“ The animals I make usually decide themselves ”
In Issue 8 of Junkies Magazine we were thrilled to share the beautifully creative work by Suzanne McRae. It is now our pleasure to share the article with the online world
Enjoy, Junkies xx
Nothing has quite evoked in this Junkie the awe and wonder at the mystery of the creative act than these quirky creatures brought into being by Suzanne McRrae.
Suzanne uses snips of vintage fabrics, antique buttons and ribbons, and ceramics to form her melancholy menagerie of fairy tale animals. Her creations seem to embody a strange mix of pathos and an almost primeval, deep and timeless knowledge, as if all the wisdom of the world - and its pain and deep sorrows - are contained in them
Suzanne’s background is in figurative ceramics (BA Visual Arts, University of Ballarat 1996) and costume and corsetry (she taught herself to become a seamstress), and these disciplines are now intertwined in her artwork. She admits to being a shy and lonely child. “I usually preferred my own company”, she says. “I would fiddle around in nature or sit quietly and draw, although I adored my friends and cousins and became very attached to them”.
This quiet observational manner manifests itself in the characters Suzanne creates, many of them bearing bemused and mystified expressions. “My father has always shown us that it is the details and little occurrences that are of most interest”, she said. “He would draw our attention to the amazing thing that a beetle is. ‘Do you think they could have designed a car any better?’, he would ask us”. This way of seeing the world has definitely influenced Suzanne’s approach to her art. “He always had a pen and scrap of paper about him”, she added. “Rarely would we get through a conversation without these making an appearance so that he could sketch what he was talking about”.
Suzanne grew up in the historic gold mining town of Ballarat, in country Victoria. “My heritage has been very important in the way my art has evolved”, she notes. “The last few generations of my family have come from Ballarat, and I feel very connected to them”.
Suzanne notes that her use of antique fabrics, old buttons and coffee staining evokes the sense in her of Victorian Ballarat. “Many of the buttons I use have been dug up out of gold mining country and still have the original thread attached”, she notes. “Some even have old Ballarat business names cast into them”.
In addition to sourcing her own materials, Suzanne is often given vintage textiles found in grandmothers’ cupboards: “Old, worn out pieces of beauty headed for the bin”, as she calls them. “People love these things but often they have hung onto them for decades before they pass them on to me”. “The problem with this”, she notes, “is that often I can't bear to cut them up so it’s me that stores them for more years!
Junkies asked Suzanne about her creative process. Does she have an idea of what will emerge before she commences? “The animals I make usually decide themselves”, she notes. “Every time I model a new head it goes through three or four possibilities before something settles. Often it's not at all what I needed so goes in the 'later' shelf to wait for a body that it suits perfectly”. She finds that rabbits and foxes are the most popular. “But I enjoy the hybrid animals that seem to be more a cross between unrelated species, or mystery creatures”, she notes. “A rabbit-deer, a fox-cat or something that looks like a skunk lemur perhaps... Who can be sure?”
Suzanne notes that her method of construction is simple and economical. “If my technique was complicated, I would lose patience”, she observes. “I've always worked fast - I create fast, walk fast, cook fast!” The results of her speedy endeavours, paradoxically, would suggests otherwise, as they stare out at the world with their ancient eyes.
The people who buy Suzanne’s work are often strangely drawn to a particular piece. “I often hear back from my stockist about the sale”, Suzanne notes. “They tell me about the person who bought the animal, what they said, why they had to have it and where it's going to live”. She adds, “I love to know, as the making of them can sometimes feel disconnected from where they end up”.
She tells of a person who bought a pair of her creatures, as they couldn't bear to leave one behind. “Or there was one lady”, Suzanne recalls, “who started crying because she felt they all needed rescuing and she couldn't buy any at all!”. It is a powerful work of art, indeed, that evokes such strong emotions of longing and loss, empathy and compassion. Suzanne explains that anthropomorphism, the projecting of human emotions and characteristics onto animals, perhaps helps to explain the strong responses that people have to her work. “[The works] seem to evoke a deep longing for the ability to speak to animals, to understand each other; they suggest, perhaps, that maybe there exists some middle land where humans and animals are intertwined”. She notes that this has always been a subject considered throughout art and literature. “Although it's not a conscious decision of mine to explore that, it's the path I've followed. Mum was always raising various creatures that had fallen out of nests or been dragged in by the cats”, she adds. “We always had a collection of rescue pets and breeding things... And I loved them all”.
Whilst Suzanne would very much like to make a full time living from her work, she is a realist and is not a fan of the vagaries of art sales. “I like to have many fingers in many pies, as there is a lot that I enjoy doing. I still sew Victorian style corsets when needed. I buy and sell vintage junk, and import taxidermy for buyers”. Suzanne is currently completing an Interior Design Diploma. “I look forward to designing with lush old world maximalism in mind, no cold clean surfaces to be found!”, she wryly observes.
“My six year old daughter exhibits all the traits I have inherited from my parents, so she is my legacy. Plus all the creatures I have made that are scattered near and far!”. Here at Junkies, we’re just thankful that Suzanne’s creatures are out there in the world, watching us with their old eyes, evoking our best and strangest and deepest emotions.