This week, please meet London-based artist, and my friend, Polly Morgan. For those who are not familiar with her work, Morgan takes you to a world of delicious melancholy, where death is delicately celebrated with poetry. Using, at first, the art form of taxidermy, and now moving toward other techniques, such as casting objects, the talented Morgan is preparing for a show at the Robilant + Voena Gallery in Milan this March, and working with Other Criteria on a new series of work in their soon-to-open New York gallery. Below, I caught up with her about New Year’s resolutions and her unique body of work.
What are your top three New Year’s resolutions?
I have never made a New Year’s resolution in my life. I make them whenever the feeling takes, which means they’re usually to get up earlier and exercise more, both of which are under control at the moment!
You are known for your taxidermy work. Where did this fascination come from? Are you still passionate about it?
Less passionate than I was, as I’ve found that making it has “cured” my desire for it. A little like when you fancy something specific to eat, but by the time you’ve finished cooking it, you’re not that bothered about ingesting it. It’s a bit like magic, I suppose, a fancy trick that is calming to look upon. Nature is therapeutic, and animals have always been a big part of my life, so it felt very natural to work with them. People are surprised to learn I prefer them alive, though.
What was the most challenging animal you’ve practiced on?
Probably a stag, purely because it was so big and heavy, and I needed to muster more strength than usual to flip it over whilst skinning it, and to dismember the body from inside the fiberglass cast. It also had lots of live ticks on it, which added an element of paranoia I don’t usually have to deal with when I work on things that have previously been frozen.
Can humans be taxidermied?
Yes, although I can’t imagine they’d look very good, considering they don’t have a dense covering of hair to cover the work beneath. They would need painting afterward, if they were to look more convincing. I think silicone models are the way to go with humans—see [the work of] Ron Mueck.
Do you feel the general public might sometimes pigeonhole you with this art form?
Yes, although it’s not surprising. Taxidermy is such an emotive thing, it’s hard for people to get past it and to give the other elements in my work equal evaluation. For this reason, I’m looking forward to seeing how some of my newer work without taxidermy will be received.
These days, art fairs have become almost an extension of fashion weeks. Luxury brands throw parties while artists and A- to Z-list celebrities hold court around rich collectors. Does this cynical vision of contemporary art bother you?
I think it’s fashionable to slag it off, but it doesn’t bother me much. It’s inevitable, and artists need an income if they’re to make more work, so it would be counterproductive to wish it all away. It’s up to them how involved they get. Personally, I rarely go to art fairs—especially not to the openings. It’s a big, ugly scrum, and it just doesn’t feel like the place for me. I’m happy in the studio, making the work, and far less comfortable with the selling side. That’s why I’m an artist and not a dealer.
In your opinion, has the position of female artists changed a lot from early century to now, and if yes, in what ways?
There are far more visible female artists now, and we are possibly seen less as lone eccentrics or deviants than the likes of Frida Kahlo and Lee Miller were. It’s probably not so necessary to be a gutsy ball breaker than it once was, though most female artists I know still happen to be that way!
What animal would you like to be reincarnated into?
Being a parrot would be good. They can fly, they look flashy, and sometimes they live to one hundred!
If you have to choose another métier, other than artist, what would it be?
A chef, in my younger years, when I could handle the stress, and a dog-walker in my later life, when I want space and solitude.
For more information, visit http://pollymorgan.co.uk/.
Photos: Courtesy of Polly Morgan; Tessa Angus