Artist Interview : Dorcas Casey

Dorcas Casey’s work is a result of her impulse to make physical the recurring figures and motifs from her dreams. The wildlife forms she sculpts from pieces of old cloth and discarded materials explore subconscious interpretations of familiar images and the re-appropriation of familiar objects. In using craft-based techniques to transform forgotten or unusual materials into strange and unsettling animal likenesses, Dorcas alludes to the fragmented, scattershot nature of dreams. The corporeal forms in her work are offset by their positioning and presentation, appearing mid-stumble, or propped unnaturally on domestic furniture, they retain their surreal and dreamlike qualities despite their organic physicality.

Antlers are proud to present Dorcas’ work in a forthcoming joint exhibition with Abigail Reed. Gravitas opens at Purifier House from 21 March and runs to 19 April, every day 10am – 6pm. We caught up with Dorcas to find out more about her practice and the ideas behind her work.

Dorcas Casey

Dorcas Casey

What drew you towards sculpture as a practice?

Although I’ve worked in other mediums, the way I think is always in terms of objects, my ideas are always sculptural. I love making things. I think sculpture suits me because there’s a huge potential for using different materials- I like the feeling of physically constructing what seems like a ‘real’ thing, something with a bodily presence which disrupts a space. A sculptural practice suits the fact that I like to work in an intuitive, immediate way- the processes I use mean I can just start making and see where the work leads me.


Can you tell us more about how dreams form the starting point for your work?

My starting point for making a sculpture is always a vivid or potent motif from a dream.  The most significant parts of my dreams are always animals. I find these images haunting and distracting- their force and vitality is hard to ignore – I often feel just naturally driven to want to make them into sculptures. Dreams are one of the few daily experiences we have which remain genuinely mysterious. I like the idea that dreams represent a whole archaic way of thinking that we’ve forgotten. They present archetypal themes we can all recognise and understand on some level. I think the fact that dream images are so fleeting and intangible compels me to make my sculptures conversely tactile and substantial.  I don’t attempt to interpret or analyse my dreams in a conventional sense through making them, I’m more interested in preserving their puzzling, ambiguous and uncanny qualities.


Dorcas Casey - Sewing Box - Hand-stitched fabric, furniture, mixed media. 150 x 70 x 80cm

Dorcas Casey – Sewing Box – Hand-stitched fabric, furniture, mixed media. 150 x 70 x 80cm

Your process involves a lot of found objects. Why do you choose these kinds of materials?

Sometimes I like to transform every-day, mundane materials into my sculptures, for example my Bull is made out of hundreds of identical grey socks stitched together.  This, again, references the experience of dreaming, where something very ordinary can appear powerful or troubling in a dream.  I try to surprise the viewer with the sudden recognition of a familiar material. I also seek out old objects and materials which have some kind of charge to them or which remind me of something we had in the house when I was a child.  I love to use domestic fragments and debris like old clothes, blankets and  furniture in my work- I equate these kinds of discarded objects with the mental clutter at the back of your mind.


Can you explain the process these materials go through in creating your sculptures?

I tend to work with techniques that have a domestic, craft based status. I use hand-stitching as the main method of construction for my sculptures. It keeps me very close and involved in the work- I like its association with mending, darning and nurturing, but also its more macabre connotations of suturing, taxidermy and surgery. I love working with fabric because it flexes and folds like muscle and skin. When I’m working on my large fabric sculptures, I hand stitch socks filled with stuffing together, building up the anatomy in layers, almost in the same way as you would model with clay. So the surface of the piece ends up being a network of hand-stitched seams and stretched fabric. I also work with fabric soaked in Jesmonite resin; I make clay forms which are then covered with fragments of tactile domestic fabrics like old woollen clothes and blankets. I hand stitch these pieces into place before coating them in Jesmonite. Sometimes I make big moulds of these pieces and then cast them in Jesmonite too.


The animals in this show are striking for their muscularity and size, in contrast to the fragility of, for instance, your bird sculptures. Can you tell us about why you chose to present them in this way?

I think it’s just down to what I associate with a particular animal, sometimes I’ve used more fragile materials like kid gloves, brittle salt dough, hog hair stuffing, to make delicate representations of smaller, more meek, animals like rabbits or cats but recently I’ve been using stronger more malleable materials and making larger more ambitious sculptures. The animals which will be appearing in this show are perhaps the more powerful and confrontational of the ones I’ve made.


Dorcas Casey - Bull - Hand-stitched fabric, furniture, mixed media - 120x200x120 cm

Dorcas Casey – Bull – Hand-stitched fabric, furniture, mixed media – 120x200x120 cm

The work in this show juxtaposes these powerful animal forms with domestic objects such as furniture. How did you go about selecting these objects and what purpose do they serve for you?

There’s always a connection between the piece of furniture and the creature that accompanies it. I scour flea markets, car boot sales and auctions, collecting things that I feel drawn to or curious about. The furniture serves to suggest a human scale to the pieces and also the idea of the domestic interior – for me, the animals are not an ‘outside’ thing, they’re close and familiar at the same time as being strange. I like objects that have a link to memory- my own personal memories but also the nature of memories in general.  I tend to choose furniture that looks like it‘s been stacked up and stored in a dusty attic for years. I like the idea of things which have lain dormant, forgotten or concealed- I suppose this links back to the notion of dreams restoring things to the conscious mind that have been lost or forgotten.


How do you feel your practice has evolved since your first exhibitions?

I’d say my work has become more confident. The scale of my work has also grown and I think this allows more space for detail and expression in my sculptures. Also, I’ve been developing ways of making my fabric works withstand the elements which has opened up the potential for installing them outdoors.


Dorcas Casey - Bull Head - Jesmonite, clothing fabric, iron powder, wood. 80 x 80 x 60 cm

Dorcas Casey – Bull Head – Jesmonite, clothing fabric, iron powder, wood. 80 x 80 x 60 cm

It seems your work fits well with Antlers’ signature themes. How did this show come about?

Yes I’ve been admiring Antlers Gallery from afar since I moved to Bristol a couple of years ago so I was thrilled when Jack contacted me and suggested a duo show with Abigail Reed.  I think Abby’s work is amazing – the way she renders the animal form has such vigour and energy whist remaining subtle and beguiling. I can’t wait to see how our work sits together in the forthcoming show.


Dorcas Casey

Studio Shot – Dorcas Casey

I noticed your sculptures have been displayed in wildly different settings, for instance, the same works are shown in beautiful buildings, outdoors, and in what looks like decaying and rundown interiors. Do you feel that setting has a big impact in contextualising and changing the work?

My work definitely feeds off the atmosphere of its surroundings. It’s always interesting to see what any given environment lends to the work in terms of its perceived meaning. I’ve installed sculptures in derelict buildings, attics and crypts and these spaces naturally intensify their unnerving and uncanny elements. I like to think the work contains enough suggestion of these themes for it to hold its own in a white cube space too. Purifier House, the Venue for Gravitas, is striking, monumental and imposing, it has a kind of weighty historical grandeur to it and the title of the show echoes this. I’ll be interested to see if the building will amplify these qualities in my work.

To read more about Dorcas and view available work, please see her page:

Words: Andy Chadwick