Artist Brooke Weston’s work is unique, to say the least, as she re-purposes old taxidermy models, adding her personal touches to them. Each piece is unique to the animal, using the subjects own distinctive features to make rooms and staircases within. This is the realm of Elves and Fairies, and Brooke is showing this world to us.
1. Where are you from?
I grew up south of Monterey California right on the coast. My great-grandfather was a well known photographer in the area and I was fortunate enough to live on his property right on the coast line; it is a very magical place.
2. How did you first start on this journey?
When I was very young I remember reading story books or seeing movies and being almost frustrated there were not scenes or play sets of the environments in stories. When my family and I were camping I would go off by myself and build small little landscapes in tree hollows with sticks and rocks. It seems like this obsession with tiny worlds in objects was really prevalent in my consciousness most of my life. As I got older I would look at all kinds of mundane objects and imagine miniature worlds in or around them. There used to be a punching bag in our garage when I was growing up that I was convinced was hollow and there was a small room inside of it. Writing that now I am a bit concerned about my mental health as a child! ha ha! I struggled academically, growing up, I was very unpopular, introverted and not into sports. The only thing I connected to was fantasy, art and 80s Punk Rock. I pushed myself hard to draw and paint when I was a teenager but was not naturally gifted in this area, but was cursed with this imagination and no way to fully express it through 2D art. Setting up dioramas and creating environments seemed to be where my heart was at but I had no way to fully bring this into fruition. There was a point when I was a teenager where I decorated every inch of my room with so much detail, little scenes, props and collages everywhere that I didn’t even use the room; it was just a display.
I started taking Sculpture classes around 18 through the local college and that was where I began experimenting with attempting to create 3D/diorama art work. The first piece I made successfully with these concepts in mind was a mannequin split open with rooms inside. Then life, work and lameness took over and I essentially stopped making art for almost 7 years.
At some point of transition in my life in my mid 20s I looked at this taxidermy goat head I had and thought, I’m going to cut it open and put rooms in it and I did. After that it was a complete obsession for the next 8 years.
3. How would you describe your art?
Three dimensional, fantasy, diorama, pop surrealism. Maybe!
The term Rogue Taxidermy was coined in 2004 by the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermist. I am very proud to be considered one of the earlier “rogue taxidermists”. At the same time I see my sculptures evolving outside of taxidermy in the future. I am driven to make large scale work, submersive environments and installations. Although I absolutely love taxidermy, the concepts of fantasy architecture, worlds with in worlds and abnormal beauty are just as important to me.
4. What is one animal that you haven't found yet, that you would love to work on?
Best question ever! I really am searching for more full animals but they are really hard to find in a price range that allows me to resale. The largest animal I have worked with so far was a beautiful 6 ft Brown bear which I built 10 rooms inside connected by tunnels and ladders. I would really like a full body Fallow Deer or Axis Deer because they are absolutely beautiful and very fairy tale-ish. If I were really going to allow myself to think big though; a full body Giraffe, obviously.
5. How do you go about creating your pieces? From finding a taxidermied piece to the finished product?
I am always looking on E-bay, Craig’s list and vintage stores for taxidermy. Most of the ones I end up buying are pretty beat up and rundown, but I have learned how to restore them pretty well. I do not sketch or plan too much but usually have a ton of ideas or a theme I am working from which I usually have to give up 1/4th through creating the piece because of variables.
Cutting one of the taxidermy pieces open is always a cross-your-fingers moment because not all of them are hollow and it is hard to know if they will be or not. Many times they are filled with Styrofoam; at that point I usually have to redirect the concept to more of a cave organic landscape. The process from there involves a huge list of products from plaster, glue, clay, screws and then painting. When I am able to add furniture and all the detail work, that's when I have the most fun! I use found objects and make many of the miniatures in all my work.
I really get inspired by the animals themselves as they definitely have little personalities and expressions. I like to match the environment and style to go with the animal's look and disposition. Essentially I am like a third party artist, the animal was born and lived its natural life (the ultimate art form), then the taxidermist replicates it, adding their own artistry to it, and then I cut it open and make a toy out of it...
6. What jobs have you had besides artist?
I worked in corporate management and as a chef for 15 years for the same company; it was the typical high-stress-too-much-responsibility thing. I definitely used work and workaholism to fuel my avoidance and block myself from doing the scary vulnerable thing which is: making art. Last year I stepped down from the job, moved to California from Portland to change my life and put more focus on art. I now work a few low key odd jobs and a cooking gig, but it's a huge change for me; restructuring my whole life to make art my full time job has not been simple or easy.
7. Working with deceased/taxidermied animals must bring out people who absolutely abhor what you do. How do you handle that?
