A Visit Under the Lament of Orion: An Interview with Erynn Richardson
By Evan Senn
With a mythical and romantic nod, L.A. artist Erynn Richardson’s new exhibit, “Orion’s Lament,” on view at Bermudez Projects, creates a soft and loving look at the hypocrisies in big game hunting while connecting to the animals in gorgeous and dreamy paintings and illustrations. Richardson approaches the parallel mythology of Orion and the story of his lament. She uses this story to draw equal but different ways of understanding the notion of trophy hunting, the human obsession with it, and the effects it has on the animals who are killed for sport.
Before Orion became a constellation, he was a hunter with a big club and a fondness for forcing himself on chaste goddesses like Artemis. After he vowed to kill every animal on the planet, Mother Earth summoned a huge scorpion to kill him to protect her creations. He cared not for the pain and suffering of the animals, he simply was mad with greed and ego—and that would benefit nobody, not even himself.
Using the animals set in “The Super Ten,” the most sought after trophy animals to hunt and kill in North America, Richardson created her own take on those animal breeds that are so longed to have dead and hung on a wall as a trophy of predatory domination. Bears, big cats, deer, elk, moose, caribou, bison, wild sheep, wild goat and walrus are the ten breeds. Richardson is a passionate animal rights advocate and vegan, and uses her artwork to find deeper connections to the animals she draws and the world that houses them.
As she prepared to display her new series of creations, we got the chance to sit down with her and chart about the project, her practice and her passion.
I am bewitched by your artworks and even further, your conceptual fascination. As a vegan who is also fascinated by taxidermy, I am curious as to how you handle with balance of emotion involved with creating works that show both sides of this spectrum of fascination—the carcass trophy and the soulful respect of the life that once inhabited it. Thoughts?
I think it stems from the fact that I am enamored by animals. I want to be close to them as much as most people do. I want to have a precious “Snow White moment” where animals are my friends. At the same time, I believe that animals are autonomous beings that deserve respect and space. Taxidermied animals at natural history museums are about as (physically) close as I can get to that “Snow White moment.”
Handling the emotions that come with my research is another thing. I look through a lot of images and sometimes I see things I’d rather not see. That said, it’s important that I see those things because it helps inform the work. However, for clarity, I do not support or condone hunting in any form.
How did you come to this exhibition concept? The Orion’s Lament story?
I knew I wanted to focus on big game hunting trophies and I stumbled upon the site for the Super Ten of North American Big Game. That part came together very fast; I knew I wanted to base my idea off those ten animals.
The Orion part came much later. I always intended that the art, the “trophies,” could be a “gift.” At first it was a gift from me, but that didn’t fully make sense . . . The idea came while I was writing down show title ideas and “Lament” kept coming up. I love how the word is full of regret and remorse . . . pained even. Whose regret is this? Orion came to mind and everything started to fall into place.
Some of your pieces within this series are colored with unnatural colors. Why is that?
I like my work to slide between representational and abstract. I also like the idea that these forms are crystallizing, or undergoing some sort of transformation.
You play with lines, geometry, seemingly celestial forms, and an isolated floating composition for these pieces. Is that significant to the concept or intention?
I wanted to include a reference to holy artifacts. Stained glass windows, geometric tiles, flowers etc . . . all these things create the feeling that something is holy or otherworldly.
Which animal are you more drawn to, or connected to, out of the ten?
I love all animals equally . . .
Now that all the animals have left the room . . . I find myself drawn to deer a lot. They are herbivores, like me. They are also hunted for trophies far more than the other animals on the list; and their eyes . . . I guess I have a softness for them.
I am also really into bears; I love bears. Bison too.
Does the process of making these works of art—commemorating these animals and their sacrifices for our human lifestyle—help you process through the feelings associated with seeing the nonstop hunting, killing and eating of animals?
Interesting. I guess making these work gives me platform to talk about animal rights and trophy hunting. Many people, once they learn I’m vegan, try to get a rise out of me, so I’ve grown a pretty thick skin as far as emotional response to meat consumption.
I hope that my work will allow people to see animals the way I see them: As beautiful, unique creatures who deserve autonomy.
Do you ever play with the human body-based imagery or concepts or do you tend to sway toward animal bodies?
I have only dealt with animal bodies. I haven’t included humans in my work. I feel like including a human would glorify the “Snow White moment.” As much as I may secretly covet the “Snow White moment” I do really believe animals should be left alone.
That said, I’m a totally flawed person . . . I have a hummingbird feeder and, last week, I saw a bunny in my backyard so I left carrots out for it.
I think most people are a little hypocritical, and I try to be honest with hypocrisies.
What’s next for you?
I want to make a series of pieces based on animals that would be impacted by Trump’s wall. I’m currently researching this project.
I also want to make a to-scale drawing of a narwhal.