Editors Pick Lifestyle

Polly Morgan: Art Meets Animal

Polly Morgan

A visit to Polly Morgan’s East London cold storage serves up a few gruesome surprises. Where the rest of us might stash, say, a bag of frozen peas, ice cream, a leg of lamb or some leftover cottage pie, Polly’s multiple chest and wardrobe freezers are home to complete animal carcasses. Picture swans, rabbits, pigs, snakes, blackbirds, random road kill finds and stiff, rurally-sourced contributions, many of which have been gifted to her by thoughtfully observant friends and keen-eyed countryside drivers.

One of the world’s most inventive taxidermists, Polly has turned the craft of preparing, stuffing and mounting the skins of dead animals into a bonafide, cutting edge art form. Macabre, sculptural, theatrical, intricate and blackly humorous, Morgan’s work isn’t the simple, sentimental preservation of beloved pets but a way of using taxidermy to challenge the way we think about nature, vanity, life, death, sex and beauty. A lovebird looking in a mirror, a white rat curled up in a shallow champagne coupe, a squirrel holding a bell jar with a little fly perched inside on top of a sugar cube, a red breasted robin caught mid-defenestration, a telephone handset with a cluster of open-mouthed chicks at its receiver end, a magpie with a jewel in its beak, a couple of chicks standing on a miniature coffin – Polly is clearly not your go-to taxidermist if you require a hunting trophy or need a jowly old gun dog to be stuffed for tweedy, clubhouse posterity. “I find it difficult to say what inspires me,” she says. “A lot of influences are caught subliminally. The most abstract things can become inspiration. I’m not a believer in taking inspiration from other art. To me art is as inspiring as anything else. Friends tell me that if you go to art school you’re encouraged to reference other artists all the time. I don’t understand why that should be the case. Why shouldn’t you reference life more broadly?” Now, after a 13 year career that has seen her work exhibited alongside Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, and attracting celebrity art collectors such as Charles Saatchi, Kate Moss and Courtney Love, Polly has moved to turning her creative talents to jewellery.

Working in collaboration with boutique jeweller True Rocks, Morgan’s debut piece is a sterling silver and 18ct yellow gold-plated chain beaded with hand-painted glass taxidermy snake eyes. An edgy, confrontational piece, apparently influenced by the flamboyant jewellery stylings of Alice Cooper in the Seventies, the Stark Staring necklace is an intriguing collision of taxidermy and glam rock. Certainly, the serpent world seems to be something of an obsession for Morgan. Her most recent solo exhibition at Other Criteria in New York featured 12 sculptures made from snakes, tangled up like nautical knots, treading a line between figuration and abstraction. “Snakes don’t blink, nor do their eyes ever close,” she explains. “It can be hard to tell if they’re awake or asleep, alive or dead. They appear ever vigilant, which gives their eyes added talismanic potency.”

Polly Morgan Stark Staring Necklace

Polly Morgan Stark Staring Necklace


About the author

Simon Mills

Simon Mills is the Bespoke Editor at Wallpaper* as well as Editor at Large for OT Magazine.

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