Susan Cheal created mixed media animal sculptures using plastic, foam, audio motors and flocking, in an exhibition titled Wild Poodles Roam the Earth. Cheal’s animals offered more than met the eye. Besides being colorful and even beguiling to gaze at, these creatures literally spoke to the viewer. As we approached a sculpture, a hidden device would activate each animal’s voice box; they in tum emitted messages, from words to song. Cheal literally let her animals speak for themselves, adding another layer of complexity to Wild Poodles. Her animals were metaphors for some human behavior. Six species were represented are: the Leopard, Deer, Bear, Coyote, Owls (a flock of them) and a lone Goose.
Sometimes sad, compelling, humorous, vulnerable and almost alive, Cheal’s creatures evoked deep emotions within the viewer. Like a favorite stuffed animal from childhood, they’re equal parts fantasy and reality, pop and poignant, and also unsettlingly and strangely human.
How often did I hear this phrase delivered by authority figures as I was growing up,
dismissing it as an admonishment because of the context in which it was delivered.
Generally, its utterance had to do with my inability to maintain focus on a subject in
which I was disinterested; usually resulting in poor performance. The subjects were
usually those in which there was only one solution-a very rigid approach . .. very black
and white-no gray. My mind wanders–I’ve always asked a lot of questions, and there
are many answers which are cloaked in beautiful shades of gray. As often happens,
both positive and negative reactions to lessons taught early in life are rebelled against,
retained or repeated. I have chosen to incorporate all three of these characteristics into
my work..This command, learned early, has become my catchphrase. I pay attention.
I pay attention to the sight of an object as mundane as a ball used in the game of
BINGO. Initially, I may be drawn to it because of its beautiful form, the lushness of the
material from which it is made, the pristine machine-made application of the number
imprinted upon it, and the way it fits into its grid display, connecting it with other
numbers drawn to become part of a winning combination. Additionally, this simple orb
resonates with many other associations for me. It speaks of a community of desire–of
the inventor’s challenge, the manufacturer’s design, production and marketing, and the
players’ dreams of winning via a game of chance. I visualize vast halls of people of
many ages and backgrounds who come together, linked by a common desire to win, as
well as socialize. The behavior resulting from this community of individuals is
fascinating . How does the caller behave? Does he shout out the numbers, or is the
calling merely a job? What gestures do his body and hand make? What is the behavior
of the winner? The losers? Would winning big change a life? Losing big? What’s the
difference in a player’s life if he is playing BINGO or playing a high stakes Poker game?
It’s all context and conjecture. My challenge, if I decide to incorporate this object into an
artwork, is to cause the viewer to make further associations, allowing his or her own
experiences to add another layer of meaning.
By using an object as commonplace as a BINGO ball as an impetus to begin a project,
one can see that it resonates with multiple possibilities and serves as an example of my
…I find an object or image that has significance for me…I think about its origin, use,
social and behavioral aspects and formal qualities. I transform it or combine it with
other images or objects, culminating in new associations for the viewer. I make every
attempt to produce work that is beautiful. The process involved in this investigation is
more interesting to me than the final product.