Sunday, December 7, 2014

Interview #1: Caitlin Duennebier, Illustrator

'Dandelion my first boyfriend put in my hair, four-sided dice, golden peanut, shell, red sea glass,
rabbit stamp, flattened penny, key to my childhood home.'

I first met Caitlin Duennebier in 2007, when we were both art students at the London College of Communication.  I liked her immediately - because she was a genuinely lovely, gentle person - and because she had one of the most beautifully unusual sensibilities I had ever seen.  Her illustrations are both sweet and slightly terrifying, and her childlike drawings and paintings of unsettling characters and imaginary folk tales have been featured in places as diverse as beer labels and on e-commerce site ASOS.

One of the most intriguing things about Caitlin is her collection of found objects, and her flat in London looked like the municipal archive of a long-forgotten city of crazies.  Decor included a tatty glove in a large glass frame on the wall (more on this later), several teeth, and a bunch of passport photographs she had picked up from the sidewalk.  Rescued photographs of strangers were framed and displayed as though they were close family members, and small plastic figurines of cowboys and Indians were scattered in frozen scenes on top of the toilet and refrigerator.  It was nothing short of magical.

Caitlin took some time out of preparing for an upcoming exhibition of her work in Boston to talk me through some of her collections - teeth, Lucky Strike cigarettes, and tiny people included.

'Indian head nickel, wedding band, yellow marble, train set people,
rings from Mom, flower necklace, white rabbit hair clip, gold locket with picture
of my sister and my cat Bunny.'

The Liquorice Man (2012), Caitlin Duennebier 
When did you start collecting found objects and photographs?  What were your first few 'acquisitions'?

I come from a family of pack rats. I also remember when I was little my mother making objects seem very magical. To this day I still view objects as having good or bad energy or a type of soul. I have a small black lock box from my childhood that's full of things I found. A wheat penny covered in resin found in my front yard, an arrow head found in Lake Pocotopaug in my home town, a dandelion that my first boyfriend had put in my hair, some red sea glass from Monhegan Island off of Maine...etc. And the collection continues to grow, I've added the wedding band from my failed marriage that my husband's brother made and even a golden peanut that you gave me. 

I thought you might like the peanut.  Some of the things you find are displayed almost as though they are exhibits in a museum, for example I remember you had a framed glove in your flat, which I thought was amazing.  Are you inspired by the concept of the museum or archive?

I love the idea of objects having a story and that's why I think archives are so important. It's not just a written history but you can actually see how people lived and what they treasured.

I lost the pair to that glove but couldn't throw it away - it had too much meaning. I bought it when I first moved to London about 7 years ago. Even all the tips to the fingers are worn out. When I look at that glove I see a whole period of my life that drastically changed who I am today.

What is your favorite item or items you've collected?  For example, the teeth or tiny plastic figurines or something else?

My wisdom teeth are definitely one of my favorites. Four objects that my body created - how amazing is that. I also have my first pack of cigarettes, Lucky Strike unfiltered. I remember smoking them in the woods behind my parent's house. They remind me of lazy Summer days, hearing cicadas and the way the smoke moved through the light.

'First pack of cigarettes (one left), skeleton key, two dollar bill, Apollo landing coin.'

Some of your illustrations seem to feature odd or mismatched characters, or grotesquely funny creatures. Does your collecting inform or inspire your art work and illustrations?

My illustrations take on a narrative usually not understood until you read the title. And when I collect objects - it's that narrative that causes me to keep it probably forever. The key with a bit of red plastic on it is meaningless until you know the story behind it. I hope some day to have some strange grandkid that will want to keep my collection.

Well, I still have some of the things you've given me - like a packet of blue sequins you stole from the shop at LCC and a candy necklace you gave me in Covent Garden.

One of my biggest pleasures in life is giving friends small objects. It always surprises me how easily a memory can be lost if the object it's connected to is lost as well.

You can see more of Caitlin's work at  

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