Featured Artist (the day before) Friday: Rachel Denny

You may remember, way back at the beginning of the year, we promised a new installment here at Design Crisis: Featured Artist Fridays. Well, tomorrow is Erin's day and I don't want to make you wait another week to meet artist Rachel Denny so, Thursday it is. We first stumbled across Rachel's work months ago and were delighted when she wrote us with kudos on our blog (we love nothing more than compliments around here) bells and firecrackers went off and the angels began to sing when we saw her new work and we knew we had to share it with you. Rachel has a stockpile of stunning works in her wake as well as big designs for the future. Let's start at the beginning:

Green Doe, 2008, polyurethane foam, wood, wool

Upon first seeing Rachel's work my mind went into a whirlwind considering the amount of math, time and planning a single piece must take. Once I recovered from my admiration fatigue, I was struck by the brilliance of the pieces: they seamlessly converge the dichotomous imagery of masculinity and femininity with a thought-provoking balance of serenity and humor. I asked Rachel how she began tying these images together:


I grew up in rural Northern Idaho and Montana and my father would take me hunting as a child. I don't think I ever actually hit anything ( I was very young) but it did make a strong impression on me - the seriousness of the task and the quiet waiting in the forest for hours. There was a lot of wonder and also necessity in it; at that age it seems a bit surreal. The knit pieces just came together and made sense to me with these memories.

Her explanation conjures up memories of my own family history: my grandfather was a hunter and his wife, my grandmother made clothing for the family. Her knit deer would have served as an ideal icon for my own family. Add to the list of accomplishments found in a single Denny piece: the ability to connect with it's audience on a profoundly personal and familial level.

(left) Nordic Knit, 2008, wool, polyurethane foam, wood, thread; (right) Arrow Buck, 2008, polyurethane foam, wood, wool, thread, zipper

Rachel tells me

The first knit piece was intended to be a chromed deer head mount, referring to the carcasses seen on the side of the road, but it proved too expensive to make for me at the time. I played around with the imagery for awhile, looking for a suitable replacement and this juxtaposition came about.

I am from the school of thought that believes that creativity flourishes under restrictive circumstances. While I would never turn a stray chrome deer head away from my living room, I think the knit pieces are so meaningful and stunning (and, of course, proof positive that I am right about that whole creativity flourishing thing, and I love being right)

Blue Doe, 2008, wool, polyurethane foam, wood, thread

Quick! Let's make a list of all the amazing things happening in this room: #1 Blue Doe (obv.) #2 HORSE FIGURINE! & tied for second, Design Crisis Gift Guide approved, Carlos Night Light!

Are you wondering why I didn't mention all that glove action going on in the mirror? Are you thinking I'm a horrible person for putting a silly dog light above what just might be one of the greatest pieces of art ever made? Well then, you're very astute, now aren't you:

Proper Lady

Like Rachel's knit deer, the Proper Lady rug works on so many, often opposing, levels: Repurposing the gloves to warm the feet while simultaneously mimicking a shag rug is genius. I also love that these gloves in particular are generally reserved for the purpose of protecting debutantes and other do-gooders from getting their hands soiled, but in this instance, they are offering themselves up as little sacrificial lambs to be tracked upon by whatever comes their way. Even the draped nature of the gloves makes them appear as though they are bowing down before you. And, well, you know I like that. Let's get a closer look:

By this point I want to crawl inside Rachel's head and poke around awhile to find out how she comes up with these brilliant pieces:

The "Proper Lady" idea began its life as a quilt, but it seemed unfinished - a bit flat and I didn't like the texture on a bed. The piece took on even more meaning when demoted to the floor and I loved the contrast of these prim, ladies gloves as a rug. I like when a work can take on multiple meanings and I also like leaving that up to the viewer because they bring in their own experiences to work.

I appreciate that, like the original chrome deer that evolved into a knit work, Rachel allows the works to speak to her, dictating their own outcome as she goes. I believe it is because of this that her pieces can exist on so many levels. She mentions that she was initially hesitant to let humor show through in her work. Noting "I wanted to be taken seriously, but I feel humor and beauty are often very successful ways to get someone to approach a new idea." I couldn't agree more. I also think it is the existence of humor in her work that adds the final finishing touch to each piece.

Buckshot, 2007, Lead, nails, foam, wood, steel, life size

When sifting through Rachel's portfolio I find the above piece, which appears to be laying the groundwork for her later works: early conceptions of the chrome deer head, and a shag rug that will later take its form in a landscape of lady's gloves.

One of my favorite images on her site is a snapshot of her studio:

Most of the pieces from her current body show themselves in various stages of completion. Rachel mentioned that she is best when kept busy, but the appearance of at least 6 projects here makes my head spin.

And, in case your wondering, that lovely turquoise piece in the bottom left corner now looks like this:

Clover, 2008, angora, polyurethane foam, thread, steel

Unfortunately, someone has already snapped this little guy up, otherwise, I would love to have an angora rabbit in my home. I am sure I could also be quite happy with this:

Antler Buck, 2008, Wool, thread, antler, polyurethane foam, wood

I am so enchanted with how snugly the wool fits each piece. Rachel uses found sweaters rather than knitting the pieces by hand - can you imagine how long that would take??!! -  often felting the pieces before stretching them around the musculature of a deer (that she made herself, mind you).

Unfortunately, you can not currently come to my home to see Rachel's works in person, but you can look for her work at Rare Device in San Francisco this May. She will also be featured on the cover of the Western Humanities Review this fall.  Most works are available for purchase on her site: racheldenny.com