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Shauna Richardson and the Art of Crochetdermy

At first glance, the work of Shauna Richardson might appear to be a collection of enlarged stuffed animals. Look closer and you’ll find each member of her menagerie to be created with carefully crocheted spools of yarn. In a project she has coined Crochetdermy, the much-practiced art of crochet comes head to head with fantastic beasts of the animal kingdom. Both captivating and eye-catching, her work has quite understandably swept like wildfire, even being featured in the 2012 London Olympics. Milk Made’s Jake Boyer spoke with her about the origins of such an imaginative artistic exploration, as well as the line between art piece and ‘cuddly toy’, and her pet dog named The Bean.

So how did Crochetdermy first come to be?

The collection evolved over several years of looking at art theory – trying to find boundaries in theories, and making work in response. In the past I have played with things such as text, audio and interventions, I still thoroughly enjoy working that way but I am a rebel at heart and feel compelled to break rules. Rules in art can be hard to find but maybe there are still a few lurking? Maybe it is still possible to present something a little audacious?
To explore this I use things such as objects, the plinth, realism, traditional craft, and accessible themes (animals). I’m a bundle of questions.

When did you first start crocheting? Was it initially just a hobby?

Both of my grandmother’s crocheted. I don’t remember not being able to do it. I don’t suppose it’s ever been a traditional use of the craft, I suspect that once I had learned the one stitch required to sculpt, I was off. I really do like making things, I’ll make stuff out of anything, I guess it just never occurred to me that that particular pleasure could have anything to do with art.

What’s the construction process for these animals like?

Slow. I start with a solid form and sculpt the crochet around that using a freestyle technique that has developed over time. Using just one stitch I highlight the anatomy of each animal as I go along using changes of stitch direction. I use one color per piece, any more than that and the animal tends to take on the appearance of a cuddly toy.

Do you have a favorite animal?

Understandably it is assumed that I am animal mad. Don’t get me wrong, I do like animals, it’s just that for me, they are a vehicle to create something familiar and accessible. But I’m just one person and this is my one person’s response, each individual will have their own response and I suspect animals will have a pretty strong role to play for many of them. It’s all good. In answer to the question – I do have a favorite animal – my dog, The Bean.

What was working for the London Olympics like?

Although work on the project began back in 2009, I am still involved with it today. I am finally about to draw a line as I have just donated the piece to the wildlife charity Born Free. The commission was a great opportunity and I was very lucky to win it, but I can’t pretend it wasn’t tough. I learned all sorts of invaluable lessons, some of which I wouldn’t have minded not learning, but the experience leaves me undaunted by big projects and confident in my abilities to deliver.

Is there a particular artist or designer you think is singularly exceptional?

I admire the early conceptual artists, they were true pioneers. Sometimes I will see a piece of work so perfect that it makes me elated and frustratedly envious all at the same time. John Baldessari tends to do that to me – he manages to convey big ideas with simplicity and wit. He is a stylish man, I’m furious with him.

What’s the hardest part about your job?

This is a pleasurable activity, I’m not naturally a logistics type of person. Finding the space and funding for the next big project should probably be cause for concern. I have never had representation, so there is nobody thinking about those things for me. It is by no means planned, but it seems that if there’s a sensible straightforward way to do things, I’ll be doing the opposite – it’s a gift.

Photographs courtesy of Crotchedermy

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