Cat Rabbit is a Melbourne-based textile artist who designs embroideries and plush animals in a shared studio. She delved into the world of plush friends whilst looking for a way to give friends cute gifts as a poor student.
“I was lucky enough to be doing the right thing at the right time – it was 2004 and there was this resurgence in everything handmade. Some friends opened a store in Hobart (where I was studying at the time) and I started selling my work there. From that point it just grew.”
After receiving an Artstart grant Rabbit moved to Melbourne, where she has been sewing ever since.
Textiles were not the first foray Rabbit made into the professional art world, at Hobart’s School of Art she studied Graphic Design, “I went on to do Honours and Masters in contemporary art, but when all was said and done I just felt like sewing and I learned that from my mum.”
Aside from familial and nostalgic connections Rabbit talks about sewing as a “peaceful, methodical process. It takes quite a bit of patience but the outcome is nice and tactile.” She says. “Creating something that you can hold and be of comfort to people is a lovely thing.”
Her adorable designs come from nature, especially animals. “I have noticed that I go on animal benders. Last year it was sloths – I couldn’t get enough. I made sloth plush, sloth hankies, sloth badges, sloth everything. There was also an owl phase, and now I’m going all alpaca crazy. Rabbits and cats are a consistent influence.”
Rabbit takes a holistic approach to her work, describing it as ‘sculptural’. She avoids using too many reference images, “because I am too easily influenced and I feel like the thing isn’t completely my design if I get too caught up in the research side of things. I like to watch musicals when I’m making things, basically I just really love musicals, they make me happy, and it’s good to be happy when you’re making things because it shows in the end product.” The creative process is dictated by what materials she has at hand: “I usually draw up a few preliminary ideas for a character and then just start cutting. It’s more of a sculptural process as I add and cut things as I go and I don’t use patterns.”
With this try-as-you-go method it’s no wonder Rabbit’s consumers connect with her childlike aesthetic, and that she was asked to collaborate in the creation of a children’s book with animator and fellow artist Isobel Knowles: “I made all of the characters and together we designed and made the sets and Isobel took the photos.” She says. “Isobel is an amazing animator and artist; we met through a mutual friend and were very excited to work together. We made an animation from my characters for an exhibition I had a while back at No Vacancy gallery in Melbourne, a publisher from Thames & Hudson saw it and approached us about the possibility of turning it into a book. We were very excited and it all happened very quickly.”
Childhood tends to be a resonating theme throughout Rabbit’s work: When asked if her characters have any particular meaning she jumps to Harry Potter, but doesn’t suggest that meaning is a necessity, “I like that people can simply look at my work and feel happy. To me, this is quite a worthy achievement. That’s not to say I don’t sometimes include an underlying meaning or message in my work (I have made a Tasmanian Devil with an embroidered facial tumour and a whole series of works on the irony of butcher’s logos) but I feel that sometimes it is enough to make something with no other intention than to promote happiness.”
Fans of Rabbit’s work can look forward to a future exhibition in Sydney in February with The Seven Seas and Nior, she is also excited about creating more projects with Isobel Knowles, “and a whole bunch of alpacas!”