As an artist I am interested in many subjects. Although it can sometimes be difficult in the studio to choose what I wish to work with or which direction to settle on, my work is at its best when I can layer these varied interests. The piece included in this exhibit, Self-Portrait with Snake and Mouse is a cloth stitched sculpture and is inspired by many historical objects I was researching at the time.
In early 2015 I travelled to London to see the work of Maria Sibylla Merian, William Bartram and Mary Delany. Their 18th century works are drawings, paintings and collages that record their close observations of flowers, animals and insect interactions. Their appeal for me was the balance between the violence of some of their subjects’ interactions and the exquisite use of composition and materials. The work links science and art beautifully.
This sculpture is part of a larger series that are self-portraits investigating animal behavior to gain self-awareness. The work often questions whether we project human traits onto animals or whether we are simply just alike. I investigate primary experiences shared by all, such as hunger, self-protection, fear, aging and love. I pursue how animal skins (chicken, elephant, horse, fox, snake, etc.) can translate into drawn line or sewn edges.
I was able to view taxidermy at the Natural History Museum and historical and contemporary works in textiles at the Victoria Albert Museum, which also greatly impacted the ideas for this sculpture.
What I cannot see in museums, I research in books. Below is a photo of an anonymous Egyptian funerary portrait sculpture from the book Portraiture by Shearer West. This was one of the largest influences on this work.
I am often asked why I use cloth instead of clay or wood. As an artist I believe you find a material you want to grapple with. It’s not something that is necessarily easy or available but something that perhaps you have a history with or an instinctual desire to pick up and wrestle with. I have worked with cloth my whole life since I was a child in a convent school in Ireland where we knitted, embroidered and quilted. I made my own dolls and clothing. I find myself buying vintage textiles and clothing in antique stores. I’m drawn to it’s ability to be flat or structural. Its connection to the body as something practical, ornamental, or sensual is of immense interest. Textiles are part of my own history.
My process is layering bundles of cloth together slowly until I reach the final form. The bundles get smaller as I arrive at the surface. The stitching on the surface is like drawing and are maps of how planes form. At times I use wire or wood for a support. Cloth acts like the body. The bundles are like organs and it can be stretched like skin. Its outer layers reveal the inner ones. It puckers, gathers, stretches and hangs. I use all kinds of cloth for it’s texture, color, weave, translucency, history, or meaning. These attributes often inspire my content or how I approach my subject matter. My work often hovers between the 2d and 3d worlds. My drawings are often objects and my sculptures often contain drawings on surface.
I also create drawings in ink to play with ideas and textures before I settle into a sculpture that may take 6 months to make such as Self-Portrait with Snake and Mouse.
I live in the country in Massachusetts. The landscape is a daily powerful visual in my life. As a gardener I am always struck by the heartache, fear, desire, violence and beauty of the natural world. These works are an investigation into how I see myself as part of and apart from nature.
Stop by Main Street Arts to see Leslie’s sculpture “Self-Portrait with Snake and Mouse” in our current exhibition The Human Figure (runs through July 1). View her work online at www.leslieschomp.com.
Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by painter Robert Samartino.