Making a name for herself by way of her "domestic trophies", Rachel Denny reinterprets the impact of human contact with the natural world in her sculptures. Her wool and cashmere-coated faux-taxidermy creatures represent our instinct to remake that world in our image, an extension of carefully groomed gardens and domesticated animals. Her upcoming solo show "Works of Nature" at Foster/White Gallery in Seattle demonstrates a movement beyond cable-knit game creatures to animals composed of various man-made materials.
Denny's unique perspective comes from summers spent in the wilderness hunting with her father balanced by winters of embroidering indoors, creating a fluid and unencumbered fusion of domesticity and wildlife. A few of standouts from the upcoming show include "Sweet Tooth", a beast composed of cellophane-wrapped hard candies and "War Horse", a penny-plated mare's bust that raises questions surrounding money, war and the natural world.
We recently caught up with Denny to discuss the new works and her fascinating process.
What are some of the new materials and how did you select them?
I love working in a variety of materials and have always collected interesting odds and ends for future studio use. "War Horse" is armored in train-flattened pennies and I chose the material for its duplicity of meanings and the aesthetic quality of the shimmering copper. I generally work with the materials of each piece to bring more meaning to the place that these creatures hold in our lives and how we interact with them. I try to make the work aesthetically pleasing with rich materials to draw the viewer in and then hope that the other layers of meaning sift through.
Can you tell us a bit about the construction of "War Horse"?
That piece took a little over five months to create and quite a bit of patience. It started as rigid polyurethane with a steel frame inside and wood supports with a covering of tar to seal the foam and prevent any UV damage. Then it was a process of taking thousands of pennies to the railroad tracks and laying them down, going for a hike and returning to pick them up. I had to hand-drill each penny and applied each one with copper nails and a marine-grade adhesive. I was thrilled when it was completed and I could hang it on the studio wall to see the final result.
How does the process of sourcing materials and making patterns work for the knit pieces?
I collect discarded woolens and clean each piece—sometimes felting them if the knit is too loose and occasionally dying them to make the colors more vibrant. I have lockers full in the studio and use them as needed to match the correct curvature of each piece. Each work is made individually without the use of a pattern and each one is unique.
What constitutes the frames for your sculptures?
Each sculpture is different, depending on what is needed for the shape and scale of the work. I sometimes use taxidermy forms and carve them down for a specific look or pose. I also use rigid polyurethane foam blocks and carve them down with wood or steel "skeletons" inside to support the weight of the piece. I have also used wood frames and aluminum armatures with clay and plaster. It really just depends on what the individual piece needs and what will look the best while supporting the weight of the work.
Portland or Seattle?
I have lived in Portland since 1993 and it is a very comfortable city that has a slower pace of life and it is a very supportive community for the arts. It is also a smaller city that doesn't have a wide collector base and I rarely sell work to my fellow Portlanders. I love the landscape of the Northwest and that there is still a wildness to the area. Seattle is a bit more cosmopolitan and has a different feel than Portland—a bit more energy and seriousness. I have had positive experiences with the galleries there and appreciate the quality of work that they show.
"Works of Nature" is on view at the Foster/White Gallery through 28 April 2012.
220 Third Ave South #100
Seattle, WA 98104