This month I did a story for California Home + Design’s blog about animals as creative muses in artwork and profiled three great artists …..
As with most writing assignments, you stumble upon more amazing information than you can fit into a piece. However, I was smitten by sculptor Crystal Morey’s hauntingly beautiful work and reached out to her to see if she would be interested in being profiled on the blog. Fortunately Crystal said yes and we began a hot and heavy email exchange — actually to be honest, it was pretty one-sided in that I couldn’t stop complimenting her pieces. What struck me as most interesting is that her work reminded me of the Native American concept of spirit animals – the notion that within us all we have an animal counterpart. For me, it was as if Crystal made the novel “Where The Wild Things Are” come to life and depict that unseen connection between man, beast and nature…..
Looking at your work, your sculptures reference animal motifs juxtaposed with humans. What is it about the connection between humans and animals that interests you?
I am interested in human and animal wellbeing, and how both species’ fates are woven together and will have a similar outcome. When making pieces I think about how we are all dependant on each other for the health and balance of our ecosystems and habitats. The relationship between humans, animals and the earth is very delicate and I want to raise awareness of this fragile connection with my work.
Your Totem series is beautiful. Can you explain the concepts behind these pieces?
I had been working on a series of human figures interacting with endangered and extinct animals that are/were affected by hunting and habitat loss. As I worked through that body of work, I realized I really wanted to join the human and animal components. I felt this created more of an interrelated unit that presents the information while also creating an imaginative narrative. I started to look at animal totems, indigenous masks, and Egyptian iconography. I took ideas I found in images and stories and reworked them, thinking about modern environmental issues, like animals with stressed ecosystems due to human impact.
Your childhood in the Sierra Nevada foothills seems to have deeply influenced your work. Has your time in more urban areas, like your current home in Oakland affected your work?
I felt very close to the natural world growing up in a rural landscape. I remember being a small child, sitting on the back porch and looking out over an expansive array of pine, manzanita, and oak trees. The forest filled my entire world, extending down into a river valley, up the other side, and into the distant mountain ranges. I remember hearing about places where all of the trees had been cut down and I couldn’t even imagine how that could be possible. The world feels a lot smaller to me now, I live in Oakland and my connection to nature is more complex then it used to be. Living in an urban landscape I am very aware of how humans can control and contain the landscape. Living in both rural and urban areas has made me aware of this tension and it has become a great influence on my work in the studio.
I hope that as a viewer looks at my work they think about human, animal, and environmental relationships and the friction created between entities that are both contained and wild.
What would you say is the common thread that links all your works together?
I am continually interested in how we as humans think about and relate to natural environments and other living creatures. These themes occur in my work in many ways and in many configurations. I always try to show grace and beauty in ideas that may be dark or difficult to think about.
There is an idea among many cultures that humans have “spirit animals” which represent an aspect of ourselves. What would you think your spirit animal would be and why?
That is a great question and one that is very hard to answer! I am interested in all kinds of animals (gazelles, deer, rhinos, giraffes, markhor, blackbuck, hawks, pigeons, buffalos and owls being at the top of the list). But if I had to pick one, it would probably be a black bear, who hibernates in the ground or holes in trees, forages for nuts and berries, and eats insects, fish and small animals. I have an affinity for bears because in many ways, they seem so human-like, while also being instinctual and dangerous. While bears are strong and fierce they are also one the first species to be affected by environmental change since they are near the top of the food chain. I think they are fascinating creatures and an interesting indicator of the health and balance of our ecosystem.
Seriously – isn’t Crystal’s work amazing? I can’t wait to introduce her pieces to a few clients to get their reactions!