“My work starts with a character,” says San Antonio artist Sarah Fox. Over the last 10 years, the one character she keeps coming back to is the rabbit. “I think I return to her whenever I’m frustrated by something. I’m frustrated by the laws that govern women’s bodies and women’s sexuality. I see the bunny as a vehicle to express my anger, and I’m using rage and humor to push back against the policing and politicization of our bodies.”
Using a narrative format, Fox often explores a single character or story through an astounding variety of media. Whether it is drawing, painting, collage, sculpture, fiber art, puppetry, performance, or animation, each iteration is a means for the artist to get to know the character more fully. “I have done a million rabbit drawings, and I work from these to capture the spirit of the character.” Fox points to the “crazy” ears on her rabbit. “They are so expressive.” She can’t quite explain it, but she’s drawn to the inherent visual beauty of the rabbit.
Fox began experimenting with animation in 2016. It was a natural direction for her character- and narrative-driven work. She was already creating mythological and surreal worlds with her collage work, populating her dreamscapes with fantastical hybrid creatures. “Collage opened up a whole different world for me. I was exploring ideas about different kinds of beauty, the monstrous, the outsider,” explains Fox. So she built a safe place for her grotesque and beautiful characters, animal-human-plant hybrids gifted with a dizzying array of horns, hooves, wings, tentacles, or scales.
Fox says that the impulse to animate her characters comes from wanting them to become more and more real. She wanted them to move in her invented world. The first work she created in the stop-motion medium was The Great Cry (2016). It’s a deeply personal work dealing with the trauma of her two miscarriages. “I still look at this piece and think that it might be the best thing I ever make,” Fox admits. Glitchy and raw, the animation features a disconsolate pink rabbit, misshapen and covered in blood, weeping by a baby blue cellophane pond. The acute physical and emotional pain experienced by the character, shown with explicit honesty, elicits a powerfully visceral response.
The preparatory drawings for her latest video work, Bad Bunny Gets Lucky (2021), were done with red and white wax crayon on pink paper. The rabbits are monstrously sexualized with dark nipples, hairy limbs, and elongated fingers and toes. The resulting coloring “makes your eyes vibrate a little,” warns Fox. “It’s tricky to look at and I like the tiny bit of discomfort this weird vibrating red gives off.”
Fox had already made a marionette of Bad Bunny two years ago after attending a puppetry conference. She describes the character as rough, exhausted, and middle-aged. “She’s supposed to be a very very working class character. She drinks too much. She chain smokes. She’s a mess.”
The puppet show/video is very campy. The tongue-in-cheek style is Fox’s way of dealing with the serious issues of women’s bodily autonomy and sexual freedom. “I think sometimes a little humor can give the viewer an entry point into the subject matter a little bit better,” she concludes.
By her own admission, Fox’s rabbit character has become more and more bizarre and off the wall over the years. Is it a stand in for the artist herself? “I like the idea that this character continues to survive despite herself,” Fox reflects. “The idea of tying oneself to an animal or hybrid animals is a gateway to freedom, to not having to live in normal society or follow normal modes of making a life. It is me. Sometimes it’s me exaggerated x 1, and other times it’s me exaggerated x 20.”