Artist uses taxidermist skills to make hybrid art

CONTEMPORARY artists often use unlikely materials in their work. Arlene McPadden is no exception: the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology graduate turned to taxidermy in her last year in college, creating artworks from stuffed wild animals.

Artist uses taxidermist skills to make hybrid art

Some of these can now be seen in the annual selected graduates’ exhibition work at the Sarah Walker Gallery on the pier in Castletownbere.

McPadden decided to study taxidermy after chancing on a petrified stoat while out walking with her mother. She trained with a professional taxidermist. “It was hard to work with dead animals at the start,” she says, “but that passed very quickly once I had seen what the results are like. I had some bad days where I nearly cried over things — I did actually cry over some of the animals — but I kept going. It’s a passion that has come out of nowhere.”

In a process McPadden calls ‘Hybridization’, she now makes hybrid animals by combining torsos and legs from various creatures. The resulting sculptures are both surreal and humorous. “I have really found my niche and will carry on in this line after college,” said McPadden.

The public has taken to the controversial work. One visitor who left praise for McPadden’s pieces in the gallery comment book even identified herself as vegetarian. McPadden explains that all the animals she uses are ethically sourced. Most are roadkill, which she keeps in a deep freeze.

McPadden’s interest in working with unusual materials is shared by others in the show. Emma Johnston has re-upholstered a pair of chairs and created matching wallpaper in an elegant pared back installation. The work is informed by quotes on fashion and sociology by Swiss literary figure Hermann Hesse.

Czech native Katerina Hlavácová is working with wallpaper, with which she transformed the gallery bathroom. The installation is a social commentary on our preoccupation with the weather. Video work, a thick floor-covering of sand, and jars of Taytos are just of the oddities in her installation. Glass bottles are vehicles for text such as ‘You know you are Irish when you thank the bus driver.’

Amber Broughton’s installation features her delicate pencil drawings of animals. Inspired by her connection to rural Ireland, each animal is drawn on a large cotton sheet rather than a traditional canvas. The sheets are strung in front of one another, new layers revealed to the viewers as they move through the gallery.

A giant paper tornado by Caroline Keane dominates the gallery space. The chaotic installation spirals 20 feet up to the ceiling. The sculpture examines the problem of how much waste is made by each person and how it impacts on the planet.

All the graduates must now be wondering how they will build careers as artists. McPadden is already off to a great start: some of her pieces are featured in the windows of Brown Thomas in Galway this summer; two are included in this year’s RDS student exhibition, and she has won a month long residency in The Model Art Centre, Sligo.

The feather in McPadden’s cap is her first sale of a Hybridization animal at the Sarah Walker Gallery, a great incentive to open that freezer and get back to work.

Runs until Sunday, Aug 25.

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