Crafting ornate, delicate and sometimes shocking body adornments from the tiny frames of lifeless animals, the work of artist, jeweller and taxidermist Reid Peppard is truly unique. Her work is split between a fine art practice creating artworks including actual taxidermy animals; and her jewellery label, RP/Encore for which she makes intricate metal castings of fragile bones and beaks, hearts, tongues and other minute features.
Reid’s work is entirely ethical, using only animals which have died of natural causes, and offers the opportunity to appreciate the beauty in those creatures which we often dismiss as vermin. Having recently moved to LA her practice is changing, the highways of California presenting the chance to work with an entirely different range of specimens to her hometown of London.
At this turning point in her career, we find out what led Reid to take on such a challenging craft combining physiology, fine art, design – and no doubt some rather gruesome moments – and how her dark and complex artworks have been received.
With her two very different branches of work, Reid Peppard has truly mastered the art of transforming the macabre into the magnificent, creating alluring pieces which never fail to surprise and astonish.
A: Taxidermy has been used scientifically for over two hundred and fifty years, however in recent years has become a popular art form – a sort of ‘movement’ in which you came quite early. What led you to working in this way, and what were you doing previous to this?
RP: I first came to use taxidermy as part of my art practice when I was studying my degree in fine art at Central Saint Martins in London. I was drawn to taxidermy as a medium due to its ability to evoke emotion in viewers. Starting off with a background in installation work, my practice has always been centred on the play between fiction versus reality, and creating as visual language that acts as a catalyst for further discourse.
A: With your cast silver and gold jewellery, you even further the possibility of taxidermy to preserve an animal for years to come. What was your reason for moving on to body adornment, and do you have a preference between your art practice and the jewellery made for RP Encore?
RP: RP/Encore is very closely linked to my art practice. I started RP/Encore as a jewellery/accessories label because I wanted to preserve the elements of an animal that would otherwise go to waste during the taxidermy process. I also like that RP/E is a more accessible way to purchase my work (for those who can’t afford £6,000 for a crow clutch). Because these two veins of the taxidermy and the jewellery are so interconnected I don’t really consider one more or less preferable to the other, as I enjoy the variety that having both practices brings.
A: Taxidermy is inevitably comparable to the fur trade, however your work is incredibly ethically conscious (all of Reid’s specimens have died of natural causes, and the proceeds of one piece even go towards a charity). Despite this, have you received any criticism for the animals you use?
RP: Very rarely do I receive “moral” criticism for my work, but I do occasionally encounter people who are too overcome with their emotional reaction towards death/taxidermy to logistically tackle the concept of ethically conscious taxidermy. This can be admittedly rather tedious to deal with, but at the end of the day that’s half the reason why I make the work that I make.
A: Your work makes use of and beautifies vermin; are you concerned with re-use and our attitude towards the natural world, or is this more a successful shock tactic?
RP: I view all animals as equal, and part of what drew me to working with vermin, was my confusion over general attitudes towards these beautiful creatures. Working with pigeons, rats, mice etc. not only puts these animals in a position of power, but also gives people a better opportunity to observe the delicate intricacies of these incredible creatures in a way that they wouldn’t necessarily have access to otherwise.
I aim to ignite discussion and debate with my practice, and that would be impossible if everyone agreed with me, and the visual narrative of my work. While I don’t aim to shock, I do aim to provoke discourse.
A: The animals you work with are often sent to you, have you ever received any particularly bizarre specimens?
RP: One of the perks of doing what I do is that I’m constantly getting sent interesting insects, bones, feathers, and frozen animals. One of my favourite gifts in this vein is a dried-up black widow spider my aunt sent to me in a little blue tiffany’s box. Something about that seemed rather appropriate. My other favourite creature gift came from a pet shop owner who saved me four stillborn rainbow pythons. The process of preserving reptiles is something I am yet to tackle, so we’ll see how that goes.
A: You say that your work is not directly inspired by any artist, jeweller or designer and, as a result is original and refreshing; where does your inspiration come from?
RP: My inspiration predominantly comes from literature (Salman Rushdie, TS Eliot, John Irving and Dostoyevsky being my top literature loves), the natural world, and urban landscape.
A: A chicken and egg question: which comes first, the plan for a piece or the parts for the piece?
RP: Each work is a product of it’s own individual process and physical limitations. Often I’ll have a rough vision of a work I would like to produce, but I am always at least partially limited by the physical dimensions of whatever animal I’m working with at the moment.
A: You have recently moved to LA, was this for work-related reasons and has it changed the direction of your practice?
RP: I love London, and it will always be my home, but after nine years it was time for a change. I feel like there’s a lot of fresh and exciting stuff happening in the Los Angeles art scene at the moment, and I’m eager to see how my practice develops in this sunny new climate.
So far the most obvious change to my practice is the roadkill I have access to here in Los Angeles. Where East London roadkill was predominantly made up of pigeons, squirrels, foxes and crows, Los Angeles has some creatures I’ve never worked with before such as possums, skunks, and coyotes.
A: Finally, what are your plans for the future?
RP: I’m currently working on a series of steel based works that explore the striking nature of the skinning process/animal anatomy, while continuing my work with fibre optic and dyed taxidermy.
Image: Reid Peppard, Crow Clutch Open. Courtesy the artist.