Artist Celebrates Life Through Preservation After Death
By Warren Cobb
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Fascinating. Beautiful. Disturbing. These words could describe the work of dozens of artist throughout history who have produced artwork with a heavy dose of death in the imagery, starting with cave paintings of animal hunts by prehistoric hands, to the Renaissance works of the deaths of Christ and the saints, to the idealized taxidermy done by Becca Barnet, the featured artist this month at Rick Rhodes Gallery.
Most of Barnet's favorite things have been dead for years, or are objects that were once loved and now lost of forgotten. Her artwork draws from the imagined importance of these items, and explores the phenomenon of preservation.
"I've always been drawn to the duality of taxidermy," Barnet says. "The preservation of one specific moment that simultaneously records the permanence of death and the magnitude of life."
Barnet is bringing her drawings, sculptures, taxidermy, puppets, and sketchbooks to the gallery at Rick Rhodes Photography and Imaging in a show titled "It is starting like this..." The opening reception is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 17 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. The studio is located at 1842 Belgrade Avenue. Barnet's work will be shown through Feb. 29.
As a senior in college at Rhode Island School of Design, Barnet scrutinized collections of images and objects that she loved, and found a common thread - preservation. She became fascinated with using animal skins as an art form, and sought out taxidermy school, attending a one-month intensive program at the Missouri Taxidermy Institute where she mounted a deer, fox, antler plaque, duck, pheasant, bass, and trout. The experience changed her life.
She now works as a professional taxidermist/three-dimensional artist. Some of her recent projects include working for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City on a number of traveling exhibits, including "The World's Largest Dinosaurs," where she was a member of the team that created a 60-foot Mamenchisaurus. She is currently living in Charleston and working for the S.C. Aquarium on a Madagascar exhibit, opening this May.
She is the first to recognize the tinge of the macabre her work instills. "I will admit that I find beautiful what others may find disturbing," Barnet says. "The pleasure I get from using this intense subject material for my artwork comes from its power to transport the viewer to another time, place, and set of emotions. My intention is not to shock and awe. I create in order to record, to save. If I'm lucky, my work will not only preserve an idea but will also challenge viewers to consider parts of life and death."
Barnet says her "It is starting like this" show is a big step on her career path of fabricating exhibits. "To successfully make an exhibit, be it for a museum, aquarium, zoo, etc., one must have a wide knowledge of materials and techniques," she says. "This show culminates my creations from the end of college until now, and I am excited to show how things have progressed. The work has morphed since studying illustration to professionally repairing taxidermy, to sculpting and replicating animals, habitats, and artifacts for displays."
For more information on Becca Barnet, go to www.beccabar.net. For more info on the show and Rick Rhodes Studios, go to www.rickrhodesphotography.com.