Judy Onofrio: Madame Twisto, 2002
scultpure of a person with legs twisted together
Judy Onofrio
Madame Twisto, 2002  
Photograph, 13 3/4 x 21 5/8 inches


“I imagined Madame Twisto as a circus woman with her legs twisted together like a Dairy Queen,” says artist Judy Onofrio. In the real circus, Madame Twisto would be a freak; in Onofrio’s sculpture, she is transformed into a glamorous woman, ensconced under an arch reminiscent of Bernini’s canopy for the papal altar in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Four equally elegant miniature women hold court at her feet. The faces in the sculpture have become masks that might resemble the exaggerated idea of what a woman should look like, perhaps inspired by the painted faces of models or drag queens. Playing off the idea that a mask might hide something about identity as equally as it could reveal, Onofrio is interested in the possibility that magic might be real rather than trickery.


Born in Connecticut in 1939 and now living and working in Rochester, Minnesota, Judy Onofrio creates art that is filled with fantasy and exuberance. She draws her inspiration from Folk Art, often called “outsider art,” acknowledging artists who feel compelled to express themselves but have had no formal art training. She also credits her great aunt Trude, whom she remembers from childhood as a wonderfully eccentric free spirit.

Though Onofrio would describe her work as essentially narrative in character, there is rarely a single story or simple meaning behind her complex forms. Her process begins with a narrative, often based on her personal life experience. By creating art with objects collected from flea markets, garage sales, and other random sources, Onofrio tells tales of utopian wishes, seduction, duality, and temptation. Through the found objects from which it is made, each sculpture has a nostalgic quality, one that is repurposed to tell new stories.