Animals on the Move

ANIMALS, says Scottish-born artist Susan Norrie, ``are not still, fixed things.'' A primary reason, no doubt, for their appeal to her as a printmaker. Her printmaking has developed from linear color etching to this latest series of 35 animal prints, small in size but bold in scale, which are virtually ``fleeting gestures.'' Norrie uses the sugar-lift technique, a method of reproducing a freely applied brushmark. One way of looking at these apparently spontaneous images is as a celebration of the varied textures, accidents, mottlings, and edges that result from her chosen process. Her own inking of her plates also contributes to their individuality. The colors blend rather than separate, the ink being ``applied and lifted off'' rather than ``wiped down.'' Color can vary surprisingly from the start of an edition to its end.

It almost seems as though Norrie's images happen to be recognizable as animals - rather like the shadowy bison and reindeer on the walls of prehistoric caves. Many of Norrie's animals have a sort of primitive silhouette, making the viewer play a game of recognition: ``It's a ... it's a ... racoon!'' What she does not like is the obvious - or the sentimental - image. Her cat is hardly cuddly, her goat is unexpected, her polar bear little more than an icy shadow, her snake a green whirligig.

Not only that, but most of her animals are only partly seen: they move out of the square picture space - or into it. The kangaroo (naturally) springs up into its square. The leopard, which Norrie describes as ``skulking and predatory,'' slinks across this framing ``eye,'' never seen whole, a master of camouflage. The mole, coming directly into the Norrie bestiary from a childhood camping encounter with these disruptive but endearing earth creatures, is a dark shape with purple feet and nose, emerging over-excitedly but eyeless from its subterranean habitat, as if it had aspirations for a sky life.

Norrie's animals (she was incidentally brought up on a farm) are humorous, rather like creatures from folk stories. She has, in fact, made larger prints in which her animals act out some of the seven deadly sins, and other prints bringing her particular wit to bear on the narrative of Noah's Ark. She thinks of making a ``concertina'd frieze'' of some of her animals. ``For a child,'' she says, ``probably mine.'' Her baby is due any day.

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