Roadkill artist speaks of controversial work
Leather worker Adam Morrigan, from Horsley, has managed to generate huge interest in his recent exhibition of roadkill art. Adam preserves the skins of foxes, rabbits, even ducklings, and exhibits them with prices which range from £2,000 to £2,500,000.
He calls his price list a 'priceless list' and, although no work has yet been sold, Adam has no intention of dropping the prices. Anna Parry reports.
ROADKILL art is not new. American artist Steve Paternite has been exhibiting roadkill pieces since the 1970s and the Australians are also big on the genre. A favourite resource is the much-hated cane toad.
Since the late 1980s, Queensland artist Gavin Ryan has been making pictures out of the flattened, and dried, cane toads that litter Australian roads.
All of these artists elicit some pretty strong reactions and Morrigan is no exception.
Comments made by visitors to his latest exhibition at Stroud Valleys Artspace were mixed.
The majority seemed to find the work fascinating, some called it beautiful; but there were a few who felt that the pieces were tasteless and showed a lack of respect for the animals.
A quick trawl of internet blogs yields a lot of criticism. On an automobile blog the posters seem broadly convinced that road kill art is "sick." On an art blog the main criticism seemed to be that Morrigan's fine words and high prices are not justified by the questionable artistic merit of his work.
Adam faces this controversy without flinching. He is determined that his work has a deep message to convey to people: "I think it touches a chord. We're all aware of what it is. When it's up front and personal it takes on a more intimate appeal. People are affronted by it but at least they're feeling something.
"It's educational. When was the last time people touched a badger? We all love nature and we love these beautiful animals but we're always told they're pests. They are our brothers and sisters. We've got one planet and we are all part of it.
"I don't tarnish the animals and make them cheap. I work with leather and I never stop learning. Now I have learned that I can work with it in an artistic way and reach people, which a handbag will never do."
After Adam's first exhibition during the site07 festival in June, he received a visit from PC Tyrone Mein the Wildlife Officer for Gloucestershire.
Adam takes up the story: "People were amazed to see something so out of the norm that they started complaining to the police. The officer came to the studio with a stop and search warrant. He was searching for the origin of the badgers, to check I hadn't killed them. I showed him all of my records.
"I keep records of everything: I can tell if a badger has been hit by a car or baited and shot before being dumped on the road.
"Now schools have come to see the exhibitions. In our society we are so removed from the means of production that children do not know where leather comes from. It used to be kids in cities, now it's kids in Stroud."
Morrigan has no difficulty talking about his work. He is an almost messianic speaker who believes completely in the meaning behind his work and the rightness of his ideas.
When questioned about the price of his pieces, he becomes less convincing. Is he not just trying to jump onto the Damien Hirst bandwagon?
"Damien Hirst is an ideas man by his own admission. He has alienated himself from the means of production. He has an idea and gets other people to make it for him. But his work is just as poignant. He is the artist of the age. He is what we have become. A lot things about him illustrate that alienation from the means of production leads to unhappiness," he said.
"Look at the Turner prize. All of that art is totally alienated from the means of production. People are so caught up in the ego around it. Art is being demeaned. It is down to globalisation, making money and selling ideas."
These comments make it impossible for Morrigan to avoid talking about his own prices. Isn't he also just trying to make money and sell ideas?
"My prices are part of the art. I believe that's what they are worth," he explained.
Is that because of the time that they take to produce?
"No, it's about the price itself. It revolves round the sense of complacency we have to the animal; and my time is worth a lot. I've created something out of nothing and given it value. If I step down from the prices that I've set, I become part of the market place," he said.
"I've set the price. That's what it is. It's crazy and brave. It's ironic but it's just a number. If people begin to see roadkill as having a value they will pay for it."
From this Adam spins off into talk about British hides going to waste because of cheap skins from polluting tanneries in China and Africa. Finally he gets back to the point and admits that he does want to make money from the work.
"I really believe it's worth the money. Im worth it. Maybe if I had more money I would serve more people. I could put it to good use. I hope I wouldn't fall down on the way," he said.
* What do readers think? Does Adam's work have artistic merit or does it offend you? Write to the usual address or comment on this below.