The Fantastic Beasts of Emi Slade

0 Comments 25 October 2015

emi slade

Michigan-based sculptor and taxidermist Emi Slade talks her affinity for all manner of strange beasts.

by Daniel Barron



If it snarls or slithers, if it creeps or crawls, if it has scales or is slathered in slime, chances are it falls within the fixations of Michigan’s Emi Slade. Practiced in the field of sculpture, taxidermy, and 3D collectibles, her unconventional skillset is linked by a consistent appreciation for Mother Nature’s creatures, the more wild and outlandish the better. The self-described “biologist at heart” invests dead organisms with new life using compassionately-sourced organic elements and that reanimating jolt of imagination. Slade sat down with Yay! LA to discuss precisely how one exactly how one comes to develop such an affinity for the outré, early dabbles in the field, and how there exists a bit of monster in all of us.


emi slade

Of all of the artistic disciplines taxidermy is one fewer artists tend to gravitate towards. It’s hard to imagine one can just pick up. What set you on that path? Did you have a mentor or was it an interest you arrived at organically?

For me, taxidermy was something I was both pushed into and pulled towards. I’m a biologist at heart so the process makes sense technically, and the challenging and controversial nature attracts me like a magnet. Also, too many people gave me their dead pets convinced I’d “do great things” with them. Haha. The freezer hit critical mass…and so a career was born.


Did you go to college? If so, was your primary focus art or biology?

I have no art training beyond some intro classes in college, which I originally started with the intention to graduate as a research scientist. The decision to change courses and shift into the independent art field was made when I realized how much passion I had for the materials of creation. I became enthralled with the freedom to make my own world. I imagine that’s how many great stories start. In both sculpture and taxidermy I trained myself everything using as many reference guides and info available to me. The rest was elbow grease and practice, practice, practice!


emi slade

That’s quite impressive! I imagine that things can get a little messy when they don’t turn out right. I also imagine it’s a skill that raises a few eyebrows. Am I wrong?

No you are absolutely correct! Not only were my first pieces far from professional, they were downright ugly. I made many mistakes and I smelled things I’d never like to smell again. I told myself each failure was fruitful, and I didn’t release any works to the public until they passed a series of battery tests. Now, many years later, my taxidermy is very desirable and exists in its very own class of WTF.

Taxidermy as an artform has always been polarizing so when people hear what I do they are either extremely enthusiastic or highly appalled. I have a real thick skin so I love to hear the shocked comments. Apparently some of my work even requires advisory warnings. This makes me smile.


What forms of wildlife did you have special fascination with? From your bio it seems you like the sea.

It would be fair to say that I am the slave to an overwhelming and unwavering obsession with the sea and it’s boneless children. Mollusks are persistent muses and spirit guides that keep me fixated in that watery world. Space is also a big inspiration. I find the “new frontiers” of deep sea and deep space to be the wellspring of new and often creepy ideas because no one has tried to put any limits or parameters of what-should-be. And with Mother Nature pulling all these plot twists out of her sleeve and I’m betting the best of them are old and hidden in the abyss. I’m hoping, really.


emi slade


emi slade art

What works of art and fiction informed your style and sensibilities?

Of particular inspiration are the classic Universal monster films like The Wolfman, Frankenstein, Dracula, etc. and the extra-gory, always over-the-top horror films from the late ‘70s through the early ‘90s. Alien, The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, An American Werewolf in Paris, 2001 and creature feature films like Godzilla and Gamera played huge roles in shaping my imagination. I’m 32 and I still run from the bathroom if the lights are off. In my opinion, that is what a well-conditioned imagination, and too many horror movies, do right for a person! Oh, and let’s not forget Giger!


How early did you start designing your own creatures and beasts? Did you ever aspire to create them for films in the vein of genre stalwarts like Stan Winston or Rob Bottin?

I’ve been creating my own creatures since I was able to illustrate. I’d take a pinch of whale, a dash of shark, and throw in some beetle for good measure. In art there is so much creative freedom- why not push the limits? When I was in second grade I turned in an art assignment featuring a sweaty Ripley throwing a hugely oversized queen alien with extra tails. Since that time the possibility to create my own “movie monsters” has remained appealing. It would be a dream to create a writhing tentacled creature for Hollywood; to give millions of Americans the chills we all so clearly enjoy. Maybe the future holds that for me, I don’t know, but I’ll be ready if it does.


emi slade art

emi slade

Have you ever really intellectualized why creatures- specifically when relating to sci-fi and horror- resonate with you? Or is it as simple as, “They look cool and I like what I like”?

Creatures and I have a very personal and intimate relationship. They are bizarre, odd, weird…creepy misfits. They may be scary on the outside or have acid for blood, but they are often beautiful in many ways too. I identify with the motives of many “monsters.” I would probably level a few buildings or eat a few rogue lake swimmers if I was hungry or tired (and had the teeth) too. In the films, the monsters are rarely purely evil and it’s mankind’s reaction to them that often tell the real scary story. That’s beautiful to me. That’s inspirational.


emi slade


emi slade art

emi slade

emi slade

Emi Slade in her studio.


emi slade

Alien art for  Yay! Horror Movie A Day 2K15



View more art by Emi Slade on her website.

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- who has written 424 posts on Yay! LA | Arts & Culture Magazine.

Rudderless college graduate Daniel Barron founded Yay! LA Magazine on a love of writing, passion for the arts, and a firm belief that people really like talking about themselves. He contributed to a number of publications, including LA Music Blog and the defunct The Site Unscene, before deciding to cover arts and entertainment the way he wanted to read it. He works as a freelance writer and digital PR consultant in his current home of Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter at @YayDanielBarron.

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