Updated: Jan 13
TW: Themes of death/grief and saying goodbye.
If you ask anyone who has lost someone during their life they will tell you in painful detail and sometimes even without words just how profoundly that loss has affected their daily life. They miss seeing them every day. Calling upon them. Spending time with them. Fearful of losing memories they shared. The list, much like those left behind, goes on. ‘Wait- ‘ you may think, ‘This is getting a little heavy, isn’t this a blog about art?’ It is I assure you. Though I feel as though to fully grasp these concepts it is important to capture and feel the sense of loss in order to fully absorb and relate to the subject matter we are about to delve into. Tragically it is hard to find anyone who has not felt the sting of losing someone close at one point or in one form or another. Someone you had once felt so close and connected to that you nearly caught yourself spiritually entangled with them on a meta level. It could have been a friend, a partner or even a family member. The point is it was someone. Connect to that feeling if you can just for a bit longer as we traverse that feeling in the themes of art, death, and joy.
As you may be aware of if you follow me on social media or have browsed my website, one of the subjects I choose to incorporate into my art work are themes of death. Because I have experienced my own various forms of loss, it is a subject that crept onto the canvas without protest and has stayed there evolving with my trade. However, over the years I have learned that death and loss are a part of every creators everyday reality no matter their subject or media of choice.
People connect to what we toss onto a canvas or mix in a studio enough to want to make it part of their own identity and personal makeup. They want it enough to buy it and let it enter their own private space. In the first steps of a new business, making a sale is a thrill but it is a bittersweet one. For independent creators who create one of a kind works such as fine art or textiles it can be so hard to let something go that you have poured so many countless hours and passion into. I can remember one time when I sold a piece I immediately had to hold back tears because I realized I’d never see it again. There was such a sense of fear and feeling of loss that I so despised, and worse, I feared perhaps I was, on top of all these feelings, losing a part of myself that I had incorporated into this work of art that I would never see again. It’s needless to say that art is personal. It is especially so for its creator the artist. We have raised and evolved our trade by creating each work that is completed. We watched every step and sat through the difficult, problem-solving moments and break-throughs. Most importantly, we persevered and saw each piece through to the end result.
Now you have your very first art show booked for the perfect venue. It’s opening reception night and you have made yourself into a flawless representation of the art children, art partners, art lovers you have spent countless days, nights, weeks, months creating, perfecting, loving. One sells, then two… Initially excitement races through to your very core until you are suddenly struck- They’re sold means they’re gone.
It has taken me a very long time to unlearn attachment and identity and cultivate a healthy detachment in its place. Not in a boastful or dishonest way, but rather a cultivation of joy for the final stage in my art or designs life: To enrich the life of another person and bring them the same joy in my works new life that it gave me during the time I spent bringing that work to life.
Brief personal spill story: I was polyamorous for a spell. Honestly it wasn’t for me, but it did teach me a lot about how I can view my work and how I relate to it. I learned and grew to be proud of my work, something I invested my time and love into, for being something that someone else found beautiful and worth investing in. Instead of anxious or even saddened when I sold something I found that after some practice I was happy to meet the new owner of my art or design and ask them questions such as where they planned to place the work or wear their new piece. They always had an answer that brought me a giddy sort of pride. The beauty of being a one-of-a-kind creator is that the person that goes home with your work will rarely see it as anything less than a perfect fit that was always meant for them. They feel a connection, they hear the story you are telling and they know immediately that it was theirs all along- And in time I learned to see and experience and come to understand that same joy with each client that took something home.
Occasionally I will see a photograph of my work being worn or displayed (or both!) and it is like seeing an old friend married to the love of their life. It is indescribable and it is beautiful.
Sometimes when we create art we feel as though we lose a part of ourselves in what we are creating- and it’s not even necessarily intentional! There is a natural sacrifice of time, devotion, passion and skill that gets any work of art to completion. We could make and keep all of our beautiful creations for ourselves hidden from sight, but if you truly love them, why not share their beauty with the world? Why not allow others to experience that same feeling? Why not let go and appreciate the cycle?
Though we cannot know what death itself has in store for us when our physical bodies expire, it is a similar sentiment. We have had our short, sweet time, lessons, experiences, and now the time has come to an end. I will take this junction in the blog to carefully explore another facet of the art of letting go- Identity.
I briefly mentioned identity, but I think it is an important part of any creators personal code that is discarded the most with so little foresight. To remember that much like our social lives and the people we invest in, keeping and maintaining an identity aside from our likes, our people, and all things corporeal and cerebral is essential as an artist. It’s the same for our creations, our art babies, our designs. Creating for the sake of sharing and spreading their wings to enrich each of the lives they touch that bring them to their final resting place. Whether that afterlife is the jewelry box, a section of wall or more profoundly- the body of a deceased loved one, it is so important to note that though your art has sold, nobody can take You away with your art. Conflating self-identity with our art is something I constantly see fellow creators struggling with, so much that I will most likely continue this avenue of thought more thoroughly in a prospective blog. For now, I would love to leave you with this:
Practice joy. Share that joy with your clients. Especially if they pick something up for themselves or someone they love. This is why I love taking photographs of my clients with my work if they decide to take something home. It is a memory of a moment where the cycle has come full circle and my art is finally laid to rest in its final resting place. A visual memento mori. Remember that the effort and love is not gone with each piece that is made then sold, but rather, it evolves and grows with you. Enriching you anew with each new connection.
