All the craft associated with hyperrealism is present in Ellen Jewett’s art. You could almost mistake each sculpture for a real creature, but up close, a bird’s feathers are blades of grass, a deer’s antlers are formed of tree branches.

In its original definition, surrealism (‘sur’ + ‘realism’), rather than denoting something subversive of materiality, was actually closer in meaning to ‘super realism’. Perhaps here, then, is the genre to which Jewett, this month’s featured artist, fits best.

Your pieces are so detailed and elegant. How long does it usually take you to complete a sculpture? 

I made the decision early on not to log the hours I work on a given sculpture. The numbers would give me information, sure, but they may beg a certain streamlining; how do I make this process more efficient? There is nothing efficient about handmade sculpture. It is methodical, labour intensive and time consuming work. So I usually create by this rule; work on a sculpture until it is done. This means some finish quickly, others of similar complexity may take four or five times as long. Some ideas simply roll out neatly and others meander on their path.

Do you think the three-dimensional nature of sculpture allows you to express things which cannot be expressed so successfully in other forms of art? 

Whether something is successful in fine art seems too subjective for me to weigh in on, but my observation has been that we have a different relationship to three-dimensional art, especially when it is representational. I think viewers tend to attribute more animism and individual identity to sculptures. When discussing their relationship to sculptures I have created, I find it is not uncommon for people to assign names, genders, stories or even powers to the sculptures as individuals.

What materials have you been working with recently?

Right now my go-to materials are air drying polymer, paper clay and cold porcelain, which is ‘art speak’ for homemade air drying clay. For paint I use mainly acrylics and mineral pigments. I also use pieces of glass, resin, baked polymer or really just about anything for specific details.

Your work is very influenced by the natural world, but it incorporates elements of surrealism and fantasy as well. What inspires you to combine the two? 

My inspirations are indeed biological – plants, animals and environments – but the lens is a psychological one and I think that’s where surrealism comes in. It is our interpretation and relationship to wild things and their general otherness which I find supremely fascinating. A lot of my work is a meditation on that. I’m also interested in psychological states and try to let my own subconscious take the wheel very often in my creation process. Rather than carefully planning out my work day, I seek to achieve flow states while composing a sculpture. I don’t know how the final piece will appear, nor do I want to. The more fluid and intuitive the process, the more I tend to like the result.

To me your sculptures have a quality of mysticism to them, like relics from a bygone era. Is this something you’re consciously going for? 

My heart lies in the world of science, although I would say I enjoy science and biology on a level that is probably occupied by spirituality in people who hold religious beliefs. The mystical dimension is likely an artefact of cultural associations we already have built into animal forms. While I do not personally experience them in a supernatural way, playing with the rich tapestry of history in my work is definitely in my wheelhouse.

What’s next for you?

On the horizon is a lot more playful experimentation with materials. I want to venture a little bit more in the two-dimensional world but in a sculptural way. I’d also like to do some work on the opposite ends of the size spectrum, exploring more micro sculpture and a few more large-scale projects.

ellenjewettsculpture.com

Liam Casey