Originally published in Metro Times.
Large-eyed tentacled creatures and monocled skunks with top hats.
Meet Emi Slade. Her work is an eclectic mix of painting, sculpting, airbrushing and taxidermy. She draws inspiration from classic science fiction novels, vintage psychedelic art, and contemporary pop surrealism. These inspirations show through in a body of work that includes large-eyed tentacled creatures and monocled skunks with top hats.
Emi is self-taught in all the media she uses, including taxidermy. She does extensive research on her subjects until she feels she knows them well enough to turn her hand to a new piece.
She works mostly with epoxy and polymer clays, acrylic paints and the ever-present glass eyes that occupy most of her creature’s heads. These materials work as a foundation for the objects found in thrift stores, in Dumpsters, and along dirt roads that are used for her pieces.
People tend to give Emi dead animals they have found on the side of the road, which led to a freezer stuffed with wrapped dead animals. She used this surplus to try her hand at taxidermy. She is now a state licensed taxidermist and member of the rogue taxidermy artist group M.A.R.T.
Metro Times: What inspires your work?
Emi Slade: Inspiration comes to me from a variety of places, but the dominant influential force in my work is Mother Nature herself. The mind-blowing concepts, bizarre mutations and endless creature designs played out throughout the ages are more than enough imagination fodder for an entire lifetime of creating. Other sources include classic science fiction novels, vintage psychedelic art and contemporary pop surrealism.
MT: How did you learn your craft? Are you self-taught or did you receive a formal art education?
Slade: Odd as it may seem, I am actually self-taught in all my mediums, including my taxidermy work! I draw on my knowledge and passion for anatomical and biological design, research my desired subjects until I feel comfortable and confident I understand them, and then invest the necessary time to sharpen each technique as I go. While professionally juggling painting, sculpting, airbrushing and taxidermy may appear disconnected or downright crazy at times to an outside audience, I am very focused on uniting all my learned skills together for my most powerful creations throughout my career as a visual artist. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun to do what I do, so the motivation to try new things isn’t drying up anytime soon!
MT: What materials do you prefer to work with and why?
Slade: Being an opportunistic and thrifty artist, I often use a huge variety of art materials as they make themselves available to me. I dig in Dumpsters, thrift tons of stores, scour dirt roads for roadkill, and frequently refurbish old items I find abandoned at the curb for use in my work. Those are variables that offer great excitement, but they come and go at random. My most trusted materials, however, are ones that offer stability, lasting power, and will allow me to push their boundaries, such as epoxy and polymer clays, acrylic paints and the ever-present glass eyes that occupy most of my creatures’ heads. While trademark features, such as my glass, eyes offer realism and commonality to my collections, and therefore have great importance, it is the backbone materials like the clays that offer me flexibility in creating animals that appear flowing and fragile though they often are not. When the fear of breaking the work disappears, it gets pretty liberating in the studio.
MT: Do you have any upcoming shows or projects you are working on?
Slade: Oh, yeah! I usually have several things going on; I love to stay super busy. I just returned from Kansas City, Mo., from the Spectrum Fantastic Live show, which features titans in the science fiction and fantasy art circuit. It was a blast, and I am proud to be a part of the team responsible for all those incredible Spectrum Art Books! Next up, I am working with good friend and killer tattoo artist Matthew Hockaday on a collection of art for the grand opening of his new tattoo studio. I will also be a featured artist at the Detroit Mercantile Market Event (July 13-14), the Ann Arbor Street Fair (July 17-20), the Shadow Art Fair in Ypsilanti (July 20), the DIYpsi Festival in Ypsilanti: (Aug. 16-18) and my second year solo show, Plated, at Woods Gallery in Huntington Woods (Aug. 28-Oct. 3), which features my works displayed as food entrées and is a power-show of jovial surrealism. I am also doing some filming for a taxidermy television show and teaming up with other Rogue Taxidermist friends this summer to provide pop-up taxidermy classes in Detroit. Hmmm, knowing myself, I probably forgot something in there. Like I said, always very busy!
MT: How did you get into taxidermy? Has it always been a part of your work? How does it influence your art?
Slade:Taxidermy is still relatively new to my work, and really only made its professional appearance into my collections a little over two years ago. I joke that I never got into taxidermy and that it instead got into me, because that’s pretty much how it happened. Being the weirdo I am, I’ve always had a surplus of “Hey, Emi, do you want this dead ____ I found for you?” which inevitably lead to a freezer full of wrapped dead animals of all shapes and sizes. One hot summer day, when I finally ran out of room for my ice cubes, it became obvious I needed to turn this silent bestiary into something more lively and useful. After my first few mounts, it was revealed I had the uncanny talent to be a damn fine taxidermist, and once I joined the rogue taxidermy artist group M.A.R.T in early 2012 and was invited to bring my work to La Luz de Jesus in Hollywood a month later, well — then everything just went completely bananas! Now I am a state-licensed taxidermist, bringing original and surreal innovations to the field, and the demand is intense to produce more and more creatures for both my growing collector population, high status national galleries, and popular media hot spots all over the Web.
See Emi’s creations up close and personal July 13-14 at the Detroit Mercantile Market Event, July 17-20 at the Ann Arbor Street Fair, July 20 at the Shadow Art Fair in Ypsilanti, Aug. 16-18 at the DIYpsi Festival in Ypsilanti, and Aug. 28-Oct. 3 at her second year solo show, “Plated,” which features works displayed as food entrées, at Woods Gallery in Huntington Woods.
Can’t wait for a show? Check out some of Emi Slade’s work here.