Winterview Series, Part 1: Zelda English of Captain Cat


This winter we’re awash with art from our dear cadre of designers, everything from handmade dresses, jewelry and millinery to homestitched books and paintings and papier mache masks. In order to better document and display all this great art, we are doing a winter interview series (winterview! ): I’ll showcase one artist a week and attach as much juicy pictoral as I can. Enjoy!

This week: Zelda English, of the multimedia art duo Captain Cat . The name comes from Dylan Thomas’ poem “Under Milk Wood”, an epic which addresses the casual beauty in everyday life. Their art reflects this literary reference conceptually and substantially, as each portrait depicts a writer or inventor as an animal. I definitely see some rakish Kerouac quality in the ram, maybe a Joyceishness in the squirrel. English and her collaborator Rodrigo Neto also create folkloric papier mache masks celebrating old world songs and stories from their childhoods- hers in Portland, Oregon and his in Porto, Portugal. They met at a bus stop about 88km south of Salamanca Spain a couple of years ago and have been conspirators ever since. -sk

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Flutter- Have you always worked in papier mache, or were there earlier incarnations of your artistic inclinations?

Zelda English-I was a costume and set designer for a theater company for years . I have worked in many mediums but paper is a texture i am especially drawn to and costumes have always enthralled me so papier mache masks were a natural endeavour for us. This project was the product of a Collaboration between myself and Rodrigo Neto. Initially when we came up with the idea I think it was in part because of our time constraints, I remember we had talked about a collaboration briefly on my visit to Portugal last fall and at that time were unsure what medium to peruse but when Rodrigo arrived this spring to the states we knew we would have around 6 months to come up with a presentable body of work, we chose papier mache because of its sculptural quality and also its availability. We filled my truck with cardboard from dumpsters and paper grocery bags from recycling bins and began to build. We transformed the living room of my old Portland farm house into a temporary studio and promptly filled it with salvaged supplies. over the summer we carved the cardboard on the front porch and papier mache-ed out under the clothes line.

F-Did you study art in school?

ZE-Rodrigo is a formally trained painter with a degree in fine arts. He now works as a college level professor of art in Portugal. My Training was much more informal and came from various mentors, the first and foremost being my parents who were both painters and all-around creative, innovative people. I am 26 now and have been very lucky in this life time to have been in the presence of brilliant minds all throughout my years. I teach art and music through a summer workshop program to children aged 5 and up. I feel Art and Education should be Synonymous especially in a town so renowned for forward thinking. I want to be apart of making that happen. I have always planned on starting my own school.

F- You work with a partner. How does that shape the artistic process for you? How do you guys divvy up the work?

ZE- I am a natural at working collaboratively, I love being a part of something that takes on life and meaning because of the life and meaning of the interactions of those creating it. I even love the challenges and frustrations that come along with it because of the way that those obstacles force you to grow as a person in order to overcome them. Being a strong willed artist and working closely with someone as skilled and intelligent as Rodrigo Neto is a great ongoing experience, I think we definitely learn a lot from each other and from the projects themselves. As far as sharing the work load, it definitely comes easy. Rodrigo has such a strong set of talents diverse in certain ways from my own strong points and so it seems things candidly take their form. For the most part he is the painter, I am the photographer, he is the tech support, I am the show coordinator, he is the voice of reason and I am the voice of certainty. We accomplish most tasks together. At the end of the day typically we are both covered in paint, paper and glue. We also do a lot of idea building, where one person says one thing and the other adds to it or alters it just slightly and then back and forth till a master plan has emerged. That process is fun and includes espresso and a lot of sarcastic jokes. When Rodrigo is home in Porto Portugal and I am stationed in Portland that process is nearly the same except via email. We tease each other a lot. We are currently in the beginning stages of our newest collaboration which is an elaborate puppet series. We hope to bring in a third collaborator on this project, a dear friend and terrifically talented artist also living in Portugal, Pedro Esperança.

F- You grew up in Portland, Oregon. How have Portland’s social changes in the last decade affected you?

ZE- I like being one of the few people who remember when Portland was a dilapidated Ghost town, run by Loggers, Pirates,
Wenches and Shanghaiers (I am speaking of the late 80’s / early 90’s of course). Recently I was at a bar and after about 4 minutes of menial conversation with some drunkie, I was asked where I was from, when I replied ” Here, I am from Portland ” the inebriate gasped and exclaimed “oh my god, you are like a UNICORN, i have heard your kind existed but still no one has ever seen one!!! “
you just have to laugh.

F- What music do you like to listen to? Do you listen to music while you make art?

ZE-While working in the studio we listened to Portuguese Radio a lot, also Rodrigo is an incredible Musician. The official soundtrack to the summer was him playing the piano in our house. In part, I even equate our ever having met each other to his music which inadvertently lead to our first interactions and subsequently our friendship. Everyday I wake up with music in my head. I like wild violins.

F-What are your feelings around collectives and art?

ZE- If the word collective at all refers to joined energies with a common goal, i think its an extremely necessary and beneficial thing. Whether the goal be artistic, community based or otherwise. I think in the aggregate we find ourselves stronger and more capable than ever a single particulate could be, having the ability or capacity for so much more than one energy alone can produce. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy solo projects, at least 80 percent of my art is a solo undertaking but the ability to join forces is a powerful one and seems to instill a rare satisfaction in its fruition.