You’ve never seen sock monkeys like the ones that have been mutating in Trace Nelson’s studio. Their knitted bodies sprout multiple heads, antlers or eyes on stalks. Their arms resemble twigs or flowering cacti. These primates travel together in a pack, like real monkeys, but no two of them look like each other.
Nelson, an artist who teaches at Victoria’s Vancouver Island School of Art, is a former punk rocker with experience in costume design. She works with found materials and a DIY, pop-cultural aesthetic. Her sock monkeys evolved into what she calls “a personal bestiary.” They’re often bizarre, sometimes tinged with fears , but still plausibly cuddly.
After Nelson had made 100 of them, she continued her shape-shifting explorations through paintings and drawings, some of which she made directly on the walls of Saskatoon’s Mendel Art Gallery, where her work is on display. In a video on the Mendel website,
Nelson says she wanted to capture something of “that moment in childhood when you start to leave toys and play behind.” Her work hints at how the imaginative tools of childhood may react to the encroaching adult world, before being effaced or buried by it.
Trace Nelson: Walls of Intrigue and Cabinets of Curiosity, Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, through March 30.