Cathy McClure’s Playthings
Plush mechanical toys, that find their way into the studio of Cathy McClure, are stripped of their fluffy faux pelts. Their exposed cheap plastic innards are disassembled and recreated in highly crafted metals such as silver, bronze aluminum. McClure transforms the mass-produced machine-made toy skeletons to newly handcrafted framework. The reincarnated toys often maintain their mechanical function. They are able to click, clack and gesticulate.
This work along with Cathy McClure’s other intricate metal projects has earned the artist much recognition and accolades nationally and internationally. The Texas Tech University School of Art alumna has shown in recognized galleries, museums and entered prominent collections including exhibits in New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Paris. She and her work have been written about and displayed in the well-known art journal for her discipline, MetalSmith Magazine. And in 2010, the New York Times has twice covered her work including in T, the New York Times Style Magazine.
The reclaimed animal toys are but one type of mechanical toy that Cathy McClure repurposes. After receiving her 1995 BFA in jewelry design and metalsmithing at Texas Tech, McClure embarked on her graduate studies at the University of Washington and received her MFA in 1997. As part of her study at the University of Washington, she started creating metal zoetropes. McClure revived this popular 19th and early 20th century gizmo with her inventive prowess. Her zoetropes have hundreds of intricately constructed metal pieces that make up the moving frames and attached three-dimensional animated figures. Cathy McClure is currently working on a new zoetrope. It is a very ambitious construction. Structured like a double Ferris wheel, the new zoetrope is ten and a half feet tall.
The intricate interaction of materials, toy subjects and concept are inspiring. Also inspiring is seeing a fellow alumnus, of Texas Tech University School of Art, so ambitiously work and find a place in the art world. I interviewed the artist about her education and work.
There are fascinating alterations happening in your deconstructed and rebuilt toys. When did you first peel the faux fur from a mechanical toy to reveal its innards?
I was involved in an exhibit as a graduate of the University of Washington that paired alumni, myself, with current students, Seth Sexton, and asked them to collaborate and present work at an exhibit called “Strangers Coupling”. We each brought toys to our first meeting. Metal is my passion and I easily found a way to incorporate the material into the toys I was exploring with Seth. I remember the first toy that I wanted to transform into sterling. The design of the plastic armature was so hypnotic to me, yet the plastic itself seemed tawdry. (…) Eventually, I began to obsess over the particular designs of the some of the plastic animal armatures underneath all the polyester stuffing. It seemed a natural step to me to turn the plastic into a material that’s more substantial, more “precious”. I was curious about the characteristics that a Sterling or Bronze elephant would embody as opposed to the lighter plastic. What would the weight do to the movements? Would the mechanics work? Would they appear more “real”? Less real? It’s intuitive for me to work in sterling, bronze, copper, aluminum, etc. I take the discarded, dismantle it and reintroduce it in a new light. It’s a discovery and a revelation for myself, and the object itself is transformed.
How did your experience at Texas Tech University affect the trajectory of your work and/or career?
Without my experience at TTU, I would not be the artist I am today. When I first entered the Art program, I took every subject that I found appealing – Glassblowing, Metals, Painting. Rob Glover (Professor of Art, Jewelry and Metalsmithing) noticed a focus and drive in me and took me out to lunch to recruit me as a major. Rob is one of my heroes. During the four years that I was his student, he passed his enthusiasm for this craft and his discipline as an artist on to me. It was a pivotal point in my life and career.
How did you decide on going to University of Washington for your MFA?
Rob encouraged me to apply to several graduate schools due to the fact that I was determined to continue my studies. I applied to eight of the best in the country, Cranbrook, Tyler, RISD, etc….I got into all of them. After visiting four, I came to Seattle on a gorgeous May day and fell in love with the campus, the city and the people. The metals professors at UW, Mary Hu and John Marshall, had a program developed that allowed their students to reach outside of their disciplines for input, criticism and direction. It was the kind of freedom to explore that I was hoping to find. They weren’t making their students into mini-mes. They were teaching students how to be career artists based on their own direction and motivation.
Where did you go, and what did you do directly after receiving your MFA?
I went rock climbing for two months. After being in school for 6 years straight, it was time for a little break. Before I left for the trip, I applied for the Betty Bowen Award which is awarded by the Seattle Art Museum to emerging artists in the Pacific Northwest. When I returned from my trip, a letter arrived informing me that I was one of ten finalists. I eventually won the award. This propelled me into my career immediately. A Seattle gallery signed me and I started showing. Two years after graduating, I had my first solo museum show at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. My career has grown from there.
McClure’s exploration and growth continually spawn new accolades and opportunities. The Bellevue Arts Museum has just offered Cathy McClure a show in 2011. The museum is having a retrospective of McClure’s former University of Washington professor, Mary Hu. To accompany the retrospective, the museum chose McClure to show with Hu. McClure’s work also resides in the permanent collections of The Pace in Dallas and Asher and Michelle Edelman of New York. Asher Edelman is the famous corporate raider turned international art collector and financier; his gallery, Edleman Arts of Manhattan, represents McClure nationally and internationally. Also in the United States, she is represented by the gallery of design entrepreneur Murray Moss, Moss Gallery of New York and Los Angeles. Cathy McClure resides in Seattle. In her studio there, she makes a living as an artist and is still known to dissect a stray toy.