Rogue Taxidermy Artist Brooke Weston

Viewing Brooke Weston’s unconventional taxidermy dioramas is an exercise in conflict. Her work takes the natural animal form and alters it with the manmade. It’s simultaneously macabre and wondrous, disturbing and beautiful.

While her work has a depth that opens it up to many different interpretations, Brooke is really an artist at play. She delights in assembling her miniature worlds and sees her work as natural history museum meets Disneyland.

She fills each scene with found objects, handmade miniature furniture, images of animals and tiny taxidermied mice. The detail in her pieces lends itself to conjuring up lengthy backstories about magical fauna and fairies.

At a time when many people find their worlds getting smaller, I contacted Brooke to discuss her experiences as an essential worker and an artist whose work sets her free.

You live in Los Angeles, California. How has your daily life changed since the spread of Covid-19?

The Pandemic has undoubtably affected my inner world more than my daily routine.

I spend most of my time alone in my studio as is. I rarely went out before this and the friendships I do have are over the phone and through messages.

I’m a natural self isolator and feel like I’m leaning into that more than ever. It feels nice to not have to push myself out of my comfort zone to do anything social and just be my hermit self.

Emotionally I think I may be more prepared for something like this than a lot of people. I’m comfortable being alone extended amounts of time, have lived far below my means in art studios and have a propensity to get myself into situations in life where there is a lot of adversity to overcome.

In tandem with being comfortable with this situation, I do feel the gravity of it all and have a lot of fear for people in my life being affected or even dying. Traveling and exploring are something I miss more than anything.

Outside of art exposing myself to new visual scenery is something I cherish and miss. I believe this time is hard to exist for most all of us and it can be very scary and sad for so many reasons that I think we all know and feel.

Brooke Weston’s newest sculpture, Ghost Ship Ram, 2020

Are you self quarantining?

I am to the best of my ability (despite being an essential worker). My partner and I live together and we go out the bare minimum. I take all precautions when I do go out with masks and gloves etc.

I read in this 2017 interview that you worked part time at Whole Foods. Do you still work for Whole Foods? If you do can you describe what working in a grocery store has been like during this time? As a current or former Whole Foods employee, what are your thoughts about how “essential workers” are being treated at this time? What more needs to be done?

Before the pandemic I was bartending 2 days a week in a restaurant inside of a Whole Foods. It was a very comfortable little job to help supplement my art income.

When bars no longer were able to stay open, the restaurant closed and I got reassigned to work in the grocery store.

I’m very thankful for the income and by no means am I taking that for granted but will not sugar coat how brutal it has been.

I feel I don’t have as much of a right to complain as full time Amazon/Whole Foods workers being that I’m a very part time employee, but from my perspective its been horribly mismanaged, unsafe and we are drastically under compensated for our work.

The store still seems crowded even when they were only allowing limited customers in because the Amazon delivery shoppers crowd the aisles and until a week ago were not wearing masks and gloves. This has gotten better as Amazon has begun to limit their shoppers, and supply masks to employees.

There is limited if any social distancing between employees and customers often do not respect social distancing at all.

There is this extra layer of stress all through the day of sanitizing myself, wearing masks and gloves all day. Making sure I’m aware of what personal items I’ve touched. Disinfecting everything, laying down plastic when I get in my car after work and the almost hour it takes for me to sanitize and clean myself before entering back into my home.

I go above and beyond to the best of my ability to not bring the virus home especially being that my partner is high risk.

Not to mention how emotionally taxing it is to work in this atmosphere where customers often vent their anxieties on you in the form of rudeness and the general draining feeling of being in the middle of unease among the public.

We have received two extra dollars an hour for working during this pandemic. The company will give you two weeks paid time off only if you test positive for Covid, which we all know test are not readily available. It is very saddening that a company that is profiting off the pandemic more than most is not treating their employees better or assuring their safety.

Has your creative process been affected during this time? Are you making art?

I am making art. It’s very much a habit for me that is ingrained into my life and routine so much it doesn’t get affected by how I’m feeling as much anymore.

