Sarina Brewer
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BFA in Drawing and Painting
1993
Sculptor and Rogue Taxidermy Art Movement co-founder
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Where are you originally from and how did you hear about MCAD?

I’m originally from Minneapolis and still reside here. Both of my parents were MCAD graduates. They never pushed me to attend as well, but growing up in a home surrounded by so much creatively and talent made me want to follow in their footsteps. 

What was your major and how did you choose it?

Painting; but only by default. At that point in time the world wasn't ready to let me call the three-dimensional objects I created a sculpture. The body of an animal was not considered a legitimate artistic medium. Clay, metal, and wood were respectable mediums. My choice of materials were unorthodox and taboo. The type of art I created lived in a limbo in-between fine art and traditional taxidermy; a "bastard child" neither world would embrace. So instead I focused on mixed media relief paintings that allowed me incorporate the bodies of animals into something that fit comfortably into an existing category or art. 

Did MCAD prepare you for life after graduation? In what way?

The most valuable experience for me was being a member of the MCAD community. Having an opportunity to discuss your work with other like-minded artists is paramount. It fosters confidence and is incredibly motivating. I felt awkward during critiques my first year because explaining where my art came from was very difficult for me back then. It felt like trying to learn another language. But, by the time I graduated I really enjoyed critiques. I didn’t begin to start understanding how important those critiques were until after I graduated.

Now, when I look back to the discussions I had about my work with fellow MCAD students (both during critiques and just in general) I realize that interaction was invaluable. In the early 1990's there was a stigma attached to using an animal's body in art, as a result, what I created was very misunderstood. Even though my work was seen as eccentric, and my philosophy as esoteric, MCAD was a safe place to express my inner thought process about my work out loud. My peers provided validation and constructive criticism, both of which are essential to grow artistically. It wasn’t until many, many, years later that I finally was able to explain my work in a way that I felt accurately conveyed my ideology, but it was during my critiques that the groundwork was laid.

Describe what you do for work and how you feel about it.

The preserved remains of animals are my medium. Via their memorialized bodies, I relay my personal journeys as well as the story behind the particular animal I’m working with. I have been interested in natural history since childhood and drawn to organic found objects derived from animals. My current body of work is a distillation of the sculptures and relief paintings I created during my years at MCAD that utilized the bones and desiccated bodies of animals. Much of my process has evolved into taxidermy over the years but the work that has remained with me throughout my entire career is the gilding of mummified animals, a strain of work I began developing while earning my BFA.

Pets and wildlife played a central role during my formative years and I draw the inspiration for my art from the relationships I’ve had with animals throughout my life. Many of my pieces are autobiographical and often they’re laced with environmental, social, or political commentary. But the commonality each sculpture shares is that it’s a manifestation of a lifelong love affair with nature. What I create is an hommage to the animal; a form of personal zoolatry that arose from an innate desire to ritualistically adorn the bodies of animals after death when I was a child. Transforming the body of a deceased animal into an object of veneration is the most intimate connection you can have with an animal outside of experiencing that animal in life. Potters often say a lump of clay "speaks" to them when they touch it, and once they begin shaping it in their hands the clay seems to choose what it wants to become and leads the way. I feel the same when I touch my medium, only my medium was once alive so it speaks much louder. Animal parts are not a random choice of materials for art—they're not a neutral medium like clay or steel; they were once a living sentient being and the art I create with them is in acknowledgment and commemoration of that. 

There are multiple layers of idiosyncratic symbolism within my sculptures that has roots in a childhood belief in reincarnation; a concept introduced to me by my mother so I could use it as a coping mechanism when grieving the death of my animal friends. I took comfort knowing the animals weren’t entirely gone after death; the non-physical component of the animal (i.e., its “spirit”) would be reborn in the body of a new animal. The body was merely a vessel that housed an animal’s true self. The sculptures I create harken back to that notion. They serve as metaphorical homes for the transitioning spirits of the animals I work with while they move to the next plane of existence. Their discarded vessels also continue to live; resurrected as a form of mourning art. Death does not rob beauty from living things; it emphasizes that something was once living. If those two sentiments are the only takeaway when someone looks at my art, then they have successfully grasped the rudimentary core of my work.

Because of my love for animals, the primary directive throughout my entire artistic career has been the exclusive use of humanly and ethically sourced animal remains. No animals are killed for the purpose of procuring their remains as art materials. My mainstays are roadkill, nature deaths, and salvaged livestock remnants that were destined to be disposed of by other people. Out of respect for Mother Nature I adhere to a strict “waste not, want not” policy in my studio. No part of anything that was once living should be taken for granted, so I utilize as much of the animal as possible as I’m recycling it into my artwork. I have been actively championing these tenets throughout my career. In 2004 I decided to initiate a two-fold mission of spreading these values and gaining recognition for the medium by spearheading the Rogue Taxidermy Art movement.

Can you explain what rogue taxidermy is?

Rogue taxidermy is a category of contemporary art that encompasses work constructed from organic and/or synthetic taxidermy-related supplies. The term “rogue taxidermy” and the term “taxidermy art” are often used interchangeably to describe this type of artwork. The genre is sometimes incorrectly described as an offshoot of traditional (i.e. conventional) taxidermy. Neither the term nor the genre emerged from the world of traditional taxidermy; the genre of rogue taxidermy arose from forms of fine art that utilize some of the same elements found in conventional taxidermy. The official definition of rogue taxidermy as set forth by the founders of the movement is "a genre of pop-surrealist art characterized by mixed media sculptures containing conventional taxidermy-related materials that are used in an unconventional manner." Rogue taxidermy refers to a broad spectrum of styles; the genre includes everything from small decorative objects to room-sized installations, and conceptual art to wearable art. The end result is not required to be a figurative three-dimensional representation of an animal's body, it can be abstract. Additionally, sculpture constructed entirely from synthetic materials can still constitute rogue taxidermy; tanned animal hides are not a prerequisite.

What inspires you?

Nature. The circle of life. Animals; their beauty in death and in life. Anatomy. Victorian mourning art. European catacombs. The jewel encrusted skeletons of saints enshrined in Medieval Churches. The funerary customs of different cultures throughout history and prehistory.

What advice do you have for current MCAD students and/or artists at the beginning of their creative careers?

If you censor yourself, you're not creating true art.