You think it would be worse! People are really okay with it generally. I think around the 2005ish era popular culture was leaning towards kitsch and some anti-political correctness things like wearing trucker hats and drinking Pabst. Taxidermy kinda went along with that scene. I could still show my work with very little reaction to it being dead animals (even by people in the land-of-bike-riding-vegans) in Portland.
I really respect people's morality around the death of animals and defiantly understand why they would be offended and grossed out, as some people have been. At the same time, I think there is little deference between a hide stretched over a form and a pair of leather shoes; they are both dead animal remains. The taxidermy is just in your face - I am a dead animal; I was shot and killed for pleasure and reward - and I see how that is a glorification of killing animals or could be perceived that way. The cow was killed for the same reasons to make shoes, but it's just much less obtrusive to people.
Taxidermy is not only a hunting trophy; it is used to preserve and educate in museums or maintain the memory of pets. It is a beautiful art form. Over the last 5-10 years there has been a resurgence of taxidermy and people interested in it, which is wonderful.
I worry more that a lot of galleries are not willing to show my work because they are concerned that they will get a negative response from people against animal cruelty. Which is understandable and well deserved on my part.
8. Continuing with the last question, what's best story of someone freaking out because of your work?
I have received some pretty ridiculous e-mails from random people. One person accused me of being similar to the Nazi's using human skin for lamp shades. It was so outlandish I laughed.
If people seem offended I never take it personally. I respect that not everyone sees taxidermy as beautiful but more as a dead animal.
9. What are you currently working on?
Currently I’m finishing up a kinda haunted house themed piece for the upcoming show at Mystic Museum in Burbank, California. I have a piece lined up with a working water pump and fountain in the diorama I’ll be starting next. I am also working with a professor on pushing the perimeters of my work and experimenting with different mediums.
I’m still in the process of establishing myself in galleries in California. I love showing work in Southern California because the response is always great and people seem to really get into what I do down there.
10. It seems on your bio page that most of your shows have been in Portland, Oregon. Why does Portland love you so much?
Well, I don’t know if Portland loves me! I lived there for the last 13 years and am very thankful for all the galleries that embraced me in that city. Portland has a wonderful homie art scene along with some really wonderful refined galleries as well. My first showing was at a small gallery in NW Portland called Cannibals; the owner really promoted my work and kept me as a house artist consistently for probably 5 years. It grew from there and other galleries reached out to me locally. I’m not sure if Portland resonates with my work or not, but I do know the city and galleries were receptive and gave me a wonderful starting point as an artist.
11. What's the biggest challenge you face in your work?
All aspects of it! Discipline, making art when you don’t want to every day; it's a struggle always. Stupid procrastination and avoidance always a total bitch. I'm a chronic worrier and incredibly anxious; if I’m not making art I feel really restless and stressed out. I feel if I’m not engaged in some aspect of chipping away at the monolithic amount of things I want to create in my head it is wrong and I should be making art. It is actually a really stressful burden at times; it feels like a motor inside me with no mercy, be it working on art or being in total anxiety. This seems like a pretty high class problem though, I’m very grateful I even get to consider making art.
I also really struggle with any form of self-promotion and “putting myself out there”. I would really prefer to just make art and have someone else try and sell/promote it. I would like to think the work can just talk for itself and I used to just not go to any of my openings or even tell people I was an artist. I now know that that is really self prohibiting and so I push myself to be "pro-motive".
12. Comparing your first pieces to the ones you do now, how much have you grown and what specific changes have you noticed in your artwork?
Looking at some of my first pieces I can see the concepts were strong but the skill and pushing myself to refine the work was not. I see all this sloppy weird stuff in my earlier work. I have definitely learned to use better materials that hold the work to more professional standards. I also know how to pick out and buy taxidermy much better now, through a lot of trial and error. I used to just buy any animal that was cheap, I ended up with some “crappy taxidermy” things that just wouldn't hold for a good piece. I take my time and really look at animals now before I buy them, see if I have a connection with it. The work I do now I can feel myself reaching to just bring it to that next level. I often rip apart my old pieces and totally remodel them because I can see such major design errors.
13. Do you prefer Oreo or Fudgee-O cookies or maybe some other type of cookie?
I LOVE Oreos! I am a bit obsessed with the different flavors that come out. The blueberry pie ones that just came out are insanely good. I even have thought of doing a series of art pieces themed after different Oreo flavors.I also love all cookies and have a horrible sweet tooth.
You can follow Brooke on Facebook and Instagram to keep up-to-date with all her work and shows. She also has a website so you can purchase available pieces. Owning a piece will definitely make an amazing addition to anyone's fine art collection.