Angela Casserly is an artist in the midst of creating her vision of the Earth’s potential future – one where humans have become extinct and the only things left are insects. The most interesting thing about her work is that not everything is as it appears, since many of the furniture pieces are actually made from cardboard boxes and other upcycled materials. I went to visit her studio in San Francisco where we talked over Irish breakfast tea, gourmet donuts, and Edward Scissorhands playing in the background.
Daniel Rolnik: Where are you from?
Angela Casserly: I grew up in County Westmeath in Ireland – part of the Midlands region, an hour or so from Dublin city. And I moved to America nearly 8 years ago, but I didn’t plan on moving here. I was travelling with friends through Europe on my 21st birthday and went to visit some people in San Francisco and never left. I tend to tell people I came here because the weather in Ireland drove me crazy, which they find hard to believe since it’s also cold and foggy here in S.F., but believe it or not the summers here are still way nicer.
DR: Is there an art scene in Ireland?
AC: Not so much where I’m from, but there is a bit of a scene in larger cities like Dublin, Cork, and Galway. So I suppose if you want to break into the art world, it wouldn’t be easily done in Ireland. Kids my age are mostly just focused on making a living there and it’s also not as acceptable as in other European countries to be an artist in Ireland, which is part of the reason I didn’t want to stay.
DR: Where do you get the toys for your sculptures?
AC: I was a childminder for many years, so I would ask the families I was working with if they had any toys they were throwing out. And so a lot of people started giving me things like action figures, vintage ornaments, and dolls…I also used to actively look for pieces, but to be honest I try not to buy things that are new because it’s against my beliefs altogether – I’m really trying to reduce, recycle, and reuse.
DR: What paint do you use?
AC: I’ve mostly been using semi-gloss house paint that’s either white or black. I actually tried to use spray paint, but it didn’t work – it’d get messy and chip off.
DR: How are your sculptures assembled?
AC: I use super glue and I swear I’ve stuck all my fingers together numerous times – that stuff is a nightmare.
DR: Did you go to art school?
AC: I went to an art school in Dublin for a year, but I’m mostly self-taught. I thought about studying interior design in Edinburgh [Scotland] before I came to America, but decided against it in the end.
DR: Why were you interested in interior design?
AC: Interior design was always a part of my upbringing. We could never afford a decorator, so my mom and I did a lot of decorative work ourselves [carpentry, upholstery, etc.]. She is an artist and an amazingly talented woman who can tackle just about anything. So I learnt a lot from beginning go about building, sculpting and so on. I’ve only recently figured out that I could mix my two passions of art and interior design together and in turn produce conceptual artwork.
DR: When did you have your first exhibition?
AC: My husband and I found a broken clock on the street while we were walking home one night and took it in with us. I was inspired to make it a WWII inspired piece because my husband grew up in Soviet Union Russia and I used a lot memorabilia objects I had around the house that were already on their way to becoming antiques. Someone saw the piece and recommended that I do an art show, so I ended up doing one and it went so well that I got inspired to keep going with it.
DR: Do you add clay in-between the toys on your sculptures?
AC: Absolutely, I tend to use it quite a bit. I have a sculpture named Romancing a Honey Bird where I put some putty in-between a slab of driftwood and the clock so they looked like they blended together.
DR: Do you ever make your own figures?
AC: I wish I could make all the toys myself, but it would take forever – especially since I try not to ever use the same figure more than once.
DR: How are you planning on selling the furniture pieces?
AC: I’m hoping to not really sell them, but more so photograph them and use them as props – since I love the idea of taking the work and making it part of something bigger. My concept at the moment is to cover half of an old eerie-looking Victorian room in white ashes and bugs and have it look as though it’s set in a post-apocalyptic time where insects are the only living species left.
DR: Where did that idea come from?
AC: I’ve been really focused on how humans are destroying the planet and I wanted to show our potential post-apocalyptic world through my art.
DR: Do you like real insects?
AC: I suppose they freak me out to a certain extent and if I saw a cockroach in my home I’d probably go crazy. But, butterflies and ladybugs on the other hand are beautiful.
DR: Do you make the furniture from scratch?
AC: Yes. I know one of my sculptures looks like a wooden cabinet, but it was actually made from a cardboard box. And I had to put in a whole wooden support system so the cardboard wouldn’t warp. Also, just to make it look like a Victorian piece of furniture I rounded the edges and gave it some unique features.
DR: What’s your piece with all the animal toys about?
AC: It is supposed to represent Man’s harsh treatment of animals. I grew up on a horse farm because my dad trained thoroughbreds for a living and so I had an amazing upbringing surrounded by nature and animals. I also grew up fox hunting and rabbit hunting on horseback, but it was more so a hobby then anything because the foxes and rabbits weren’t caught that often. Sometimes you would see terrible stuff because the hounds that would go along with you would occasionally rip the foxes and hares to shreds, which eventually led to me becoming a vegetarian.
DR: Did you ever kill a fox?
AC: I never killed a fox, but I saw them killed…There’s an old Irish tradition called blooding where the youngest person in the group gets a little bit of the fox’s blood placed on their forehead. It’s a rite of passage to be baptized in blood, but I found it to be quite traumatic.
Answers by: Angela Casserly
Questions by: Daniel Rolnik