Sunday, 18 February 2018

Simone Smith Interview


Interview by Jones Grey.

Humboldt Photography. 


Encounters with death aren’t always traumatic, at least not in a purely negative way. For artist Simone Smith, her first interaction with an animal corpse brought about a rather beautiful way to make reparations with her experience. “This obsession-turned-career started the day I hit a squirrel with my car. It was the first animal I had ever run over,” Smith recalls. “I cried for a bit and then thought, I might as well not let him go to waste.” Simone, a resident of Northern California’s artsy nook Eureka, has been hooked on breathing emotion and intimacy into “anything without a heartbeat” since the day she laid eyes upon that first roadside specimen. “As a taxidermist, I get to know each individual animal very intimately and it forms a bond. Opening up and seeing the inside of the animals I pick up is about as intimate as you can get,” says Smith of her unique connection with the art form. For Smith, a well-rounded creative whose work has been featured in the La Luz De Jesus Gallery in Los Angeles, the process is anything but morbid.“I surround myself with death, but I feel that in working with death I am breathing new life into into the animals I find. It’s a beautiful process that I put my whole heart into."



Jones Grey: How did animal carcasses make their way into your art?

Simone Smith: In a way carcasses have always been a part of my artwork even before I became set on taxidermy. I’ve switched artistic mediums so many times, from painting to photography to digital artwork. In college I would photograph dead animals and road kill, and at one point I started bringing in small birds and mammals to my dorm room to photograph in various positions for my digital montages, putting them in various poses and studying their beautiful features then leaving them in drawers between classes much to the dismay of my room mate at the time. I had to quit school when I found out I had a rare bone tumor in my femur and that’s when I lost interest in most artistic mediums, I was in a very dark place in my life after going through such a painful surgery and long recovery. It was then that I became completely obsessed with practicing taxidermy. Instead of just photographing an animal and throwing it out to rot I felt this deep connection with dead animals and wanting to fix them up and give them, in a way, a second life. I guess you can say it was therapy to put my own fears of mortality and pain into preserving the memory of animals that were at the side of the road with broken femurs of their own. There’s a real connection when you look into the lifeless eyes of an animal and appreciate it knowing you found it on the worst and last day of it’s life, and take it home with such loving intention.

JG: Have you ever worked with a traditional taxidermist to perfect your craft?

SS: When I first started practicing taxidermy there were no traditional taxidermists near me that were willing to teach or apprentice me. The few taxidermists around were from an older generation that kept the business in the family. I became completely self taught after reading every book I could find on the subject including books published one hundred years ago to present day manuals. The Internet has also been an absolutely amazing resource for information and I’ve met a lot of wonderful taxidermy artists that have helped me along the way through forums on the subject.

JG: Does your personal style become incorporated into your creations?

SS: Absolutely! So much time, care, and dedication go into each piece that it would be impossible for my style to not be reflected. As far as my wearable pieces like jewelry and hair fascinators, I didn’t start making them with the intention of selling them, I created them for myself and started selling them when I started getting requests to purchase my work. As far as my taxidermy mounts my personality mixed with dark humor can definitely be seen in a lot of my pieces. It’s impossible for me to face mortality without some sense of humor so many of my pieces turn out quite morbidly comical. My current mood definitely sets the theme of what I’m working on.

JG: What kind of clients take an interest in your work?

SS: I’ve been quite surprised at the clients that take an interest in my work. A lot of “alternative” types take interest but my clients span such different lifestyles and range from morbid personalities like myself to conservative soccer mom types to a few celebrities, even people in educational fields that purchase my work to keep in classrooms.

JG: What kind of clients take an interest in your work?

SS: I’ve been quite surprised at the clients that take an interest in my work. A lot of “alternative” types take interest but my clients span such different lifestyles and range from morbid personalities like myself to conservative soccer mom types to a few celebrities, even people in educational fields that purchase my work to keep in classrooms.

JG: Do you channel the aesthetic of any of your favorite visual artists?

SS: Though I don’t commit to any one aesthetic, I definitely channel the Victorian Taxidermist Walter Potter the most. He was a major reason I started practicing taxidermy in the first place. He created amazing anthropomorphized scenes with animals dressed in clothing acting out human behaviors. He was by far not the best taxidermist but he was very much self-taught and his work is still some of the most famous and intriguing by far. I fell in love with his work and thought if he could teach himself the art then I certainly could. A lot of my work is very anthropomorphic, I love giving animals human personalities and dressing them up. When I find an animal I never quite know what the end result will be but as I start to work with it by the time I’m done they’ve almost given themselves a personality of their own.

JG: Have you ever received negative attention for your use of animal parts?

SS: I’ve received negative attention to the extent of threats before. Taxidermy isn’t for everyone, but I always do my best to educate the public about my code of ethics and respect I have for the animals I work with. Absolutely no animals are harmed or killed for my work, my work is not just an art form but also a way to create a better appreciation for wildlife. I’ve had some amazing experiences come from the negative ones. A few times people that absolutely loathed me and my work later came to me telling me they grew to finally understand it and became very interested in pursuing taxidermy themselves. Moments like these make my work so rewarding.

JG: How do you predict taxidermy art will evolve as it becomes popular in mainstream circles.

SS: Taxidermy’s popularity seems to ebb and flow in cycles throughout history. At one point taxidermy was mainly for study or hunting trophies and now the ethical taxidermy movement that rejects killing for the sake of killing has become popular with very creative non-traditional mounts taking center stage. The massive popularity it’s seeing right now may fade again but will certainly make a comeback as it always does. There are so many amazing taxidermy artists right now that I can’t wait to see what the future holds. Most of all, what the movement is teaching us right now is that taxidermy is no longer a profession with secrets being held onto by a few elitists, if you’re interested in the art form find yourself a book, a scalpel, and the mouse your cat dragged in because it’s a rewarding hobby for anyone that wants to learn more about animals and preserve them to be appreciated and enjoyed for future generations.

JG: What can we expect to see from Half Embalmed in the future?

SS: Half Embalmed has evolved so much since I first started, it all began with a squirrel on my dining room table and now has grown to larger mounts, jewelry and accessories, wet specimens, and bone cleaning. It seems to have evolved almost on it’s own and I hope to continue learning new preservation techniques as well as continuing to use my work to educate the public not only about taxidermy but the appreciation of animals that they may never see up close the same way. |


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