As a child I used to collect small plastic animals. I took particular pleasure in the activity of sorting and arranging them into groups or families. Just as this notion of animals as collected and categorised objects fuelled my early imagination, so too did it eventually come to be a recurring theme in my ceramics. The work in this exhibition is inspired by two distinct forms of animal collection from history: the birds are presented labelled, boxed and mounted much as in a Victorian menagerie while the larger animals wear designs and patterns inspired by the illuminated imagery of medieval bestiaries.
Our childhoods are filled with animal images, their many names, shapes, colours and patterns fuel our early imaginations. Throughout history animals have also been used in storytelling, legend and folklore to simplify the complexities of adult life. In the same manner, I use the animal form as a vehicle for the expression of human emotions.
I aim to give my animals a certain awkward vulnerability. This is achieved through a very personal making process. I make a wire framework on to which layers of printed and patterned pieces of porcelain paper clay are applied to form a skin. The natural twists and kinks of the wire frame and the shrinkage of the clay around it during firing are allowed to dictate the posture of the finished animal. The element of chance in these processes is central to my work.
Susan O’ Byrne