I grew up in a couple of small towns, which now form part of the Gauteng Province in South Africa. Back then, South Africa had a very complex and unfortunate governing policy of racial segregation known as Apartheid. I was just a happy little girl growing up in a big family with four siblings, oblivious to what was happening around me. My parents weren’t highly educated nor rich, but they made sure to teach us the values of love and equality and how to treat all people with respect. They protected us from the ugliness of the world and that is how I remember my childhood, a happy little girl with vivid imaginations and a desire to make everything around me beautiful with crayons and paint. Although no one in my family practiced art, I was surrounded by people who made beautiful things with metal and steel and crochet, and who knitted, and baked beautiful cakes, and sewed pretty clothes.
I loved my maternal grandparents very much. Most of my childhood memories are spending time with them at their house or on holiday next to water. I was their first grandchild so naturally they showered me with love and attention. I was only 5 years old when my grandmother taught me how to sew on a Singer machine. It only took a couple of hours before I got the hang of it. It was easy because it was manual and there was no danger that I would stitch my fingers. I loved it. Everything just came naturally to me, from drawing and cutting simple dolls’ clothes as a little girl to sewing intricate dresses for myself as a teenager. At the age of 5, I fell in love with fabrics and started an obsession to buy and collect as much as I possibly could. It never stopped, although I do choose more carefully when and what to buy and use a lot of recycled fabrics and fibres in my artwork.
I have always loved art.
I was blessed with many creative talents and have used my vivid dreams and imaginations throughout my life to make beautiful things. I started drawing and painting from an early age and even through school, I focused on art as my major. In high school, I was introduced to sculpting with clay, and I knew this was an art form that will always be part of my aesthetic as an artist. I think it spanned from the sensory feelings working with textiles and fibres from a young age. That is also why Mixed Media Art intrigued me when I decided to become a full time artist in 2015.
I started experimenting and painted in many styles with many different mediums. I loved creating with my hands, and even though I own what feels like a million paint brushes, I still put them down while working and start intuitively to use my hands. I loved every style I experimented with but struggled to find my voice in the artworks I created.
One day I got up and stood in my room filled with drawers and drawers of fabrics and fibres and said to myself that I really need to use the fabrics I’ve collected over the years. It is almost like my creative voice emerged in my thinking that day. Throughout my mixed media experiences and the many classes I participated in. Standing in that room, I immediately knew I was going to sculpt with materials, but I also knew if I wanted to stand out and excel, I had to create a very unusual and unique style. My eye caught an image of a rabbit and I immediately made one. I also knew from the beginning that I was going to make my sculptures hard and I knew exactly what mediums to use that would differentiate my pieces from those that soft sculptors make and I was very happy with my inventiveness; however, it took an awful long time to make this tiny furry, fluffy thing. At times it frustrated me because I did not have a haemostat to turn the tiny parts inside out. I sat for 3 days trying to make a 5″ rabbit sculpture out of fabrics. I remember how the stitching came loose because I tried to sew as close to the line of the pattern as possible, seeing that it was such a small piece. I also remember wondering if I should try to fix it, or start over. I am glad I did not start over because almost intuitively I started tearing the fabrics into strips and started wrapping it around the body parts. I liked it. Not just the visual effect but also the texture it created. I got twine and wool and added that too! Then I started doing mixed media techniques on it as if it was a canvas. It looked a little weird but nevertheless I was happy. I created something really unique and different and felt so good about it. I named him. My mother’s maiden name is O’Neill and my first reaction after I completed him was “oh” how beautiful….so instead of O’Hare for a surname, I made it Oh Hare, and this is how my family of rabbit sculptures and their “Irish” lineage was born.
Sharing it on social media was another thing because back then I did not have as much confidence as I have now. I was afraid that people might think it was ugly and too weird but I was so, so wrong. It sold immediately and I was asked to commission more. I started to make them bigger and in different positions and every single one of them sold. Naturally, I was over the moon with my newfound art voice and participated in many selling events. This is also how I got connected to Stephanie Gagos, a fluid artist and auctioneer from New York. She asked me if I would like to participate in one of her events and asked if I could make other animals too. Of course I said yes because I was not going to let such an opportunity pass me by. Stephanie is well-known for hosting spectacular and very successful art auction events online. Since then I have made rabbits, owls, a variety of birds, including ostrich and flamingos, lions, rhinos, giraffe, dogs, cats, fish, elephants, ducks; you name it, and I have probably made it.
At the end of 2020, I was invited to participate in another of her events and I challenged myself to make sea creatures. Gillbert the Octopus became an overnight sensation and I had to make versions of him for about 6 different people. I was so inspired by the film My Octopus Teacher that I created more. It brings me to the huge vertical hanging beast that I made to feature in this issue.
I never start out with a plan to create something, even if I sculpt a series for an exhibition or event. I trust my intuition, but this fabulous creature was inspired by the movie I watched. Knowing that I wanted to make a giant octopus, I started out by doing more research. I watched video reels or movies, researched anatomy, looked at movement, shapes, colours and familiarised myself with the species. I then moved on to making a pattern. Sometimes I get it right the first time but it is not unusual for me to make 2 or 3 prototypes before I am happy. I am not a qualified pattern maker. Everything I know is self-taught. Making a pattern for an animal sculpture is not the same as a sewing pattern for a dress.
The pattern pieces are cut from unbleached linen and stitched together. In the beginning I stuffed it with upholstery fibres only but lately I am using all sorts of recyclable materials such as plastic, cellophane and bubble wrap. Using recycled materials is part of my aesthetic as an artist. I believe in sustainability and preservation of natural materials for our planet. The body parts are normally wrapped individually before I assemble the sculptures but in this case, because the piece is so big and heavy, the legs and arms formed part of the head. It would look weird if I had to attach it afterwards. For this piece I also strengthened the body and legs with papier-mache over the stuffed fabric, but I do not normally do this for my other sculptures. It is mainly because of the size and the way the arms and legs are twisted that I felt the need to make it firmer.
Wrapping and gluing on the fabrics is probably my most favourite part of this sculpting technique. Actually, it is the process of choosing the fabric and fibres that I love. It can sometimes take days before I make up my mind on what to use. I like to choose everything that speaks to me when I go through my drawers and then I like to “spend” time with it. I sound a little bit cuckoos but it is part of my process. I hold the fabrics, I put my head on it and close my eyes and dream of it. I sometimes talk to it…all the while waiting for “it” to tell me what to use. I sometimes end up adding things or removing fabrics I’ve chosen as the sculpture gets to a point of “living” and “telling” me what “it” wants. My style is completely intuitive; there is no two ways about it.
I paint the fabrics with a hardening agent and add all the mixed media that I am inspired with at that particular moment. Sometimes it is wallpaper or embossed metal pieces. I always use ink drips to create dimension and more depth. I’ve added pattern paper, collage images, napkins, tea bags, twine, wool, raffia, lace, ribbon and many other findings I have in my studio. It all depends on the character, my mood and the conversations “we” have while I work on each piece.