Upon first glimpse of Caitlin McCormack’s crocheted lace animal skeletons, these oddly sturdy cloth creatures encased in glass domes, there’s a sense you’re looking at something impossible. It’s as if someone’s mastered a sort of mysterious dark art that you didn’t even know about. The same can be said about viewing her 3D illustrative pieces, as she calls them—these fantastical little moments between tiny sculpted, costumed people and creatures presented as photographs. They’re hilarious, delicately imperfect, dark and ambiguous, completely separate from her skeletal work, yet no less masterful.
Fresh off a recent trip to Miami’s Art Basel, where she exhibited her animal skeletons with Paradigm Gallery + Studio in December and assisted the gallery, McCormack is looking forward to representation from Paradigm, as well as several upcoming projects. She will have a solo show with them this year that will run from Aug. 11 through Oct. 16.
In addition to having some new work featured in Locust Moon’s upcoming Quarter Moon #3, an erotica themed comic publication due out on Valentine’s Day—more on that later—McCormack will have a piece on display during InLiquid’s Benefit14 (opens Feb. 8, 7-10pm at the Crane Arts Building), and some are hanging at Milk and Honey Café throughout January. McCormack and writer Kirwin Sutherland are also teaming up for the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym’s upcoming exhibit, Impossible Books, to make a sculptural “book” that’s essentially about a plant evolving into a humanoid mammal and back again. And she recently finished a crocheted dragon skeleton.
We recently spoke to McCormack about her life of creation, making sculpted Philadelphia Weekly escort ads and how she chooses which skeleton to knit.
PW: You said in your email that sometimes you think maybe it’s destructive to devote your time to two very different art forms, but do they feed each other?
CAITLIN MCCORMACK: I’m able to use different kinds of symbolism with each. I think they definitely feed off each other. I find myself thinking of things to do in one medium while I’m working with the other one.
Tell us a little about your illustrative work. That came first, right?
That’s what I did in college. I majored in illustration, so I think I will always have this kind of proclivity towards conveying narrative imagery. Even if what’s actually going on, the narrative itself, is extremely ambiguous or heavily veiled by some sort of obscure symbolism, it still has some kind of recognizable encounter in the frame.
In one of them, the subjects are reacting to a baby being born from a peach.
Yeah. Are they just excited because it’s a baby, and that’s how babies are born? Are they scared because there’s a child coming out of the peach? The dad–whatever, if he is a dad–the man, I imagine him kind of being like, ‘Oh, shit. This is not good. This is not how I wanted my life to be.’ It’s like how Seinfeld says fruit is a gamble. You never know what’s going happen with the fruit. There could be a baby in a peach.
Are the pieces you’re making for the Quarter Moon #3 in that style?
Yeah. They’re going to be 3D illustrated PW escort ads. They’re really messed up. They still have the little black stars on the nipples and stuff. There’s one that’s like a woman with three heads, one that’s like this little demon; it’s called the wiener demon. It should be interesting.
How do you make these amazing things? Which takes longer?
The figures, the dolls—they take much less time. A lot of times, those are inspired by dreams. I’ll just wake up and do a simple sketch, and then I will proceed to build the figures. It’s cool for me to be able to kind of give a concrete manifestation to my dreams and then to see how people interpret them. It takes just a few days.
With the string skeletons, when I think about experiences that I’ve gone through, I usually fixate on the animals that were present during that time, kind of as totems for what I’ve experienced. I do a sketch based on observations I’ve made of the animal’s skeleton. And it’s done from memory usually, so it’s kind of apocryphal. It’s not exact, compared to the real dimensions and proportions of that animal.
It kind of mimics the way my memories lose their authenticity over time, but still kind of get distilled down into this one animal form. I do the sketch a few times, and then I begin building pieces. It used to take hundreds of hours. I’ve since developed a method that’s more compartmentalized and easier to deal with as a human being. Technically, they take longer. But it’s more of a relaxing process.
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