Make no bones about it: artist Matt Hall has collected his fair share of dead animals for the sake of his art. “A lot of the carcasses are roadkill I find, but some of them come from my friends,” explains Hall, who says those who know what he does will give him a dead pet’s body or roadkill they’ve found. A select number of these corpses have been recycled into six new pieces, to be shown as part of Matt Hall’s latest exhibit and Paxton Gate’s first art showing of the year, Finding Lost.
Speaking at his North Portland studio—a bright space littered with animal bones, with a freezer by the door containing bodies and limbs of animals for future projects—the artist (who doubles as a bartender at Lompoc five nights a week) admits he has been foraging for corpses for eight years. “It’s a brutal process,” says Hall, who grew up on a farm and became accustomed to witnessing lots of death firsthand. “The action of eviscerating an animal is very graphic: it requires a lot of thought of your own mortality. I don’t think people realize that they were once real animals.”
Still, some might wonder about reanimating dead bodies for art. Hall claims he was inspired by the likes of century-old wax anatomical models displayed in the La Specola Museum (the Museum of Zoology and Natural History) in Florence and the Palazzo Poggi in Bologna, both of which he visited. “It’s generally interesting taking something revolting and making something beautiful,” Hall says. “The work is about a point in my life where I had to find a new way of thinking about the world.”
Finding Lost is about much more than animals dying—it is, says the artist, about loss in a more general sense: romantic, familial, individual. And about how we start over after it. “Loss and death are connected: when something dies, something decomposes,” Hall says. “When things decompose, new things grow.”
Hall’s themes are vividly, if at times indirectly, reflected in his art: the skeletons of a cat and a coyote duking it out might hint at the disappearance of a childhood pet, but it could also be depicting the eternal combat between the masculine and the feminine. But then again, ambiguity is central to art and though it might be difficult to imagine Hall’s process of assembling the materials for his work, the same rules about artistic appreciation apply to the result.
Who knew roadkill could be so beautiful?
Finding Loss opens at Paxton Gate on April 22.