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OLLY and SUZI | ‘Caracal’ and ‘Baby Anaconda’
by Henrik Riis
September 28th 2022
Accomplishing more than thirty expeditions to remote arctic, desert, ocean and jungle regions, Olly & Suzi have for three decades been in search of predators and prey, and the fragile habitats in which they live. The close living with the animals on their turfs has produced intriguing portraits of some incredible species, from cheetahs on the African savannah to the turtles in the waters of the Galapagos islands. Works are often made with local pigments and occasionally with the participation of the subject animal. The lithographic editions, Caracal and Baby Anaconda, are a representation of lesser-known animals from two of the grand continents, Africa and South America.

Watching the wild life in the early hours on the vast steppes of the Central Plateau in Namibia brings to mind that there was a time when humans lived in symbiosis with nature. As the first golden rays of the rising sun cascade over the plains, the reddish-tanned caracal and other animals that hunt during the pitch-black nights retire in the shade or below ground, signalling a new day for the rest of the animal kingdom. Colourful hoopoe birds start searching for insects, while elephants set out for the waterholes and blue wildebeests grass alongside hordes of springboks. In nature, there has been a rhythm to it all for thousands of years.

It is the persistent rhythm and close relationship of everything that has been a draw to Olly & Suzi since the late eighties. By effectively moving the artist studio into untamed and hostile environments, the British duo have observed and lived among countless animals on location - and through their practice bringing awareness of urban living’s increasing disconnect from the natural world and the myriad of creatures which the planet is shared. Their method of working have brought about exciting encounters with wildlife and created bonds with bears and buffalos, sharks and seals, and hyenas and wild cats; many of the animals, endangered or simply “misunderstood” by humans.

Olly & Suzi’s artistic journey started far from the icy pains of Antarctica or the tropical forests in South America, and closer to the cityscape of east-central London in the mid-eighties. Assigned to a project at Central St Martins School of Art they found that drawing and painting in tandem with different tools came perfectly natural and enriched its presence. However, it was the reading of myth and legends about the Mohawk and Onodoga people during their scholarship at Syracuse University in ’87 on the American east coast that prompted a focus on the relationship with wild animals. Contrary to the tolerance and knowledge of native Americans for the wildlife around them, the urban lifestyle of most people seemed absent from such traditions. From this point forward animals became their main subject matter.
(British)
Lithograph on Somerset Velvet 300gsm paper

Signed and numbered on front.

Edition of 50
$ 690.00
Available from a private collection
As rewarding as it is to draw and paint on location and in the presence of an animal, the challenges of creating art in the wild has proven to be a process of multiple stages. The desired setting may be along a herd of migrating elephants on the savannah or following a wild bear through the forests on North America, but before it comes to this there are many considerations; the planning of the trip, the journey, finding local guides whom are familiar with the area, living in the environment, tracking the animals and documenting. Only then does it come to drawing and painting the subject animal.

In the past decades Olly & Suzi travelled to many of the world’s continents to study and develop their ideas and work. On an expedition to Namibia they came across the Caracal and one drawing of the wild cat would become representative of their future practice. Living on the Central Plateau and the greener Bushveld region, and spending most of its day in a shady spot, the highly secretive animal is notoriously difficult to spot with its red-sandy fur. Their drawing superbly captures the creature as it relaxes under a bush; the characteristic long pointy tufted ears, and from the head - applying only a few continuous broad brush strokes - the back and muscular back leg is outlined. The earthy colour palette presents only few details, entirely limited to the features of the head, the paw and claws on one visible back foot. Like in its habitat, almost invisible.
(British)
Lithograph on Somerset Velvet 300gsm paper.

Signed and numbered on front.

Edition of 50
$ 690.00
Available from a private collection
From a trip to one continent to another on the southern hemisphere, Baby Anaconda is a fine study showing a young snake in a brief moment as it moves in between the thick vegetation in the Venezuelan rainforest. Here, the reptile is camouflaged to perfection in the moisty soil and amongst green leaves descending from the canopies high above it; only revealed to the viewer by the recognisable shape of its textured skin and the hissing split tongue. Baby Anaconda - like many of Olly & Suzi’s works on paper - is depicted as an icon, singular and primitive, shown in a swirled position as it considers the next move.

The practice of Olly & Suzi’s creates a physical and direct and link between the wild and the viewer. Produced out on location in diverse and remote environments and in close proximity to the animals, the works often include local colour pigment from a habitat and in many occasions a subject animal is enticed to leave its mark on the work; a touch that can have unexpected outcome such as the great white shark that bit off a large corner of one painting.

With the urgency to act upon a pending climate catastrophy, their work is a fresh and thought-provoking contribution to the debate on how to re-establish a balanced co-existence with nature.

Awarded a debut solo show in 1990 by the German art dealer, Hans Jurgen Muller, the ideas and earliest work by Olly & Suzi were getting noticed soon after their graduation, and continues to do so. Their artistic and non-scientific studies of wild life in various locations have been widely exhibited and have received acclaim far beyond the art world. In 2003, the book ‘Arctic, desert, ocean and jungle’ - covering a decade of works and travels - was published in New York; a publication followed by ‘This Way North’ (2008) in 2008 and ‘Animal Studies’ (2019).

Momentarily in London after ten years of on-and-off travelling, Olly & Suzi reflected on their experiences and amongst numerous of paintings and sketches on paper, Caracal and Baby Anaconda was selected as the basis of two print editions released in an exclusive collaboration with Eyestorm in 2007. The lithographs are printed on 300gsm Somerset Velvet paper, a quality which is close to the heavy and resilient 400gsm paper which the artist duo uses in the wild. Each print is signed and numbered in pencil on front.

To view the print editions in more detail and to find more information about available works by Olly & Suzi, visit their artist page here
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