Fixing the Broken: an Interview with Taxidermy Artist Lisa Black


Lisa Black with her Fixed Fawn and her new studio.
Some have labelled New Zealand's Lisa Black "The Steampunk Taxidermist".  And in fairness, her biography does describes her as preoccupied with "an imminent future where technology and biology are intimately combined".  She refers to herself only as a sculptor, jeweler and artist, and would ask others to do so, as well.
Her work will be on exhibit at Silver Lake's La Luz De Jesus Gallery in Los Angeles, as part of the biennial Rogue Taxidermy show beginning May 4.  That, along with earlier shows in Milan and Berlin and another in Aalborg, Denmark scheduled for November, makes 2012 a very busy year for Lisa.  Despite all that, she somehow managed to find the time to move to a new studio in Auckland and grant Joe Hubris this interview.

Q: What motivated you to incorporate taxidermy in your art?

I was motivated to begin working on taxidermy when I saw (the then) broken Fawn in an online auction.  It was obvious that the Fawn wasn't getting much interest because of its condition, so I purchased the animal with the intention of "Fixing" it.  That is where my series of modified animals began.  Since I use mostly recycled taxidermy in my work, I've never had a need for formal training.  I would like to learn the art some day, it always seems such a shame to me when I see roadkill or dead animals going to "waste".  It might take many years, but I think it would be worth the dedication to see an animal perfectly preserved.

Q: What do you think about being referred to as "Steampunk"?

When I started my series of animals I didn't know what Steampunk was.  I prefer not to pigeon-hole my art in that way.  I use mixed metal media which is often not era-specific.  I do use use a lot of vintage metal parts but I don't limit myself to them.  I use modern mechanical parts as well.  I don't consider "clock parts" the medium which defines Steampunk.  Unfortunately, their use is often all it takes to find yourself lumped in with actual members of the movement. Nothing against Steampunk though--I have seen some amazing designs and it can be truly inspiring when it's executed well! 

Q: I detect an optimism in your work, especially in the face of The Fixed Fawn.

I was very excited to be working on the Fawn.  It was my first piece.  I was highly motivated as I have always loved animals and as I've grown older, I've gained an appreciation for both the "natural world" and the world we have made for ourselves.  There seems be movement toward their convergence.  The combination of metal and animals was not intended to express optimism, but simply to express that which is.

Q: How do you acquire the materials for your creations, in particular, how do you obtain the "non-mechanical" elements?

I source the (mostly antique) taxidermy and metal components from online auctions, garage sales and estate sales.  The majority of the animals I find have existing damage in some way (hence the series name 'Fixed').  I have come across perfectly intact animals before and, although potentially they might make incredible pieces, I would find it difficult to modify them if they weren't already broken.

Q: Have you ever encountered any opposition to your work, from animal rights activists, for example?

Yes.  Several individuals have conveyed their negative opinions over the years, although they did so more often when I was first starting out.  People have made more of an effort to consider the underlying concepts of my work as my career has progressed.

Q: What other artists inspire you?

I've always liked the work of HR Giger and taxidermy artists like Ron Pippin.

Q: What are you currently working on and what are your future plans?

I'm currently working on more pieces in my Departed series, which are the skulls.  Departed Ram will be exhibited for the first time at the Rogue Taxidermy show in Hollywood, and I'm participating in a show at Galerie Wolfsen in Denmark called 'High on Lowbrow".  I'm also working on a soon-to-be-released series of hourglasses.

Q: What can you tell us about your new digs?

My new studio is the penthouse of one of Auckland's oldest buildings: Canterbury Arcade. The space is used as my workshop and showroom. What attracted me to the space (apart from the obvious character) was the workshop room which looks into the attic. It certainly sets the mood for my work day.

See Lisa Black's work as part of the Rogue Taxidermy Show at the La Luz De Jesus Gallery (4633 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles) opening May 4th.

Comments to Joe Hubris.