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Kate Ellis Untitled, Poodle/Human 2018 July 20 - 11 August 2018

Photos by Storm Gold

Untitled, Poodle/Human 2018.
Beeswax, damar resin, silk thread, velvet cushion, birch wood. (part of an ongoing series, 2004-2018)

To read a review of the exhibition by Sophie Knezic click here

Can you describe step by step how your sculptures are made?

First, I model the pieces from Plasticine, then I have a mould made of the piece, usually from silicone rubber and a plaster/resin outer casing so that I am then able to pour perfect waxes. Pieces modelled directly from wax have an opacity which I try to avoid. I am after the translucency and a sense of ambiguous boundaries that can come from a perfect poured wax. I raise the melt point/harden the bees wax slightly with Damar resin to make the finished piece more robust. Normally I have an idea of what I am wanting to do with the surface. This is done by hand, pressing the thread into the surface of the wax with a plain little metal tool (my favourite is an old dentist tool although I also have other specific sculpting tools). This is the most time-consuming aspect of the process.

How long would this sculpture have taken to make?

A long time, months. This is the third in a series of Poodle Human forms. The first was made for a solo show at Gertrude Street in 2004. I have worked in stages on this particular piece. I made a very similar form for a show in 2008, but always had the vision of having an extensive cover of silk thread. There has been a long fallow period when my health was in decline and all my focus was on maintaining my health and being mother to my boys.

Have you always used animals in your work?

I have actually. Nearly always. Looking back at art school I even made two wax dogs. I did go through a wire mesh stage which was mainly relating to the human body, again exploring a fascination with translucence/ transparency/ uncertain boundaries, protection/constriction etc which I recognise as consistent themes in my practice.

What led you to sculpture?

I grew up in a family of makers. My mother and grandmother sculpted, drew and painted, my great grandmother wove. There was always something going so perhaps it just seemed like a natural thing to do. I am drawn to both sculpture and drawing and am interested in the relationship between the two forms. I have a particular fascination with wax. Perhaps this is partially in reaction to the Lost Wax process in bronze casting. I am attracted to its translucent properties as well as its perceived fragility.

What part does the patterning of silk play?

I’m interested in the contradictory nature of silk, it’s beauty, its fine luminous qualities, the fact that it is spun by a ‘worm’. Silk carries a lot of complicated history. The patterning carries an interplay of differing ideas like protection and constraint, sense of disease, attraction and repulsion, embellishment and decoration, spreading illness or decay. It has connotations of madness, but also meditation. The patterning could also suggest a distorted, irrational topography/ landscape of the body (I did study geography at melb uni as part of an unfinished arts degree). The thread, too, signifies traces, connection, and for me a direct link to my great grandmother’s thread collection from her weaving practice. The making of the patterning with thread is more than an illustration of felt experience because it’s an experience I go through in the process. I create the rules for a self-imposed ritual that I then adhere to.

Can you talk about your connection to dogs specifically Poodles?

I think about our relationships with dogs as being rich and complex. The fact that our two species have evolved together. In one way they are our children, creatures that we own and care for but as Winnicot spoke of the gaze of the parent, and how as children we are held in that gaze and I think, in a similar way dogs are our observers, and protectors, holding us in their gaze as we go about our lives. Poodles specifically - I grew up with poodles and have had two standard poodles as an adult. I enjoy the fact that they present such a loaded image, that they are associated with certain ideas of the feminine. They are also a topiary sculpture waiting to happen and I also use the fur to make ‘drawings’. I have an archive of Harry’s (my first Poodle’s) fur and also collect Wolfie’s (my current poodle). The fur of the coiffed Poodle has a softness, an immaterial quality and ambiguous boundaries; yet the weightlessness is also suffocating, and there is a sense of a heavier gravitational field. Under their coats Poodles are dogs, and like all dogs are descendants of the Wolf. They are the wild creatures, manicured for an interior existence and co-dependency in that they are completely reliant on their humans to cut and manage the curly coat. Left in the wild, with a coat bred to be unable to shed, the animal’s fur would grow so long that it would not survive.

Artists that have influenced your practice?

Probably many but the important early ones have been Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, Kiki Smith Writers that have influenced your practice? Susan Sontag, illness as metaphor. I have an ongoing interest in psychoanalytic theory. Winnecott, Yalom.

How did your Bachelor of applied science shape your approach to making art?

I also studied psychology at uni and pursued that interest within my applied science/OT degree. I specialised in human relationships/ group work. I studied anatomy as part of that degree which I’m sure has had its influence.