NPR allowed me to listen to Leonard Cohen's new offering 'Old Ideas' for free, over and over, while I fought to make something out of paint.
Being culturally Christian means that I can only see the pigeon feet as a crown of thorns.... The broken bird, Christ like, turns the sheep skeleton into a mother cradling her son .... and the whole thing becomes a strange pieta.
At the end of the day though it's a sheep skeleton, dead bird and pigeon feet. A simple collection of remains. Simply relics.
To get it right proved tricky, and this is supposing that to any degree I have..... got it right.
Ideas are all very well but the process is always a battle, a negotiation, an accomodation with stuff ..... This time paint.
Can I move it around, lighten it. darken it. Brush it on, Scrape it off.... I don't find it easy.
While I painted I listened to Cohen, to Joanne Harris' 'Holy Fools'. To every crime offering Radio4e iplayer could offer up. The listening is not concentrated. Sometimes nothing is heard so a thing can be played over and over like a mantra. Whether the whole is ever absorbed ......?
The bones were easy enough. The bird was a bugger!
Well anyway.... It's pretty much finished now. Probably more strange than tender .... but I hope a little of both.
My Dad wonders why I do this ....If it were a commission, it would count as a job...
I suppose all I can say is ... it drives me mad yet keeps me sane (ish)
There will be a break for a while now, while I go into schools and make some stuff with kids. Kids like making stuff even the ones that moan loudest....
To be honest I'm not sure I know. When I'm not doing the stuff folk ask of me I come back to this.
The taxidermy I keep. The paintings rarely survive!
I have been known to say that it's an investigation into ambivalence .... which it is.
But whether it is of any use or interest to anyone other than myself is doubtful.
As ever I'm looking at what remains when a life has gone ......
I often feel that I've stumbled into the wrong art form. That I should try and find some words or make some music rather than struggling with stuff.
But like that guy in 'Close Encounters' making his mountain from mashed potato I crazily continue ..... and probably shall 'till the spaceship arrives.
This one I called Montague and Capulet. A romantic notion of love. They can't have you for it ..... To put them together asleep in their fairytale glass casket was comforting.
This subsequent painting is a response to the taxidermy study and again that they go 'together' into the dark no doubt speaks of my own fears....
Here we have 'A little death' ....violent? ....ecstatic?
The taxidermied blue-tit came to a nasty cat-caught end.
There's nothing more violent than a natural order that involves predation.
But here poised on a knife point it looks more like a willing sacrifice.
The painting below maybe embodies more of the struggle.
And below we have an image that is so obviously religious.
I was but no longer am.
So why this?
To be honest the sheep skeleton, dead thrush and pigeon feet were quite insistant that they made the strongest image arranged this way and it's not always right to force your own views on stuff that knows best.
The painting will come soon. I've started and I'm hopeful for this one ...... but then I always am.
... he tends not to eat what he kills (the cat that is... The owner tries hard not to kill (daddy longlegs' excepted) but does eat animals that have been killed).
Again ... to try and make work that explores the notion of Ambivalence.
I'm not sure I any longer know .... It's become a quest.
I suppose it teeters on the edge of acceptability and forces me to think and make in a strange place.
There's nothing new in what I'm doing here .... hybrids are the stuff of mythology.... and there's nothing new in taxidermy.
What I suppose is new is the sensibility of this moment.
J. came in and said 'I just wonder if it's disrespectful.'
Perhaps it is ..... but if it's disrespectful to take something dead and use it for this ... is it more or less disrespectful to take something living and kill it and eat it? Are leather goods disrespectful?
Opinions divide in this area but I suppose my point is that some who will readily scoff a steak and sport a leather bag baulk at what I do .... make use of the skin and bones of a creature after death.
Perhaps it is in this problematic area that the power of these pieces(supposing there is some)lies. The stuffed animals and birds still carry their form.... we expect them to move. They are where they should not be. Artistry has created an illusion. So our reaction to a stuffed mouse can be similar to our reaction to the living mouse. It retains it's creatureliness. What is dead looks much as it did when alive .... but now inanimate.
Of course you might hate mice and feathers .... in which case ambivalence is not what you'll be feeling. I think there's a strange loveliness to them.. but perhaps I would.
My plan is that over the next 6mths/year I'll continue to produce paintings of my taxidermy pieces... not sure why (P'raps 'cause I just like painting?)
Of the taxidermy .... I still don't really like it but force myself on ....If anyone's going to do it I feel it should be me. (I have a renewed respect for butchers and especially surgeons who cut into the living)
Despite the fact that the animal is well dead (and has in fact spent some long while in my small freezer)I am always anticipating the breath, the squirm .....
I need to consider the ethical implications....if there are any...... of my decision to use animal remains......(basically bones, feathers and skins) ....... to produce art.
I suppose initially what matters is how these remains were sourced........ the large bones were purchased at £1.00 per bag from Edge and Sons organic butchers New Ferry (the calf's head cost a fiver and was unexpected and offered by the butcher himself ......they want photos.......I wonder what they're expecting!!!)
If the bones had not come to me and were left at the end of the day they would have been collected by "the bone man." Because of the risk of infection from animal and fish by-products they have to be rendered or incinerated.
The chicken bones that make up the chandelier have been collected from family meals during the year. My dad bought the chickens. It is his ritualistic offering every Saturday, along with some ginger beer and chocolate biscuits. The routine of work now replaced at 83 with new routines that give the week meaning. Shopping with Donna to buy the chicken on Friday, offered to Dawn on Saturday and eaten for tea on Monday ( a bonus if either or both of the grandaughters are there to share the meal, and enliven the evening with their young wine-fuelled conversation.)
The skins.......some were bought...... some were found. Professional Taxidermists have to follow strict codes. Certain birds and animals have to have special licences and all should be traced to a time and place. Those small exotic birds that I have bought from ebay are Victorian and pre-date legislation.
Those that are found comprise a series of small deaths that have come my way.......beginning with a dead squirrel in the park, a blackbird outside school, a bluetit brought by our one-eyed cat who rarely hunts these days (but did steal one of my stuffed mice!), a mole brought by my brother (he suspects either the cats or dogs......but it looked undamaged )....... A friend phoned up to ask if I was interested in a dead thrush and if not could I remove it anyway! And finally my husband arrived with a magpie in a plastic bag spotted while out driving. My specimens would have been rejected by any half serious professional because of the damage done to them......but my focus is remains and this is what remained!
The mice were bought frozen from http://www.livefoodsbypost.co.uk/ . This firm specialises in food for reptiles......it is only insects that are sold live....... the mice were certainly deceased and not an I've titled them only sleeping.
There appears to be nothing illegal in what I am doing..... but no doubt to some people it is distasteful...... certainly friends and relatives find it all pretty odd...... and even my girls who are relatively broad minded (and neither vegan nor vegetarian) wonder when I will move on from the dead stuff.
There seems little doubt that had I been using human remains, issues of respect, and proper treatment would have been raised. (Although Haitian artist Jean Herard Celeur seems to get away with it... constructing his sculptures from diverse waste materials including human skulls and car windscreen wipers salvaged from rubbish dumps and cemeteries respectively.)
I seem to have raised two separate issues here :- one concerning the differing status of human and animal remains and perhaps inherent in that, a differing status with regards to human and animal life. And secondly in what way are the physical remains after death deserving of respect and proper treatment........to be continued.........