Ralph Eaton, “Fuzzy Kudzu”, Stuffed Animals, 2013-14, Taubman Museum
Born in Roanoke, Ralph Eaton was very influenced by the West Coast art scene of the 1990s. Working in Los Angeles at the same time as acclaimed artists Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy, who used re-purposed mundane materials in their works, Eaton saw thrift store cast-offs as symbols of a consumer culture gone awry. Says Eaton: “Making art out of junk is my therapeutic strategy for coping with the human condition, with the clutter of the world.”
At the time, Eaton started buying trash bags full of used stuffed animals to make his works, beginning with a series of “cured teddy bears (curing them of their cuteness by burning and other surgeries).” In the past few years his pieces have grown more abstract, where wall constructions are dominated by red or blue clumps and animals’ faces either missing or buried.
Commissioned by the Taubman Museum of Art, Eaton’s “Fuzzy Kudzu” transforms the City of Roanoke Atrium into an otherworldly fantasyland, where a thirty-foot cascade of white furry tendrils made from restructured stuffed animals spills over the central balcony, countering the building’s architecture in ways both welcoming and unsettling.
Most of its “pelt” is recycled from discarded teddy bears, bunnies, and kittens, each taken apart by the artist and reassembled into over fifty “vines” ranging from twenty to thirty-four feet. Weighing nearly a ton, “Fuzzy Kudzu” is comprised of faux fur fabric, polyester fiberfill, and more than one thousand stuffed animals.