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Provoking thought through roadkill: an interview with Kate Puxley

Kate Puxley confronts both love and death in her art, which is largely centred around discovering and stuffing dead animals. To extend her practice beyond the palette, she became a certified taxidermist in 2009, and has since received much attention and accolades with her unique brand of sculpture and charcoal drawing.

Kate currently lives in Montreal where she is completing a Master of Fine Arts at Concordia University. Despite a recent computer meltdown that took her offline for a spell — who needs a laptop to stuff an animal, anyway? — Kate was kind enough to answer our questions in time for our launch this month. 

What spurred you to incorporate road kill into your practice?
My first encounter with road kill was at the age of seven - poking, prodding, and finally taking home the paw of a roadside casualty. The clashing of fur and steel affected me deeply, while the paw provided hours of drawing practice and was a source of awe. From then on, I was keenly aware of roadside carnage and its place in our landscape.

After completing my undergrad, I was inspired to photograph road kill and was soon collecting and drawing it. The lifeless forms on the side of the road, invisible to most drivers, possessed a terrifying beauty and force.

In Style by Kate Puxley: prints from $25

However, I was still just creating an image of the animal, and that wasn’t enough. I wanted to use the body as a material. I packed my bags and found a taxidermist in Calgary to teach me the craft. I’ve since apprenticed with several taxidermists in Canada and Europe. I am always improving my skills, and always learning new tricks of the trade.

What do you want your work to accomplish?
I hope to provoke thought and engage the viewer. And I try to accomplish this by creating strange or uncomfortable experiences. I am not striving for the sensational, rather something that will make people stop and think.

What are you currently working on?
I’m working on several projects at the moment, both in drawing and taxidermy. However, la pièce de résistance is an opera that I’m developing with two other musicians, Joseph Browne and Simon Livingstone. It’s more of a deconstructed opera that combines various musical styles with taxidermy installations. I don’t want to say more. As a Kenyan proverb states, the lion never roars when it hunts.

Why did you host a banana taxidermy workshop last year?
The banana workshop was done in conjunction with Bettina Forget, the director and owner of Visual Voice Gallery in Montreal. It was a fun and ethical way to introduce basic taxidermy techniques into a contemporary art setting. Bettina gave a brief lecture on death, decay, and the banana. It was a hoot, and the resulting taxidermy bananas were inventive and diverse. 

What is the biggest challenge to being an artist?
That’s a tough question as there are many challenges. Staying true to your vision is important but difficult when it doesn’t jive with the market. And of course financial stability is challenging as well.

Being an artist is a full time job. It requires perseverance and hard work. That being said, most artists I know carry a second job, either as faculty members or working in the service industry or as technicians. Carrying two full time jobs is a definite challenge.

What cause or issue is the closest to your heart?
This is tough as there are many worth fighting for, but climate change is probably number one. From that stems other social injustices. It’s happening, and yet corporations and countries are denying it exists. We are past the tipping point, but it’s not too late to start to implement changes that will ease the blow to come.

If you could own a work from any artist, who would it be?
The painter, Cecily Brown. Her lush paint strokes conceal highly erotic imagery. And she is wildly inventive with her use of colour. Also, it’s entirely different from what I do, which is refreshing and purely escapist.

Take Out by Kate Puxley: prints from $25.

What are you currently reading?
I have a few books on the go right now, including Vibrant Matter by Jane Bennett and Marking Time by the anthropologist Paul Rabinow. And I just reread Love in the time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez.

What do you listen to while you work?
I’m addicted to podcasts. I love The Moth a story-telling series, as well as This American Life, Quirks and Quarks, and BBC’s History Hour. And opera. I love opera.

What angers you?
Waste. There is so much waste in this world. Food, plastic, appliances — it’s disgusting, and it supports lazy behaviour. We need to nourish inventiveness. My sister-in-law has a blog centred around using leftovers in the fridge to create gourmet meals, and there are several DIY sites that offer inventive ways to reuse plastics and old materials. The results are always unique and way more interesting.

What makes you optimistic?
We live in a very privileged society where we can make choices: choices about the food we eat, the clothing we buy, etc. I’m optimistic about local food trends, ethical meats, and the return to symbiotic farming techniques.

What three things bring you the most pleasure?
Food, sex, and learning something new.

When are you most likely to experience fear?
Every time I approach a dead animal I experience fear. It’s a mix of supernatural fear (an illogical fear that the animal will come to life), as well as facing my own immortality. Working so close to death, one can’t help but face one’s own.

Browse artwork by Kate Puxley.

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