In this series, the artists working at Creative Gateways give us behind-the-scenes insight into their current works in progress, inspiration, and creative challenges. Today, we explore resident artist Sumati Colpitts’ unusual menagerie of over-sized creatures…
All shapes and sizes
Many of the animal sculptures that Sumati Colpitts makes are of a smaller size: royal rabbits, magical mice, frogs that can practically rest in your hands. Even larger animals, such as her playful pigs, are often scaled down – able to sit on a table or sideboard. “These can be particularly popular pieces,” Sumati explains, “as they look beautiful in homes and gardens without taking up too much space.”
But these smaller creatures, enchanting as they may be, do not comprise the entirety of Sumati’s oeuvre, nor represent the full spectrum of her scope. “I have pieces that are much, much bigger. Huge, in fact!” These creations are more than just beautiful ceramics, however. They are real statement pieces, often reaching up to four feet high. If the frogs and rabbits are Sumati’s adorable animals, the bigger creatures are her fantastic beasts.
“I’ve never met an animal I didn’t like…” – Doris Day
Elephants are one of these larger animals, although it is not just their natural size that appeals to Sumati. Elephants are a big feature of Hindu mythology: the elephant god Ganesha is said to bring luck, fortune, and protection. In Chinese mythology they represent longevity, happiness, and good luck. Elephants can also live for up to seventy years, making them some of the oldest creatures on the planet. “The saying ‘an elephant never forgets’ probably refers to their long memories and intricate cultures.”
More than anything, though, Sumati loves elephants for the joy they bring. “They make people smile. Like so many of my most popular pieces – like pigs, frogs, and bulldogs – elephants are intrinsically expressive. A sweet elephant, sitting back with its trunk curled in the air – no wonder people fall in love with them!”
Then there are the hippopotamuses, who have their own special characteristics. “Their roly-poly bodies often remind us of the beautiful, squishy faces of chubby babies.” They are associated with creativity and motherhood, and were revered in ancient Egypt as symbols of fertility. Hippopotamus also translates from Greek to “water horse,” which is fitting considering that they are often viewed as a blend of the elements of earth and water. “It’s the creative, imaginative aquatic realm combined with the grounded power of earth,” Sumati explains. “They’re big creatures, and you certainly wouldn’t want to mess with one in the wild. But my ceramic versions are a lot friendlier!”
Sumati is also drawn to creating large felines, and has a love for the small but meaningful details. “There’s one piece I have where lots of people ask ‘Is this guy a leopard?’ But actually, it’s a jaguar! The patterning of the coat is subtly different. Leopards have ‘rosettes’ rather than spots like a jaguar.” And making those markings is no easy task. It is a very intricate process involving black clay. “I roll it into tiny little pieces and then press into the lighter colored clay. When I roll over the surface, it spreads out. It’s much better than using a paint or a glaze because the pigment is in the clay itself.” This means that the pigment will never fade, even if it is being kept cozy in an outside garden. But the difficulty does not end there. “I used to use steel for the whiskers, but now I use copper wire – which is also a painstaking process! I cut the wire, fit it to size, and then bathe them in acid before I glue them in again. I may have to rethink that at some point…”
… and where to find them.
Be sure to visit the Creative Gateways gallery – open 7 days a week, from 10am – 5pm – where you can see a wide range of Sumati’s creatures, big and small!