I like having less distractions and chores which gives me more solid blocks of time to work in the studio. I have gotten to spend extended time on a large piece due to having no deadlines now that my upcoming shows have been canceled. It’s been nice to slow down and really spend time with the piece.

Despite still engaging in art daily I do feel slowed down and struggle with focusing during all of this. The ups and downs of what is going on around us is exhausting. My expectation of myself is to always be producing and creating and often lose sight that there could be legitimate reasons I’m not as creative/productive as usual. Like being in the middle of a pandemic!

Red Sea by Brooke Weston

If you are making art, what have you been working on?

I just finished a full body Ram that I gave a nautical ghost ship theme to.

I have been so grateful to still be getting orders for my small pieces from my online shop and am continuing to make smaller work to maintain my inventory.

My boyfriend is the creator and owner of the hotel Hicksville Pines in Idyllwild. We have been discussing a large installation involving taxidermy dioramas for months and are now able to start working on it due to the hotel being closed. The project is very exciting and I’m thrilled to work alongside him in adding to his already amazing hotel.

If you are doing creative work, has the tone of your work shifted?

If the work has shifted I haven’t noticed but I’ve been ruminating about experimenting with ideas veering from my taxidermy work. I feel I can experiment making very different work. More for my own growth than the next show where I often assume I need to keep making what is expected of me.

Your work breathes new life into existing taxidermy. With suspicions that the spread of Covid 19 can be traced to wildlife trading and possibly consumption, as well as the confirmation that cats both domestic and large have tested positive for Covid 19, what are your thoughts on humankind’s responsibilities to the animal kingdom at this time?

Thank you. I know that making art from mounted animals is not a “light” way to make art.

I do truly respect the animals I work with and make it my goal to honor the animal and reinvigorate the existing mount.

Using animals in my work is sometimes a moral battle. I justify it by saying these are already mounted animals, I am recreating them. I’m sure some people would disagree.

Taxidermy is a beautiful art form that preserves nature for generations. People get offended by taxidermy because it is an animal in its natural form, not a tube of meat.

It does seem like nature is trying to tell us something during this crisis. Humans are in this current crisis but even more so our planet is in crisis. It does feel like a wake up call.

Humans have terribly abused animals and the earth and it is currently evident more than ever. We have a tremendous responsibility to our planet as humans. Outside of our small efforts as individuals, the fight to protect nature can feel useless in our country when there is such colossal damage happening by lawmakers that will have impact on the environment for hundreds of years. These issues are depressing and widely known.

All I can do is my part, stand up for what is right where I can and try to still enjoy the good in life.

I did not hear about cats contracting Covid-19! That is as very upsetting being that my closest friends are cats!

Dolores by Brooke Weston

You create micro worlds at a time when many people feel their world shrinking around them. Do you escape into the miniature worlds you create and is that something you strive for your audience to achieve?

Creating spaces and environments that I find interesting is definitely a way I’ve always escaped.

If someone else finds one of my pieces beautiful or it takes them into a different reality for a minute, I am thrilled!

There are a lot of things that suck about being an artist but always having an outlet that is an altered reality to dive into is one of its gifts.

Creating small worlds inside of worlds has been a narrative I’ve imagined and created sense child hood. Having a life long struggle with depression and anxiety I’ve always wanted to hide from the world and maybe I make spaces I would want to hide in.

What role (if any) does art and the artist have at a time of crisis?

It can feel really frivolous to make art, to buy art, to care about art when people are dying from Covid. The economy is collapsing and every thing else we are dealing with in this country.

The obvious answer is “yes.” Art is very important during this time, but I do have a hard time seeing that clearly at all times.

Art for me can break the constant stream of information. It stops me from fixating on the problem and can give a sudden shift of perspective or new way of looking at things.

Art can also make a statement about current affairs in powerful ways.

Creating art is more important than the general public may recognize but that was a problem long before the pandemic. It’s just exemplified now.

For myself personally, making art is a source of money, my passion, but more so a place to dump all my nervous energy and time. It’s the most positive thing I’ve ever done with my angst and compulsive energy.

