How would you describe your creative style?
My discipline is called rogue taxidermy. Rogue taxidermists can be trained or untrained. The foundation of our style is traditional (sport) taxidermy, and many of my idols and mentors are traditional taxidermists. Rogue taxidermists may create hybrid animals, juxtapose animals who might not encounter one another in nature, use animal parts in innovative ways, or place animals in contexts which focus attention on relationships between nature and humanity. I usually make my own mounts; sometimes, I incorporate or alter mounts others have made.
What’s your inspiration?
I love objects that have to do with captivity and enclosure. I love tiny things. I love Magical Realism. Finding balance in duality interests me. Metamorphosis. Last night, I saw The Nutcracker for the first time in maybe 15 years and realized that it’s mostly fantastic things emerging from boxes and creatures changing into other creatures. It’s lovely how we can revisit a piece for the tenth time — a ballet, a book, a painting — and become conscious of something in it that’s been resonating way down deep all along.
What is art to you?
Oh, just one of two reasons for living.
What does your typical day look like?
I am lucky to be able to make my own schedule. Most days I meditate, work on a poem, do yoga or go to spin, spend time at my studio, and do home-related things (cook, clean a chandelier, plant flowers, feed a rabbit). I also teach college English online, so I’m often checking in with students and grading written work.
How long does it typically take for you to finish a piece?
Most taxidermy (whether mounted or freeze-dried) comes together roughly in a few days. If a hide is used, it needs time to dry. From there, the process is detail work, habitat, seeing how mistakes become miracles. Usually no longer than a month beginning to end, and often I imagine and tinker with the next piece while working on the current one.
How do you keep motivated?
It’s a good thing for me to have a goal: a commission deadline, an upcoming show. As with writing, it’s important to balance intent and audience, and delighting the audience I imagine as I work is almost as important to me as my inciting idea.
How would you say your surroundings have influenced your work?
I grew up in eastern Montana, surrounded by wilderness. My father and most of the men I knew growing up were hunters and fishermen. There was a lot of taxidermy in the family home, and I’m sure that the way my child’s mind engaged with it has some to do with why and how I work with it now. I’ve always been interested in storytelling. My first love was poetry, and I think there’s a lot of my lyrical/narrative sense in the Canary Suicides. They are strange little poems told in three dimensions. Living as a grownup in edgy art-friendly places like Seattle/Tacoma and L.A. probably has helped me access my weird fairly shamelessly.
How have others reacted to your work?
People tend to have one of two reactions to my work: OH MY GOD DISGUSTING or delight. I allow both and love to connect with the latter.
What, if anything, would you tell your younger self?
“You are safe, worthy, whole, and loved. The only difference between you and the people you want to be is that they’ve already gone for it. Go for it.”
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Steve and Ro Fundum, my teachers at Advanced Taxidermy Training Center, like to remind students that no mistake is unfixable. A fellow artist, Jocelyn Marsh, told me as I was getting started that fuck-ups (likely my word, not hers) are part of the cost of doing business. This knowledge is especially freeing for me because I make lots of mistakes. I’ve learned that mistakes are usually innovations waiting to happen. Almost every time I screw something up royally, there’s a solution that makes it better than it was going to be or a lesson I really needed to learn.
Have any future aspirations that you’d like to share?
I’ll be featured via Downtown L.A. Art Walk at the L.A. Art Show this coming January. I’m working toward that installation (a Victorian salon with hybrid mammals and of course the canaries) with joy. I hope to continue creating large-scale installations which incorporate both miniature and human-size interior and pastoral elements.
What art supplies do you use?
Most people don’t know what the medium of taxidermy really comprises. Most taxidermy pieces (unless they’re freeze-dried, in which case a lot of the original animal is still there) are a tanned hide over a foam form with glass eyes, epoxy, adhesives, fillers, wood, wire, and paint. Some bone elements (e.g., antlers, hooves) may be real. For the canaries, cages, obviously. And I make or purchase/alter 1:12-scale furniture and outdoor items. For the larger hybrid mammal pieces, I make or purchase/alter human-size furniture and outdoor habitats. While I am able to do sport taxidermy, I currently do it rarely. No animals are killed for my rogue taxidermy work.