Animal as Metaphor

Animal as Metaphor

With animals as their muse, artists respond in felt, clay, wood, and animal matter itself.
Published on Saturday, April 6, 2019. This article appears in the April/May 2019 issue of American Craft Magazine.
Author Staff
The Burden of Motion and Ambition

Ellen Jewett, The Burden of Motion and Ambition (2017)

Ellen Jewett

“Rogue taxidermist” Kate Clark stretches real hides over sculpted clay to create animals with haunting human faces. Her goal with sculptures such as Asserting His Influence (2015) is to remind people of our inescapably wild origins, to awaken the fierceness within. The self-taught Brooklyn artist has channeled her vision into other creations, such as a mask for rapper Desiigner’s “Panda” video.

Ellen Jewett considers herself an explorer, albeit encumbered by responsibility, physical limitations, and material things. Animals also have encumbrances, imagines the Vancouver Island artist, who runs a small-scale animal refuge with her partner. The bear in The Burden of Motion and Ambition (2017) is loaded down with baskets, banners, and branches. “No being is truly free,” Jewett says. “Having to survive, after all, is a burden.”

Pennsylvania artist Kristen Egan is fascinated with life and death – and the blurry lines between them. Nest Frog 1 (2018) joins an amphibian and a bird, a creature of water and one of air, in a relationship that might be threatening or protective. “Life must devour life in order to continue living,” Egan points out. “Matter and energy continuously cycle between forms.”

Animals don’t talk or dress or drive, so we can project on them whatever sense of style we like. Each of Elizabeth Levine’s Studio Pets reveals itself as she forms and glazes it; eye shadow, lipstick, stripes, and a diadem bedeck Rae Rae (2016). The New York City artist imagines her dapper earthenware pets having as much fun in the studio as she does, “indulging in their own creative process, dipping their tails and feet into the glazes and paints.”

Moxie Lieberman envisions her stressors as needle-felted creatures gnawing at her flesh. The Seattle artist calls her 2010 Hungry series “an outward expression of my internal unease,” asking the question “What’s eating you?” As it turns out, Lieberman says, “the answer for me is ‘me.’ ” Self-doubt was never so cute.