Gutsy Tacoma artist takes on t.v. taxidermy challenge

Barnyard animals bring out the best in taxidermy enthusiast, Cat Grey. Photo: Vicky Winters
Barnyard animals bring out the best in taxidermy enthusiast, Cat Grey. Photo: Vicky Winters

It’s official – Tacoma artist Acataphasia Grey will star on Immortalized, a new reality show about the world of competitive taxidermy debuting February 14, 2013, on AMC. “Cat” was shooting in Los Angeles last month, one of eight challengers on the program, whose formula she compares to the insanely popular Iron Chef. Although there is no cash award for the winner, contestants fight tooth and nail “for bragging rights at the top of their field,” she says.

Grey is no stranger to show business. Now a full-time artist, she was once the art director of a Bainbridge Island production company where she managed projects such as shooting video for M-TV. In 2010, she got a call from Go Go Luckey Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based production company specializing in reality and scripted television, asking her to brainstorm ideas for a reality show about “rogue taxidermy”. Not only did she seed concepts, eventually she was invited (in a final format unfamiliar to her) to be a contestant on the show along with other experienced taxidermy artistes.

Party animals: an installation by Cat Grey. Photo courtesy of the artist
Party animals: vignettes like this one on the streets of Paris have inspired Cat Grey. Photo courtesy of the artist

Grey’s ironic flair with deceased and/or stuffed animals has been on display in Tacoma in elaborate installations based on Victorian tea parties, created with support from the Spaceworks program. She lives here with her cat, Mr. James Peterson.

Her earliest contact with “taxidermy and preservation” was as a child growing up in Australia. When she was 15, a family rabbit died, and she began experimenting “with alum and things like that.” But her trials were repeatedly interrupted by a grandmother’s dog who had a penchant for eating her experiments.

Grey says she didn’t mind her trials being destroyed by the dog because her aesthetic goals always outpaced her scientific ones: “The process didn’t interest me at all, it was the results I wanted.”

On Immortalized, each artist’s creativity is put to the test in a timed contest against an opponent. Competitors are judged on three criteria: originality, craftsmanship and interpretation of the designated theme. Grey’s theme was, “Your Worst Nightmare.” She says the participants ranged from traditionalists to “rogue taxidermists” – those aesthetic wayfarers whose precursors hailed from Victorian times creating freaks of nature such as the two-headed squirrel, the sailor’s treasured “mermaid” (a monkey/fish hybrid that was my personal favorite as a child at the old Washington State History Museum), and the corny western “jackalope”.

A lot of passion goes into bringing dead animals back to life. Though she could not be specific due to the terms of her contract, Grey says her project involved “really common animals….It was going to be made of things you could eat.” Which is even creepier, in its way, than using the usual suspects. Will her unveiled creation reveal a Silence of the Lambs…and goat, and cow, and pig? All of the contestants were barred from using endangered species, “beyond the shadow of a doubt,” she says.

The judges on Immortalized include Paul Rhymer, the head taxidermist from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; a woman artist from L.A. who creates gallery artworks involving dead canaries; and a stand-up comedian.

What does Grey consider her greatest strength in competitive taxidermy?

“I get a lot of compliments on my horrible stitching.”

The show debuts next Valentine’s Day – make it a date night to remember.

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