Your chosen medium, taxidermy, is traditionally a male pursuit. You wield power tools to carve out niches for your dioramas. But the tiny miniature worlds you create are delicate and often feminine in sensibility. Are you consciously working to balance the masculine and feminine energies or is that besides the point?

I appreciate this perspective and it may subconsciously play on the feminine and masculine in my work.

My motivation is to make a cohesive fluid piece with the animal involving subjects and designs that interest and inspire me. I like to fuse surreal structures with natural history mainly because I simply love both of those things.

Have you explored any techniques or mediums during this time that are new to you? Your pieces take a long time to create. But are you concerned that you will have trouble sourcing the taxidermy pieces you work with now that social distancing is in place?

I am almost always very backed up with taxidermy to recreate. It is very hard to turn down an amazing taxidermied animal when I find one so I do get ahead of myself.

I have been considering veering from taxidermy and working in other mediums lately. Taxidermy is an inspiration and a passion in so many ways but I have the desire to express myself using other platforms. Or creating art that has a more blatant personal expression rather than a subtle one.

Do you have a reserve of taxidermy to draw from?

Thankfully I had a few animals to work on including a full body Lion my friend Paul Koudounaris(who I saw you recently did an interview with!) gave me. I have a few projects lined up that will keep me busy for many months if not years.

Ram’s Rest by Brooke Weston

Are there any other supplies or tools that you rely on or would like to have but are currently struggling to get?

A lot of my work is made without a plan and I use an insane amount of different materials. It is a struggle to not be able to go into stores and shops and organically find things that will work for what ever idea I have.

I am trying to not order as much because I know the delivery industry is taking such a beating. I am low on paints and a lot of other supplies but holding out until I can do one run to a hardware store.

I buy my essential art staples at Reynolds Materials for casting, molding and epoxy clays. Fortunately they are still open and right here in Los Angeles.

What kind of art have you been consuming and why? Is this different than what you typically consume?

Besides the stream of favorite artists’ work I usually follow; not necessarily.

It’s a little embarrassing but one thing I appreciate more than usual is the humor in memes and comedy surrounding the pandemic. For me humor is a wonderful way to function through any trauma.

I’m not proud to admit I’m spending way more time zoning out on media than I ever have.

Did you have any planned showcases that have been postponed or cancelled? Or were there any shows that you were looking forward to attending?

Yes definitely. I have an ongoing showcase of my work at the dark art gallery Mystic Museum in Burbank which is, of course, closed. My pieces are still in the gallery collecting dust.

My wonderful friend Kate Hart (Bitter Squeaks) was in mid-process of opening a gallery in Huntington Beach right before the crisis, I have a large piece in her space. You can still walk by her gallery and see the piece in the window.

I was preparing for Oddities Flea Market and was excited to be contributing to Monsterpalooza for the first time as both a vendor and displaying in their gallery. Both of these shows are rescheduled for fall but possibly longer.

Has your financial situation been affected by the spread of Covid-19? What can we do to support your work at this time?

The hardest hit I’m taking is having the trade shows canceled, I rely on the money I make during trade shows to get me through the year.

My larger work is sold through galleries or working directly with art collectors, I am in acceptance that those sales are going to be sporadic at best right now.

Being a 3D artist is difficult in the sense that it is hard to convey the work through photographs and sell online, but I have been doing surprisingly well selling work in my online shop.

Mass reproducing and prints are challenging for a sculptural artist as well. I am working on ways to recreate my work in a way that can be reproduced and sold at a lower price point.

I’m fortunate to have the income through Whole Foods but do plan on keeping my hours there very low to limit my exposure to the public and maintain my sanity!

Overall, I am not in a bad situation. I am so grateful for everyone that has spent their hard earned money on my art. I will be fine. I do not need support but I do know artists and small business need support more than ever.

Thank you very much to Brooke for answering these questions.

If you’re interested in learning more about Rogue Taxidermy and Brooke’s background, LA Times had an interesting article in 2018.

To see more of Brooke’s work, visit her website, her Etsy shop, or follow her on Instagram.