Updated: Jan 13
When I first come into contact with a once-living creature, there is definitely an exchange; a mutual understanding like a balanced scale that holds both appreciation and reverence. In my hands is a creature that ate, slept, possibly procreated and will never revert back to its previous form. For this little one, the wheel has turned and the cycle has completed for this fragile life.
When I say ‘energy exchange’ I don’t mean to go off into some hippy dippy feel good talk, though I do have my own personal practices and fail-safes in place. What I mean by energy exchange is that since taxidermy is such an invasive art, there is no method to avoid becoming intimately acquainted with the creature: Its lifestyle, its ailments and possibly even the reason for its death.
Like a historical textbook, each limb, organ or imperfections tell a story that led this creature through its path. When I first picked up my scalpel with a fresh cat casualty (a mouse) artfully placed upon my workbench for the first time, I never dreamed that I’d be having these sorts of experiences. Berry remnants were stained behind its claws, a nicked tail possibly acquired from trying to escape a predator (perhaps unsuccessfully) all these characteristics told the tale of this little fella once so fastidiously going about their little mousie day.
That’s when the existential dread set in (well, at least it tried to make a touch down with little success). I thought to myself ‘how can I possibly respect the life of this creature in the ways that I am currently experiencing it?’ In that moment I felt extremely humbled and even honored by the creature before me and a silent smile crept at the corners of my lips.
If this little fella had rotted in the woods, of course, we would be none the wiser. Life and the planet would go on without a second thought while I’m sure the creature itself would come to expect no less than a wildlife burial as a decomposing corpse in the forest or nourishing a fellow wildlife creature in the belly of a great beast. But something else took place- I thought how cool is it that I can appreciate this little creature in this secret, intimate way, and how precious is it that I, quietly without anyone else present to bear witness, have been given the gift to be part of that process.
To get a little dirty, a little steenky, a little gritty all to capture a glimpse of that past life.
I think that once you are acquainted with a creature, like really involved with their death as the art of taxidermy allows, it does create an energy exchange- One that reminds me still to this day that life is very precious, that it is meant to be embraced and of course I am reminded that I am kind of really lucky that I am here, living the life I have been given before the cycle also turns me into worm food.
Updated: Jan 13
I have been incorporating taxidermy and bone elements into my art since 2011. In that time, I have been confronted about the subject of ethics in every possible fashion. Though some are more productive than others in their approach and interest, one thing is constant: It seems as though the true, underlying question is about the ethics of my work and trying to determine whether or not my ethics match your own while delving into the world of taxidermy.
I can tell you that this is a very tricky subject that both taxidermy hobbyists and professionals deal with as ethics vary with each client on a personal level. I admit it is very frustrating myself to see vendors on Etsy and elsewhere creating access to clearly illegal or otherwise mistreated taxidermy remains and selling them to others without their knowledge. For that I can respect the desire to explore this subject more than I can express. So in this blog, I will certainly try to outline some of the basics.
The birds or other remains that I work with are either by-products from cat kills and roadkill, or come from small, local farms or purchased through trusted small businesses who have access to captive 'natural-death' taxidermy. Since I struggle with keeping my sources secure and have worked hard to establish my relationships with them I cannot give out my sources directly, which I am sure readers can understand and respect.
I've dealt with farms that support small, home grown businesses like mine. They farm for meat, which some may see as murder. I see it as a waste to have these farmers toss these beautiful specimens of nature such as wings, feet and heads in the trash, so I choose to take them in.
Some are casualties of aviaries and non-chain local pet shops whos ethics I have examined and trust. While I know that these sources may match my ethics, to some, the thought of any animal in a cage under any circumstances doesn't sit well. You may be inclined to feel that finding a naturally deceased wild creature may be a notably ethical way to go. The thing to consider is when you find something dead in the wild, the ethics can't really be examined in their entirety, so even the ethics surrounding finding a 'naturally deceased' carcass in the wild does not mean that the creature did not suffer while in life or leading up to it's current state. As someone who deals with kitty casualties quite often, sometimes that's just a natural cycle of life and death.
If you're interested in delving deeper into the term 'ethical taxidermy' and what it means to you, I recommend giving this blog a visit: mickeyalicekwapis.com/blog/ethicaltaxidermy Mickey is a Chicago-based taxidermist that has been in the industry a very long time and has seen it all. I highly recommend giving her website a visit, and of course, subscribe and support if you can Venmo @mickeyalice.
Her sentence sums it up pretty well: "...The problem with labels like “ethical” is that there is no authority in place to hold taxidermists accountable for moral conduct. There is a broad range of opinions on what constitutes “ethical taxidermy” and what doesn’t. I have my own opinions, as someone who has been a part of this industry for a handful of years, and I will share it further down the line."
To keep it short and sweet, ethics are different for everyone on a personal level.
I think the bigger more fundamental question is what ethics hold value to you? What energies do you invite into your space and why? How do you know where the boundaries of your ethical umbrella lie? All very personal and fundamental criticisms to consider when taking in your first, third even your thousandth curiosity or oddity, and one that I am constantly asking myself as an artist who delves into working with once-living creatures. To learn about my own personal ethics, please visit my FAQ or feel free to contact me directly. I would be more than happy to answer any further questions you may have. Of course, as always, Stay Curious.