where does the name come from?
As for the name “Suffering From Elvis Disease”... well, that’s a thing. Since I started making the Elvi (plural for Elvis, obvs) in ‘98 or ‘99, I’ve been telling people that the name comes from a lyric in the psychobilly band Batmobile’s “Girls, Girls, Girls”. The lyric is “Boy, you’re suffering from Elvis Disease”... or so I thought. Today. February 28th, 20 freaking 21, I finally decided to look up the lyrics to that song, and apparently it actually says “lover’s disease", not “Elvis disease". Thank you sooooo much Google. I guess we’re going to have to chalk the name up to overactive imagination too!
It's obvious you have talent in several mediums with your life as a tattoo artist. What is your artistic background/ experience? What did you go to school for? Do you think that tattooing and your Elvis busts have a similar creative outlet or are they different enough so you don't get bored?
I have been making art since I could hold a crayon. I took various classes at studios and whatnot throughout my childhood and adolescence and then majored in Illustration, with a Painting minor, at university. Oils, acrylics, and especially scratch board are all favorite mediums of mine. And now I spend most of my time tattooing... Elvis busts coming in at a close second. Though all types of art ~ so similar in ways ~ are all vastly different. I don’t think that helps or hinders me in the "getting bored" department. I honestly don’t understand the concept of getting bored. (Me either Derek. Lol.)
What made you start working in plaster? Is it messy? What are some of the challenges of this medium?
I think I started using plaster because it works well in the molds I was making and I didn’t know what else to use really. And yes, it is suuuuuper messy!!! That is the number one challenge of using it! Hands down!
Do you make your own casts for each one? Or do you use a base cast and add to it?
Each Elvis bust is handmade, though each Hellvis is similar the rest of them, no two are exactly the same. A bunch of the finished Elvi are made from the original mold and then altered and painted to make them into whichever specific style I happen to be making at the time. If making one of them requires a ton of sculpting work each time then I will actually make a mold of that individual style.... like Skullvis, Smellvis, or Chicken Ala King, to just name a few.
I know you've been making Elvis busts for a long time, how long has it been? Do you miss traveling and vending at shows? I know you took a break for a little while, what made you come back to making them?
I’ve been making the Elvi since 1998, I think. It was either that or ‘99. I did my first “show” when I set up in a corner in Java Temple during an Allentown Art festival in Buffalo, NY and I think I “sold” one bust to a friend. After that my first “proper” vending experience (I’m using “proper” extremely loosely) was in 2001 in Long Island, NY. What followed after that was 4 whirlwind years of traveling around the country vending at tattoo conventions, car shows, rock’n’roll weekenders, and a few horror conventions. I had a blast and though I miss the fun I had and the friends I made, I wouldn’t say that I miss it. I love my life now and honestly I couldn’t even fathom trying to live the way I did back them. It was pretty chaotic.
I have taken some time off from making the busts over the years. Usually it was because I was tattooing and didn’t have the time to do both. My decision to restart making them in 2020 was definitely “lockdown” inspired. Can’t tattoo? Cool. Looks like I’m making Elvis busts full time again! I am back to tattooing though, so the Elvis bust production has slowed down greatly whilst I try to find the time to do both.
I know you've made large Mary's too. Would you ever make other busts? Say of people?
Ahhh yes. The Dead Marys. Those were a lot of fun to make. Perhaps I will make a few of those again but at the moment I don’t have any plans to make them any time soon. And though, at the moment, I can definitively say that I don’t plan on making any busts of somebody else or something else... talk to me during the next lock-down and that may very well change!
What was your favorite bust to make? Which one is your most requested? Do have any new designs in the works?
You know, I don’t know if I could single out any one design as being my favorite Elvis bust. There are so many versions of them and each one makes me smile for one reason or another. I think one of my favorite aspects of all them is when they make other people laugh. That’s always a great feeling. And then if they buy them, it’s even better... Wink. Wink.
My number one seller is, without a shadow of a doubt, Hellvis. Currently, I am still working on a bunch of “one off” custom orders from the second lock-down so I’m not taking on any new orders or working on any new molds... HOWEVER, eventually, I do have at least one more bust that I plan on molding sometime this spring or summer but I’m not going to tell you when. Because I can’t. And I’m not going to tell you what... Wink. Wink.
You've been doing this a while, have you ever been contacted by famous people that wanted one of your Elvis busts?
Bill Moseley, of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Repo! the Genetic Opera, and Rob Zombie movie fame bought a few busts apparently for Rob and Sheri Zombie. Johnny Ramone, RIP, also had a couple of busts. And finally, the director Stuart Cornfeld had like 10 of them!!! I might be exaggerating the number. It was a long time ago, but it was a lot of them!
What is currently for sale? How can people purchase and get in touch with you?
Unfortunately with tattooing, catching up on previous orders, and whatnot, I am not currently taking any new orders. But fret not! If people follow me @elvisdisease on Instagram then they can keep up on what I’m doing, contact me if they like, and also find out when I start taking orders again or actually have some busts made and ready to sell!
Derek thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions, and we look forward to seeing your designs on Instagram!
Follow @elvisdisease on Instagram
Photos: Meagan Hendrickson